Fiddlers on the roof Altan celebrate
IT was in the depths of another recession 25 years ago that two traditional music enthusiasts decided to leave the teaching profession and try their luck with a wider -- but just as raucous -- audience.
A quarter of a century later the now six-strong Altan have played some of the biggest stages in the world from the Hollywood Bowl to the Sydney Opera House, and they still can't believe how far they have come.
Renowned singer and fiddler Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, who founded the group with Belfast flute player Frankie Kennedy, said that chance to work on a special 25th anniversary album had set the memories running.
"It was great remembering and bringing back the lovely reminiscences . . . That night we stood on the Hollywood Bowl stage and we looked at each other and just knew this is a very important night, filling the Sydney Opera House, singing with Dolly Parton."
The band's line-up now includes fiddler Ciaran Tourish, bouzouki player Ciaran Curran, guitarists Mark Kelly and Daithi Sproule and accordion player Dermot Byrne. Yesterday they treated shoppers on Dublin's Grafton Street to an impromptu performance from the first-floor balcony of Bewley's.
While founder member Frankie is no longer with them, he died tragically young from cancer at the age of 38, his influence lives on.
"In a lot of ways we're no different from when we started 25 years ago.
"We haven't changed the format of what we do, we still play the music we love," said Ciaran Tourish.
"The biggest change, personally speaking, was the death of Frankie. He was guiding the ship at the time."
Ciaran described the early days as "BC" -- before children -- and now the band members have to juggle parenthood with busy touring schedules.
"We had no big masterplan for the first 25 years so the same is pretty much going to apply from here, we'll move forward and keep at it. That's our game plan if you can call it that," he joked.
'Altan: 25th Anniversary Celebrations', which was recorded with the RTE Concert Orchestra, is on sale now and the band embark on a tour of the United States next week before returning for a series of Irish shows beginning in April.