The Bumblebees – Biography (Courtesy of the Artist’s site, 2007)
In the autumn of 1992, Mary Shannon (banjo, mandolin, fiddle, mandola) left Australia to come home to her sister’s wedding in Clare and took up temporary residency in Galway. Colette O’Leary left Dublin to attend college in Galway. Some months later Laoise Kelly (harp, fiddle) abandoned college in UCC to join her friends in Galway. All three girls had known each other for years, having played in Fleadhs and at sessions the length and breadth of the country as well as having met up at Lorient Interceltique Festival in Brittany.
The three girls started playing informally at pub sessions in Galway and throughout Ireland . They had a connection from the beginning, not just with their unique, bouncy style of playing but also with a shared interest in lively, cheerful, catchy tunes. It wasn’t long before they decided to record their first album ‘Bumblebees’ with Hummingbird Records. (‘Bumblebees’, the album, was voted in the top ten traditional debut albums, 1997 by Hot Press.)
Some months afterwards, Sharon Shannon (acclaimed Irish box player) invited the three girls to join her in a residency of concerts. Much to their delight, they jumped at the offer. The only problem was, this new resident band had no name! The venue manager had to have a name to publicise the gigs. The name ‘Bumblebees’ was suggested but everyone thought no way. After long hours on the telephone and after eliminating hundreds of ideas, the band were truly stuck for a name and said right, "Let’s call ourselves Bumblebees just for the first gig and we’ll definitely have thought of a proper name for next week" The rest is history. The audiences loved the aptly named Bumblebees recognising that they produced music of great style and considerable accomplishment with effervescent good humour and wit. The name seemed to capture the entire spirit of the music. Everyone was completely buzzing after hearing the Bumblebees!
They played the series of concerts in the Roisin Dubh, Galway and were joined by different special guest singers each night. These were Maighread and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, (of Bothy Band fame); Maireád Ní Mhaonaigh (singer and fiddle player with the Donegal-based group Altan); Seamas Begley; John Hoban; Frankie Lane and Mary Staunton. Offers of TV appearances and concerts in Ireland and the UK came flooding in. Laoise suggested they get her old friend Liz Doherty (fiddle) on board for one of the TV appearances on Teilifís na Gaeilge, Ireland’s Irish language channel. After that appearance, Liz became a full time Bumblebee. The four girls, began touring Ireland, together with singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John Hoban from Castlebar, Co.Mayo. They appeared with this line-up at the Celtic Flame Festival in the Barbican, London in April ’97.
John Hoban continued his musical journey at that time to America, so the quartet of girls; Laoise, Mary, Colette and Liz were together as the Bumblebees since 1997. Their sound matured from touring and subtly they became more confident.
Highlight appearances from the following two years include The Celtic Colors Festival ’97 and ’98, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Celtic Connections Festival, Glasgow ’98,’99 and 2000 and the Copenhagan Irish Festival. They also featured on Donal Lunny’s TV Series ‘Sult’, RTE’s ‘Open House’, and on TG4’s ‘Ceol Cois Locha’.
In May ’99 Bumblebees recorded ‘Buzzin’, which was released on their own ‘Beehave Records’ to critical acclaim in September ‘99. They launched the new album with a highly successful tour of Ireland and an appearance on the first Pat Kenny ‘Late Late Show’.
Buzzin’ swings between Colette’s subtle accordion, Mary’s bouncy banjo/mandolin picking and Liz’s grinding Donegal fiddle. This is all punctuated by Laoise’s incredibly inventive left hand on the harp, which she uses to create wonderfully rhythmic walking bass lines. Everyone is guaranteed to be ‘buzzin’(!) after listening to this infectious brew of tunes from Ireland, Scotland, Cape Breton Island, French-Canada, Denmark as well as original compositions.
They are a group which have earned themselves a reputation of combining a real love of life with a real love of the music. (guaranteed to bring every festival to life!) "This quartet combine outstanding intrumental prowess with a collective spirit and joie de vivre that is truly captivating". Celtic Connections. "Acoustic music par excellence" Irish Music Magazine.
Buzzin’ was voted one of top 20 Irish Traditional albums 1999 by ‘The Echo’ newspaper, New York City.
Since January 2000 Bumblebees became a three-piece once again when Liz Doherty left the band to follow her solo career as well as maintaining academic commitments. Bumblebees have since used this opportunity to invite their choice guest musicians for different tours. So far, guitarist Ed Boyd (of ‘Flook!’ and Michael McGoldrick band) joined them in England and Wales, in February; Mirella Murray (piano accordionist extraordinaire from Galway) joined them along with Eamon O’Dwyer (singer/guitarist) for probably their most successful and enjoyable tours ever, in Austria, in March; and in Wales in April they were joined by the magic fiddler, Michelle O’Brien from Toonagh, Co.Clare.
Future destinations include The Highlands Festival, Scotland, May/June, the month of July touring extensively throughout England and Scotland, Tonder International Festival, Denmark, in August and also the Milwaulkee Irish Festival. Mary will also be with ‘The Woodchoppers’ at Glastonbury Festival(June), The Hebridean Festival(July). And Laoise is appearing at Dranouter International Festival, Belgium (August).