Colum Sands  
A member of the Sands Family of Co. Down, Colum Sands is a fine singer and an inspired songwriter, much like his brother Tommy. Steve Winick, All-Music Guide

Tommy Sands  
Not to be confused with the pop singer of the 1950s, Tommy Sands was the prime songwriter with The Sands Family, a group with his five siblings that became one of Ireland's most influential folk groups of the 1960s and '70s. Although the group has limited its touring in the past decade to an annual tour of Germany and Ireland, Sands has continued to pave new ground as a solo singer/songwriter and as the host of a popular radio show, Country Ceili, broadcast weekly via Belfast's Downtown Radio since 1976.

Sands grew up in a very musical family. His father and six uncles played the fiddle, while his mother played accordion. The family farm, in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains, was one of the few places that Protestants and Catholics joined together to listen to music and dance. Sands began writing songs shortly after learning to play the fiddle. Many of his songs reflect the political turmoil and sociological struggles of his homeland.

Although Sands attended college to study theology and philosophy, music proved too great a lure. Dropping out of the school, Sands began to walk the 120 miles home. He hadn't gotten far when a car with his siblings stopped to pick him up to perform a concert. Inspired by The Clancy Brothers, the Sands Family (Tommy, Eugene, Ben, Colum and Ann) became leaders of the Irish folk revival.

The Sands Family first came to the United States in 1970, after winning a concert trip to New York in a national ballad contest. After performing at Carnegie Hall, the group hooked up with a manager in Boston and remained in America for six months. Returning to Europe in 1971, the Sands Family found that they had acquired an enthusiastic following in Germany.

The Sands Family's string of success ended in 1975, when youngest brother Eugene was killed in an auto accident. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Ann Sands announced her retirement from the group. Subsequent tours have been limited to the three remaining brothers.

Tommy Sands' debut solo album, Singing of the Times, released in 1985, included his now-classic tunes "There Were Roses" and "Daughters and Sons." Sands' second album, Down By Bendy's Lane:

Irish Songs and Stories for Children, followed three years later. On his third album, Hedges of County Down, released in 1989, Sands focused on traditional Irish material. He returned to original songs for his fourth effort, Beyond the Shadows, released in 1990. Sands' fifth album, The Heart's A Wonder, released in 1995, included a tune, "The Music of Healing," co-written with American folk singer Pete Seeger. The song was used as an anthem for a "Citizen's Assembly" that Sands organized in Belfast, in August 1986, which included many of Ulster County's top artists and literary figures. The Heart's a Wonder also marked the first time that Sands collaborated with Sarajevo cellist Vedran Smailovic. Sands and Smailovic joined with Irish songstress Dolores Keane on the 1997 title track of the multi-artist album Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger. One of Sands' most ambitious projects is a stage musical, The Shadow of O'Casey, that he co-wrote with playwright Sean O'Casey's daughter, Shivaun. Craig Harris, All-Music Guide

Sharon Shannon  
Sharon Shannon is a young, gifted accordion player from Galway. Her pared-down, speeded up and rocked-out approach to traditional music appeals to other artists as much as it does to her fans. It earned her a place in The Waterboys and in Christy Moore's band before she toured Europe and the U.S. with her own successful band. Steve Winick, All-Music Guide

More than a decade since Scottish harpers Patsy Seddon and Mary MacMaster's first collaborations, their duo, Sileas (pronounced: She-less) remains the only duo of its kind. While they remain rooted in traditional Scottish folk music, Sileas' combination of nylon-strung acoustic harp and brass-strung electro-harp creates a lively, exciting and contemporary sound. Although Seddon and MacMaster have recently focused their attention to The Poozies, the eclectic band that they share with accordionist Karen Tweed and guitarist Kate Rusby, their harp duo has been a regular feature of The Poozies' concerts.

