Joe O'Donnell's Shkayla
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Celtic Cargo - Album Review

Joe O'Donnell's Shkayla - Celtic Cargo
Sid Norris Recordings, 2008
Reviewed by Folk Roots magazine, October 2008

Joe O’Donnell’s Shkayla features the virtuosic talents of Limerick-born violinist and composer Joe O’Donnell.

Critically feted in Mark Prendergast’s influential tome Irish Rock: Roots, Personalities, Directions and generally underrated within the Irish musical pantheon, Joe O’Donnell’s talents deserve better recognition. Often miles beyond as regards musical vision and singular focus than most contemporaries, O’Donnell’s work from his days with Gay and Terry Woods, Trees and East of Eden has seen him combining Celtic, rock, jazz and ethnic musics into a personalised style of musical mood painting. His 1977 debut album Gaodhal’s Vision offers a potent vista of his talents.

Fast forward some three decades and Joe O’Donnell is still scaling his singular heights although with more obvious influences than before.

However, while clothed in studio sheen, Celtic Cargo is anything but faux Celtic. It is folk rock of the highest calibre highlighted with O’Donnell’s storming violin playing, equally versed in classical styles as well as the jazz rock of It’s A Beautiful Day’s David LaFlamme and Gerry Goodman in his Mahavishnu Orchestra days.

Actually the overall dexterity of the Mahavishnu Orchestra is a ballpark equivalent of what Shkayla is aiming at within a folk-rock context. Celtic Cargo contains precision, technique and above all intuition and while some pieces are overdone in the popularity stakes, the ensemble and solo playing shines with controlled eloquence and maturity.


Celtic Cargo - Album Review

Joe O'Donnell's Shkayla - Celtic Cargo
Sid Norris Recordings, 2008
Reviewed by Pete Willow

Celtic Cargo delivers a rich payload that’s been ten years in the waiting.

All but one track feature Joe O’Donnell’s distinctive and expert playing of the electric violin, whose resonances of jazz and rock combine with the evocative flavour of traditional music from Ireland, Scotland and Brittany.

Shkayla is the Gaelic word for ‘stories’ and provided the title for Joe’s 1998 solo CD. It has also become the collective name for various talented line-ups who have worked with Joe over the years. But apart from a re-release of Joe’s acclaimed Gaodhal’s Vision project and a selection of YouTube video clips of live shows, there has been little recorded material over the last decade to indicate the course of Joe’s musical journey until now. Celtic Cargo was itself almost a year in the making although the tight and skilfully executed arrangements on this album sound spontaneous and succeed in conveying a timeless sense of Celtic culture in a modern and engaging way.

Named after the 11th century king of all Ireland, the lively march tune, Brian Boru launches a repertoire of songs and tune sets that keep up a strong momentum throughout. This isn’t just foot-tapping music. The arrangements are complex and interesting and the interplay between fiddle, electric guitar, keyboards, percussion and fretless bass provide an ever-changing symphonic landscape that reveals Joe’s classical background and fully engrosses the listener.

From the haunting piano introduction to Joe’s expressive singing of the gentle love ballad, P Is For Paddy, to the powerful syncopated rhythms and riffs of overdrive fiddle and guitar in Cam Ye O’er Frae France, this album always surprises, always engages and fully re-affirms Joe’s status as a major progressive force in Celtic music.

Released on the independent Sid Norris label, Celtic Cargo is officially launched at the Hope and Anchor in Coventry on May 3rd with follow-up shows including the city’s Godiva Festival on July 6th.


Note for Editors: The line-up for Joe O’Donnell’s Shkayla during the recording of Celtic Cargo was:

Joe O'Donnell - electric violin, mandolin, vocals
Dave Perry - guitars, vocals
Martin Barter - keyboards
Mark Fulton - bass
Paul Johnston - drums

In the current line-up, Si Hayden has replaced Dave Perry and Brendan J.Rayner has replaced Paul Johnston

Joe O'Donnell's Shkayla - Background Information

The captivating sound of Joe O'Donnell's Shkayla brings together the spirit of Celtic tradition and the dynamic grooves of modern rock and jazz.

