On Stage: Davy Knowles returns to his roots

By Denny DyroffStaff Writer, The Times 

Davy Knowles

On January 19, two acts from the British Isles will be performing at venues in the area. But, neither act hails from a country that is part of Great Britain or the United Kingdom.

Davy Knowles, who will perform at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com), is a native of the Isle of Man. We Banjo 3, which is sharing the bill with Enter the Haggis at Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org), is a Celtic music band from Galway, Ireland.

The Isle of Man is located in the Irish Sea between Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales. The island is not part of the United Kingdom or European Union, but is a possession of the British Crown with an independent administration. The Isle of Man, also known simply as Mann, is a self-governing crown dependency. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann.

For the longest time, its sole claim to fame musically was that it was the birthplace of the Gibb Brothers — better known as the Bee Gees.

That changed about 10 years ago with the emergence of Back Door Slam — a young trio that played a scorching style of power-packed blues. The group released its debut album “Roll Away” in the states in 2007.

The driving force of the now-disbanded group was vocalist/guitar ace Davy Knowles.

Early in 2009, Knowles released a statement from the band, stating that they had split up, and the band’s members were going to begin to pursue their own separate careers in music. Later that year, he released “Coming Up for Air,” his first album on his own, in 2009. He followed with “The Outsider” album in 2014.

Now, Knowles is touring in support of his new studio album “Three Miles From Avalon” – a disc that is billed as a “return to his roots and the sounds that first ignited his passion for music.” It was recorded at Shirk Studio in his adopted hometown of Chicago, the unofficial capital of electric blues.

“The album came out October 14 worldwide,” said Knowles, during a mid-December phone interview from his home in Chicago as he prepared for a trip to the Isle of Man for the holidays. “We also did a soft release elsewhere prior to that. The states is our major market.

“We finished touring at the end of last month. We had a couple shows where we played the whole record. But, we like to mix it up as much as possible. We had played a couple of the songs live before we even recorded the album and some were brand new in the studio.”

“Three Miles from Avalon” packs a real punch.

According to Knowles, “I wanted to go back to the basics. The band and myself have racked up a lot of playing time together, and we have really started to gel. I wanted to capture that ‘live’ feel in the studio. My favorite sounding records are certainly older ones, recorded to tape, with minimal fuss or overdubs. I wanted that lovely warm, vintage sound that only tape and glowing tubes can do.”

Knowles and his band didn’t fool around when it was time to cut the new album.

“We spent three-and-a-half days in the studio,” said Knowles. “We didn’t do much pre-production but we had all played together for a while. It was my live band. That’s why we sounded like a unit.

“My last album — ‘The Outsider’ — took a long time to record. “The new album was recorded it all to tape with no overdubs. It was all analog. We recorded all the instruments live and only did overdubbing on some vocals. It returns to the blues rock energy I loved as a kid. We tried to do this as old-fashioned as we could. It was quite liberating – much more my speed.”

When he was still just a child, Knowles was exposed to blues music through his family’s music collection. Over the years, he has become a die-hard blues fan who has fed himself a diet of music by blues artists such as Albert King, Otis Rush and Muddy Waters – as well as British blues practitioners like Eric Clapton and Rory Gallagher.

“This is a real band playing live in a room,” said Knowles. “It all just came together in the studio. I wanted to go back and make a record that had that real feel — and that live intensity. I think the fact that we toured so much really made a difference. It was just about – let’s laugh, let’s play, let’s enjoy this. This music doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to have character.

“That’s what I love about old recordings. Everything wasn’t into being tuned to perfection. My favorite sounding records are certainly older ones, recorded to tape, with minimal fuss or overdubs. I wanted that lovely warm, vintage sound that only tape and glowing tubes can do.”

Video link for Davy Knowles — https://youtu.be/PjIPuLEAke8.

The show in Sellersville, which has the Lawsuits as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $29.50 and $40.

Other upcoming shows at the Sellersville Theater are Lights Out on January 21, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder on January 22, and Tinsley Ellis on January 25.

