Guitarist Michael Corbett and violinist Colleen Settle of the Irish-folk duo Seldom Sober are interviewed about learning music at a young age, their memories of Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub, the therapeutic nature of their music genre, and much more.
(Colleen) My parents decided that all of us in the family would play Irish music, and on different instruments. I was lucky enough to get the fiddle, since I’m the youngest of 4. We would compete (solo and in ceili bands), play nursing homes, and even some pubs.
(Michael) I was always a singer and a music lover. I sang in choirs and did some solo performing, but in 1993 I was at a concert given by some famous Irish musicians, and I thought, “Why can’t I get a guitar and learn to do what they’re doing?” My parents owed me a high school graduation gift, so I asked for an acoustic guitar, and I started taking lessons a few months later. About 16 months later I played my first professional gig with my first band at Providence College.
(Michael) The Clancy Brothers were the band that inspired me to learn guitar and start playing Irish music. They basically invented Irish folk music as we know it. The genre was very different (mostly a cappella without rhythm) before they brought guitars, banjos, and harmony to the mix. Other classic bands like The Wolfe Tones were big influences, too. My singing was influenced a lot by Liam Clancy as well as American performers like Pete Seeger, Bill Staines, and others. My guitar style has a lot of rock n’ roll and American folk influences.
(Colleen) My influences include Frankie Gavin, Eileen Ivers, and Kevin Burke, primarily.
There’s room to put your own stamp on tunes that are hundreds of years old
(Colleen) The music is very therapeutic. Irish music can be very joyful and happy, but there are also sad songs and tunes. Something for every mood, really. As well, with traditional Irish music, there’s room to put your own stamp on tunes that are hundreds of years old. It’s fascinating that the music has survived this long, and is still the same at the root of it. 20 musicians could play the same tune together, each player adding their own ornamentation and technique.
(Michael) I was always interested in my Irish heritage. When I was in high school, I was exposed to Irish music through a local band that featured some of my high school teachers and administrators. I loved it! Eventually I started listening to the more famous bands and really immersing myself in the genre and history, learning all I could about it.
(Michael) I suppose you could say that Colleen and I have a few different models for how we like to arrange our pieces, and for each selection we try to find the model that is the best vehicle for that song or tune. Whenever possible, we try to add our own twist on familiar pieces, often adding fiddle tunes to songs that are normally played as standalone pieces.
(Michael) Colleen and I both moved here a year apart and started playing informally in pubs with other local musicians. I was here first but couldn’t find a comfortable footing in professional Irish music until Colleen moved here. One night the owner of Murphy’s Law pub offered me a regular professional gig. I had always wanted to team up with a fiddler, and Colleen was eager to get back into gigging, so she quickly accepted my invitation to play together. We didn’t know each other well at that point, but we soon grew to be great friends, and through hard work and with the help of our friend Harry O’Donaghue we were able to expand to bigger opportunities, including the famous Kevin Barry’s Pub. Now we play anywhere within about a four-hour radius of Savannah, when there’s not a pandemic, of course.
(Colleen) My favorite tunes and songs to play changes often. The Ballad of St. Anne’s Reel is one we’ve been performing for ages, but it doesn’t get old for me. I love the meshing of the song and tune, and it’s a great story. Sometimes, tunes I’ve just learned are my favorite to play for a while, but there will always be certain tunes that I’ll love to play no matter how many times I’ve played them.
(Michael) There’s usually a new song I love to sing, or a new tune to accompany but there are many old favorites that touch me emotionally. Like Colleen, I still love The Ballad of St. Anne’s Reel, and we do sing a song called The Raggle Taggle Gypsy that is a constant favorite to perform. It features a gypsy-like fiddle tune and a great story. We also have some pop/rock songs paired up with Irish fiddle tunes, and I love putting an Irish twist on American favorites.
(Michael) We’re very thankful to all of our fans for their support over the years, and we hope they’ll follow us as we pursue new opportunities now that the landscape of Irish music in Savannah has shifted. We’ve been doing live shows every Tuesday night at 8:00 on our Facebook page and will continue at least through March. Plus, we have a great outdoor show booked at Coach’s Corner on St. Patrick’s Day, and we’d love to have a big crowd. Tickets are available through Eventbrite.
(Colleen) I’d like our fans to know that we’re all in this together, and we hope that they can find some comfort and happiness in our music. No matter what happens going forward, we’ll always play the music for anyone that wants to listen.
Our Irish repertoire has expanded since last March also, and our Irish material alone could fill a show for four or five hours
(Michael) Kevin Barry’s in many ways was the best place to play. Our shows there were unlike any other shows we’ve ever done. They were like concerts, yet we were able to interact and drink with the audience. Every night seemed to bring something special to our lives, and St. Patrick’s Day at KB’s was unique every year. We felt like rock stars on those days, and we’ll never forget the moments we spent there. We’ve had some other great moments, too, though, like playing Charleston Music Hall and some great festivals in Georgia and South Carolina. I hope someday we get to play the Lucas Theater.
(Michael) With Kevin Barry’s closed, a change in ownership of another local pub, and uncertainty about the future of other local venues, we’re not sure what to expect for local opportunities moving forward. However, the changes inspired us to expand our repertoire to include a lot more pop/rock music so that we can play a better mix of material for people who might not be big fans of Irish music and may want to hear some more familiar material mixed in. Our Irish repertoire has expanded since last March also, and our Irish material alone could fill a show for four or five hours. We have gotten some decent opportunities during the pandemic, and the wedding scene has picked up a bit. We’re not sure exactly what to expect, but we’re excited to move forward when life is closer to normal.
(Michael) We’re hoping to find a new path forward, as we want Seldom Sober to continue for many more years. We’re too young to hang up our strings, and we still love performing. I think eventually we will be playing out of town gigs again, and we hope to find good local opportunities, which may look very different from the opportunities we had a couple of years ago when we hit our pre-Covid peak. We’re committed to making sure that Seldom Sober is around for a while.