Irish band, Goats Don’t Shave, raise the rafters at album launch concert

Musical lovers know such Irish groups as U2, The Cranberries and The Pogues – now make way for Donegal-based ‘Goats Don’t Shave.’

Whether it’s about the perils of drinking, the Irish Revolution, the loss of island life or indeed love itself – multi-talented singer-songwriter Pat Gallagher and his dynamic band move you to laughter or to tears. Never neither, as more than evident in a hair-raising, hand-clapping, foot-tapping, time-stopping, standing-ovation performance at The Balor Theatre recently in Ballybofey, Donegal, northwestern Ireland.

Master of many instruments including guitar, mandolin, banjo, harmonica and drum, not to mention the fine art of lyric writing, Gallagher and his musical colleagues more than please an audience – with humorous anecdotes, brilliant musicianship and strong voices whether in soft, poignant, tear-jerking ballads or fast, let-it-all-hang-out rhythms.

More than that, Gallagher’s songs tell vivid stories, rough-cut slices of life, some with serrated edges. And diverse they are too, whether about a washed-up Scottish boxer and his winning the world championship, digging turf for the fire (down and dirty blues-style), the tale of an Irish gigolo known as ‘Crooked Jack,’ or simply about Irish navvies taking the bus from Donegal to Glasgow in search of work.

Pat Gallagher musician, Goats don't Shave

Living in rural west Donegal – considered by many to be the most naturally beautiful part of all Ireland – Gallagher and his band have just released their fourth album, entitled ‘Turf Man Blues,’ an impressive output of musical creativity by any standard. Equally impressive, the friendly performers work spans many genres, from country and rock to folk, blues, even gospel. So versatile is Gallagher, musical aficionados say they await his debut as a classical composer and conductor for the Irish National Orchestra.

Shaun Doherty Goats don't Shave

While light-hearted banter is an integral element of Gallagher’s performances, so too sometimes is biting satire, as in ‘God Takes Visa’ about how some religions have gotten so greedy about taking peoples’ money for the saving of souls, as exemplified in the line, ‘the dollar is a Kingdom but the poor must stay outside.’

Mickey Gallagher Goats don't Shave

Gallagher’s verses and musical notes also have an enduring effect on listeners as in his, at times poignant, at times angry rendition, of ‘The Evictions,’ about the merciless evictions of Irish peasants from their small farms in Derryveagh in Donegal by a powerful English landlord, John George Adair, and his ‘crowbar brigades’ in the mid-1800s, thus forcing them to sail away from family, friends and their native homeland to Australia and other far-off places.

Odhran Cummings Goats don't Shave

Just as Gallagher’s new song, ‘The Volunteer,’ is a tribute to those men, women and children who gave up their lives during the 1916 Easter Irish Revolution, with the centennial being commemorated this year, so ‘Let The World Keep On Turning’ is devoted to diversity, whether that be religion, skin color or language.

Patsy Gallagher Goats don't Shave

A tribute to the loyalty Pat Gallagher and ‘Goats Don’t Shave’ have created down through the years, especially since their chart-topping hit ‘Las Vegas in the Hills of Donegal’ in 1992, is that on Saturday night a woman made a request for her two friends who got engaged at a Goats concert almost 20 years ago.

Stephen Campbell Goats don't Shave

Devoted fans Malachy McLaughlin from Dungloe and Michael Gallagher (Ireland’s famous weather forecaster) and daughter Marian, a Special Olympics Summer Games silver medal winner, left the concert-hall in ecstasy, with the former saying, “Brilliant. Fantastic music from my favorite band. I loved it.”

Michael Gallagher weather man, The Turf Man Blues

Even when Gallagher, singer-songwriter-musician par excellence, asked the audience to stay behind for a moment after the last song to pose for a group photo, he brought a smile to everyone’s face, saying he wanted it for the band’s ‘Instabook’ page.

So, a big hurrah for band members Pat Gallagher (vocal, guitar and banjo), Mickey Gallagher (drums), Patsy Gallagher (lead guitar, mandolin and vocal), Odhran Cummings (bass), Shaun Doherty (guitar and vocal) and Stephen Campbell (fiddle), as well as guest musicians, Connor Malone (saxophone) and Dermot Donohue (harmonica), for a terrific evening of entertainment launching the band’s newest CD. Interestingly, for part of Saturday’s concert, Pat Gallagher and fellow musician, Patsy Gallagher, played instruments made by Donegal-based company, Emerald Guitars – Pat on an X20 Artisan Woody, featuring a Bubinga veneer, and Patsy on an X7 Artisan.

Goats don't shave, Turf Man Blues

Following the Balor Theatre gig, ‘Goats Don’t Shave’ will perform three dates in Scotland next month: The Ceilidh House, Oban (May 27); Ramsay Hall, Port Ellen, Islay (May 28) and The Shed, Glasgow (May 29).

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From Burtonport to Bucharest: a restless heart keeps creative juices flowing

“Some people write poems, some write novels, I write songs…”

Such is how Donegal-based Ian Smith sums up the special craft he has practiced for more than half a century.

I first met the friendly, fair-haired Scotsman when he kindly introduced himself to my wife, Columbia, and I at a gig some years ago in the hauntingly beautiful Poisoned Glen in the shadow of Errigal where he was both musician and an organising team member at the annual Frankie Kennedy Winter Music School.

Our friendship strengthened after we asked him if he could arrange a group of Irish musicians to play concerts throughout Romania where we were then living as part of our combined inaugural St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and national Corporate Citizen Awards in that struggling post-Communist country.

