LONDON’S traditional Irish music scene is flourishing so it’s no surprise to find it churning out fresh talent, such as trad outfit Crossharbour.
Founding members Órlaith McAuliffe (flute/whistle), Sam Proctor (fiddle) and Tad Sargent (bodhrán/bouzouki) met on the London session scene and are familiar faces at sessions from Camden to West London to Slough.
Finding themselves with a bunch of gigs but no name, they had to come up with something in a hurry. Naming themselves after a London underground station was a nod to iconic London culture but, more importantly, reflects their London roots and the city’s thriving Irish music scene.
The band made their mark on that scene last year with gigs at London’s Return to Camden festival, the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square and Dublin’s Temple Bar Festival. With an eponymous debut album launched at the Crown in Cricklewood last month, the gang embarked on a UK tour, taking in Cambridge and Bath Folk Festivals this summer.
Crossharbour collectively boast solid musicianship. Stalwart Órlaith McAuliffe, aged 21 and with 19 All-Ireland Champion titles to her name, is a leading composer in the band, with much of her material featured on the album, which is a 50:50 split of original material and traditional tunes.
Proctor, a lecturer in music production, has a critically acclaimed album of his own, Natural Progression, under his belt. Founding band member Tad Sargent is a well-known London session musician, bodhrán teacher and gifted bouzouki player. Guitarist Philippe Barnes brings jazz influences and an MA in Irish Music Performance, while singer/songwriter Rosie Hodgson, a BBC Radio 2 Young Folk finalist, completes the line-up.
“I met Tad and Sam at gigs in London and we quickly became great friends, frequenting sessions together,” McAuliffe explains. “I didn’t meet Philippe until our first band rehearsal at Tad’s house where we spent most of the evening eating pizza.
"As Tad promised, he was a fantastic addition to the band. At our first gig at the 2012 Southwell Folk Festival, we were a four-piece but left pretty much a five-piece! Rosie was the fish-and-chip stall girl we met working at the festival and, lucky for us, she’s also a brilliant singer-songwriter. The rest is history!” laughs McAuliffe.
Crossharbour’s sound is a contemporary take on traditional tunes, tight duets which manage to fly, bound by inventive backing.
Siobhán Long, respected critic of The Irish Times, rightly singles out McAuliffe’s skill and compositions, hailing her duet with Proctor on the Chicago set as “a masterclass in empathy and phrasing” and praising her self-penned Surprise Package set as “echoing the fine, sinuous lines of Lúnana’s reading of Pierre Bensusan’s The Last Pint”.
Mc Auliffe’s set includes tunes written for her granddad, and after Sligo’s Knocknarea Mountain which her family climb each summer. McAuliffe credits everyone with equal input, she brings tunes but leaves arrangements mostly to the lads “as they’re better at that than me!”
There’s a mix of influences but a shared love of Irish music. Proctor, from Nottingham, was encouraged by his parents to start fiddle aged eight, learning at Nottingham Comhaltas. “I grew up around Irish music as my parents were involved in running a folk club in the 70s and 80s when the first wave of Irish bands was around. I was listening to Altan, Flook and Four Men and a Dog which certainly has an influence” he says.
Sargent, of Irish grandparents, acquired his passion for Irish music on childhood holidays in Ireland. Londoner McAuliffe’s Killarney parents engendered her love of Irish music, as did summers in Kerry and Sligo. She learned from CDs, East London Comhaltas, and as many flute and whistle workshops as she could attend in London and Ireland.
“My mum’s a huge influence as she started me on the tin whistle aged 7 (flute aged 8). I used to listen to Mary Bergin and Matt Molloy’s albums on repeat!”
Although delighted to have a tour and CD in their hands, it’s simply playing music that drives them. As McAuliffe puts it “I actually prefer playing sessions than playing on stage as I get nervous in front of a crowd! I play for the enjoyment factor and the gigs are just a bonus really!”
Crossharbour’s self-titled debut album is out now on Higlet Recordings.
They play Gate To Southwell Folk Festival on June 8.
For more info, see www.crossharbourmusic.com.