There are a lot of different types of grass – from Bermuda Grass to Zoysia Grass to Kentucky Blue Grass.

And, there is another type of grass which probably is unknown to most botanists – unless they are fans of Americana and traditional Celtic music.

Celtgrass is a term used to describe the music of We Banjo 3, an award-winning traditional Irish music quartet. We Banjo 3 feature a seven-time All Ireland fiddle champion and another All Ireland champion on fiddle and bodhran.

The band’s debut album “Roots of The Banjo Tree” was named “Traditional Album Of The Year” by The Irish Times and their most recent studio release “Gather The Good” picked up four “Album Of The Year” awards.

We Banjo 3 blends traditional Irish Music with Americana and Bluegrass to create its hybrid style known as “Celtgrass.” Featuring banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, vocals and percussion, We Banjo 3 make a bold and extraordinary musical statement.  Modern rhythms, traditional melodies, virtuosic technique and innovative arrangements of music and song add up to a blazing live show.

The band includes two sets of brothers, Enda and Fergal Scahill and Martin and David Howley. Collectively they are among the most celebrated and distinguished musicians in Ireland today. They have been at the forefront of Irish banjo and fiddle for more than 20 years.

Martin Howley is a seven-time “All Ireland” Banjo champion while Enda Scahill, who is also an author on Irish banjo techniques, holds four.  Multi-instrumentalist Fergal Scahill is one of the most acclaimed fiddlers in Irish music and an “All Ireland” champion on fiddle and bodhran. Multi-instrumentalist David Howley is the group’s vocalist and also provides the band with its rhythm section.

The band is currently touring in support of its fourth album “String Theory.” We Banjo 3 have released studio albums every two years – “Roots of the Banjo Tree” in 2012, “Gather the Good” in 2014 and “String Theory” in 2016. The lads from western Ireland also released their “Live in Galway” album in 2015.

“The new album came out the third week in July,” said Martin Howley, during a phone interview last week from his wife’s family home in Michigan. ‘It’s our first big U.S. release. In its third week, it reached Number One on Billboard’s world music chart. We cut the album in Kerry in the south of Ireland.”

We Banjo 3 recorded its new album at Sonas Recording. Sonas is a top-flight recording studio based in Killarney County that specializes in recording acoustic and traditional music.

“It’s a beautiful studio,” said Howley. “We have a lovely experience recording with engineer Terry O’Flaherty. He’s done all our studio albums. We had to do a few visits to the studio because we’d been touring heavily but we were there altogether for under a month.

“The other band members and I had written a lot of pieces together. Then, we got together and unraveled a mysterious ball of tunes to see if we could find a thread of an album. We’d sit down – two, three or four of us – and work on an idea. It tends to come rathe organically that way. Other times, someone will bring a full piece to the band.”

We Banjo 3’s history dates back to 2011.

“Me and my brother, we grew up in southern Galway — in Ardrahan,” said David Howley “The two Scahill brothers grew up in east Galway — in Corofin. “We got to be great friends over a number of years. Our paths crossed a number of times a while back. They played a show at Siansa (National Concert Hall in Dublin) and we were mesmerized by their playing. Over time, we met each other at clubs and competitions.

“One year, I was playing guitar in a competition that had three rounds. In the first round, I had Martin play banjo with me. In the second round, I had Enda play banjo with me because Martin had gone on holiday. In the third round, which was the finals, I asked both Enda and Fergal to play with me.

“It was strange to have two banjos alongside me. I won the competition and we realized it was a lot fun playing together. Me, Martin and Enda all play banjo — but in different styles. I play banjo like guitar.”

So, the four talented musicians continue to play together — and to expand the scope of their music beyond the shores of the Emerald Isle.

“We had different levels of interest in Americana and bluegrass,” said David Howley. “A friend from Chicago sent us a mixtape of some bluegrass music. Prior to that, my dad had been a big fan of country music and bluegrass. So, my brother and I grew up with it.”

In 2012, We Banjo 3 released its debut album “Roots of the Banjo Tree” and followed with “Gather the Good” in 2014 and “Live in Galway” in 2015.

