March 15, 2007


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Double your Irish
Two folk bands collide to form Maken and Spain Brothers
By Erica Febre

Carrying on a musical and cultural family tradition came easy for the Makem and Spain Brothers, a local Irish acoustic folk band.

“Both bands were playing Irish music and a lot of our repertoires were overlapping already. Plus, we had a mutual love for the songs so it just came to a point where we decided to play together,” Liam Spain said.

The Makem and Spain Brothers is a junction of two long-time local Irish folk bands. But it wasn’t convenience that brought the two bands of brothers together almost five years ago.

It was a family tradition. The Makem and Spain brothers both have fathers who provided a strong foundation for the Irish folk scene in the area.

“Our father, Mike Spain, is one of the reasons there is a scene for this music in Manchester. He was playing it way back in the ‘60s and ‘70s when there wasn’t much music of that style floating around,” Liam said.

“And their father, Tommy Makem, was a huge influence on anyone in general doing the Irish folk genre, playing all around the world and even Carnegie Hall,” Liam said.

The Makem brothers form one portion, with Conor Makem taking vocals, whistles and bass; Rory Makem on vocals, banjo, guitar, mandolin and bouzouki; and Shane Makem on vocals, guitar and bodhran.

The other half is comprised of brothers Liam and Mickey, with Liam taking vocals, guitar, mandolin, harmonica and Bouzouki and Mickey also taking vocals, guitar and Bodhran.

With an all acoustic lineup, the Makem and Spain Brothers offer quite an eclectic instrumental mix.

“We line up the acoustic bass, double guitars and sometimes we switch between mandolin and banjo, or bouzouki and harmonica or whatnot. Traditionally, that’s more of a natural feel for what we’re playing,” Liam said.

The bouzouki, a traditional Irish instrument (although it has Greek roots), is almost like a big mandolin, with the same tuning and playing style, but a much deeper sound. Another Irish instrument, the bodhran, is a frame drum used to create a controlled pitch and timbre.

Beating the “silly stereotypes” that have been placed on traditional Irish music has been a much more complicated task though for the Makem and Spain Brothers.

“I think most people consider what we do to be ‘pub music.’ But it’s far from it. Part of the tradition of the songs is where they’ve been played hundreds of years ago and where they’ll be played a hundred years from now,” Liam said.

“And the fighting Irish is just another stupid stereotype that goes hand in hand with the drinking Irish. We probably drink as much as other people do, I would guess,” Liam said.

All stereotypes put aside, the Makem and Spain Brothers consider their Irish folk to be just like any other folk music. Though the majority of their material is geared towards and Irish audience with tales of ancestors immigrating to the area for work in the mills.

The Makem and Spain Brothers also make a tour to Ireland every year, bringing Americans to experience a taste of their music in its home environment.

The Makem and Spain Brothers
When: The Makem and Spain Brothers are a nationally-touring act and don’t play as much locally as they do elsewhere. However, the Spain Brothers hold a tradition Irish jam at the Shaskeen every Sunday, from 2 to 5 p.m.
Where: The Shaskeen Irish Pub and Restaurant, 909 Elm St., Manchester, 625-0246 or
For more information: For future performance dates ad song samples, go to or