Seriously Willin' to play

Leading Irish band tours Israel again this week, with a traditional mix of ballads and reels with English folk songs, sea shanties, Eastern European and contemporary sounds.

irish music 88 (photo credit: )
irish music 88
(photo credit: )
It is no secret that Irish music has become enormously popular all over the globe in the last decade or so. All manner of bands from the Emerald Isle play at festivals and other events to audiences from varying cultures and ethnic backgrounds, and they appeal equally to all of them. Willin' Fools, which will start a nine-date tour of the country tomorrow night, is up there with the leading acts from Ireland. The septet has put out a number of albums over the past half dozen years. Its most recent release, The Songs of the Sea and the Land, has numerous musical bases covered but all firmly entrenched in Celtic rhythms and textures. The band's mandolin player and vocalist Connor Hughes makes no apologies for mixing the Willin' Fool offering. "We've all been exposed to different influences over the years," he says. "Barry [Hynes - the band's guitarist, pianist and vocalist] and I both like English folk songs and sea shanties so they certainly find their way into what we do. We also do some things with some Eastern European elements." There's also a strong rock element, and other cultural inflections in the musical synergy. As far as Hughes and his cohorts are concerned, it is not only a matter of how you do something, but also what you do. "You can play music very skillfully, but if the audience isn't enjoying it there's no point. I'm not interested in playing high falutin' stuff. When we're getting ready to do some gigs we often consider what we think will appeal most to the audience. You have to entertain. That's the most important thing." The market appeal is helped by the fact Irish music runs across a wide spectrum of emotions. You can always find members of the audience with a propensity for getting up from their seats and into the aisles to shake a leg as the on-stage performers launch into a rapid jig or reel. And then there are the more balladic, angst-ridden numbers. "I don't know whether it has something to do with the suffering the Irish have endured over the years," Hughes muses. "But, I suppose, lots of other peoples have had their tough times too." Hughes adds that the continuing popularity of Irish music, and greater exposure of the public to the genre, has impacted on the way the band plays. "The audience is more educated now, so we mix in different styles - like modern, purist and folk. These days, you're not going to just bowl the audience over by just waving a shamrock. You've got to deliver." That realization has also led Willin' Fools into grungier territory. "For the last couple of years we've been using traditional Irish instruments in a heavier setting. Some of our music is now darker and more powerful." As on the group's last tour here, two years ago, Abe Doron - from our very own Evergreen Irish music band - will fill a guest spot. Before making aliya, Mexico-born Doron enjoyed a long stint with the enormously popular River Dance act. Hughes says Doron will stretch the cultural tapestry even further and is greatly appreciative of the quality add-on that Doron brings to the shows. "I've played with and heard a lot of Irish percussion players over the years. Some bring a lot of different kinds of drums with them, but Abe plays such a wide variety of textures and colors on just one drum. He's an excellent musician." Hughes says he's also looking forward to spending more time in Israel, and fitting in some more sightseeing in between gigs. "You get some hell raising bands that party all night after a gig and just get up the next day to do the next show. They all end up being sorry they didn't manage to see anything of the country they visited. We're not like that. We head off for our beds after a gig, and then we get to do some good stuff and see some of the country the next morning." Willin' Fools will perform at Abba Hushi House in Haifa Saturday night at 9 p.m.; Mazkeret Batya Concert Hall on Monday at 9 p.m.; the Camelot Club in Herzliyah on Tuesday at 10 p.m.; Jerusalem's Hama'abada on Wednesday at 9 p.m.; Carmiel's Hekhal HaTarbut on Thursday at 9 p.m.; Tel Aviv Museum on June 1 and 2 at 9:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. respectively. Check ticket agencies or