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
Forthcoming gigs include:
Joe O'Donnell's Shkayla - Background Information
The current line-up is:
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.
- electric violin, mandolin, vocals
- guitar, vocals
- drums, percussion
Saturday 3rd May 2008 - Hope and Anchor, Whitefriars Lane, Coventry
(launch of Celtic Cargo
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
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
Woodman Folk Club, 13 May 2005
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
Attic Folk Club, Chesterfield, 15 March 2003
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!
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.