Rattle the Boards intends to keep the folks dancing
From the cover of its current album, The Parish Platform, it's clear that Irish quartet Rattle the Boards is steeped in traditional ways. The sepia-toned photo shows two of its members wearing old-fashioned togs and flat caps, dancing on a wood platform that's laid across a mountain road, while the other pair plays tunes for them. The scene suggests the band's raw, unvarnished approach to making music.
“It's something we absorbed early on as boys going to pub sessions and listening to older musicians,” says Benny McCarthy, leader and accordionist with Rattle the Boards, reached at his home in Ballinamult, County Waterford. “Some of them are still around, and they've been a strong inspiration to us all along. One thing we were always led to believe is that to be a good musician you have to play for the dancers. Rattle the Boards keeps that connection going. Our music is ”˜lifty'—good to dance to—hence our name.”
The band formed after McCarthy, guitarist John Nugent, and fiddler and banjo player Pat Ryan met at a barroom music bash in 1992. With few commercial ambitions, the trio only came to record its self-titled debut in 1999. The album proved a critical success, and soon afterwards the Rattlers added young traditional singer John T. Egan to the lineup. Since then, they've become well-known throughout Ireland as the house band on the long-running touring theatre show Teac a Bloc.
For all the eventual recognition at home, however, Rattle the Boards hasn't often ventured abroad. “We were in the U.S. last year but we don't do much touring, as we're all so committed elsewhere,” says McCarthy. “John T.'s a farmer, John Nugent has a haulage company, and Pat's a teacher. I'm the only one earning my living through music.”
McCarthy's activities include operating the small home studio in which he made The Parish Platform last year. He recorded the tracks live off the floor, and the production has an exceptionally warm and intimate feel. New compositions like Canadian fiddler André Brunet's meditative air “The Autumn Sky” rub shoulders with popular tunes often regarded as hackneyed today—such as the jig “The Irish Washerwoman” and the hornpipe “Off to California”. The band imaginatively captures the essence of the vintage material, and the scintillating version of “The Mason's Apron” by McCarthy is a standout.
“Tunes go through different fashions and trends,” he reflects. “The older ones on the album have stood the test of time. They set a standard, and they've such strong melodies you never get fed up doing them.”
Rattle the Boards delivers the album's music in uncluttered settings, with the bonhomie that has long been its hallmark. “This is the honest-to-God way we play all the time,” says McCarthy. “It's no major production number. When you're used to heavily arranged music it's refreshing to hear something that isn't. We just play our hearts out—it's good old simple Irish fun.”
Rattle the Boards plays the St. James Hall tonight (October 8).