September 3, 2009

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A musical romance
Liz Simmons talks about Long Time Courting
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

Traditional Irish folk music, perhaps more than any other genre, thrives on cross-pollination.

Whether it’s the weekly session at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon, a sing-along at Manchester’s Wild Rover or open-mike nights in Nashua, Portsmouth or Cambridge — Celtic music is a pick-up band looking for a way to happen.

This collegiality of a common language created Long Time Courting, a tuneful marriage of Appalachian, Cape Breton, English and Emerald Isle musical traditions. A little cabin fever also helped push them into existence, but more on that in a moment.

Long Time Courting got together at a time when three of the band’s four members — guitarist Liz Simmons, fiddler Ellery Klein, cellist Ariel Friedman and flute player Shannon Heaton — were involved with other projects.

Simmons plays solo, hosts a weekly open-mike night at John Harvard’s in Cambridge, and is a member of the neo-traditional band Annalivia, which also includes her husband, guitarist Flynn Cohen. Heaton duets with her husband Matt, while Friedman is a member of the well-regarded fiddle band Childsplay and performs regularly with her sister Miia, also a fiddler. After a long run with the acclaimed Gaelic Storm, Ellery Klein left that band to have a baby. By last fall, with her son approaching his second birthday, she was anxious to get back into music.

Liz Simmons is excited about bringing Long Time Courting to Studio 99. She played the club for the first time two weekends ago, with English singer Hannah Sandford.

“It’s a very nice listening space, probably the newest venue in Nashua,” she said. “It’s getting a lot of attention and I’m really hoping it continues to thrive.” Simmons talked about the band, her roots (she recently learned her great-great-grandmother was a traditional Appalachian singer) and her various projects from her home in Peterborough.

What was the spark for Long Time Courting?
Shannon and I got together and sang some songs and thought it would be fun to do something permanent. Then Ellery and I got together and went oh, this could be really cool. And then Shannon and Ellery got together at another point … this is like spanning a year and a half. Ellery was the big push.... She was, like: girls, let’s do this — finally.

When did you start playing music?
I grew up with music, my parents were musicians, I was classically trained when I was a teenager, but I was also really interested in folk music at the same time. My mother sang me ballads growing up … from England, Scotland, Ireland and Appalachia that she knew from bands like Pentangle and also folk revival singers like Joan Baez, That’s part of what first triggered it.

What else did you listen to growing up?
When I was 13-14, Indigo Girls, Sarah McLachlan, Tracy Chapman … contemporary folk. It’s really funny because I started listening to Enya and from Enya I started listening to Clannad, which is her sister’s band. Their recent stuff is new age-y but their older stuff is totally traditional. That’s how I entered that world of traditional music. But at the same time I grew up listening to this record by the Bothy Band. They were one of the first Irish traditional bands to put all the instruments together and have that full sound with rhythm guitar.

For someone who doesn’t know a lot about traditional Irish music, describe your sound.
We play really fast, really high-energy fiddle tunes, and we sing ballads accompanied by guitar, flute, cello and fiddle. The ballads can be slow or fast, and there’s four-part harmony. That’s actually something that people who are less familiar can enjoy, because it’s more of a folk sound. Our sounds sound more folk than traditional, though a lot of traditional musicians sound folk now.

How about for an aficionado?
Oh, boy. What we do is draw from the Irish tradition, English and Irish song tradition, and fiddle tradition, and we infuse our own American sensibilities into them. We even do one Swedish polska, which is exciting. We’re open to different styles.

You have three ongoing projects – how are they different from one another?
Annalivia [combines] Cape Breton with Appalachia, Scottish, Irish and English music. So bringing in the Cape Breton and Appalachian is a big thing. This is our side of the water, so we’re bringing that element in. Long Time Courting is a traditional folk band in the sense that we play the jigs and reels. But we also sing Irish songs, write songs and melodies. It’s more like a traditional Irish band, but we bring our own stuff to it.


Long Time Counting
Where: Studio 99, Millyard District in Nashua
When: Saturday, Sept. 5, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $12, $9 for students with ID
More info: www.studio99nashua.com