'Men of Worth' carry on Celtic tradition with tunes, tales
“Men of Worth”
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22
Where: Music & More theatre, D Avenue, Auburn, in the DeWitt Center
Cost: $15 general, $12 seniors, $10 children and members of the Multipurpose Senior Center
When Hank Williams sang “Hey, good lookin’, Whatcha got cookin’?” he probably wasn’t expecting haggis for an answer. But on the Isle of Lewis, in Scotland’s outer Hebrides, a young Donnie Macdonald was soaking up the music of Williams and Jimmy Reeves and whatever else made the three-hour ferry ride from the mainland.
“If we had a record player back in those days we would listen mostly to American singles,” Macdonald said. “People would take a trip to Glasgow and bring them back and share them around. We’d listen to them three times over because you only had six.”
Macdonald spoke Gaelic as a child; his mother was a Gaelic poet. It’s a language he says “is in danger of vanishing off the face of the earth.” These days, he will include a touch of Gaelic into the repertoire of “Men of Worth,’ the duo he formed with Irishman James Keigher in 1985.
Keigher grew up in County Mayo, on the western coast of Ireland. His town and family were filled with traditional Irish musicians. But his ear was glued to Radio Luxembourg — or better yet — Radio Caroline, a pirate radio ship anchored in the North Sea.
“Radio Caroline played a lot of stuff coming out of America,” Keigher said. “If we wanted to check out the contemporary rock ‘n’ roll sound. That’s where I first heard Buffalo Springfield and bands like that.”
But they never ignored their roots. Keigher was a fan of the Irish folk band Planxty, while Macdonald followed the Scottish duo, The Corries. And there is a definite Celtic tradition they bring to the stage every day, via a host of instruments — mandolin, guitar, mandocello, banjo, concertina, bodhran …
“I’ll play a pizza box, I just like playing music,” Keigher said.
Michael Coder, from Music and More, is organizing Saturday’s show. He said tickets have been selling briskly, with people as far away as Reno looking to attend.
“Seems they have a very dedicated following that will travel some distance to see them,” Coder said. “They are like old fashioned troubadours who travel the world and bring stories back.”
In fact, you can even visit their homelands with them if you like. Keigher and Macdonald lead annual tours to the British Isles, one year Ireland, Scotland the next. Whoever’s home they are in, well, he sits in the front of the bus and acts as tour guide.
Macdonald grew up in a village of ‘crofters,’ a self-sustaining, communal lifestyle that lived off the land and cut peat for fuel. Keigher’s hometown had a population of 500. He spent summers without TV or indoor plumbing in his grandparent’s 200-year-old cottage.
Their history is reflected in the music they bring to the stage, time-polished tunes that are rich in tradition and buffered by folksy anecdotes.
“We pick songs that have interesting subject matter,” Macdonald said. “It’s what we say that makes a difference, what makes the audience think the same way when they’re hearing a song. If they don’t, they are not an actual audience, they are just people.”
And while they have nothing against people, it’s an engaged audience that will make their act better — if it were an act, that is.
“We don’t have an act,” Macdonald said. “There is nothing there that’s not there when we are off the stage. We’ll try a song for a first time in front of an audience. It’s as live for us as it is for them. When you order a Denver omelet, you want it the same as the last time. But with live music, if it’s got an earthiness to it, if it’s not sugar coated, it is to the good.”
A Denver omelet. Now that’s something Hank Williams might have seen fit to cook.