Live in the Clubs: St. James Gate puts its own stamp on Irish music

St. James Gate aren’t about to break out any metal versions of Irish ballads, but nevertheless striv

As the members of St. James Gate readily admit, there are plenty of bands out there playing traditional Irish music.

St. James Gate is, of course, one of those bands, regularly performing at The Parting Glass (where they’ll be Friday night) and The Irish Times in Saratoga Springs. The traditional Irish reels, jigs and drinking songs are what their audience wants to hear.

“The traditional stuff is always — you can hear 30 different versions of ‘Whiskey in the Jar,’ ” said Robert Daly, the group’s percussionist, with his band mates at their practice space in guitarist Bill Connelly’s home in Latham. “How do you make it interesting but keep it traditional? I mean, Metallica, I believe, does a version of ‘Whiskey in the Jar.’ ”

Keeping it lively

St. James Gate aren’t about to break out any metal versions of Irish ballads, but nevertheless strive to put their own mark on Irish and Celtic songs. With simple acoustic instrumentation, the group members — including bassist and guitarist Rick Russo and fiddler Mark Lewis — aim to keep things lively, upbeat and, most importantly, fun for both themselves and their audiences at their performances.

St. James Gate

When: 9 p.m. Friday

Where: The Parting Glass, 40-42 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs

How Much: $5

More Info: 583-1916,

“We had a gentleman last Friday night that’s actually from County Clare come up and want to know if he could play spoons with us,” Connelly said. “So he actually came up and played spoons with us for one whole set anyway, and he actually did a good job, actually did a real good job. And he and his wife were having a ball, having a grand time.”

This spirited attitude, coupled with a penchant for up-tempo sing-alongs, has helped the band carve out a niche as veterans on the local Irish scene. Over the years, the band has shed members and changed its style slightly, but a passion for traditional Irish music has always been at the heart of the group.

Although neither Russo nor Lewis are Irish, the group’s ties to Ireland are strong. Connelly formed the first version of St. James Gate in 2000. He was inspired by his cousin Martin, a musician from County Kildare in Ireland who had scored a hit in that country, “The Potholes of Kildare,” with his band Max Fancy.

“I started playing in rock bands when I was like 12, 13 years old, right up until college, and kind of took a hiatus from playing after I started working full time,” Connelly said. “So Martin was somewhat of an inspiration to get me back into performing live, and basically teaching us a lot of the original, traditional Irish ballads.”

With Martin guiding the way, Connelly was immediately drawn to the traditional Irish sounds he was learning. In 2005, one of the early incarnations of St. James Gate played a tour of Ireland, with Martin helping out.

“Being of Irish blood, it’s somewhat in your nature,” he said. “And when you go over to Ireland and you actually see the musicians over there, how inspired they are, it’s just amazing. If you’ve been to an Irish session in Ireland, it’s just kind of haunting, very uplifting.”

Connelly is the only remaining original member of the band, which at one point featured seven members and included a more electric guitar-based, rock-influenced sound. In 2007, Russo and Daly joined the band, splitting off from the other four members, and St. James Gate as it is known today came into being.

“I was leaning more towards traditional Irish Celtic rock, and [the other members of the band] were basically looking at more classic rock, Beatles-type oriented songs,” Connelly said.

Lewis is the band’s newest member, having joined up this spring. A classically trained violinist, he was unfamiliar with Irish music at first. “That’s been really neat for me to get to know that repertoire,” Lewis said. “And as the fiddle player, I’m partial to the reels and jigs; they’re just fun to play.”

Original songs

The band has only recently begun integrating original songs into its repertoire. Its first album, 2008’s “The Road to Clare,” features a few originals written by Connelly, and the band hopes to include a few more when they enter Edie Road Studios early next year to record a follow-up album. But the band will always stick by the traditional Irish songs.

“I think you have to have some traditional songs on it to give somebody, when they pick it up — ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of “Whiskey in the Jar,” ’ ” Daly said. “They might take a chance. If it’s only originals and they’ve never heard it, they might not pick it up.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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