The inspiration for Sileas was initially conceived when Seddon, who studied harp for four years with Alison Kinnaird, and MacMaster, who was mostly self-taught, played together in a short-lived band, Sprangeen. Named after a 17th century female poet who wrote in Gaelic, Sileas released their debut album, Delighted With Harps, in 1986. Produced by Freeland Barbour, the album showcased the two women's unique harp playing and their silken vocal harmonies with songs sung in both Gaelic and English. Sileas' second album, Beating Harps, released in 1988, continued the high-quality of its predecessor. The duo's third album, Harpbreakers, released in 1990, was their weakest effort, concentrating too heavily on an electronically-enhanced sound. Six years passed before the release of Sileas' fourth album, Play On Light, in 1996. Produced by Jim Sutherland, the album signaled a return to the acoustic sound of the duo's first two albums and included a medley of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" and MacMaste 's instrumental composition, "The Flawless Juggler".

Seddon and MacMaster recorded an album, Sail On, with Clan Alba, a band of Scottish musicians assembled by Dick Gaughan, in 1996. Play On Light followed three years later. Craig Harris, All-Music Guide

Silly Sisters  
Steeleye Span's Maddy Prior and folk diva June Tabor teamed up in 1976 for the first Silly Sisters album. It was more than a decade before they followed it up with a second, but both recordings feature a gorgeous melding of Prior's clear, brassy soprano with Tabor's darker tones. Michael P. Dawson, All-Music Guide

Silly Wizard  
Generally considered the world's finest performers of traditional and contemporary Scottish music -- and with good reason. Silly Wizard's music is at once driving and sensitive, powerful and poignant, at times hypnotic, often humorous, with sensitive group interplay and virtuoso-level musicianship, particularly from brothers Phil (accordion, keyboards, whistles, guitar, vocals) and Johnny (fiddle) Cunningham. Their repertoire includes centuries-old instrumental dance music along with traditional and contemporary narrative ballads: tales of joy and woe, of men and women, of time and travel, of love and loss. Silly Wizard is not just another folk music group; they rank with the greatest creators and performers from any country from any time.

Several members of the group, particularly The Cunningham brothers and vocalist Andy Stewart, have made solo and duo recordings and have performed and recorded with other artists, primarily Scottish traditionalists. These recordings are also well worth investigating, but get The Silly Wizard stuff first. Niles J. Frantz, All-Music Guide

Skara Brae  
Skara Brae is a vocal quartet that features Michael O Dhomhnaill and his sisters Triona and Mairead Ni Dhomhnaill of Rann na Feirste in Donegal and Daithi Sproule from Derry city. Steve Winick, All-Music Guide

Skylark recorded only a self-titled debut album in 1972 and a second album two years later. Three of the band's members later began solo careers: vocalist Donny Gerard recorded several singles in the mid-'70s and percussionist Carl Graves had two hits in 1975, but the most popular of the band's graduates is keyboard player David Foster. He scored St. Elmo's Fire and recorded "Man in Motion" for the soundtrack. Foster's albums include a self-titled debut in 1986, The Symphony Sessions in 1988 and The David Foster Christmas Album in 1993. Besides Foster, Graves and Gerard, Skylark's lineup comprised vocalist Bonie Cook, drummer Duris Maxwell, guitarist Norman McPherson and bassist Steven Pugsley. John Bush, All-Music Guide

Led by Seamus Egan, this Irish folk supergroup has invigorated the Irish traditional music scene by incorporating non-traditional instruments. The group's members make use of instruments like guitar, banjo and bouzouki to add a modern spice to their sound, which is heavily rooted in Irish reels, jigs and other folk song forms.

Egan was born in Philadelphia but moved to Ireland with his parents at age three. He began taking lessons on tin whistle when he was little more than a toddler, and later returned to the U.S. with his family when he was 14. He recorded his first album, Traditional Music of Ireland, for Shanachie Records at age 16. As a teen prodigy, he toured with Peter, Paul and Mary and bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, and also recorded with Vernon Reid of Living Colour, playing uilleann pipes.