“On the first album, we just explored the roots,” said Howley. “After that, we met a lot of bluegrass musicians when we were touring and that shaped a lot of the music on our next album.”

It’s really hard to limit the music of We Banjo 3 to just one genre.

“Bluegrass or Celtic – we probably don’t make a conscious decision,” said Martin Howley. “It depends on what feels right. It’s really a fusion process – neither Celtic nor bluegrass.”

Video link for We Banjo 3 – https://youtu.be/wMnTMJEC2l4.

Video link for Enter the Haggis — https://youtu.be/iUbxtaEFGJ0.

The show at the Grand, which is a twin-bill with Enter the Haggis, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $32. The Grand will also host “Classic Albums Live – Purple Rain” on January 22.

A while back, “Don’t trust anyone over 30” was a popular saying for teens and those in their early 20s.

Now in 2017, is the question still relevant when a lot of top-selling bands have already celebrated their 30th anniversary?

More specifically, can a long-time punk rock band be trusted if it is just a year away from its 30th anniversary?

Anti-Flag

If that band is Anti-Flag, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

Anti-Flag, which formed in Pittsburgh in 1988, has built a reputation for having a social conscience and engaging in political activism. The high-energy band from western Pennsylvania has set its sights on topics such as anti-war activism, Greenpeace, human rights, class struggle, Amnesty International and a variety of other socio-political activities. The band’s roster features two founding members — singer/guitarist Justin Sane and drummer Pat Thetic — along with guitarist Chris Head and singer/bassist Chris Barker,

On January 19, Anti-Flag will return to Philly for an inauguration week show at Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com)

 “A few months ago, I thought we’d be going after Hillary,” said Sane, during a phone interview Tuesday from a tour stop in Silver Spring, Maryland. “Now, with Donald Trump in office, we’re going to be writing very different things. For example, I never thought that in 2017, I’d be writing songs about a nuclear arms race.”

Anti-Flag has just released a revolutionary 360° video for its song “Without End,” a remix of a track from 2015’s “American Spring,” featuring assists from Tom Morello and P.O.S and mixed/mastered by Justin Francis. The video was directed and produced by Doug Helmick with animation and motion design by Chelsea Jones.

According to the band’s press release, “‘Without End,’ both the song and the video, is a continuation of our band’s mission to speak truth to power. Black Lives Do Matter! The refugee crisis is a result of the war-hawk culture of DC and these are human beings we should have empathy towards! Climate change is real and we must begin the argument over solutions instead of continuing to give space to the rhetoric of deniers.

“The rights of the LGBTQ community deserve to be respected! Women deserve equal pay and the right to control their own bodies! This is 2016, not 1956, when America was, in fact, not so great. Our history will not be written by Donald Trump. It is important for us to speak out and organize when the future of fear and bigotry that he projects is not the one we believe in.”

Anti-Flag’s most recent album is “American Spring,” which was released in 2015 on Spinefarm Records.

“Mostly what’s been going on with us is touring,” said Sane. “We did a lot of touring last year and finished in Australia and Southeast Asia at the end of the year. We were off for the holidays and now we’re on the road again. We’ve been hitting it hard. We’ve got a significant number of tour dates already lined up for 2017 – six weeks in the U.S., Europe in April, a few festivals, four weeks in the Warped Tour and then six weeks of festivals in Europe.

“We haven’t done any recording lately. But, we might actually put something out in the fall. We don’t want to rush a rec.”ord. But, we might put something out.”

Video link for Anti-Flag’s “Without End” – https://youtu.be/p5t3KrOwrYw.

The show at Fillmore Philadelphia, which also features Rell Big Fish, will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Decades Rewind

Putting together a band that can perform a show that is a review of the most popular pop music from the 60s, 70s and 80s is a big task.

Decades Rewind, which accomplishes the feat, is a big band — a live 14-piece band performing medleys of hit songs spanning 30 years.

This ambitious live concert experience features an eight-piece rock band and six vocalists surrounded by rock show stage lighting, relevant videos of American culture, and over more than 100 costume changes.

