MAGNIFICENT SEVEN Mayo band Coda, renowned for beautiful vocal harmonies.
Coda’s vocal acrobatics to fill Castlebar’s Christchurch
Voices raised in song, using heavenly harmonies to create melody without the need for accompaniment. There’s something about a cappella singing that moves the spirit. Perhaps that’s is why the style flows through traditional Jewish, Christian and Islamic worship. The term itself is Italian for ‘in the manner of the chapel’. How fitting, then, that a Mayo group making a name for itself for its a cappella prowess should soon be performing in the stunning setting of Christchurch on Castlebar’s tree-lined Mall.
The beautiful building’s hallowed walls will reverberate with the voices of Coda on Saturday night, January 28. And not just their voices: Their renowned a cappella arrangements will feature alongside songs with instrumental accompaniment – guitar, banjo, mandolin, djembe, flute, low whistle and harmonica.
The group is comprised of seven singers and musicians – Declan Askin, Alan Drumm, Conall Ó Domhnaill, Brian Lennon, Mike Cannon, Steve Bryant and Leonard Kelly. All live in Westport, bar Alan and Brian, who live in Newport. Together, they have developed their own richly harmonised approach to vocal performance, uniquely complemented by their multi-part vocal skills, which they gained from classical choral singing.
“We were all members of Cór Mhaigh Eo, the Mayo county choir,” Alan Drumm tells The Mayo News. “It must be about five or six years ago now that one or two of the lads had the idea of some of the men coming together just to try a bit of a cappella singing.”
Turns out the men had a grá for it, and now, every Tuesday night, they meet up to practise. “We sit around a table – as you can see in some of our videos – and somebody brings a song or a piece of music, and we throw it out there. So we literally just sit there and we sing and we work out harmonies.
“It’s kind of a man shed,” Alan chuckles. “We get together, and sometimes it’s tea, sometimes it’s wine, it depends on what’s going on. We have the chat and think about what are we going to do next.”
Coda’s seven-part harmonies come in an eclectic mix of musical styles, with influences that include Celtic and North American music and traditional and contemporary folk. The talented collaboration’s repertoire includes original compositions as well as popular songs by artists as diverse as Clannad, Tom Waits, Van Morrison and The Beatles,
Word of the band has been spreading, and the group is drawing admiring crowds at gigs both here and abroad. “We’ve been to Spain and the UK, where we’ve done gigs. We did a few festivals last year, and we’ve done Inishbofin and Doolin and Cashel … We were in Wales too – one of the lads, Steve, is Welsh so we went back to his home place.”
One of their highlights for 2016 was a special performance for the outgoing US Vice President Joe Biden in Matt Molloy’s Yard Bar last June, when they sang the moving song, ‘The Briar and The Rose’, written by Tom Waits and his wife, Kathleen Brennan. Mr Biden may not have shed a tear like he did last week when Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but judging by his whistles and standing ovation at the close of the song, the rendition stirred his heart.
Coda are looking forward to another busy year of performing, with dates already booked for Manorhamilton’s Glens Centre, as well as an intimate gig at the Rock of Cashel for Culture Night 2017.
However, the band of seven are focusing most of their energy at the moment on their eagerly anticipated second album, which they are recording in the Clew Bay Recording Studio in Westport, and which legendary Irish folk musician Dónal Lunny is producing.
Their first CD, ‘Mouth Music’, released in 2013, was well received, with FolkWales magazine describing it as a ‘delicious stew’, and Siobhán Long of The Irish Times enthusing: ‘The West is wide awake and in full voice … a confident, robust debut’.
So how did the collaboration with Lunny come about? “He came to one of our concerts on Inishbofin, and we got chatting to him in the pub, and he was very interested in doing some work with us,” Alan explains.
“We’ve been in the studio with Dónal twice so far. Himself and Bart de Beor [of Clew Bay Recording Studio] are working on it. We’ve a few tracks already done; Dónal has a few more to finish off, and then we’ve to go back in. This round we’ll have maybe six tracks done with Dónal, and we’re hoping to do another four or five with him as well.”
The band have found the studio time with Lunny invaluable. “It’s a big step up from our first album. There’s quite a difference in standard, and of course, working with Dónal, it’s been fantastic. It’s been so good for us.
“Originally we were going to do half the album with Dónal and half live, but now that we’ve done stuff with Dónal … it sounds so good with him – just last Tuesday we decided we’d do the whole CD with him.”
Coda are expecting the new album to be released sometime this summer, hopefully in June.
The upcoming concert in Christchurch, Castlebar, is part of a new initiative by Greenroom Bookings, which is planning to host a series of concerts at the venue.
Christchurch is one of the oldest buildings in the county town. Its first stones were laid in 1739; its clock tower added in 1807. Its high ceilings and large open space make for wonderful acoustics and a unique atmosphere – the perfect setting for Coda’s vocal acrobatics.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Webster MacNeely of Greenroom Bookings explained that he is hoping to hold gigs at the venue once a month, and to that end, he is currently in talks with a range of top-class acts, including We Banjo 3, David Munnelly, The Whileaways and John Hoban, as well as a number of bigger names.
Greenroom’s efforts to help rejuvenate the flagging nighttime social scene in Castlebar are to be heartily applauded, and a better venue could not be imagined.
Hopefully many others will follow in Coda’s footsteps, and Christchurch’s celestial space will continue to be filled be with music, song and the applause of appreciative audiences.
Tickets (€20 each) for Coda in Christchurch, Castlebar, are available from The Galway Roast, Castlebar, and The Clew Bay Hotel, Westport. Doors open 7.30pm, performance 8pm.
The group’s debut CD, ‘Mouth Music’ is available online at Coda’s website, www.codasinging.com, and locally in the Gráinne Uaile, Newport; Duffy’s Bookshop, McLoughlin’s Bookshop and Downtown Records, Westport; and Downtown Records, Castlebar.