Solas consists of Egan on flute, tin whistle and banjo, fiddle player Winifred Horan, concertina/accordion player John Williams, guitarist John Doyle and vocalist Karan Casey. Most of the group's members come from New York, and as a trio, Egan, Horan and Doyle discovered they enjoyed playing with the Chicago-based Williams. The group didn't become Solas -- the Celtic word for "light" -- until they added vocalist Karan Casey. Multi-instrumentalist Egan has won All-Ireland championships on several instruments, including flute, tin whistle, mandolin, and banjo, while the other members of the group (except for guitarist Doyle) have training in Irish music and dance going back to their grammar school years. The band made their debut as a group at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and their second performance was at the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. Solas had no aspirations to tour and record as a band, but within a matter of months playing in Manhattan's Irish bars, they had a record deal. A short while later, in 1996, they found themselves on a cross-country tour, where they performed on National Public Radio programs like Mountain Stage and Prairie Home Companion. Solas has recorded several albums for the New Jersey-based Shanachie label, among them Solas, their 1996 debut, and Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers, 1997. Words That Remain followed in 1998.

Egan has recorded several albums under his own name, including Traditional Music of Ireland, (1986), A Week In January (1990), and When Juniper Sleeps (1996), all for Shanachie Records. Casey's album Songlines (1997) was released on the same label. John Williams' self-titled debut was released in 1995 on Green Linnet Records. Winifred Horan can be heard on several albums by Cherish the Ladies, including The Back Door (1992) and Out and About (1993).

The group won a National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD) "Indie" award in 1997 for their self-titled debut album. Richard Skelly, All-Music Guide

Davy Spillane  
A founding member of progressive Celtic folk-rock band, Moving Hearts, Davy Spillane helped bring the music of the Emerald Isle up to modern standards. Since the band's breakup in 1986, Spillane has continued to forge a new musical direction while firmly grasping the traditions of the past.

Spillane launched his musical career while still in his early teens. Learning to play the tin whistle, as a youngster, Spillane switched to the Uillean pipes at the age of thirteen or fourteen and began frequenting weekly seisuns (Irish music jam sessions) at local pubs. Spillane had a lead role as a piper in a gypsy band in the 1974 film, Traveller.

Moving to County Clare, Spillane became absorbed by the Doolin music scene. Approached by Donal Lunny and Christy Moore to join their experimental folk-rock band, Moving Hearts, Spillane accepted the invitation. Although Moving Hearts experienced numerous personnel changes, Spillane remained at the heart of the band's sound for the five years of its existence.

Shortly after Moving Hearts disbanded, Spillane recorded his debut solo album, Atlantic Bridge. Joined by American musicians including Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas and Albert Lee, Spillane used the album to focus on the connections between Celtic music and bluegrass. Spillane has subsequently recorded two additional solo albums -- Shadow Hunter and Pipedreams -- and one album, Out of the Air, with the Davy Spillane Band. In 1991, Spillane collaborated with ex-Bothy Band guitarist and vocalist Andy Irvine to record the stunning, tradition-rooted, album, East Wind. Spillane's first release on a major record label, Place Among the Stars, released in 1998, featured guest vocals by Marie Brennan of Clannad and Steve Winwood.

A much-demanded session player, Spillane has performed and/or recorded with such artists as Kate Bush, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello and Emmylou Harris. In 1998, Spillane toured with Canadian rocker Bryan Adams. Spillane also opened his own recording facility, Burrenstone Studios, in Dublin. ~ Craig Harris, All-Music Guide

Daithi Sproule  
A former member of the group Skara Brae, Daithi Sproule of Derry city now lives in Minneapolis. He is one of Irish music's greatest guitar accompanists, and also a fine singer in English and Gaelic. He currently performs part-time in the groups Trian and Altan. Although his guitar accompaniment and vocals have been featured on many albums, he has not recorded much as a solo artist. Steve Winick, All-Music Guide

Steeleye Span  
Aside from Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span were the most successful and enduring British folk-rock band. The parallels between the band are numerous: both updated traditional British folk material with rock arrangements, both featured an excellent female lead singer (Sandy Denny for Fairport, Maddy Prior for Steeleye Span), both frequently employed multi-part harmonies, and both mixed original and traditional songs. Although Fairport were more innovative in their early days, Steeleye Span were arguably the more interesting band after 1970, when personnel changes had gutted the original Fairport lineup. Steeleye Span, too, would undergo numerous personnel changes even at their peak. Prior was the constant factor that gave the group something of a recognizable identity at all phases of their journey.

