Forward with Pat Kilbride
Dirty Linen #43, December/January 1992-93)
the few years since he arrived on these shores, Pat Kilbride
has risen to the top of the Irish music scene here in the U.S.
He's performed on New York and eastern seaboard stages with
the likes of John Whelan, Joanie Madden, Eileen Ivers, Jerry
O'Sullivan, Paddy Keenan, and other greats from the states and
abroad. In 1990, he released Rock and More Roses, an excellent
CD of material recorded while he lived in Europe. Late '92 saw
the release of his second U.S. album, entitled Undocumented
Dancing. When he first arrived, he traveled to festivals, concerts
and radio stations armed with only a guitar, a cittern, and
a devilish, crooked grin. Now he's a permanent resident of New
York City, armed with a Greencard and a three-album deal with
Green Linnet records. It looks like the man's here to stay.
behind Kilbride's success in America? One thing that's always
impressive is the sheer work he puts into his performances.
With his band, at solo concerts, and even on occasions when
the music takes on a life of its own and pours uncontrolled
and unruly through the concert hall (as during a memorable
concert he played at the Eagle Tavern with Paddy Keenan),
Pat Kilbride is hard at work. With his eyes squeezed shut,
he's singing his guts out on every song. With sweat beading
on his brow, he's coaxing every possible sound from his
guitar. Music, Kilbride feels, is a job, and to do it well
requires as much elbow grease as any other skilled job.
I want is first of all to always make good music," he says.
"Music is important, and that's why we choose this music
rather than something which might be more lucrative. But secondly,
I want to make a living."
a child, Patrick, to support, making a living is not a minor
concern. But it's only one of a number of pressures in the life
of a musician. "It's a very cruel kind of a world,"
Kilbride says. "You stand up on a stage, or you make a
record, and you're sticking your neck out. Everybody's got the
right to sort of throw tomatoes at you. If you can survive that
at all, you're doing well. If you can survive that and make
it your working life--and I'm not talking about being a star,
now, or selling a million records. I'm talking about doing your
job, going out there, earning your living, and playing music
full time. If you can do that, and improve, and survive the
flak, you're doing very well."
hard work and talent, there's one more ingredient contributing
to Kilbride's success: experience. Like most traditional musicians,
his involvement began at home, when he was very young. His mother
was a piano player and a dancer, and his brothers and sisters
were all musical as well. He went to school and studied music
from the tender age of five.
Kilbride was a teenager, American music influenced him a great
deal. "It's from American folk music, Blues, that I got
my [guitar] style. Listening to samplers way back when I was
sixteen years old, in Ireland. I was one of the rare people
that picked up on this. I'm not talking top forty here, I'm
talking obscure stuff. My guitar style came from the blues players,
the clawhammer, where you have the thumb picking up the accompaniment
on the bass strings, and the other three fingers doing the melody
on the top strings. People like Mississippi John Hurt and Leadbelly."
his guitar style had settled itself a bit, Kilbride joined up
with other musicians who played regularly in a landmark Dublin
bar called Slattery's. The band was called the Pavvies, and
it included several musicians, like Paddy Keenan and Davy Spillane,
who went on to fame in top groups like the Bothy Band and Moving
Hearts. Kilbride, too, went on to better things. While he was
studying in art college in Manchester, England, the Glasgow-based
Battlefield Band arrived in town, one member short. Kilbride
came to the rescue, embarking with Battlefield on a six week
tour of France during which he got his first taste of continental
liked the wine, the good food, the sunshine," he says.
So, after brief stints in Glasgow and London, he went to Brittany
just in time for the Celtic revival and all its musical hubbub.
For Kilbride, this meant a lot of fun and opportunities to continue
his musical career. "They were using Ireland as a model,"
he explains. "The Irish revival inspired the Breton revival,
so there were a lot of things happening there, a lot of work."
Eventually, he left Brittany to live in Belgium, where he thoroughly
enjoyed himself for eight years. Again, a major priority was
that there was lots of work for him in the recording studio,
in radio, and in various bands.
in Belgium, Kilbride was involved in jazz and rock rather
than folk music, writing his own songs for an ensemble
including bass, drums, keyboards and saxophones. When
he moved to New York in the late eighties, Irish music
was foremost on his mind, but he also incorporated a lot
of this jazzier, rockier side. The result of this mixing
of traditional Irish music and more mainstream sounds
was the Kips Bay Ceilidh band.
band originally featured four of the nation's top Irish
folk musicians: Seven-time all Ireland fiddle champion
Eileen Ivers, Seven-time button-box champion John Whelan,
Flute phenom Joanie Madden, and Piper Jerry O'Sullivan.
The rhythm section consisted of Richard Lindsey on bass,
Steve Missal on drums and Henry Grendel on keyboards,
with Kilbride singing and playing guitar and cittern.
The eight-piece band was formed specifically to perform
at the release parties for Rock and More Roses. Although
the eight piece didn't last too long, Kips Bay lives on.
Kilbride and John Whelan, along with Steve Missal and
Richard Lindsey, decided to continue working as a band.
"We like to describe ourselves as an Irish world
beat band, or an Irish alternative rock band."
