Boys Of The Hills & Kevin Conneff. Whelan’s, Spain. Concert Review

Boys Of The Hills - Kevin Conneff Boys Of The Hills & Kevin Conneff. | Photo by J.L. Frias.

The World Heritage city of Alcala de Henares, located in the center of Spain, celebrated its fourth edition of La Noche En Blanco, a cultural programme started in 2011, based on the original idea of La Nuit Blanche, created in Paris in 2002.

During the night of La Noche En Blanco of Alcalá, celebrated last week on June 7th 2014, the city offered a big variety of cultural activities during the night, ranging from free visits to museums, private and public art galleries and cultural institutions, to different music, dance and art performances. A total of more than 200 activities taking place during the whole night in a charming and open city.

As an Alcalá de Henares citizen that I am, and also as an observer, or as a simple person in between the crowd, I would say that La Noche en Blanco of Alcalá 2014 had a magic success. The city was gorgeous (it always is, but specially that night) with all the historic building illuminated and open. Thousands of people (families with kids, young groups of friends, older groups of friends…) were visiting and enjoying all the attractions, activities and of course, our well known gastronomy and little beer & tapas offered all over the city center.

But from all those activities, I want to remark the programme offered by Brendan Whelan at Whelan’s, an Irish pub located right behind the Colegio Mayor of Saint Patrick. On the night of June 7th, Whelan’s hosted the best act playing that night: Boys Of The Hills and Kevin Conneff of The Chieftains. Fabulous!

Boys Of The Hills, formerly “La Guadaña”, is a folk band from Alcala de Henares, Spain, formed in 1997. The band consists of Álvaro Carbonell (guitar, tenor banjo, mandolin, accordion, vocals), Jesús Carbonell (tin whistle, Uilleann pipes), Luis Alejandro Torcida (Irish flute, tin whistle), Sergio Suárez (guitar, fiddle), Blanca Agudo (Bodhrán)  and they play Traditional Irish music, with a touch of their own roots and other influences and genres.

This group has self-released 3 albums: After Work (2001),  On the Cliffs (2006) and Boys of the Hills ST (2010) and they are working on a fourth one, “Golden Shoes”, set to be released later this fall, 2014.

The Rehearsal

Our local band Boys Of The Hills have shared stage with many bands, in Spain and Ireland, being their collaboration with the Irish band The Chieftains, the most remarkable one. Boys Of The Hills and The Chieftains have played together at Conde Duque Madrid (2006), Cantabria Infinita Festival (2010), La Noche Grande de Bilbao (2011) and recently with Kevin Conneff at Whelan’s gigs organized for La Noche en Blanco of Alcala (2014).

Boys Of The Hills - Kevin Conneff
Boys Of The Hills - Kevin Conneff

Boys Of The Hills - Kevin Conneff Boys Of The Hills & Kevin Conneff. | Photo by J.L. Frias.

The night before the gig, Boys Of The Hills had a rehearsal with Kevin Conneff at Whelan’s Irish Pub. The band is working on a DVD with Kevin Conneff that, just by having a look to these great photographs by Jose Luis Frias, we advance that it is going to be one of those rare gems that makes traditional folk lovers very happy and it brings new lovers.

Boys Of The Hills - Kevin Conneff

Boys Of The Hills - Kevin Conneff Boys Of The Hills & Kevin Conneff. | Photo by J.L. Frias.

The Master Class with Kevin Conneff

From the 6 activities programmed at Whelan’s Irish pub that day, there was one organized during the morning: a unique and absolutely must see bodhrán master class with Kevin Conneff

Kevin Conneff is the voice and rhythm of the Irish band The Chieftains since 1976 and one of the best (no, not one of the best, directly the best) bodhrán players of this world.

The bodhrán is an Irish drum instrument that evolved in the mid-20th century from the tambourine, but which earliest origin can be referenced already in the 19th century, and it has even been said to be the native drum of the Celts, with a musical history that predated Christianity. The word bodhrán could come from the Irish word bodho, used  for drum, and it is played with a tipper but it can also be played directly with the bare hand.

Kevin Conneff Master Class Kevin Conneff Master Class. | Photo by Mar de Miguel.

There were a dozen of bodhrán players attending the class, and if you are thinking that this is a small number for such a luxury teacher, I have to say that it is exactly the opposite. A dozen is a very healthy number for a genre that is followed by minorities and an instrument that doesn’t form part of our traditional music in the strictest sense. It even surprised me to find such a big group of people, so committed with this music and so concentrated listening to every single indication coming from Kevin Conneff.

