Thursday 23 May 2019

Strong friendship the key to Dervish's continued success

Jessica Farry speaks to Liam Kelly of Dervish about the band's new album, and 30 years together

If you had asked Dervish 25 years ago if they thought they would still be together, performing around the world 30 years after they started, you probably would have got a 'no'.

As part of their 30 year celebration, Dervish have released their new album 'The Great Irish Songbook'.

'The Great Irish Songbook' features Dervish performing with over a dozen luminaries across an eclectic range of genres including Imelda May, Brendan Gleeson, Andrea Corr, David Gray, Steve Earle, Vince Gill, Rhiannon Giddens, Kate Rusby, Jamey Johnson, The SteelDrivers, and Abigail Washburn.

Recorded mainly at The Magic Room in Sligo, the finished product finds each collaborator imbuing the album with their own distinct sensibilities while lovingly upholding the time-honored character of the songs.

Liam Kelly, of Dervish, explained to The Sligo Champion how the album took a number of years to put together.

"We wanted to do something fairly major. We always had it in our heads that we wanted to do a compilation album with other guests and that was three years really in gestation.

"When you have so many other guests on the album it takes that much longer to do it because you're depending on people's availability. We're delighted with the way it has turned out. We're just back from a US tour."

They met Ken Irwin of Rounder Records, an American record label who specialise in bluegrass, folk, country and more.

"Ken always had a keen interest in country music.

"We were playing in Boston one time and Ken actually came along. Someone just told him that he might like us so he came along and he thought we were good.

"He asked if we'd be interesting in working together on an album. He had contacts."

Making the most of their large contact network, they reached out to a number of artists to see if they would be interested in collaborating for the album.

Liam explained: "It's sort of like throwing out a fishing net, contacting lots of different people. We were really surprised that so many people came back."

It speaks volumes for how highly respected Dervish are when you see the list of names featured on the album.

"We sent an invite to people like Imelda May, Vince Gill, and these huge names. You're sort of nervous waiting to see what they say and when they turn around and say that they're interested it's huge.

"We know Brendan Gleeson very well and Kate Rusby. We were delighted and surprised at the amount of people who replied."

The artists who agreed to participate were allowed to choose the songs they sang.

The faces of Dervish haven't changed much over the years, but the music industry has changed massively since their inception.

"The line-up of the group has only changed once. Tom was the last to join and he's been with us for 21/22 years now. At first it was only a bit of fun for us.

"We went full-time in 1997, we just decided to give it a go. We had all been working and doing this on the side and it was going well for us so we said we would try it full-time."

The friendship among the group before they had even started the band is part of the reason they have survived this long.

"The great thing we had from the very start was friendship. We were friends before we started and that's really stood to us throughout the years.

"We had just missed the time of the LP. When we started out it was tapes, and then it became CDs and now it's downloads. The music industry has changed. Rounder Records have agreed to bring the album out on vinyl which really is something special."

Dervish, like many others, have had to suck it up and embrace the changes that happen within the industry.

"The industry has changed so much even in the last ten years. There are things we can do now on social media that we couldn't do back then. It's a great platform.

"You have to roll with it. Spotify and iTunes are not a bad thing, they're just different and you have to go along with it because if you don't you'll be left behind."

Dervish have travelled the world over the years, with many memorable concerts and events.

Liam recalls some of the most memorable: "One of the best gigs we did was in Brazil. We played at a festival called Rocking Rio, it was a world music festival.

"Our manager at the time had a stand at an expo and someone came along and said they were interested in inviting us along. We didn't think much of it but we went along and it was fantastic. It was in 2001. Shakira was on stage, Sting, REM, Madonna. It was incredible. There were 250,000 people at this open air festival.

"There's a folk festival in Edmonton that we loved and we're actually going back to play there. They're celebrating 40 years now so it's sort of fitting.

"We've been very lucky. It's a great way to make a living and it's a great way to see the world.

"30 years is mad. If you asked me 25 years ago I wouldn't have said we'd still be doing this. This is our 14th album and it's been a great but long road. There's no point in stopping now."

In the coming weeks, Dervish will announce full details of The Great Irish Songbook Live, a show that will begin touring internationally in late 2019 and will feature guests from the album.

Sligo Champion