– the story so far… (Courtesy of the Artist’s site, 2005).
From the Great Wall of China to a packed stadium in the Holy Land and more recently being the first Irish band to perform at the greatest music festival in the world, Rock in Rio, Dervish have come a long way in ten years.
Formed in 1989 by a group of five musicians, Liam Kelly, Shane Mitchell, Martin McGinley, Brian McDonagh and Michael Holmes who came together to record an album of local music which was released as The Boys of Sligo. Inspired by the project they decided to develop this informal gathering into a working band under the name Dervish which was chosen as it related to any group of poor but spiritual people who become enraptured by music.
Over the following two years Dervish honed their craft as a formative band. In 1991, Roscommon born singer Cathy Jordan and all Ireland champion Shane McAleer joined the band giving them the right balance to produce the first Dervish album ‘Harmony Hill’, released in 1992. It wasn’t long before the impact of the album became apparent, won widespread critical acclaim and was described by many as ‘a landmark Irish traditional album’.
The impact of the recording was immediate. Its artistry, musicianship and maturity won outstanding praise from the media placing Dervish to the forefront of the bands working on traditional Irish music. Substantial TV and radio exposure for the band and the album began to open all kind of doors. Dervish soon became one of the most sought after acts on the live music circuit and have continued to remain over the years.
This demand led to the band touring continuously throughout 1993 and performing at all the major folk festivals. The enormous work load and the constant touring made it difficult for the band to work in the studio, but the following year their keenly awaited second album was released. ‘Playing with Fire’ was released in 1994, and so began the band’s worldwide travels to satisfy the demand created by both albums. The high expectations for the recording were not only met, but also surpassed. Reviewers and critics alike lauded praise for ‘Playing with Fire’ confirming Dervish status as the pre-eminent Irish traditional band. The album reached number 1 in the Irish Folk Music Charts and stayed on top for several months.
With their reputation firmly established, Dervish now set their sights on the American market, signing a deal with the New York-based Company Kells Music. The release of their two albums in the USA saw the demand for the band take off in dramatic terms. Performances at enormous festivals like Wolf Trap and San Francisco projected Dervish into a new sphere of operation on a worldwide scale. Recognition for the band’s achievements followed with nominations and awards in a variety of Traditional/Folk polls including two in the IRMAs.
In 1996 Dervish released ‘At the End of the Day’, which firmly established the band as a major force in world music, winning them the Hot Press Folk Album of the Year Award. Other
artists nominated included legends like Christy Moore and Donald Lunny. In the same year the band performed a series of concerts in Hong Kong and Malaysia which opened the door to the Far Eastern market.
Dervish concert performances are a myriad of tones and moods ranging from high energy tunes, played with fluidity and intuitiveness, to beautifully measured songs, from charming lyrics of life and love, to inspiring melodies that lift audiences from their seats. All the elements are drawn together by Cathy Jordan’s masterful stage-presence. Her stories to the songs and her interaction with the audience draws people into the music in a way very few performers can achieve. All this can be found in their fourth album ‘Live in Palma’. As the name implies, it’s a live recording of a scintillating performance in front of a captivated audience at Palma de Mallorca’s ‘Teatre Principal’ in April 1997. This double album has been hailed by critics as one of the best live traditional recordings of our time. It furnishes the listener with an opportunity to savour the atmosphere (music, melodies and witty banter) which only a live recording can provide and Dervish have done it both masterfully and effortlessly: the decision to record just made a few hours before going on stage and a performance such that a minimal amount of studio time was required to put the finishing touches to a virtually flawless concert. It worked a dream; the power of Dervish in concert was captured and ‘Live in Palma’ was released to rave reviews by the international media. The same year the readers of Irish Music Magazine awarded Dervish Best Overall Trad/Folk Band of the Year.
1998 was another gruelling year for the group. It started with a six-week coast to coast sell out tour of the USA and a first ever-Irish tour which enjoyed considerable success. That year also saw slight reshuffle of the group with Shane McAleer taking a career break. Luckily, a formidable replacement was found in Sligo’s own Séamus O’Dowd -a musician of high standing with a distinct Sligo style fiddle playing and incomparable guitar playing- further adding to the talents of the group. Just before the end of the year, the addition of fiddle player Tom Morrow -a native of Co. Leitrim and another All Ireland Champion completed the present line up of the band.
In 1999 the new look Dervish took to the studio, bringing with it a bigger sound prompted by the seven-piece line up Cathy Jordan (vocals, bodhrán, bones), Tom Morrow (fiddle, viola), Shane Mitchell (accordion), Liam Kelly (flute, low whistle), Séamus O’Dowd (guitars, harmonica), Michael Holmes (bouzouki) and Brian McDonagh (mandola, mandolin). Again it looked as if Dervish could do no wrong with the resulting album ‘Midsummer’s Night’ being voted Irish Trad Album of the Year by many publications.
To celebrate ten years on the road, Dervish released ‘Decade’ in March 2001. ‘Decade’ is a compilation of some of the finest tracks from their five highly acclaimed albums of Irish traditional music recorded over the last ten years.
Now, ten years since first coming together and with four of the original members still at the helm, Dervish are more in demand than ever. Their colourful career has taken them to every corner of the globe and has seen them share centre stage with such names as James Brown, The Buena Vista Social Club, Oasis, Sting, REM, Beck and many more. Decade is not just a compilation of their finest works to date; it’s a celebration of Irish music and a band that have been instrumental in bringing it to a worldwide audience.
Brian McDonagh: Mandola
Liam Kelly: Flute and whistles
Tom Morrow: Fiddle
Shane Mitchell: Accordion
Cathy Jordan: Vocals, bodhrán and bones
Seamus O'Dowd: Guitar, fiddle, harmonica
Michael Holmes: Bouzouki
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