Conneff attended every student one by one, using a CD player with traditional Irish music on the background. He helped them at every individual difficulty, but also to all of them at once playing with them as a group. The class was beautiful. Directed by a man that have such a big knowledge of this instrument but also an incredible modesty, Conneff’s charm was embracing the class with easy explanations, step by step. The class played gigs and polkas guided by Kevin Conneff’s bodhrán and voice singing from time to time.
Kevin Conneff Master Class

Kevin Conneff Master Class. | Photo by Mar de Miguel.

In between all the little tips that he gave to the students (many of them that I keep for my records as I’m a big fan of this music), I would say that the most important one was about having the melody in your head. Conneff talked about the importance to know the music by listening to as many different songs as you can, because many of them keep the same structure at the composition, as its origins are traditional.

He remarked how many Irish folk bands have their own idiosyncrasy at playing, making small disturbances of the rhythm, slowing down or going faster some times, and that have to be followed while playing the bodhrán. These kinds of little modifications on the beats, are part of the most traditional style of playing, he said.

I have to say that I was delighted with the class, even not being a full student as I don’t play the bodhrán. But who knows, maybe one day I might start playing it. I had the best teacher of bodhrán than nobody can have for the first class. Lovely instrument, lovely teacher and lovely group of students at the Whelan’s, a lovely place as well.

Concert Review

Kevin Conneff - Boys Of The Hills Kevin Conneff & Boys Of The Hills. | Photo by J.L. Frias.

The concert started with a traditional Irish song introduction. The place was packed. People of all ages, from kids to teens, young, older and oldest people. Every one was there enjoying one of the most attractive acts of the night. And then it happened…

Kind friends and companions, come join me in rhyme
Come lift up your voices in chorus with mine
Come lift up your voices, all grief to refrain
For we may or might never all meet here again

Here’s a Health‘s first verse sounded by the voice of Kevin Conneff followed by an emphatic chorus sung by all the members of Boys Of The Hills:

Here’s a health to the company and one to my lass
Let us drink and be merry all out of one glass
Let us drink and be merry, all grief to refrain
For we may or might never all meet here again

Awesome. I could not even believe that they were singing one of my favourite songs from the traditional Irish Music, a old song that I first listened back in 1990 at a great radio show called La Taberna Encantada (The Hunted Tavern), in fact the first song I ever heard by an Irish band called The Chieftains. The crowd was stunned. The girl at my left even commented to her friend “…they made my hair stand on end”.

My God, if this is just the beginning of the concert, how is going to be the end?

The concert was full of energy and happiness. Boys of the Hills band have already 3 discs on their background, one more coming, and an long experience gigging all over Spain and Ireland. By the other hand, the band has very good musicians on its line. Alex performance on the flutes was absolutely brilliant. Sergio Suarez, maybe a little bit too serious for a folk band, but his technique on the violin is very good. Alvaro Carbonell, leader and co-founder of the band, marked a strong temperament on the acoustic guitar and his voice is good.

Kevin Conneff & Boys Of The Hills. | Photo by J.L. Frias.

This composer and multi-instrumentalist has really matured on his voice, and you can tell this if you go back to their old recorded material and you compare with what he is doing now. He even has a very stylish voice when singing Country, Americana and Southern pieces. The rest of the band keeps the standard and although we couldn’t almost enjoy the performance of Blanca Agudo at the bodhrán, we had the pleasure of listening to her voice on Red Is The Rose, a beautiful traditional Irish song.

By his part, Kevin Conneff was magnificent. He performed as an extra member of the band, he also performed some solo traditional songs (a luxury for the ears), he shared the sound of the bodhrán with Blanca Agudo and he was even enjoying the concert as any one of us. It was really impressive to have him there, playing with our local band in a concert that everyone liked and we would like to attend again many times. Bravo Boys of The Hills. Bravo Kevin Conneff. And thanks to Brendan Whelan for such a wonderful night.
Kevin Conneff - Boys Of The Hills

Kevin Conneff & Boys Of The Hills. | Photo by J.L. Frias.

  • Set List
  1. Irish Intro
  2. Here’s A Health To The Company
  3. Three Black Horses
  4. Ferryman’ s Song + Mountain Road
  5. The Policiaco
  6. Slow Reel For Oriental Dancer
  7. Red Is The Rose
  8. Traditional Irish song
  9. Changing Your Demeanour
  10. The Ocean Song + The Banshee Reel
  11. Kiss Me Kate + My Love Is In America
  12. Country Train
  13. Take My Hand + O’neills March
  14. Encore: The Ocean Song

We want to thank Jose Luis Frías for its generosity sharing his photographs with us. He is the owner of all of them, except the ones from the master class. Thank you so so much for this. We want to thank Brendan Whelan for the great session of concerts that he has brought to our city. Also thank you so much for letting us to attend the master class.

Thank you Kevin Conneff for the master class and the kind words for us. It was such a pleasure to meet you. I will never forget this. And thanks to Boys Of The Hills & brothers for the concert and for their help with the set list , all the information about the band and their music.