The coolest thing about working for CeltCast is that you never know where you will end up next! By now I’ve discovered some lovely local festivals that have become regulars on my musical calendar. The latest one on this list is
A really cool, cozy folk festival in Ratingen, Germany. It started out as an idea by 2 members of the folk band
and two youth centers in the city of Ratingen and is heading towards its 14th edition next year.
In 2019 it featured folk bands like
Wait For June and
the pop-folk hurdy gurdy player Patty Gurdy
and, as the headliner, the Irish folk band Drowsy Maggie. Never heard of them? Well, that is about to change. Their performance at Folkerdey was so good I found myself buying their CD the minute the show ended and it did not disappoint! Nú Trad is filled with upbeat Irish folk with a twist. With a lot of twists, actually. Drowsy Maggie added a whole bunch of musical flavors to the songs they recorded. It keeps the album interesting right to the very, very end. But I’ll come to that. First things first. Who are Drowsy Maggie?
Drowsy Maggie Headlining the Folkerdey festival 2019
Drowsy Maggie are a German folk band based around Düsseldorf. The band was formed by accordionist Alex Otto and guitar player Thomas Gurke. Later on drummer Christoph Zimmermann and vocalist/fiddler Sebastian Zimmermann completed the line-up. Their repertoire is filled with classic Irish folk songs, part traditionals and partly works from the likes of
(whom we know from
(a bagpiper/low whistle, composer known -amongst other things- for his work with
the Dougie Maclean band);
the Irish band
(a cool band who mix Irish folk with the energy of gypsy- and Latin American music, think
goes folk) and -wait for it-
Did you just say Metallica? Yes! Coming from a pop/rock background Drowsy Maggie play acoustic Irish folk, but they do give it their own energetic twist, just like some of their influences, making Nú Trad a pleasure to listen to. So let’s dive into their music.
The opening track Broken Pledge starts with the deep sound of the floor tom, some intriguing mystical guitar effects and a staccato fiddle that has
Diex, Nox Et Omnia written all over it. Alex Otto’s Accordion is fast to follow with a lovely catchy accordion melody, that could have easily come from a
Wouter en de Draak
album. To my pleasant surprise the band takes their time with this intro, it’s only after 2 minutes that the beat kicks in and the song turns into a catchy Irish jig with the cheerfulness of a
Everybody who loves Irish folk will be hooked after this song alone, trust me.
With the second song Drowsy Maggie take on a real classic: Christy Moore’s I Wish I Was In England. And again the band convinced me in every way. Sebastian Zimmermann has a warm and really pleasant voice – with some imagination you could call him an Irish version of The Belgian singer-songwriter
– and I can only compliment them on their interpretation of this evergreen. Especially with that French style folk accordion solo thing at the end. Lovely stuff.
These two songs were just a prelude to one of the biggest surprises on Nú Trad and at the same time one of the best and most original songs on this CD. The song is called Superflying Popcorn Drive and the title is just as positively weird as the music itself! Just as
many decades before them, Drowsy Maggie mixes their Irish folk with a jazz flavor! As in the sound of a jazz big band! From the first notes of the bassline, you know you are gonna going to be in for a treat! When the brass section – Avelina Thole on trumpet and Will Wilzek on trombone – step in I am thinking
or – more incoming with the
And it does not stop there, Sebastian throws in a lovely gypsy style fiddle solo while Otto’s accordion is still insisting to take you down to France. After two and a half minutes the band switches tune and the popcorn really starts to fly. That accordion and fiddle combo is sooo freakin’ catchy, by now I’m bouncing and dancing around the room.
But we are not done yet! The musical flavors change one more time as the brass section goes into marching band modus, including the obligatory drumroll on the snare drum, while the accordion is still cheerfully popping musical popcorn all around my headphone. I know it sounds like an impossible mix to put together, but not for Drowsy Maggie. They manage to get all these crazy ideas into one song and somehow make it work. In the end, you still listened to a folk song. An extremely danceable, cheerful and weird one, but folk nonetheless. 10 out of 10 for originality and musical talent!
And there is more to come. Drowsy’s Bar, for instance, starts as a delicate gypsy solo played by the fiddle, but unexpectedly the song picks up speed and goes into a French folk song with Spanish percussion, still with that gypsy feel although that ends abruptly! After one last chord from the accordion, the song continues as an uptempo Celtic folk tune from Brittany. It isn’t long before the flavor of the song changes yet again, into bluegrass this time! Really?! Yep, no problem in the Drowsy Maggie world.
With Tell God and The Devil the band throws another twist at you. This song is best described as uptempo pop-folk, with some gypsy influences, a heavy bluegrass feel, sung by the Belgian singer-songwriter Milow. Just as the Irish band Kila, Drowsy Maggie seems to throw all those different influences in a blender, put the machine on full speed and just flow with it. It shouldn’t work, but out come the most upbeat and danceable pop-folk songs that you ever heard, by no means traditional, but very, VERY cool.
Want me to describe another one of those musical cocktails? Well, it comes right after Drowsy’s Bar and Tell God and The devil. It’s called The Barre and again it features that typical marching band sound I mentioned before. In Germany, you have something called a
a (small) marching band playing really melodic brass evergreens. (In the link you’ll find a video of the muzikkappelle from Ratingen.) Somehow Drowsy Maggie managed to capture that typical German sound into their folk music and make it feel fresh, young and cool. Don’t ask me how but they did it but it works sooooo well! By the way, did I already mention the band is actually playing a bit of Metallica here? No? Well, they do and it actually works!! French accordion meets German brass section on a Celtic folk album playing an adaptation of a metal song. Only in the Drowsy Maggie world can you fit those four together. It gets even better, after the Metallica-goes-folk-brass-section, Drowsy Maggie push up the beat, pull out a wah-wah guitar, throw in a lovely accordion hook and eventually pull out some groovy disco vibes as well. Seriously? This even beats Clannad’s early 60’s acid folk experiments on their debut album and I’m only halfway through this CD!
Now I could go on like this for the next seven songs but that would spoil it all, so I’ll stop here and let you discover the remainder of this album by yourself.
I can imagine that after reading this review you might think this album sounds like a patchwork blanket, but it doesn’t. The album is surprisingly coherent considering all the different styles and that is because of two very good reasons. The first one is that under all those nice quirky ideas it’s all still upbeat, really danceable Irish folk music. Admittedly, with a big wink towards Brittany, but it always returns to those Irish roots.
The second thing that keeps this whole album together is its fresh, spontaneous sound. All the songs were recorded in two live sessions, one of the 29th and one on the 30th of October. And you can hear that. It is clear that the band prepared themselves well for these two sessions and it’s that freshness, together with the originality and quirkiness of the band that makes Nú Trad such a good album. But don’t take my word on it. Go listen for yourself!! Preferably with a suitable dance partner. Because with half of the album filled with upbeat cheerful reels and jigs this is just as much an album for the balfolk enthusiasts as it is for the fans of fun Irish folk. Now let’s get these guys back to
! Or on the stage of
. They so deserve it!
Editor: Gwendolyn Snowdon
Sleeve art: Andreas Heller
photo credits: Andreas Heller