Wailing City Spotlight: Interview With Bards Of Gungywamp

Published February 1, 2024

Interview by Meghan Killimade

Tell us about the band – who are the members & instrumentation and how did you all come together? 
Craig: It was the end of the winter of 2020. I was coming off of a 100 day sobriety bender. My day 1 of drinking was going to be on St Patrick’s day at the Strange Brew watching friends old and new playing Irish traditionals! It was kind of unbelievable… but then all the bars shut down because of some new outbreak called Covid.

Fast forward two years to the winter of 2022. Covid quarantines were relaxing and I found out the friends were going to try it again. Only this time they wanted me to play the banjo with them... I don’t play the banjo. Hell, I barely play guitar. I attempted to play 5 string banjo in January/ February, but learning new songs and trying to learn fingerpicking at the same time was too much. It was at this point I discovered the existence of the Irish tenor banjo. A four string instrument that is traditionally played with a pick. This seemed like it could be a much easier transition, only one hand would have to learn new tricks. So in the end of February / beginning of March I started to learn the Irish tenor banjo for the shows on St. Patrick's day. That first St. Patrick's was intense. I’m pretty sure we played sitting down, and it was a very stripped down version of one of our normal sets. Although, the main meat of our set was already established by then. It’s wild to look back at where I came from and where I am now after these few years of playing with these guys. They really have inspired me and have completely changed my life.

Jeff: I’m on fiddle/mandolin/vocals sometimes guitar, Nick on bass and vocals, Jordan on guitar and vocals, Pele lives in Maine but comes down when he can to do percussion, (bodran and cajon), he’s also on the album, Craig on Tenor Banjo, Dan on fiddle and vocals and Jacob on the tin whistle. We’d all played together at jams or in different bands, but we really got together as a group right around St. Patrick's Day to do some gigs for that, then just kept it going.

Nick: I got involved with Jordan and Jeff first playing more bluegrass and traditionals of that type. Then we were to fulfill a pre-pandemic show of Irish Music for a 2022 St. Paddy's day so we formed into what is now know as the Bards.

You describe your music as “Celtic-Sea-Grass” playing styles from from Celtic, Sea Songs, Punk, OldTime & more. Talk about how you guys got into this style of music – and does being from this area inspire your songwriting?
Craig:
For me… I never listened to bluegrass or sea songs. I’ve appreciated them, but never actively listened to any of these music types. I’ve always loved Irish songs. There is something very enchanting about them. They can go from the most sad melancholy and morose tune to the loudest fastest maelstrom. My aim is to blend these two extreme ends and bring them all together. Similar to the way an Iron Maiden song can. Hence the first song I wrote "Irish Maiden Voyage". It doesn’t completely encompass the idea, but hey, it was my first attempt.

Jeff: I’d been hearing Irish music since I was little from my Dad’s love of the Clancy Brothers. He had about 3 rotating artists in his CD player for like 10 years, Clancy Brothers, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash. I also got into old time fiddling from the Old Time Jam that Dan helped start and still goes on today, Wednesdays at The Bayou... and Bluegrass from hearing it on my grandparents radio as a kid in Virginia. The sea shanty part totally comes from being in this area. Dan is an actual boat captain and I got to witness him sing a shanty while actually doing work on a sailboat. It was awesome. The sea stuff and whaling history of the area has definitely been influencing my songwriting recently, and all these styles have crossover that falls under the general genre of “Folk”

What is your songwriting process like – do you all bring ideas to the table or are there certain songwriters within the group? 
Craig: This is my favorite part of the group. Everyone comes from such diverse backgrounds and everyone has been so dedicated to music for so long, that they all bring an incredible amount to the table. It seems like we all just bring whatever we’ve been working on to the table and everyone just naturally picks it up in a session… and boom suddenly it’s a song.

