- 15 May 19
Cathy Jordan of Sligo trad legends Dervish discusses the band’s latest album, The Great Irish Songbook, which has enjoyed huge success on both the Amazon charts and the US iTunes Top 20.
Cathy Jordan is a naturally exuberant woman, but the news of Dervish’s latest album, The Great Irish Songbook, breaking into the US charts finds her in a particularly upbeat mood.
“It’s absolutely terrific news,” she enthuses, “especially when I see that we’re above such stalwarts as the great John Prine and Gordon Lightfoot – two artists I’ve admired for so long.” That this has happened at a time when it’s been rumoured that the US is not as enamoured with Celtic music as it has been, brings her some pleasure too.
“I think we’ve got a truly eclectic mix of guest vocalists on the album,” reflects Cathy, “and that seems to create its own kind of natural curiosity.” True enough, with a menu of guests featuring luminaries like Steve Earle, Brendan Gleeson, Imelda May, Andrea Corr and others, The Great Irish Songbook magically preserves the spirit of each of the 13 songs.
At the same time, it reinvigorates the material with time-honoured Dervish tunefulness. “All of the band bring a great care to the music we play and record,” says Jordan. “We were aware of many other fine versions of most of the songs. As a result, we wanted to come up with something a little different for each one, without straying too far from the core essence of the material. You’re walking a fine line and hoping you never stray too far over it on either side. We wanted it to be recognisably Dervish, without risking it becoming samey. But thanks to the Irish tradition of house-singing, we’re all familiar with these tunes. We know how far you can push them before you have to rein yourself in.”
Jordan, who joined Dervish in 1991, finds it hard to nail the point when the project was first mooted, but in all, it took about two busy years to get it together. “It was a mammoth task,” she reflects, “but our new record label Rounder Records were well into it from the beginning. We started out with a long list of possible songs, which we then whittled down to about 20. But we’d done some collaborations for our 21st-anniversary album and really enjoyed it, and we fancied using that approach again. There’s a wealth of great songs in our folk tradition, but it’s no harm to remind ourselves of that every now and then.”
Over their three decades as a globally touring band, the six-piece Dervish have clocked up incalculable stage miles, and it shows in the fluidity of their live gigs. This year shows no let-up on that front – they already have their name down for the Leinster Fleadh in Athboy in July, the Stonehaven Folk Festival, and a return visit to the mighty Glastonbury. For good measure, there are also concerts in Canada, Switzerland and Denmark. “On September 19, we’ll be at the London Palladium,” notes Cathy, “where David Gray and Kate Rusby have already agreed to join us. There are lots more dates and venues yet to be confirmed, but we have a sizeable following throughout Europe and even Japan, so this could be a long stint.”
Of course, Jordan is no stranger to either the road or the studio, while finding them to be distinctly different experiences. “In the studio, you’re under very close scrutiny all the time,” she says. “Everything has to be spot on. There’s nowhere to hide, but I enjoy the process. Besides, I always prefer to record songs that we’ve ironed the wrinkles out of over a period of time on-stage. Out on the road, it’s generally more relaxed and less intense. The only slight difficulty I have is making the transition from being at home to being away, and travelling sometimes for six hours or more in a van. After a while, though, it all settles into a nice rhythm. Once you get into that groove, you could nearly go on forever.”
And well she and the band might have to, as the US chart success of The Great Irish Songbook has already sparked rumours of a volume two. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cathy Jordan is already drawing up her list of songs and her favourite singers. But maybe we’ll leave the last word on Volume 1 to The Edge, who says: “It’s great to hear these classic Irish folk songs given a 21st century treatment. It sounds like they’ll be hits for another century at least!"
The Great Irish Songbook is out now on Rounder Records.