From Prince to Queen, the Beatles to Joan Jett, Michael Jackson to Janis Joplin, Decades Rewind, which makes its Philadelphia area debut at the Keswick Theatre (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) on January 19, pays tribute to the biggest and best hits from the early 1960s to the late 1980s.

The group’s octet of musicians includes Peter Gatti, Keyboards; Mark Blinkhorn, Drums; Al Owen, Guitar; Jimmy Delisi, Guitar; Jeff Stoddard, Bass; Ryan Redden, Sax, Flute; Derrick Harris, Trombone; and Patrick McKenzie, Trumpet. The six singers are Jonathan Miller, Frank Edmonton, Coya Jones, Ashley Renee, Monica Cox, and Wade Whiskey.

“Me and the drummer were co-founders,” said Gatti, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “We were in a cover band together in Tampa. We had the same idea of being in a band that did the hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s. We told the idea to our friend Al Owen. We said we wanted to play clubs and he said theaters.”

Owen got on board as the group’s lead guitarist and music director. The band took shape and started booking theater dates.

“Our first show was in November 2015,” said Gatti, a native of northeast Pennsylvania who graduated from Pittson Area High School and attended Luzerne County Community College. “We had started rehearsing a few months earlier.

“There is good news and bad news with music from this era. The good news is that there are so many great songs. The bad news is that it is hard to decide which songs to limit it to. We do a lot of medleys. The songs have to be ones that fans recognize within the first 15 seconds. The very first show we did was three-and-a-half hours. That was way too long. Now, we do a two-hour show with a 15-minute intermission.

“We have a big crew. There are 14 people onstage and 11 people offstage, including people who handle lighting, sound, video and costumes. We have over 100 costume changes throughout the night. Right now, we’re in the first part of a national tour and a lot of the shows have sold exceptionally well. After the show, we come out for a meet-and-greet.

“The show goes through different genres – starting with the 80s’ pop rock like Bon Jovi, Journey and Joan Jett and then to 70s pop with artists like Michael Jackson and Prince. We have a ‘riff rock’ segment and then it’s time for disco. The party really starts happening when we’re playing disco hits. We go through a funk medley, arena rock, 60s Motown and British Invasion. We also have a ‘hippie rock’ medley.”

Three of the shows major attractions are melodies, medleys and memories.

“There are three words we hear a lot when we talk to fans after the show – fun, tears and memories,” said Gatti. “That’s our job.”

Video link for Decades Rewind – https://youtu.be/yn90k8IbDUk.

The show at the Keswick will get underway at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $33-$48. The Keswick will also present Pat Metheny on January 21 and Kris Kristofferson on January 22.

Hot Club Philadelphia

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will host Hot Club of Philadelphia and Kiki Villani on January 19; Dead Flowers on January 20; Big Daddy Graham on January 21; and Fresh Faces of The Kennett Flash —

Felicia Berrier, Olivia Rubini, Julia Johnson, and Kat Sottung on January 22.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will have Shock Value, Egocentric Plastic Men, Cubbage, Sh’bang and Gabbi Donnelly on January 20; The POF, Guilt Trip and Baloo on January 21 and Open Mic Night on January 22.

Rebirth Brass Band

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present Rebirth Brass Band on January 19 and 20, Music for the Arts Benefit featuring Griz and Droppin’ Deuce on January 21 and “Satisfaction: Rolling Stones Tribute” with special guest Newspaper Taxis on January 22.

Valley Forge Casino (1160 First Avenue, King Of Prussia, 610-354-8118, www.vfcasino.com) will present Dueling Pianos with Howl at the Moon on January 21.

Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will present the Joe Kenney Trio on January 20, and Ethan Pierce and Kirsten Maxwell on January 21.

Tin Angel (20 South Second Street, Philadelphia, 215-928-0770, http://www.tinangel.com) will host Dar Williams on January 20, Jeffrey Gaines with Ashley Leone and Amy Fadden on January 21 and sold-out shows by Citizen Cope from January 25-27.

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