Jeff: I just write what comes to me, then hone it to a song. Right now most of us have written songs or parts for songs at least and bring different styles and aspects to it, like Craig writes the dancy instrumental stuff, Jordan wrote this westerny ballad for the album, Dan reworked the words of an old tune to be about Gungywamp. Sometimes we’ll play one of Nick or My tunes from a different band. We do also do lots of standards, we’ll often play these 3-4 hour bar sets where we can add plenty of old favorites in, but I do end up enjoying the originals more.

Nick: Anyone can bring a song into the group, we have played everything from Black Sabbath to Creole music.

I imagine playing this style of music has you guys pretty busy for the St. Patrick’s day season -- what are some of your favorite songs to play in celebration?
Jeff:
 I like playing the dancy Irish tunes, the Jigs and Reels etc. Sometimes some people will even get up and stepdance along and that's cool to see. A whole other cultural art for that mixes with the music.

Nick: I like to play the Dolphin song on St. Paddy's day since its also the little know holiday of the first time humans and dolphins came together.

What are some of your favorite venues to play – in the area or out of? 
Jeff: I enjoy all the Irish pubs we play, the Inishmor in Colchester being our monthly home-base and of course CT’s only Scottish Pub Scottish Dave’s. This type of music just fits right in at those places. My two favorite hometown spots to play are 33 and Strange Brew. I also love going up to play like a camp out festival which we did a bunch this year. Like the renaissance faires, those are always wild.

You’ve got 2 new singles out, “Come On Out Ye Gungywamps” and “Si Beg Si Mohr / Arkansas Traveler” – can you tell us more about the 2 songs? 
Jeff: "Come out ye Gungyuwamps" is the tale of Gungywamp and the creation of the band {aliens}; "Si beag si mhor" is from an ancient harp player “O'Carolan” which we medley into "Arkansas Traveler", an old time tune I think Dan played with The Can Kickers as well. I learned it from them and then later learned it was one of my great great grandpa’s favorite songs to play on fiddle too!

You’ve got a new album coming out Feb 16 - tell us about the recording process – where did you record it and what can we expect from the new album? 
Jeff: We recorded at Brad Bensko’s studio in mystic Bearded Cat. It was great, We all just sat in the same room and did it live, individually mic'd up with Brad in the control room taking it right to reel to reel, (and then back onto the computer obviously so we could digitize it). It was lots of fun, and also very hot... I think it was late June. There's a few old songs on there that we do our may but at least half of the songs are the originals we enjoy playing most.

Nick: Gotta keep that Dolphin Tank at 78 degrees

What are some bands/musicians you guys listen to for inspiration/motivation? 
Jeff:
For me its as much the local folk musicians as old greats. For an Irish band like us The Pogues are a great inspiration. This new band from Ireland The Mary Wallopers is very similar and fun. Around here, going to that old time jam was great for me. The Can Kickers I always liked, and these guys The Jovial Crew up in Essex really got us more into the Shanty stuff. And of course whatever our honorary bandmate Stuart Fensom is doing is always good... Rogue March, My Druthers etc.

Nick: We listen to all kinds of maritime themed dolphin inspired songs.

Any favorite local bands/musicians, venues or businesses you want to shout out? 
Jeff: I mentioned a lot and there's so many more, it's cool to live in a place with so many really talented people involved in the scene. Like every night you could go out and see some great live music.

What's up next for you guys? Any big gigs/tours coming up? 
Jeff: Oh yeah always gigging a whole lot, especially with Paddys day coming up. We're playing Friday at 33 with the Jovial Crew, that should be a fun one. Then we’re releasing our album! Feb 16th at The Telegraph with Pocket Vinyl and Xenos band- 2 bands I've really been enjoying seeing recently so excited for more of that. We also have plans for a little tour in April with our friends in Forever Fool.

Nick: We are going to Disneyland where we hope the crate race will be won by crowd favorite Anthony of Rockland, Maine. A 2023 champ who should not be underestimated.

Anything else you’d like to include or that you wish we’d asked?
No this is great - whoever could all kinda answered these separately then we compiled them if that does or doesn’t explain any of the tales of aliens, maritime creatures etc. It's all woven into our sound! Thank you so much for all you do for the music scene around here we’re all appreciative and glad it is still alive and thriving!


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