Margeson on the Music November 2014

Socks in the Frying Pan stole the show at this year’s Irish Fest in Milwaukee. Like We Banjo 3 two years ago, Socks burst on the scene with a set of stunning performances that saw larger and larger crowds each day of the festival. You can always tell when an act is hot hot hot at any festival. Word of mouth. Actually, these festivals where acts create such a buzz are a microcosm of the Irish traditional scene in general. It has always been thus. Hard to think that 40 plus years ago, the jungle drums were beating with such names as Plaxty, DeDannan, and The Bothy Band. Many times, the buzz, the suss, the smoke signal is warranted. Many times, it is not. Bands come. Bands go. So do singers.

But it is always fun to see a new group get hot. After all of these years covering Irish music, the reasons why a certain group catches on and gets a big vibe going, while others do not, is a mystery. The biggest factors must surely be the quality of the musicianship, singing, tune and song selection, as well as a pleasing demeanor onstage. Socks has all of these, and so does Aodan Coyne. Aodan is the group’s lead singer. In their appearances at Irish
Fest there did not appear to be a main spokesman for the trio. Were there, it would be Aodan. Rather, the show was more like an unplanned explosion with all three band members joyfully competing to increase the craic. Spontaneity. Fun. Three guys really enjoying what they’re doing. Having seen these groups come and go over the years, what can happen, unless they’re careful, is that the spontaneity can become forced. Too many bookings, too much time away from home, too many commitments and too many hurt feelings have compromised and killed most bands in Irish music It is a simple equation, really. There is either too much work, or not enough. Too much success, or not enough.

The brothers Shane and Fiachra Hayes play button box and fiddle, respectively, with Aodan doing the work on vocals and guitar. Oh, they are mighty! That is the major gist, the central turning point, the Alpha and Omega for all of these young groups. You have to have the musical chops. Without those, nothing else matters. So, it occurs to you while you are watching Socks onstage, and you are laughing and having a great time, that they would be just as good, or even better, in a small session pub in Ennis—where they are from. When we heard the group’s first, self-titled album, we knew they were different. As we noted at the time, it has been years since a new group debuted using such intricate and beautiful harmonies. Harmony is a talent that has been lost in many groups. Thank goodness, we thought, Socks brought it back to the forefront where it belongs.

Now comes Aodan’s brand new solo CD, If We Only Knew. I know it took a long time to get to the point of this
review, but stick with me. Aodan is a wonderful singer and a good guitar player. While the group’s concerts are spontaneous in nature, this album is beautifully and precisely prepared. Aodan himself penned two of the songs and arranged all of them. This is traditional Irish music lovingly and reverentially presented. We could not recommend this CD more highly to you, and we said the same thing to you about the group’s first CD. This is a major new force on the trad scene. These three musicians matter. We can only hope that Aodan and the Hayes brothers don’t become a statistic. They are already popular and will get increasingly more so. Here come the strains that can hurt great, young groups. We hear a group with a singer like this, and we get greedy. We want more and more. We hope that the familiar Irish musical pattern does not take hold. The longer these lads stay together, the more music we’ll get. There is nothing in this group not to like. Heck, there is nothing in this group not to love. They’re young, they’re fun, and they are terrific musically. The moment that they lose this spark has been experienced by most other Irish groups. We could name names, but why? Our hope is that Socks and Aodan are in for along run. If We Only Knew presents a gifted young singer, showcased in a brilliant bit of business. That should be remembered. When they are surrounded at next year’s festivals and concerts by the current crop of drive-by fans more in love with them than the music, they will do well to remember that the music is what can sustain them. They are not just good, they are wonderful. Irish traditional music is a very insulated art form. It does not have a vast audience. Real art almost never does. It is God’s music, and occasionally a group like Socks and a singer like Aodan come along and can offer an increased appeal for the music in introducing it to many new acolytes. But it is the music, always the music, that comes first. Are these three wise enough to understand the reality of that? We think so. We hope so. Oh, this is mighty!