Goitse is a band with an uplifting biography and an equally uplifting sound. COLIN GILLEN/FRAMELIGHT.IE
Music Notes / By Colleen Taylor
How do you distinguish one trad band from the next? For me, it comes down to two things: consistency and zeal. By consistency I mean a band’s ability to keep you engaged for the entirety of a set or album, from track to track, tune change to tune change. Zeal, of course, speaks for itself: that energetic enthusiasm in pursuit of the perfect sound. When it comes to my two categories for quality, Limerick-based Goitse has got it in spades. With an uplifting biography and an equally uplifting sound, this band is becoming one of my “ones to watch.” Their new album, “Úr,” gives some verve to that rustic trad sound, bridging tradition with youth, optimism, and inventiveness. They’ve even got some star quality.
Many will warm and relate to this band’s origin story. The group began to socialize at the University of Limerick, renowned internationally for its traditional Irish music degree. Tadhg Ó Meachair (accordion), Áine McGeeney (lead vocals and fiddle), and Colm Phelan (bodhrán) were asked to play a gig in Dolan’s (for those who know Limerick), and the vibe was right, leading them to quickly form a more official band including Conal O’Kane (guitar) and later, Alan Reid (banjo). Tadhg Ó Meachair related the band’s history and his anecdotes were filled with that relatable nostalgia for university days, the happy memory of finding kindred spirits—and, in this case, kindred musicians. They even chose the band name after an inside joke, when the two Irish speakers in the group, McGeeney and Ó Meachair, were conversing and McGeeney used Donegal slang none of the band had heard: “goitse,” meaning “come here.” Strange for a band name, perhaps, but perfect for this group’s sense of camaraderie and friendship, which can be heard in their music.
Goitse first emerged on the recording scene with their album “Transformed” in 2012, which received praise from Irish Music Magazine. They quickly followed with “Tall Tales and Misadventures” in 2014, and then “Inspired by Chance” in 2016, proving consistency in their output as well as their engaging style. “Tall Tales,” in particular, is a fabulous, bouncingly energetic set, which you hear on Spotify.
Their most recent album, released just a couple months ago in 2019, is “Úr,” meaning fresh or new. There is, indeed, something fresh and yet familiar about the sounds on this album. In fact, that dual feeling of fresh and familiar was an intentional orchestration designed by the band: they weave their own original compositions with arrangements of well-known tunes, evoking, as Ó Meachair says, their “desire to blend the old and the new,” which is representative of the band’s approach to traditional music as a whole. One of my favorites is “For Good Measure” which involves the tune “Gleanntán” wedged between two originals: “Jim’s,” written by Áine McGeeney, and “Make Me a Polka” by Tadhg Ó Meachair. I’m not usually one for polkas, but Goitse has me convinced with their interpretation, turning what one might see as an old-fashioned rhythm into a lively, cutting-edge tune. “Invasion” is another colorful set of tunes, involving original reels, jigs, and even a 5/4 time written by Alan Reid and Áine McGeeney, respectively.
The album also has a penchant for 18th-century tunes such as “Henry Joy” after ‘98 Belfast revolutionary Henry Joy McCracken, and a gorgeous lament, “Úrchnoic Chéin Mhic Cáinte.” When Áine McGeeney sings, the band’s star quality begins to rise to the surface. Her voice, deep and sean-nós in style, particularly with “Úrchnoic Chéin Mhic Cáinte,” is haunting and transporting. McGeeney’s distinctive tone of voice, which is somehow both conversational and otherworldly, gives the band a real sense of character that extends to their tunes.
Although deeply rooted in the Irish tradition dating back to at least the 18th century, Goitse’s music is also inflected with the amalgamation of its members’ experiences and interests. As Ó Meachair laughingly explains, the band listens to any number of genres: pop, rock, Americana, even metal. In fact, Ó Meachair also takes part in an Americana/Irish folk trio called One for the Foxes. The members of Goitse identify their teachers and family as the inspirations that led them in the direction of what is now the band’s fresh but traditional sound.
In recent months, Goitse has been growing their American fanbase with U.S. tours. Ó Meachair recalled how the band considered it a “treat” to perform in beautiful American Performing Arts Centres across the continent, covering twelve states in their last visit. In February, Goitse will return to the States, extending their reach as far as Hawaii and stopping in Kansas, Texas, Louisiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, and a number of other states. This is a band that can offer American audiences a palatable version of exciting yet time-honored traditional Irish music.
You can find out more and listen to their new album, “Úr,” at goitse.ie.