This year is very special one for Irish folk band The Raggle Taggle Gypsies and they intend to mark their 25th anniversary with a special concert in Majorca, the group's spiritual home.
In the meantime, the Raggles will be headlining the St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Santa Ponsa on 18 March. This year’s St. Patrick's Day will in fact mark the 25 years since the Raggle Taggle Gypsies arrived in Majorca.
And what a ride it’s been and how much has happened since, as lead singer Brendan O'Neill explains.
"We're glad to say we are still all alive and kicking and raring to go as usual, if a little less hairy. And so my friends, it’s time to celebrate! This year's going to be one to remember."
The Raggle Taggle Gypsies are in the unique position of having two singers and hopefully, for the first time ever, both Brendan and Eamon will be on stage together. "We are planning a mega gig at the end of the year (date and venue yet to be fixed) when the band will have a reunion for all players who have ever played in the band over the years. And there have been many.
"However, for the moment you will have the Raggles with me, Paul and Sebastian to perform for you on this Paddy's Day at the main stage in Santa Ponsa."
The Raggles (as opposed to The Raggle Taggle Gypsies) are a three-piece breakaway band who formed in 2005, when Brendan moved to live in Portugal, and have continued to tour ever since. They have been working for the past few years putting together a more organic and original show and hope to be playing more on the island in the future, so keep an eye out for them.
The foundations for the band were originally laid in Dublin by Paul McKeown and Brendan O'Neill. They are both from Dublin and started playing music together in their early teens after becoming school friends. In 1993 they formed a band called The Raggle Taggle Gypsies and came to play the summer season in Santa Ponsa.
For many years they played each summer to the thousands of Irish tourists who came over to spend their holidays in the sun. Over the years they have been very fortunate to play with different drummers, fiddle players and bass guitarists. The band has also toured Norway, Sweden, America and have played in festivals around the island. Their music is a mix of Irish folk, upbeat traditional music and original songs.
About 13 years ago Brendan and his family moved to Portugal. He set up home there and met with local singers and songwriters. He also continues to write his own songs and play concerts in Portugal.
Paul was lucky to meet the other lead singer Eamon with whom The Raggle Taggle Gypsies have kept their relationship alive on the island. Together with the regular drummer Patti, bass player Hernan and fiddle player Chris, the band have continued to entertain people at festivals, weddings, and in tourist spots for the past decade.
Obviously being best friends, school mates and having played music together for so many years Paul and Brendan have always kept in touch and continually work together on new musical arrangements. Together with the fiddle player and percussionist Sebastian in a group called The Raggles, they enjoy meeting up to play together and keep their music alive.
Brendan admits that he does miss the rattle and hum of Santa Ponsa. "During the summer it's great. It's packed with great Irish musicians, in particular Mick the Fiddler, and it's just a melting pot of fantastic music. It's a great atmosphere to be part of for a musician. I never stop writing. I tend to write and play as opposed to listen to music, the opposite to my son who is growing up to be a mean musician, so we're going to be using our time in Majorca to get into the studio and record some live tracks.
"We’ve got back with producer and manager Damian Wilson, so it’s going to be a great reunion."
Damian has been working in the music business since the mid '80s with artists ranging from The Human League, when he had a recording studio in Sheffield, before moving to a Scandinavian record label, Mega Records, having further multi-million record sales with Ace Of Base, Prince, Coolio, ELO Part 2, The Sugarcubes (Bjork) and many more.
He recorded the first Raggles album using live takes in 1996/7 in what was Fiddler's Green in Santa Ponsa (now Saint's Bar) during the winter months.
The album is called Barely Alive and featured Damian’s Cocker Spaniel, Dougal, on backing vocals. Although time has passed, Damian was asked back to join the boys again as manager, which was agreed during a reunion visit in Portugal at Brendan's family home in southwestern Portugal. The deal was sealed with a bottle of Jameson Whisky.
"Folk music has really got to be heard live. Folk and blues were the beginning of rock music, even today look at the likes of Ed Sheeran. I think he’s great, extremely talented but at heart, he’s a folk singer and musician. Everything we hear has its roots in either folk or the blues and that enables us to be very diverse in the kind of music we play.
"Some of my latest stuff has a strong blues feel to it, others are very folky touching on rock and roll. Well, we were a rock and roll band many moons ago playing the pubs and clubs of Dublin. We were old school '80s and ended up supporting some class acts.
"There are no real boundaries to folk or blues and they are not musical genres which can be manufactured and marketed. Full marks and praise to the likes of Adele, for example. But she was fortunate enough to get a place at the Brit School and the rest, as they say is history, but that includes clever marketing and the likes.
"Over on our side of the industry it’s about playing live, getting out there, taking the rough with the smooth; it’s all rock and roll, although we are of course slightly older and wiser now with families to look after. But it’s taken us around Europe, I guess Trondheim in Norway is our biggest foreign fan base, it’s a city with a very large student population.
"I remember one Scandinavian tour very well. It took us up to this town in the Arctic Circle; we were performing for polar bears and all sorts, it was amazing. We also did a full ski season in Andorra one winter; that was great fun as well.
"And now we are heading back to Majorca, which we are all really excited about. This St. Patrick's Day in Santa Ponsa will be a huge Irish festival and for those who are around in Majorca in October or November and want a great night out, come to the Raggles/Raggle Taggle Gypsies reunion gig. All are welcome. Happy St. Patrick's Day!"
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