One thing that differentiated Steeleye Span from their counterparts was that Fairport came to traditional folk from a rock background, whereas Steeleye traveled in the opposite direction. The original lineup, formed around the beginning of 1970, included guitarist Terry Wood, who had been in a traditional Irish folk group called Sweeney's Men (with Andy Irvine). The supple-voiced Prior had been in a folk duo with guitarist Tim Hart. The impetus for Steeleye Span's formation, ironically, came from ex-Fairport Convention bassist Ashley Hutchings. Hutchings wanted to keep pursuing the traditional folk direction ploughed by Fairport on the 1969 album Liege and Lief, and left Fairport to joined forces with Prior, Hart, Terry Woods, and Gay Woods (Terry's wife) to anchor the first incarnation of Steeleye Span.

This lineup only lasted for one album, with the Woods leaving for Doctor Strangely Strange; Terry Woods would eventually resurface with the Pogues in the 1980s. He was replaced by Martin Carthy, one of the most respected guitarists on the English folk circuit. Carthy's abdication of acoustic folk for electric (if drumless) folk-rock apparently caused much consternation within the purist English folk community, a kerfuffle that is hard to understand (at least from an American perspective), given that Dylan had already successfully fought that battle in the mid-'60s. While Steeleye Span played folk music, they had no aversion to playing it loud, and this version of the band proved that it was possible to create an energetic ruckus without a drummer.

Both Hutchings and Carthy, by far the most famous members of the group, left around the end of 1971. This sort of defection would have crippled most acts. Yet Steeleye Span not only persevered, but entered their most commercially successful phase. Tim Hart was once quoted as saying that the group wanted to "put traditional music back into current musical language -- to make folk music less esoteric." They were aided in doing so by new bassist Rick Kemp, who became Maddy Prior's husband. In 1973, they finally added drums to the band, becoming a true folk-rock act after years of ramping up.

One asset to Steeleye Span's unusual durability (in the face of the revolving door of players) was their open-minded approach to contemporary influences. They covered oldies (and well) by Buddy Holly, the Four Seasons, and Phil Spector. David Bowie and Peter Sellers made cameo appearances on their albums in the mid-'70s. They occasionally acted in plays (in which they also musically performed as a group). They covered Brecht-Weill songs. Some of their work was produced by Mike Batt, whose primary previous credentials was as the mastermind of the Wombles, a British kiddie rock group.

Steeleye Span finally had a British chart hit in 1974 with the Christmas song "Gaudette." In 1975, they had a huge (by folk-rock standards) smash with "All Around My Hat," which reached the U.K. Top Five. In the United States, they (like Fairport) were consigned to cult status. They picked up some airplay on open-minded FM stations, but got their widest Stateside exposure as an opening act during a Jethro Tull tour. The onslaught of punk and new wave weakened any prospects for continued chart success at home. In 1977, they took on more traditional elements with the return of Martin Carthy, and the addition of John Kirkpatrick on accordion, but they finally split the following year.

