Q&A: Irish group shows long time love of musical expression

Jan 18, 2016

by Lisa Maria Rickman - The Daily News

BATAVIA — No Blarney is a traditional Irish music band out of Batavia that features folk songs, drinking songs and other popular songs. Although the band considers Genesee and Livingston counties as home base, they also play to audiences in Rochester, Buffalo and surrounding areas.

Founded in 2007 by locals Rich Conroy and Don Bouchard, No Blarney got its start at the most Irish time of the year: March. Conroy and Bouchard have been friends for decades and Conroy said the urge to come together as an Irish duo was too much to resist.

How did No Blarney get its start?

I was asked by a friend to play at a local church function about 10 years ago. I asked if they wanted church music, but was told “no” because it was not a worship service. So, I proceeded to ask what kind of music they wanted. She asked me if I knew any Irish folk songs — I didn’t — other than “Danny Boy.”

It was March, and little did I know that it would be the beginning of many busy Marches in the future. I looked for a CD with “Danny Boy” on it so I could learn how to play it, and I ended up falling in love with the other Irish music.

Don Bouchard, my friend for over 30 years, had taught me how to play guitar. Don is a very accomplished classical guitarist and he recorded my Irish CD in his basement for me. He enjoyed the Irish music as well, but initially did not want to perform the music with me as he didn’t feel that it meshed with the classical music that he was playing. I performed solo for a while, and the name of my CD was “No Blarney.”

After a couple of years, Don couldn’t resist and joined me, forming the duo that became known as “No Blarney.”

Were you involved in traditional Irish music growing up?

Despite being mostly of Irish descent, Don is as well, don’t let his last name fool you, I was not involved with the Irish music until about 10 years ago.

How often do you play and what are some of your upcoming shows?

Don and I play many different styles of music. We also form the duo Strummerz and play music from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. We rehearse together at least once a week and perform live periodically throughout the year.

We are performing as Strummerz Saturday night, Jan. 23 at The Little Ridge, Delavans, in Batavia and then will shift gears and get ready for our busy No Blarney season.

We have played at The Yard of Ale on or around St. Patrick’s Day for the past 7 years.

Thus far, we have 2016 No Blarney shows scheduled on March 11 at the Holland Land Office Museum, March 12 at Duffy’s Pub in Avon, March 15 at the Richmond Memorial Library, March 17, St Patrick’s Day, at The Yard of Ale and March 19 at The Greens of Leroy.

After March, most of the shows will be Strummerz with occasional Irish music sprinkled in until December when we play Christmas music separately. Don plays instrumental music and I sing the old Christmas crooner standards.

What is the biggest show you’ve played, and what was that like?

It’s difficult to gauge how many people may have passed through a tavern on a given night. For example, hundreds come and go at The Yard of Ale show every year.

However, the biggest crowd that we’ve played for all at one time is probably Deer Run Winery in Geneseo. I think there were between 300 and 400 folks on the lawn for one of the shows, and we are playing there again Aug. 11.

It was an awesome feeling knowing that there were that many people all listening at the same time.

What kind of shows/venues do you enjoy playing most?

We really enjoy a concert setting where people are actually listening, especially when we are playing Irish music. The songs tell stories and it is fun for us when we can see the audience responding as the stories unfold. Sometimes it can be difficult to hear yourself in a bar with all of the crowd noise, and that makes it hard to focus as a musician sometimes, but we have had many fun times playing in bars, too.

What has been your favorite performance?

It’s hard to identify any particular show; we’ve had many that were fun. We always enjoy playing in the retirement homes, as we know they are listening, and that we are bringing some joy into their day and ours as well.

There is one show outside of the retirement home scene that we did particularly enjoy. Last year the show at the Holland Land Office Museum was moved to St. James Episcopal Church here in town and the acoustics were just phenomenal. It really allows you to get into the performance when you can hear that well.

Do you collaborate with other local traditional Irish musicians?

Not very often. Don and I have our careers, you know the ones that pay the bills. Don is an investment advisor and tax preparer and I am a mortgage underwriter.

We have known each other for years and we enjoy things the way they are. It is not easy to coordinate rehearsal and gig times and it makes it easier with just the two of us. That being said, we respect other musicians in the area and enjoy listening to them perform.

What do you love about performing? What do you love about Irish music in particular?

As for performing in general, we love what every musician loves a great audience. It’s a great feeling when you can sense that the audience is having a good time.

As for Irish music in particular, the songs are different from what one might usually listen to. They tell stories, they have emotion, happiness, sadness, anger, despair, exuberance.

Some are melodic folk songs like “Molly Malone,” “Danny Boy” and “Black Velvet Band” and others are outlandish, the drinking songs like “Finnegan’s Wake,” “Beer, Beer, Beer,” “The Wild Rover” and “Drink It Up Men.”

It’s all in good fun, it’s interesting that, even though we play some drinking songs, most of our favorite shows were alcohol-free ... the music can stand on its own.

Is there a strong tradition of Irish folk music in this area?

I think there is more in Buffalo than in Batavia, but there is plenty of it available. The Dady Brothers are probably the most accomplished around Western New York. They are very good. We also like Penny Whiskey, who are also from the area.

There are many cool Irish pubs that help give that great, old-time Irish feel like Caverly’s in Rochester’s South Wedge, Duffy’s in Avon and, of course, O’Lacy’s right here in Batavia.

There is just something about the charm of the traditional Irish music that brings a sense of good feeling to all.