Tradish: Our hearts beat for Irish Music, but…

By Morten Alfred Høirup |

A talk with the Danish trio Tradish about living your life for the music, finding inspiration, and getting off on the good energy.

“We’ve just driven down from Göteborg, where we played a concert last night, Brilliant crack! There’s a pretty active Irish music scene up there and so the whole thing was put together by the people who organize the twice-weekly Irish sessions.  I did a guitar and bouzouki workshop, Louise did a fiddle workshop and Brian did a bodhrán workshop, and then we played our gig in the evening. After the gig there was a big jam session, with loads of good beer and fine people, and then the dancing got going, and this fella from Germany started on the pipes…ah, it was a fine night!”

Three very different concerts

I have invited the three members of the Danish band Tradish, John Pilkington (guitar, bouzouki and vocals), Louise Vangsgaard (violin, viola and vocals) and Brian Woetmann (bodhrán, percussion and vocals) for a cup of coffee and a chat about their trio and life on the road playing Irish folk music.

We arranged to meet in my flat in Copenhagen, and when they arrived late Sunday afternoon after a 4 hour drive from Göteborg in Sweden, it was like being visited by a whirlwind.

Tradish are one of the busiest Trad Irish bands not only in Denmark but in the whole of Scandinavia, with concerts across Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Greenland and the Czech Republic. They describe themselves as a band with a “deep respect for the strong and diverse Irish music tradition”, but also as a band who are at the same time “interested in exploring ways to connect the old and the new, the past and the present, respecting the roots whilst trying to keep the music fresh and alive.”

I quickly bundle them into my little kitchen with a cup of coffee, and the banter is soon flowing easily – they are just on the way home from a short tour in Sweden, and apparently before that, it was Greenland, so they’re still buzzing with all their recent experiences with the music and the audiences.

John Pilkington comes originally from Manchester, England, but has lived and played in Denmark for many years now. He has played in Tradish since the trio started in 2009, and he’s the one who does the booking for the band.  He seems cheerful and upbeat, sitting there in the kitchen, telling lively stories about the goings on at the gig in Göteborg the day before. It’s quite clear; it’s been a good trip.

“Yes and the funny thing is,” adds Brian Woetmann, “they were three quite different concerts we played on this tour. The first one was in this beautiful old theatre, with people watching from these old rows of seats, sitting and really listening: great sound, a proper concert audience – lovely people too – ‘cos that’s what theatres are for. The next place was like a big music pub, with a very lively audience, so we really had to whip up a frenzy to get them with us. It was a real mixed audience, with some people who’d come specially to see us, and others who were there because they liked the place and the lively atmosphere. Then came the last gig, as John mentioned before, where we could really get to the heart of why we do all this travelling around, with people really wanting to get off on Irish music and check us out.”

Roots and shoots

Tradish are a very mobile band who love being on the road, and play many different types of music venues and festivals. At the core is the traditional music they have all been playing in various bands over many years, but they have also plenty of experience playing other genres like rock, roots and world music. They have just released their second album, “Roots and Shoots”, which is a well-arranged mix of traditional Irish material and newly composed songs and tunes.

You can hear how the band has found inspiration in other genres, for example in Wally Page’s “Sixteen Jolly Ravers”, which has a touch of the Russian and Balkan about it, or Brian Woetmann’s “China Charter”, which sounds like a mixture of Irish folk music, avant-garde jazz and Kurt Weill.

Louise Vangsgaard, who plays both violin and viola, and sings in Tradish, has been consumed by Irish folk music for many years. She has also worked and toured with bands playing Nordic folk music, along with plenty of experience teaching music professionally.

“Our hearts beat for the Irish music, but as our name suggests, we don’t just play traditional Irish folk music. We’re also adding our own songs and tunes into the mix, and enjoying the way traditional Irish music can be enriched with music from the different places and people we meet as we travel around, so we can put our own lives into the music.”

Then John adds, “And we travel light. We don’t need a huge set-up. I’ve got my guitar and my bouzouki, Louise has her fiddle, and Brian has figured out a way of packing his whole percussion set-up into one case, so it we can fly without it costing an arm and a leg in excess baggage. So what with a combination of planes and our band bus, we’ve travelled around a good deal of Europe, getting the opportunity to meet people who have introduced us to all sorts of fascinating variations on how to play Irish music. It’s amazing to see how the music has spread throughout the world over the past 200 years, and it seems that no matter where you go, you can always find people who are adding their own special flavours to the tradition. In the Czech Republic, for example, where we met gypsy musicians who played Irish music in their own unique way, the music often has a definite Balkan feel to it, whereas in Norway and Sweden, they will sometimes borrow ornamentation and phrasing from their own strong fiddle traditions. I think that travelling around and meeting all these different people crazy about Irish music is an inspiration in itself, and actually ended up providing the theme for the new album “Roots and Shoots”.”

The kids

The cups of coffee are soon empty, and I notice that Brian, who has small kids waiting for him at home, is glancing at his watch. It’s time for Tradish to drive the last 4 hour stretch home to Aarhus, where they can relax a bit before they take off again, so all that’s left is for me to ask them what their plans are now.

“Well, I guess we’ll just keep on pushing out into the world,” grins Louise. “We’ve just been in Greenland, we’re off to the Czech Republic this summer, and we’re constantly travelling around Denmark, Sweden and Norway. It’s great to be able to bring our music and our stories out to new places.”

“We’re definitely going to head north again,” adds John. “We’ve just got back from a fantastic tour of Greenland, where it was clear that most of them didn’t know so much about Irish folk music, which was great, ‘cos it was like painting on a blank canvas: no pre-conceptions, nobody asking for “Whiskey in the Jar”, none of that kind of thing. They came to see us with an amazing openness, especially the young people. At our concert in Katuaq in Nuuk, all these kids came right up to the front of the stage and just started dancing. They didn’t know what a reel or a jig was, there was no-one to tell them what to do, but after a couple of numbers, they just “got it”. They started hopping around to the rhythms in the music and having a great time. They could just pick up on the good energy in the music, which, of course, is what it’s really all about. It’s that same energy you experience when you play, and when it really “clicks”, you just get so high off it. I suppose that’s the thing we really try and find when we play, and that’s what we love about it. When we went up to Greenland, and those kids really “got it”, it was SUCH a trip!

Back in the band bus

Brian Woetmann, who has been sitting and gazing out into space, whilst John has been talking about their plans to go North again, adds thoughtfully, “But we’re going to have to invest in a rifle, ‘cos we’ll soon be going to Svalbard, famous for its polar bears, and I’ve heard they don’t mess around when it comes to music…”

We all laugh at the thought of the three of them with their instruments, back to back under the midnight sun, North of the Arctic circle, surrounded by hungry polar bears. And with that, they’re on their way back down the stairs as fast as they came up, down to the band bus and back home to friends and families in Aarhus.

In the coming months, anybody interested in a small band whose hearts beat for Irish music, can experience Tradish at concert and festivals in Denmark, Czech Republic, and not least Norway.

Relevant links

Tradish: http://www.tradish.dk

Danish Roots: http://www.danishroots..eu

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