Not for good, however. In a final parallel with Fairport Convention, they decided to periodically reunite while pursuing their own projects. Other studio albums appeared, and the group sometimes performed at festivals or even toured, though with enough irregularity to make it confusing to determine whether they were "together" again. A devoted following makes it possible for them to be received warmly by cult audiences whenever the mood suits them to play live again. Carthy has enjoyed the most notable solo career of the Steeleye Span alumni, continuing to command great respect among British folk listeners. Maddy Prior's most notable outside endeavor has been her duo recordings with fellow British folk singer June Tabor. Richie Unterberger, All-Music Guide

Andy Stewart  
The musical traditions of Ireland and Scotland have been extended through the singing and tenor banjo playing of Andy B. Stewart. A former member of Silly Wizard, Stewart has continued his musical exploration through several solo albums and recordings with such influential Celtic players as Manus Lunny, Gerry O'Beirne and ex-Silly Wizard band-mates Phil Cunningham and Martin Hadden. In addition to interpreting the traditional ballads of Ireland and Scotland and the poetry of Robert Burns, Stewart has composed such original songs as "The Blackbird", "The Queen Of Argylle", "Golden, Golden" and "The Ramblin' Rover".

Stewart first attracted attention as a member of Puddock's Well, a band that he formed with fellow students at Blairgowie High School, Martin Hadden, Dougie MacLean and Kenny Hadden. A tradition-rooted group, Puddock's Well performed throughout the Scottish Highlands and became the house band at a Blairgowie folk club. Their most important performance came as opening act for Scottish folk band, Silly Wizard. Although they balanced day jobs and performances following their high school graduation, the demands on their time proved difficult and the group disbanded. Shortly afterwards, Stewart and Hadden were invited to join Silly Wizard. They remained with the band for twelve years, recording eight albums and touring throughout the world.

During a break from Silly Wizard in 1985, Stewart planned to tour with the band's keyboard and accordion player Phil Cunningham. When an auto accident prevented Cunningham's participation, $Stewart enlisted ex-Bothy Band and Moving Hearts guitar and bouzouki player Manus Lunny. The tour proved so successful that Stewart and Lunny continued to work together for six years. In addition to two duo albums, Stewart and Lunny worked together on Stewart's solo album, At It Again, in 1990, and a trio album, with Cunningham, Fire in the Glen, in 1985.

As Lunny became more involved with a Scottish band, Capercaille, in the early 1990s, Stewart began to work with Irish guitarist and record producer, Gerry O'Beirne. Stewart has supplemented his musical career as a freelance technician for television and film companies in Scotland. ~ Craig Harris, All-Music Guide

Sweeney's Men  
Although they were only together for three years, Sweeney's Men had a revolutionary effect on the course of the Celtic folk revival. At a time when Irish folk music was relegated to pub-like singing groups like The Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners, Sweeney's Men added contemporary-minded energy and instrumental virtuosity to inspire nearly all subsequent Celtic and British folk-rooted bands.

Since the group's disbanding, members have continued to make their influence felt. Mandolin, harmonica and guitar player Andy Irvine went on to form Planxty and currently performs with Patrick Street. Johnny Moynihan, who introduced the Greek stringed-instrument, the bouzouki, to Celtic music, was a founding member of both Planxty and DeDanaan. Guitarist Terry Woods (who replaced original guitarist Joe Dolan) has played with Steeleye Span and The Pogues. Electric guitarist Henry McCullough, who played with Sweeney's Men during the brief period between their two albums, went on to play with Joe Cocker's Grease Band, Eire Apparent and Paul McCartney's Wings.

The initial lineup of Sweeney's Men was together for less than a year. After recording several singles, Dolan was replaced by Woods. The band's self-titled debut album remains their best work and includes their version of "Willie O' Winsbury". Although Irvine mistakenly set the traditional folk ballad to the "wrong" music, the version became standard when it was re-recorded by Pentangle in 1972. By the time that Sweeney's Men recorded their second album, "The Tracks Of Sweeney", in 1969, Irvine had left the band to travel through Eastern Europe. The group disbanded shortly after the album's release. Despite rumors that a new version of the band, featuring Moynihan, Irvine, Woods and Fairport Convention/Albion Band/Steeleye Span founder Ashley Hutchings, would tour in the early-1970s, the reunited band never materialized. ~ Craig Harris, All-Music Guide

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