Joe is a virtuoso on electric fiddle with a reputation as one of the finest Celtic violin players on the planet. He has worked with Rory Gallagher, Phil Lynott and Terry and Gay Woods and was a member of celebrated progressive rock band East of Eden for five years. Gallagher was among the many top musicians featured on Joe's classic concept album Gaodhal's Vision, first released in 1977. The album was re-released in 2004 and a live performance of the work was performed and recorded at Warwick Folk Festival in 2006.

Joe's band, Shkayla was formed in the late 90s and has seen various line-ups going down a storm with concert, club and festival audiences.

The current line-up is:

Joe O'Donnell - electric violin, mandolin, vocals
Si Hayden - guitar, vocals
Martin Barter - keyboards
Mark Fulton - bass
Brendan J.Rayner - drums, percussion

Forthcoming gigs include:

Saturday 3rd May 2008 - Hope and Anchor, Whitefriars Lane, Coventry
(launch of Celtic Cargo CD)
Saturday 31st May 2008 - Newbold Comyn Arms, Leamington Spa
Saturday 7th June 2008 - Crown Inn, Bond Street, Nuneaton
Sunday 6th July 2008 (afternoon) - Godiva Festival, War Memorial Park, Coventry


Joe O'Donnell is regarded as one of the finest Celtic violin players around and he's also an excellent mandolin-player, singer and composer. Born in Limerick, Ireland, Joe began taking classical violin lessons at the age of twelve. After seven years of study he won two scholarships for the Royal Irish Academy of Music to study orchestral work.

When Joe left the Academy, he took up playing lead guitar but returned to the violin two years later. During this time he played for various groups, including Decca's Granny's Intentions, who had also featured Gary Moore on guitar.

In 1971, Joe moved to London and joined Woods Band for nine months, featuring Terry and Gay Woods, founder members of Steeleye Span. It was at this time that Joe started making electric violins for his own use, including violectra and 8-string violins.

In 1972, Joe joined the Dublin-based progressive folk band Mushroom, playing violin and mandolin and providing vocals.

In 1973, Joe joined East of Eden stepping into the shoes of their celebrated fiddle-player Dave Arbus. He was featured on their hit album Another Eden and toured Europe with the band until they split in 1978.

In 1977, Joe released Gaodhal's Vision, a concept album of his own compositions, heralded as a fusion of Celtic music with jazz and rock. Drawing on Irish Celtic mythology, the music tells the story of the exodus from the Carpathian Mountains to Ireland by a race of people known as The Milesians. The project followed a deal with Decca after Joe approached Tubular Bells producer Tom Newman and Jon Field. Joe was joined on the album by Rory Gallagher, Steve Bolton, Theodor Thunder (Alan Price Band) and David Lennox (Ginger Baker, Blodwyn Pig, The Equals). The album was re-released in 2004 on BMG with three new bonus tracks.

In the 1980s, Joe lived in Guernsey and formed folk-rock line-ups, which played at various festivals in Brittany and the Channel Islands.

In 1998, Joe moved to Coventry, to work with producer and musician Martin Jenkins, former member of acclaimed folk bands, Dando Shaft, Hedgehog Pie and Whippersnapper. Joe released his album, Shkayla and around this time formed the first line-up of the band, Shkayla with Martin and his guitarist son Ray Jenkins.

In 2004, Martin and Ray left the band and a new line-up of Shkayla was established, when Joe recruited guitarist Dave Perry (ex-US band, In Athens and Norwegian prog-rock band The Truth Monkeys) and keyboards-player Martin Barter (ex-Birmingham band, The Alliance).

In 2006, the expanded five-piece line-up of Joe O'Donnell's Shkayla performed Gaodhal's Vision at the Warwick Folk Festival. This introduced new band members, drummer Paul Johnston (of Midlands folk-rockers Meet On The Ledge) and bassist Mark Fulton. The show also featured The Celtic Vision Orchestra conducted by Head of Music for Warwick School, Trevor G. Barr plus dancers, Sinead Lightley, Amardeep Nanra and Indigo Dance & Performing Arts. The show was recorded and CD and DVD releases will be out shortly.

Joe uses Sonic Violins and a unique ceramic violin made by John Stevens.