Bay is about to record their first full-length album, a project
Kilbride is very enthusiastic about. "A lot of the songs
will be original songs, fifty-fifty with traditional material.
I mean, the accordion lines are as traditional as you want,
but the backing will be from world beat to rock. Steve is using
a lot of percussion these days, log drums, and all sorts of
shakers and bells. And, then, of course Richard, being a wonderful
jazz bass player, comes up with some very inventive basslines.
It's all very pretty, really."
for Kilbride's solo career, that's also developed since he's
arrived. "When my first American album came out, I didn't
know much about this country, I didn't know much about the circuit,
and I didn't know anybody around here. So I just got out around
the USA with my guitar on my back, and I started playing clubs.
And I've built up a national circuit for myself now. And that's
growing and growing and growing, the phone is ringing ten times
more than it used to."
he first arrived, Kilbride concentrated on traditional music.
"It's like going back to Dublin!" he exclaimed
at the time, "I'm at home here, I seem to be surrounded
by Irish people. It seemed like the logical thing to get
back to my roots." Now, he also admits to having had
writer's block which prevented him from performing new material.
"I suppose maybe the change of scenery," he begins,
then changes tack. "I'd given up drinking alcohol,
too, so I had to sort of come to terms with that, and deal
with the world through different eyes." He persevered,
stayed off the booze, and worked like hell on his traditional
repertoire. It all paid off; not only is he a better performer
of traditional music, his songwriting has recently come
back to him.
of the songs Kilbride has written in recent times deal with
the issue of Irish immigration to the U.S. That is, of course,
what "Undocumented Dancing" means, the dancing of
the illegal Irish in the U.S. "Obviously, documentation,
becoming legal, getting greencards is a big issue with the Irish
in this country. I'm sure everyone will be aware that there
was a huge program last year called the Morrison AA1 program,
otherwise known as the Morrison visas. It was something that
I was involved in, something that was close to me. I applied
for a Morrison visa, and I got the greencard. Anybody who wants
to get documented should avail of this program." While,
as he points out, the issue will remain an important one to
the Irish community, particularly because of the temporary nature
of the Morrison AA1 program, Kilbride doesn't see himself writing
too many more songs about immigration. "I think that issue
is well covered now, and we're on to the next phase."
and songwriting certainly form an integral part of Kilbride's
musical life, but he's also a great man for tunes. He's particularly
fond of adapting Irish tunes for the guitar. "I use an
open tuning, DADGAD, so that will suggest certain tunes, and
certain tunes will suggest themselves to it. There's a lot of
fingerpicking involved, I'm a fingerpicker. I like to imitate
exactly how maybe a piper would play the tunes, or a fiddle
player woud play the tunes, which is not necessarily guitar-esque,
so that's the challenge. To marry the tune to the instrument
in an economical way that doesn't sound contrived. That's the
his guitar, Kilbride has another instrument up his sleeve. It
has ten strings, a thickish, stoutish neck, and produces a metallic
baritone sound. Just what is it? Bouzouki? Cittern? Octave Mandolin?
"These hybrids were creeping into Irish music in the sixties,"
Kilbride begins. "I guess guys were out traveling around
Europe, buying these things, bringing them back home, and adapting
them to their own needs. The bouzouki is a round-backed, six-stringed
Greek instrument. Probably a bit of a novelty, but it's since
become a standard instrument [in Irish music]. In fact, the
bouzoukis that Irish people are playing are not, strictly speaking,
is an instrument called a cittern, which is a medieval European
instrument. There's an instrument maker called Stefan Sobell,
in the north of England, and he [revived] the term cittern.
He was making these ten-stringed instruments loosely based on
the medieval cittern."
how can you tell a modern Irish bouzouki from Sobell's revived
cittern? To give some idea of the confusion involved in naming
these new hybrid instruments, Kilbride explains that he calls
his instrument a cittern, to distinguish it from the bouzouki,
which has a longer, thinner neck and fewer strings. The man
who custom-built the instrument to Kilbride's specifications
was asked to build a cittern. However, he labeled the finished
product a "ten-stringed bouzouki." "So basically,"
Kilbride concludes, "one shouldn't get uptight about terminology...
it's a box with a long neck and metal strings over it. That's
what they all are...one has to call them something."
does play tunes on his cittern, but he really prefers it as
accompaniment to his singing. "I like it to play tunes
on it, but it doesn't seem to have the balls of an instrument
like the pipes or fiddle. However, it's wonderful for backing
songs. It's very versatile, it's easy to play and sing at the
same time. A lot of symKilbridehetic strings, so you can build
up a very big, warm sound with just one instrument. I do use
it a lot in gigs, especially for my Irish songs."
does Kilbride integrate being a band leader, singer, songwriter,
fingerpicking guitarist, and plectrum-wielding cittern strummer?
"I guess you just do what you tend to be good at, and then,
ten years down the line, you find that you've fallen into a
style." Ten years down the line, Kilbride plans still to
be here, recording, touring, working, making a living, and improving.
"You're always searching for better music, you're always
stretching yourself to improve...Music is a funny thing, because
the artist is never happy with themselves. The artist has to
move forward. Or else he's moving backward."