“Simply brilliant … they carry Irish history with them,” writes The Guardian of Dervish. The world-class Irish band makes two Montana stops this month: March 18 at the UM Music Recital Hall in Missoula and March 19 at The Myrna Loy in Helena.
At the end of 2019, Dervish received a prestigious lifetime achievement award from the BBC, a fitting tribute to the band after more than three decades of recording and performing all over the world.
Described by the BBC as “an icon of Irish music,” Dervish has played at festivals from Rio to Glastonbury. They accompanied the Irish president on state visits to Latvia and Lithuania and the prime minister of Ireland on a trade mission to China as cultural ambassadors, taking time out to play an impromptu session on the Great Wall.
It’s no surprise they’re a national treasure. Dervish boasts a line-up that includes some of Ireland’s finest traditional musicians, fronted by one of the country’s best-known singers, Cathy Jordan. One of the biggest names in Irish music internationally, the band is renowned for live performances that match dazzling sets of tunes with stunning interpretations of traditional songs. Their studio and live albums – 14 to date – make up one of the outstanding catalogues in Irish music.
While Dervish is a regular visitor to the U.S., performing sold-out shows from coast to coast, their fan base stretches across several continents, including Europe, Asia and South America. They were the first Irish band to play the world’s biggest music festival, Rock in Rio, performing to an estimated 250,000 people.
Over the years they’ve been on the same bill as artists such as James Brown, Neil Young, Sting and even Iron Maiden. In 2019 Dervish released their first album on Rounder Records, The Great Irish Songbook Live, featuring guest appearances by artists including Vince Gill, Steve Earl, David Gray, The SteelDrivers, Abigail Washburn, and many more.
The band’s six members are steeped in the musical traditions of counties Sligo and Leitrim in northwest Ireland, an area of storied mountains and rural landscapes. The landscape has inspired a host of musicians, artists and writers, including the Nobel Prize-winning poet W. B. Yeats.
Dervish formed in 1989 when four of the founding members met while playing informal sessions in the pubs of Sligo – Shane Mitchell (accordion), Liam Kelly (flute/whistle), Brian McDonagh (mandola/mandolin) and Michael Holmes (bouzouki). They were soon joined by Roscommon-born singer and bodhran player Cathy Jordan, and later by all-Ireland Fiddle Champion Tom Morrow in 1998. It’s a remarkable and at times electric combination – “capable of playing with note-perfect accuracy and perfect control at nearly supersonic levels” (Irish Voice, New York).
Beyond its technical brilliance, Dervish shows a rare sensibility, born of an understanding of the music and many years of playing together. “The most compelling, most soulful Irish traditional folk band playing today,” writes The News Journal (Delaware). “If you ever find yourself in the beautiful town of Sligo on the wild Atlantic way, check out the music sessions that take place in many establishments. The members of Dervish enjoy playing tunes back where it all began.”
And if you can’t make it to Ireland any time soon, check out Dervish in Montana during the month of St. Patrick:
Missoula: 7:30 p.m. March 18 at the University of Montana Music Recital Hall. Tickets are $20 general admission; $15 for Friends of Irish Studies and seniors; $5 for students. Order online at Friends of Irish Studies.
Helena: 7:30 p.m. March 19 at The Myrna Loy. Tickets are $30; call 406-443-0287 or buy online.