  • Mushroom: Early One Morning, 1973, plus 2 singles
  • Riff Raff: Original Man, 1974
  • Headstone: Bad Habits, 1974 and Headstone, 1975, plus 2 singles
  • Woods Band: Backwoods, 1975
  • East of Eden: Another Eden, 1975, plus 2 singles
  • Henry McCullough: Mind Your Own Business, 1975, plus 1 single
  • Jade Warrior: Kites, 1976
  • Joe O'Donnell Band: Gaodhal's Vision, 1977, plus 1 single
  • Electric Ceilidh Band: Ceann Traigh Ghruineard, 1983 (also nine-part TV series and selected     TV appearances)
  • Joe O'Donnell's Shkayla: Shkayla, 1998 (Folksound Records)
  • Joe O'Donnell Band: Gaodhal's Vision, re-released with added tracks, 2004
  • Joe O'Donnell's Shkayla: Celtic Cargo, 2008

  • Reviews

    Woodman Folk Club, 13 May 2005
    Bryn Phillips
    Shkayla, or as described in their promotional fliers, "Joe O'Donnell's Shkayla" comprise Joe O'Donnell on fiddle and mandolin, Martin Barter on guitar and Dave Perry on keyboards. Shkayla perform a mixture of music and songs, most of which are sung in Gaelic. We get a lot of different acts at the Woodman and it's interesting to pick out the old pros - Joe O' Donnell has been around a while - he's played with some heavyweights and it shows.

    The fiddle playing was out of this world; complex and articulate with a tonal quality not usually associated with amplified fiddles. Now, the sound quality could be attributed to Joe's ceramic fiddle, but that wasn't the whole story. There was a fourth member of the band, Anja Rudi, who was their sound engineer. She was working for them tirelessly throughout the evening, making sure the balance was just right, and adding subtle sound effects, which gave that atmospheric unearthly quality. Martin Barter's guitar work was precise and complimented Joe's fiddle playing perfectly. The keyboards (yes, there were two!) filled in the music to give a complete musical experience.

    As well as the music, they performed a few songs, with Joe treating us to some accomplished vocals. Most of their songs were in Gaelic, although they did throw in a couple of standards; "Star of the County Down" and "Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore". I was particularly taken by a couple of the songs; "Ag Sugra Lies An Ghaoit" and "Sullivan's John"

    I would like to see this band in the wider folk festival environment - I think this is where they would really shine. I'm not sure if they are booked anywhere local, but if you get the chance to see them in a big marquee, don't miss them!

    Attic Folk Club, Chesterfield, 15 March 2003

    Joe O'Donnell returned to top the bill at The Attic's St. Patrick's event after fronting 'Shkayla' at the January 2002 concert…

    Joe has a significant musical CV covering more than 30 years working with some of the finest musicians around as a composer, violinist, guitarist and founder of various folk-rock bands including Shkayla.

    For this Attic concert, Joe performed alone and treated the audience to some of his unique talents playing the violin, both Arco (bowed), and Pizzicato (plucked), as well as singing. Joe's repertoire covers traditional and modern arrangements of tunes, including hornpipes, jigs, reels, airs and polkas… Joe started with 'Munster Cloak' and 'Madame Bonaparte' before playing the 'Limerick Rake' pizzicato. Two jigs, 'Gareth Barry' and 'The Hag at the Well' followed before Joe played and sang 'Sullivan John' to great effect. By now he had thoroughly warmed to his task and played a slow reel before singing and playing the well-loved 'Star of County Down' with the audience joining in.

    …Joe plays the electric violin and produces some beautiful atmospheric effects. The second set started with the marches 'Brian Boru', 'O'Neill's Cavalcade' and 'Tralee Jail', followed by Joe singing and playing the Poteen maker's hymn 'Gather Up The Pots', followed by a mixture of Breton tunes, laments, airs and hornpipes before ending by dancing down the aisles amongst his audience with the 'Dublin Streets' set of jigs to great applause.

    As was to be expected after such a performance, Joe was asked back for an encore to round off the evening. He finished with 'Cunla' or 'Frieze Britches'. The Attic audience may not be Irish but this St.Patrick's concert will certainly be remembered for a long time to come.