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This article was first published in The Evening Echo [Cork] on 2017-9-14
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Now in it’s 13th year The Clonakilty International Guitar Festival have steadily built their reputation, both in Ireland and worldwide, to such an extent that they’ve enlarged the festival to team up with Folk Alliance International to co-host their inaugural European event.
It will see the folk artists perform showcase events around Clonakilty the days before the Festival’s traditional Thursday night opening concert. As well as panel discussions and showcase concerts, there will be a presentation of the FAI Lifetime Achievement Award to Dónal Lunny to celebrating his contribution to traditional music, such as being a founder member of Planxty, The Bothy Band and Moving Hearts, as well as the countless other collaborations he has been involved in since 1968. Previous recipients of the award include Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Mavis Staples which shows the esteem in which he is held.
International acts attending the showcases include Australia’s The Mae Trio, John Smith from the UK and two American acts Laura Cortese and Steve Poltz. They will be joining eminent Irish acts such as Wallis Bird, Lankum, Mick Flannery, Moxie, John Spillane, John Blek, Lisa O’Neil and Ye Vagabonds.
Elsie Rigby, who plays fiddle, mandolin, ukulele and sings in The Mae Trio, spoke with great excitement of coming to Clonakilty, “We love Wallis Bird! – and there’s others we’ve met along the way who we can’t wait to reconnect with like John Smith, Steve Poltz and Moxie. I also can’t wait to see Laura Cortese and Ye Vagabonds for the first time. It’s a great line up!”
The professional development of The Mae Trio is directly connected to being awarded the Folk Alliance Australia Youth Award in 2013, according to Elsie, “they’re so supportive of musicians on the Australian scene, they are completely dedicated to helping out and developing new artists and bands. To feel that encouragement for our band early on was a huge boost, we were thinking about taking a ‘year off’ to make music full time, and the Folk Alliance Award really helped make that possible.”
The band which is made up of Elsie; her sister Maggie, who plays banjo, guitar, ukulele and sings; and Anita Hillman, who plays cello and sings, consider themselves to be a folk group but find it hard to be any more specific about their sound, “we think about this all the time! Irish and UK folk music roots run very deep in Australian folk music. There are all kinds of musical styles swimming around in the Australian folk scene, as we are a nation with such a diverse immigration history. More recently North American folk music has made a huge impact in Australia. We were born into this small, but rich folk music scene; while you can hear international influences, there is something distinctly Australian about the music we make. It makes us laugh that we are often called Bluegrass in Ireland and the UK, and regularly labelled Celtic when playing in North America. It’s all in there!”
One element that is crucial to the band are their vocals, “we have so much fun making harmonies. Our instinct is to sing in three part harmony all the time, so often arrangement is a process of paring it back to a place where the harmonies are highlighting the melody. The sound of three part harmony is such a basic human joy, especially to sing. Maggie and my parents are musicians and choir leaders so we were raised on group singing; the more, the louder, the better. It’s very much in our bloodstream.”
The two sisters have been immersed in performing and folk music for as long as Elsie can remember, “growing up, my parents played tunes in the Irish scene in Victoria. Many of my earliest memories are from sessions, lying on the floor or snoozing on someone’s lap. I used to fall asleep in my uncle’s harp case. The sound of an Irish session is one of the most comforting sounds in the world to me. I was twelve when we starting performing as a family band, too young to think about what we were doing. It was natural and just something we did. I was incredibly at home on stage by the time we started playing our own music. The change really happened when Maggie and I started writing our own songs; that new voice belonged in a different band. Even from the first time jamming with Anita we knew there was something good going on. That developed into our sound, the Mae Trio became such an exciting creative framework. Each time we record together it is new, scary, overwhelming and exhilarating all over again.”
The Mae Trio play The Clonakilty International Guitar Festival on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 September, they also play Levis in Ballydehob on Thursday 21 September.