A Lineup of Legends

The Teetotallers (Left to right) John Doyle, Martin Hayes and Kevin Crawford

By Tara Dougherty, Music Editor
June 4, 2012

The Teetotallers is one of those remarkable flash in the pan moments of the seisiuin genre that seems too good to be true. The trio is lineup of giants, Martin Hayes on fiddle and viola, Kevin Crawford on flute, whistles and occasionally the bodhrán, and John Doyle on vocals, guitar, bouzouki and mandola. After debuting as a trio in late 2011 with a tour in Ireland, the Teetotallers wrapped up their first American tour at Joe’s Pub in New York last night to a thrilled crowd of trad enthusiasts, among them Consul General Noel Kilkenny.

Hayes’ name has for decades been on the radar of any trad music follower but in recent years, his other-worldly ability to evoke emotion in his playing has become the stuff of legend. It is always a thrill to see a master play, but it something quite special to feel the connection that Hayes creates with an audience. The crowd feels as he wants them too, hollering and slamming their feet into the ground one moment (often making it impossible to determine if the tables were shaking from the underground passing 6 train or an overly-excited toe-tapper) and the next tearing up at a wailing slow air.

Kevin Crawford, longtime Lunasa member lent to the ever-changing voice of the set with his spread of tin whistles and flutes. The charmer of the trio, Crawford took the wheel when it came to banter with the crowd, particularly through an ongoing ribbing with the “Fermanagh boys” in the crowd he’d met before the show. His shining moment came in a series of tunes called Sally Sloane’s in which he used the flute to emulate the despairing voice of a young woman.

Grammy-nominated Doyle has, of course, long been recognized as the premier Celtic fingerstyle guitarist in the world and with the Teetotallers he is more experimental and playful than ever. He took melodic lead while Hayes would lay a solid harmonic foundation and just as quickly transform into a six-string rhythm section, driving home Hayes and Crawford’s themes. In a particularly captivating moment, Doyle told the story of his great-grandfather’s failed immigration to America after his ship was torpedoed by German ships. Among very few of the ship’s survivors, he walked back to Roscommon to find his family had believed him dead. Doyle’s song about the unbelievable story was a rare moment to see a true master guitarist showcase technique and variation unparalleled in the trad genre.

What is most striking about a trio of this caliber is their bold decision to essentially dismiss the notion of transition between melodies. Playing through each others ears it seems, just a beat of silence would be allowed and before the crowd could realize, another jig took over. It was dramatic, energizing and, as would be expected of these three, executed flawlessly. The Teetotallers pride themselves on playing sets of somewhat obscure tunes, medleys unfamiliar even to this diehard crowd. Each matches the other’s abilities and instincts, leaving so much room for improvisation and movement. It’s really a sight a see.

They are a momentary line-up of the best you’ll ever see. Catch the Teetotallers quickly before they each move on to the next great thing.

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