Ian Smith musician, folk music Donegal

After his arrival in Bucharest, I remember distinctly his shock upon seeing a huge multicolored banner stretching several floors of a city centre building featuring him strumming guitar. Only then perhaps did the full significance of playing before audiences of thousands including the nation’s President, Prime Minister, Mayors and international Ambassadors truly dawn on him.

St. Patrick's Day celebrations Eastern Europe, Irish music Romania

Through snatches of conversation in airports and on winding roads between Romanian cities such as Cluj-Napoca, Oradea, Brasov and Constanta and in Donegal’s very own Hiudái Beag’s, Teac Jack and Leo’s Tavern I managed to patch together a tapestry of the life of the talented musician-cum-songwriter.

Smith recalls being seduced initially as a young 14-year-old “by the dark and complex lyrics of Lennon and the more upbeat and happy ones of McCartney” before his musical interests expanded quickly until they encompassed Carol King, James Taylor, Steely Dan, and Joni Mitchell. “I could have listened to Joni’s ‘Blue’ album 25 hours a day,” he says.

singer songwriter Ian Smith, Donegal musicians, St Patrick's Day musicians

A moment of pure concentration.

Living in Ayrshire, with such local talent as Gerry Rafferty, Billy Connolly and Barbara Dixon, the air around him was filled with artistic creativity. Smith must have inhaled it deeply as now, many years later, the 65-year-old has three albums under his belt – the wonderful ‘Restless Heart,’ ‘Keadue Bar’ and ‘A Celtic Connection,’ the latter labeled by ‘Irish Music Magazine’ as the recommended album of the year in 2011. He has also produced a two-track mini CD featuring the lovely songs ‘When it Snows In New York City’ and ‘On Keadue Strand’ – all reflecting the diversity of his song-writing abilities and the beauty of his guitar-playing.

As if that wasn’t enough, he has also hosted gigs both in the US, including one at the legendary Woodstock, and across Europe and Scandinavia, touring and playing alongside many international stars such as Nanci Griffith, Benny Gallagher, Christy Moore, Paul Brady, Mary Black, Altan, Dolores Keane, Maura O’Connell and Liam O’Maonlai. He also recently hosted a group of international writers at Teac Jack during the annual Ireland Writing Retreat, granting them insights into the art of songwriting.

Interestingly, the man from Kilmarnock didn’t begin adult life as a musician, instead working in the textile industry before his true passion took him on whirlwind adventures across England and Scotland either performing solo or with bands such as ‘Nessie.’

On one of these tours he met Donegal woman, Breda Ward, and love being the irresistible force that it is, the young, long-haired lead guitarist gave up the fast-moving world of rock music for donkeys, carts, whitewashed cottages and west Donegal rural tranquility where they reared two sons, Daniel and Mathew.

That was 34 years ago but rather than marking the end of his music career, Smith’s move to Ireland’s ‘Forgotten County’ simply signified his entering onto new stages – in the literal sense.

After renovating their home, word went out there was a new musician in the area. Soon there was a knock on the door. ‘Can you play a few songs for us at our Dungloe festival?’

writing songs, Donegal musicians, Ian Smith songwriter

Ian enjoys a moment of post-concert relaxation with international participants and teachers at this year’s Ireland Writing Retreat at Teac Jack, Glassagh, including Gortahork’s Rose Sweeney (centre front) and bearded former CNN editor, John DeDakis from Washington.

That was the beginning of Smith’s baptism into the local melody scene. His skills were in high demand at clubs and pubs throughout the county, and beyond. Smith tours Germany each year with the dynamic dance show  ‘Danceperados’ for which he wrote the song, ‘True Travellers,’ has a music residency in Clare and plays at a number of other venues.

He has also been deeply involved in key community projects – the annual summer ‘Trad Trathnóna’ hosted by the organization Tionscnamh Lugh, at Ionad Cois Locha in Dunlewey, that promotes Irish music and the Frankie Kennedy School, where my wife and I first met him.

Such is his love of music he also hosts intimate concerts in his own home, with creative US-based singer-guitarist, Buddy Mondlock and Benny Gallagher (of Gallagher & Lyle fame), among those playing in his cozy living room.

Buddy Mondlock, Benny Gallagher, Gallagher & Lyle, Ian Smith

A memorable concert at Ian’s home featuring (l to r) Ian, Benny Gallagher and Buddy Mondlock.

You’ll also hear Smith playing with local band, ‘Vintage,’ featuring Letterkenny musician, Ted Ponsonby, on slide guitar, Englishman, Dave Wintour and Gary Porter from Lifford.

Smith sums up his approach to songwriting in the phrase, ‘One and one equals three.’

“It’s all about sharing,” he says. “Working with others – even up to four people together – can make a song so much better. Lyrics should create word images. Songs are really four-minute novels, with beginnings, middles and ends.” No surprise then that he is a regular participant at festivals such as Songcraft, enjoying the camaraderie of artists just like himself.

In Smith’s view, time matters little in songwriting. “In Nashville, a place filled with great talent, songs are churned out like clockwork, but that’s not my thing, I don’t set a specific time to complete one,” he says. “One song, ‘James,’ about my father, took nine years, it was a tough emotional journey. Yet ‘Restless Heart,’ the title album of my first CD, took twenty minutes in my kitchen. As I get older, I write less songs but, hopefully, better ones.”

Looking back over the years, Smith says, “I consider myself lucky in life. I have a passion for melody and the guitar has helped give me a voice of my own.”