Irish balladeers The Kilkennys are due to release their new album The Colour of Freedom on the 25th of May. An energetic and capable, The Kilkennys are stalwarts of the traditional Irish music scene, and have toured extensively around Ireland and the continent, earning them a loyal and growing fan base. Their debut album Meet the Kilkennys was released in 2008 when it sold over 10,000 copies. Comprising of Davey Cashin (vocals, mandolin, banjo and whistles), Robbie Campion (acoustic guitar, banjo), Tommy Mackey (bass, backing vocals), and Davey Long (drums, bodhrán), the Kilkennys are stylistically and vocally in the same vein as the High Kings – who specialise in highly polished traditional Irish music.


What drew you towards traditional Irish music? And what were your influences?
My Dad is a musician and this initially drew me to traditional Irish music. There were always banjos, guitars and whistles lying around the house when I was a kid. Growing up, my influences were The Dubliners, The Clancy Brothers, The Wolfe Tones and also my school friends who were learning to play guitar along with me.

Do you think Irish music can be formally taught? Or do you have to learn by ear?
Yes I do think it can be formally taught. Certainly on piano it can be taught in a formal way. Personally, I don’t read music very well and so I learn everything by ear. I think learning by ear is a great way of working because it helps me to internalize and memorize pieces as I work them out.

Thin Lizzy and Horslips mixed Irish music with rock. What’s your opinion on fusion music? Keep Irish music pure? Or mix it up?
I think it’s OK to mix it up. It is important to keep traditional elements in the music but other sounds – such as bass guitar, drum kit and percussion – can work really well within traditional music. I love Stockton’s Wing and I think that they made huge strides within the traditional genre. They managed to bring Irish music to a wider audience. I think Thin Lizzy did the same although with a rockier approach. Phil Lynott’s lyrics – particularly in his early years – conjure up so many great images of Celtic mythology. Thin Lizzy helped to put Irish music on the global map in the 1970s.

What’s the future for Irish folk music? Is it a slowly dying art? Or is it in the process of a revival?
Folk music goes through revival cycles every decade or so. It’s alive and well right now. There is a future for it because I believe that the classic folk songs are timeless.

I’m making you pick. Liam Clancy or Luke Kelly?
That’s too difficult to choose. Liam Clancy for his sweet velvet tone. Luke Kelly for his rough gravel. Imagine the two of them singing together…magic!

What is the song/album that made you want to make music?
Probably The Wolfe Tones’ 25th Anniversary album. I love that album and I listen to it still.

What genre of music would you banish from the earth forever?
I’d have to say rap music. I think it’s the least melodic genre of music in terms of vocals. My favourite songs have beautiful melodic vocal lines and that is what I’m drawn to.

How much altering or improvising can a traditional tune take before you consider it sacrilege?
I’m all for putting an original and individual stamp on a traditional tune. That said, I think it is important to stay somewhat faithful to the core roots of the tune.

I’m making you pick again. Think Lizzy or The Pogues?
I pick The Pogues. I lean more towards their instrumentation. They used such a broad spectrum of traditional sounds – whistles, bouzouki, accordion and so on. Their lyrical themes capture the experience of the Irish emigrants in such a gritty and cinematic way. Songs such as ‘Thousands Are Sailing’ and ‘Rainy Night In Soho’ are timeless to me.

What’s in the future for The Kilkennys? Will you be concentrating more on original work, or will traditional tunes always play a big part?
The answer is both. It’s great fun to do original work. We will continue to work with traditional tunes too because that’s where we come from.

Davey Cashin: Handball is an underrated Irish sport. What would you do to make it more popular?
That’s a brilliant question. I would love to see it televised and I think it should be played more in schools. It is such a fantastic sport. All you need is a ball and a wall!

Robbie Campion: Do you feel like a fraud because you’re not from Kilkenny? Given that Kilkenny don’t have a GAA team, do the other lads understand your other passion? Or are they too busy getting hit in the head by sliotars?
I asked Robbie this question and he says:
‘I went to school in Kilkenny and I have a lot of family living there. I feel like an adopted Kilkenny man these days because of the band. I have dual citizenship of Laois and Kilkenny!’

Alive or dead, which artist(s) would you most like to share a stage with?
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.

What one Irish law would you change?
The law concerning pub closing hours. Why not let the pubs stay open later? Our pub culture is a huge driver of Irish tourism. I think it would be a good thing to let publicans decide their own hours.

How would you define folk music? What makes Irish music different from any other genre?
Folk music is music for the people by the people. I think Irish music is different because of its unique energy and its expressiveness. It tells the story of the Irish people and it is an enduring part of our national identity.

G.K. Chesterton once said about Ireland that ‘All your wars are merry, and all your songs are sad’. Is he right?
I don’t think so. Irish songs deal with all aspects of life…the ups and downs. The songs can be sad but they can also be filled with joy.
Assuming you had the space and the means to look after them properly, what animals would be in your ideal menagerie? (you may include extinct animals)
There is a set of traditional tunes on our new album (‘The Colour of Freedom’ released May 15th 2015) called ‘The Badger Sett’. It features Derek Morrissey of Caladh Nua on accordion and our very own Robbie Campion on tenor banjo. For that reason, my menagerie would be home to some wild badgers!

The Kilkennys new album The Colour of Freedom is out on the 25th of May

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Music Reviews Editor. Originally from Sligo, I have a Bachelors degree in Music and a MA in Modernity, Literature and Culture. I also have between eight and thirty shins. Do follow on Twitter to hear my daily picks of songs, old and new, there's a good lamb.