Boxing Banjo is a new traditional group from County Mayo, featuring Dara Healy (accordion), Mick Healy (banjo), Joseph McNulty (fiddle) and Sean O’Meara (guitar). Their debut album, entitled Round #1, features 11 tracks that mix traditional tunes with some classic songs.
Recording the album took quite a commitment from all four musicians, with Dara and Mick taking a career break from their day jobs as primary and secondary school teachers. Joseph and Sean were recruited to complete the lineup.
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Dara says they drew a lot of influence from the music of the Flanagan brothers, who played in New York in the 1920s and 1930s. "The fact that myself and Mick are brothers and play the same instrument combination as the Flanagans added to our initial intrigue with their music," he says. Mick learned a lot about their music from his time playing with the Brock McGuire Band: during this period, he also met and performed for the surviving relatives of the Flanagan brothers.
"Paul Brock and Manus McGuire are fountains of knowledge on the music of the Flanagans," says Dara, "and have been incredibly influential in bringing their music to a bigger audience. The energy in their music is infectious and is something that we endeavour to bring into our own music. Additionally, all of the band have been heavily influenced by the music of Máirtín O’Connor. I remember getting his album The Road West as a gift for Christmas as a child and being blown away by his creativity and virtuosic playing."
The album includes compositions by a number of present-day musicians, including Mouse in the Kitchen, a composition by fiddler Colin Farrell. Elsewhere, Rocking the Boat is another well-known composition by Máirtín O’Connor.
"I brought this tune to the band," Dara said, "as I felt the natural drive in the rhythm of the tune was in keeping with the style of the band. Once again, this is the last tune in a set of jigs. The previous tune in this set is light in character and showcases the fiddle and banjo with an underbelly of box chords and guitar accompaniment. Joseph added driving bodhrán rhythm to Rocking the Boat which builds the vibe of the track."
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Lough Mountain is another reel which they collectively decided would work well in a set with a march called The Slug which Dara composed, and a jig in E minor. "We all knew that Lough Mountain would be a great fit to complete this track. The track once again builds in multiple ways, both in tune type and instrumentation. Lough Mountain itself starts quite gently, and eventually develops into a driving melody line with strong accompaniment. This was one tune which we felt the bass guitar would work particularly well on, and it sets the tone for the tune from the beginning."
Carna Czardas is another composition by Máirtín O’Connor. Dara says they found this particular tune appealing due to the almost-frantic nature of the melody. Fleur de Mandragore is a tune they heard initially from the music of the great band, Lúnasa. "It was a tune which we felt we could put our own unique stamp on," Dara said. "In our version, you will hear elements of bluegrass infused into the tune, particularly evident in the final section."
The band's live set includes more songs than are featured on the album. With four singers in the band, it opens up a lot of possibilities for them in terms of song choice and arrangements.