The huge popularity of Irish Music on the European continent has resulted during the years in many Celtic influenced European bands. Some of them have developed their very own style, and have reached a quality that does not need to fear comparisons with their collegues in the Celtic countries.
After having introduced in the last issue Shantalla, a band or Irish and Scottish musicians based in Belgium, this time FolkWorld reports about a Celtic band consisting of mainly Belgian musicians. Orion have built up a reputation as one of Europe's finest Celtic bands, with top rates also from countries like Ireland. We wanted to find out more about the background of this band as well as about the Celtic scene in Belgium.
Listening to Orion's latest CD, "Restless Home", you can hear highly individual Celtic music. It is difficult to find a main Celtic influence; the music blends traditions from Ireland, Brittany and Scotland along with a lot of different influences from other European regions and other music styles. Several tunes are written by band members, representing this blend of influences.
Adding an "exotic" flavour to Orion's music is also the frequent use of the Nyckelharpa with ist beautiful sound, played by band founder Rudy Velghe. Playing also fiddle, viola and guitar, he has started folk music in diverse Flemish folk bands, until he moved over to Celtic based music. The other current band members are Raquel Gigot, a girl of Belgian-Spanish extraction playing diatonic and chromatic accordions, then keyboard player and percussionist Marc Keyaert, and finally as the only one with "real" Celtic roots Jamie McMenemy. Glasgow born Jamie is well-known in the Celtic scene as a skilled bouzouki, cittern and mandolin player and singer, having performed during his long carreer in bands like the Scottish Battlefield Band and the Breton band Kornog. For the recording of the CD, Orion invited some highly respected musicians into the studio: Donal Lunny from Ireland, and from the Breton scene Alain Genty and former Orion members Nicholas Quemener and Soig Siberil.
Being asked in how far Orion have influences from Belgian and continental European trad and folk music, Rudy explains that they have not only influences from Continental folk music, but from all sorts of music from classical music via baroque and medieval music to rock, pop, funk, reggae, jazz, bluegrass, mussette and balkan music.
"We have grown up with all this great music, and there must be a bit of all this somehow discretely shining through in our music. This is more a subconscient process, something that happens in a natural and non obtrusive way, rather than a deliberate choice for explicit "crossover"."
Orion are no exception in that they - just like all other musicians playing celtic music - have been influenced by legendary bands such as Bothy Band, Planxty, De Dannan or Moving Hearts. Still, Rudy stresses that they never wanted to imitate those bands.
"Rather than trying to sound like them, we tried in contrary to be different. Right from the start - now more than ten years ago - we were striving to develop a style of our own, and we arrived very quickly a point that people could identify our music after hearing only a few notes. They recognized our sound, our arrangements and our general approach of the music."
While Orion's Belgian members have - unlike their Irish, Scottish etc. collegues - this multi-musical, continental background, they always had also leading Irish, Breton or Scottish musicians in its ranks. Since 1987, they have featured for some stage Thomas Keenan from Dublin, the brother of legendary Paddy, on pipes and whistles, the Breton guitar player Soïg Siberil and Nicolas Quemener from Brittany on guitar, flute and vocals. Today, they are joined by Scottish singer Jamie McMenemy.
"Through their presence Orion was directly plugged in into one of the three main Celtic musical traditions. In this way, Orion combine both the advantages of "the continental view from outside" with the "Irish, Breton or Scottish view from inside"."
The Irish Music scene in Belgium is also based upon the "Irish View From Inside". There are more or less 8.000 Irish people living in Belgium, who attend along with Belgians, the sessions, ceilis and concerts there.
Ceili's are only frequently on, organized by the Irish Club of Belgium. Raquel on accordion, Marc on piano and Rudy on fiddle form the 'Brussels Ceili Band', a trio that is most of the time in charge for the ceili's. Sometimes these Ceili's are preceded by weekend classes of traditional dancing, with an Irish teacher from Comhaltas invited.
There are no regular weekly sessions, but the occasional ones happen mostly in the Irish pubs in Brussels and Antwerp and are a happy occasion for members of the different bands to meet up and play together.
There is a small folk-club circuit, but official Arts Centres are programming folk acts as well. Today there is a proliferation of small 'one day' folkfestivals. Many bands are playing Celtic music in Belgium, and they all have recorded CD's; most of them are not available in normal distribution circuit, but can be bought at gigs.
With all these Irish people along with the Belgians playing Irish music, has there maybe a typical Belgian Celtic/Irish music style evolved during the years (like with the Irish communities in America or England)?
"There is no typical "Belgian" style for Irish music", thinks Rudy. "Individual musicians that are really interested in playing Irish music go as often to Ireland as possible to learn directly from the source. They also listen to recordings by the Irish masters in order to analyse and understand the style of playing."
"There are good Irish musicians living in all European countries, and they often form bands with continental musicians. There is an international tendency to consider Irish music as a 'real' musical style besides jazz, classical, blues,... that can be played all over the world. If someone from France has a passion for Irish music and acquires the knowledge and the necessary insight in the music, there is no reason why he should not play it. After all, you don't need to be German to play Bach either, nor an american black to play jazz. Today you can find bands playing Irish music in most European countries: Taxi Mauve and Dirty Linen in France, the now disbanded Limerick Junction in Germany, Moira in Holland, Birkin Tree in Italy, Orion, ..."
That is true indeed - and the reason why FolkWorld is now introducing some "Continental Celts". So what experiences have Orion made in the home countries of Celtic music, in Ireland and Scotland?
"Orion generates interest in Ireland, precisely because we do our own thing, because we do something that no other band does - be it in Ireland or somewhere else. Talking about Orion, Irish Music Magazine recently stated that "There isn't a band like them over here." Irish audiences appreciate this and I think that's why our albums and live performances have received very good press reviews there. Orion is a band with a vision: the original compostions and ecclectic arrangements give the band a place on the international scene. I think that if we were trying to sound as the umpteenth mixture of Bothy Band and De Dannan, there would be no reason for an Irishman or any body else to buy our album or attend our concerts."
And Orion's music is played already all over the world, as Rudy proves with two experiences: "Last year former Orion keyboard player Gwenaël Micault was on tour in Chili with a Spanish singer. The day of their arrival they heard the "Blue Room" album being playing in Santiago de Chili's central station. - This year in March, Raquel and I went on a holiday to Indonesia. In the north of Bali we jumped on a bus to the village of Amed, on the very moment that the driver was playing an Orion tape!"
Celtic Music is international these days, both with listeners and players. Orion have given their very own note to Celtic music, and they merit the rewards they receive from press and audiences all over the place.
Orion's current CD "Restless Home" appeared on the French Keltia Musique Label, CAN BE WON BELOW, and is reviewed in FolkWorld No. 10.
You can find more infos on Orion on their homepage
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