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Thursday, March 1, 2012 01:21 pm

Skibbereen mixes in the green


The Skibbereen CD release party is Saturday, March 3, at the Hoogland Center for the Arts, featuring special guests The Blue Gs at 7pm

In Springfield, our recent Celtic legacy has a vibrant history, including bands The Emerald Underground, Exorna and Fake McCoys, groups like St. Andrew’s Society and Ogilvy Studio, plus events such as the St. Patrick’s Day parade, Highland Games and Robert Burns dinner. When Hank Helton, founder and organizer of Skibbereen, one of the latest music groups to arise from the scene, got his first taste of Irish music, he came slowly to the fold, yet now embraces the music wholeheartedly.

“Nat and Laura of Stone Ring Circle wore me down to play in that band, but all I knew of Irish music was the Clancy Brothers and I’d kill myself before playing that all day, even though I like the Clancys,” exclaimed Helton. “They kept bringing me songs of other bands and when I heard the complexities within the music, I was hooked hard.”

After a several-year stint with Stone Ring Circle and its evolution into The Emerald Underground, in 2010 Helton left and formed Skibbereen to focus on his developing vision of Celtic music using his jazz and blues influences. The interestingly un-Irish-sounding name comes from the southernmost port in Ireland, resting place for thousands of potato famine victims and the leaving spot for countless emigrants.

“I found from the jazzers standpoint, when you think you know everything, a music comes along and challenges you. At my age I need that,” he says. “I’ve got only so much time left for live music and I want to get this one right and do it on my terms. We do the best we can to make every gig and rehearsal productive and enjoyable.”

Other members of the band include Steve Emmons, Helton’s longtime cohort and keyboardist in their jazz combo Real Time, playing keys and supplementing with the accordion, an important instrument in Irish folk music. Mark Sanders and Steve Meyers, both former members of Mr. Opporknockity and other popular bands through the years, play drums and bass, respectively. Dishing out the all-important fiddle in the band is Megan Turner, a classically trained violinist with a distinct talent for fiddling the Celtic music, who also plays in Thistle and Thyme, a traditional folk group of acoustic players.

“We’re working on playing out more, extending our geographic reach, making it into Irish festivals in the Midwest,” says Helton. “We’re already planning on the next CD to be an all-acoustic, traditional set to showcase that side of the band, attempting to do something from each of the seven Celtic nations.”

With much progress made in the last year, including monthly shows at JP Kelly’s, a new CD, Tus, to be released this Saturday, a show at McGurk’s in St. Louis, a St. Pat’s Day debut at the Tin Can Pub and an opening slot, March 10, for Slide at the Kirkland Fine Arts Center in Decatur, the band is on the move. Congrats to the crew for a new CD of reels, songs and slip jigs, recorded, mixed and mastered by Helton at his Heltone Studios, all with the Skibbereen stamp clearly marking the sounds of new territory covered.

“It’s quite a feeling getting the actual CD in your hand, thinking this is really cool,” says Helton. “Your whole perception of what you’re doing changes to understand it’s all a learning process. And if I’m not learning, I’m not happy.”

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

The Skibbereen CD release party is Saturday, March 3, at the Hoogland Center for the Arts, featuring special guests The Blue Gs at 7pm, with a night of door prizes, giveaways, a 50/50 drawing, belly dancers, Irish dancers, live music, refreshments and Tus, the new CD, on sale for only $5 the day of the show, with the $7 admission ticket.

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