Finding a common connection that bridges a cultural divide can often present a challenge. However, when it comes to building bridges, music makes the challenge seem a lot less formidable. Ireland’s Bat Kinane & the Whole Hog Band has asserted that stance over the course of the past eight years, beginning in 2012 when Kinane (guitar, vocals), John Treacy (bass, vocals), Cathy McEvoy (fiddle, vocals) and Brendan Gilligan (drums) opted to join forces and form a band with an eye towards emulating a style that served up elements of bluegrass and grassicana, while tossing some Irish traditional music into the mix as well.
It seems to have worked seamlessly, and Kinane notes that their audience has slowly been building. “There is a big following for country music in Ireland, but bluegrass is a niche,” he says. “However, there are a few bluegrass festivals held every year in Ireland and its popularity is growing.”
Scholars tend to note that Irish music and bluegrass are by no means mutually exclusive. Bluegrass’ earliest origins can be traced to the sounds brought to American shores by immigrants from Ireland, England, and Scotland. Their’s were sounds that had been gleaned from songs which had been shared for centuries throughout the British Isles.
“It’s a deceptively complex music to play well,” Kinane suggests. “It has its roots in the folk traditions and it’s an honest style of music. Bluegrass is uplifting music to listen to, and Irish music can be very much the same. Irish music relies more on different time signatures such as 6/8 and jig style rhythms, while most of bluegrass is built around standard time signature.”
The group has recorded one album to date, 2014’s Ordinary Days. It consists of all original material written by Kinane, with the exception of one song that Treacy contributed. Even a cursory listen reveals the fact that it’s honest, authentic and wholly imbued with sentiment and sincerity. It’s little wonder then that it won Best Debut Album courtesy of the Leinster Entertainment Awards, and eventually went on to garner ample airplay and any number of critical kudos. It can currently be heard on Spotify, YouTube , iTunes and other streaming platforms.
“We mostly play covers as there are no original gigs that put fuel in the tank or pay the bills,” Kinane admits. “Covers-wise, we do everything from standard country/Americana to Irish traditional songs, ballads, and rock and pop tunes. Most of what we do has either an American or Irish influence. We have covered stuff like popular tunes from Steve Earle and the Soggy Bottom Boys, as well as bluegrass-style versions of rock songs just like the way Hayseed Dixie used to do.” He also name checks Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Garth Brooks, Newgrass Revival, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Eagles, Hank Williams, Bruce Springsteen, The Band, Bob Dylan, and Charlie Daniels as among the artists they tend to emulate.
“We do a lot of Irish songs by artists like Van Morrison, Thin Lizzy, Goats Don’t Shave, The Waterboys, and The Pogues, along with a variety of jigs and reels,” he continues. “We also did a cool version of If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band) by Alabama.” The video can be found on YouTube.
Based in County Wicklow, located south of Dublin and in the east of Ireland, the group has yet to perform internationally, although they do maintain a consistent schedule regardless. Most of their gigs take place at pubs, clubs, festivals, birthday parties, private events, and weddings. However each member of the band has made a pilgrimage to Nashville, and Kinane says that their goal is to perform in that city some day.
In the meantime, Kinaid expresses satisfaction with the reception they’ve garnered so far on their home turf. “We go down well especially at parties and functions,” he notes. “We also did some theatre style gigs performing our own material, and that can also be found on YouTube. We also tossed in a few covers as well.”
Asked why he believes bluegrass has proven so popular with audiences around the world, Kinaid offers a philosophical reply. “It’s an honest music and it feels good,” he suggests. “For people outside America, it shares the possibilities of the American dream. It also has a certain nostalgia about it, one that brings to mind a more simple time.”