Traditional Irish Music
Inspiration is all around, and for Santa Cruz folk band Charmas stories from the sea is as good a starting point as any. It’s part of the folklore where they live and has provided the inspiration for their new album which they simply called ‘Songs of the Sea.’
During a recent live performance Charmas vocalist Aaron Clegg explained to his audience: “Sea chanteys originated on ships traveling between the Celtic islands, West Indies, and North America. Their culturally diverse crews composed songs that helped them to cooperatively hoist an anchor, compress cotton for shipping, or repair leaky seams. Crewmen changing ships or socializing in port effectively passed these songs from continent to continent - a vision which led our drummer Stephen Vahle to conclude that this must be the starting point for ‘World Music’ arriving and departing from the very shores that we now call home."
Rewind four years to Charmas' debut as a Celtic folk band, on St. Pat's Day 2013. The band originally performed traditional Irish session music, before shifting its focus toward traditional pub music from Ireland, Scotland, and England, and later toward modern Celtic rock. The band has always encouraged Californians to dance and sing along with its Celtic music, so it naturally gravitates toward music from group-singing traditions - and especially toward sea music, since its members live beside the ocean, in Santa Cruz, California (where some of their members surf and sail). However, the roots of Charmas' sea music stretch much farther across dry land and water.
Aaron Clegg grew up attending weekly singing sessions at The Press Room in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he recalls getting "steeped" in that region's maritime traditions, and it is from Aaron that the band learned most of its traditional sea chanteys.
Phil Johnston spent a previous decade performing traditional pub songs with Irish-American touring band Shannachie, and when he joined Charmas, in 2016, he brought many Irish sailor songs into the band' s repertoire.
Bagpiper/fiddler Elise MacGregor Ferrell, who still spends her summers in Kincardine, Canada (where some say it's "more Scottish than Scotland," and the Great Lakes' stormy moods can sink giant ships), was responsible for adding Scottish boat songs to the list, and composing the band's original sea music.
Before long, this crew of mutts realized they had gathered enough seaworthy material to record a formidable collection of traditional sea chanteys, Scottish boat songs, funny sailor songs, and nostalgic maritime folk ballads from America's East Coast and Canada.
Charmas hopes "Songs of the Sea" will inspire its listeners to sing along in their cars, make echoes in the shower, and seek out chantey-sings in their own communities. But the album is about more than just singing. It also includes evocative "water music,." starting with an empowering slow air played on Great Highland Bagpipes, and from there mixing in Celtic wooden flute, low whistle, fiddle, guitar, bass, drums, and other percussion instruments.
Co-producer Emmanuel Selassie calls Songs of the Sea a "concept album," because it’s thoughtful song-sequence creates a narrative story about sailors living on the ocean, surviving perilous adventures, and resolutely bidding farewell when the ocean finally overtakes them.
The album is also available as a free download for broadcasters that are part of our Download Centre.
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