Here’s something Americans may not realize about traditional Irish music: There are regional subtleties.
The Teatotallers, for instance, produce music that is heavily rooted in County Clare, where fiddler Martin Hayes and flutist Kevin Crawford live.
“It’s hard to describe the regional differences between the different counties of music,” says John Doyle, who rounds out the trio. “There’s a certain feel. Like accents. Every 5 or 10 miles the accent changes slightly and so does the music. Sligo tunes would be quite different from Clare songs.”
“Through radio and TV, (Sligo fiddler) Michael Coleman’s stuff and the music that was recorded in America became countrywide music in the 1920s to the 1950s, but they still had regional styles. You have that over here as well in old-timey music.”
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Audiences can hear the Teetotallers’ Clare County sound when the all-star group makes a rare stop at Great Aunt Stella Center for a Charlotte Folk Society-sponsored concert Friday.
Guitarist and solo musician Doyle (formerly of Irish-American giant Solas) immigrated to New York almost by accident in 1991.
“I just came as a holiday,” he says. “I really liked it and there was work. I eventually got a visa. There was no real forward planning.”
He lived in New York for a decade before settling in Asheville with his wife (a North Carolina native) and daughter.
In addition to his solo work and the Teetotallers, the Dublin-born Doyle is a busy sideman. He spent two years touring as Joan Baez’s musical director and guitarist and has worked with folk, Celtic and bluegrass heavyweights like Linda Thompson, Tim O’Brien, Bela Fleck, Seamus Egan and Liz Carroll. He’ll tour Ireland, England,and China with his other groups following the trio’s short U.S. run.
The Teetotallers are so busy individually they have yet to record an album (“We’re being very elusive”) and only tour once or twice a year, with little rehearsal time. They simply fall back into it.
“It’s a lovely thing to be able to lock in that way,” Doyle says. “With this music – especially with what Martin and Kevin and I do – it’s listening to each other’s playing and getting into a certain headspace.”
Although he regularly returns home to tour, music certainly keeps Doyle close to his roots. At age 4, he began listening to his grandfather play accordion and his father sing in the pubs, a practice that’s fairly nonexistent in the States today.
“At that stage, it was blue with smoke, obviously alcohol, and Cokes, lemonades and sugary minerals,” he says, laughing. “(My brothers and I) were bored senseless at first. It goes into your skull, and all of the sudden you’re playing the music and you know these tunes.”