Dave Boyd and Andrea Piccioni first met in 2011 when Dave attended the Frame Drums Italia festival to investigate the historical connections between the Irish bodhrán and the frame drums of the Mediterranean. Andreas interest in Irish music began a conversation that changed their lives.
It was instantly clear to both musicians that there was an obvious synergy with the bodhrán and tamburello - both instruments using the same technique in turning the wrist and ornamenting with triplets and rolls. A musical relationship became a warm friendship and the two musicians have shared stages at percussion festivals throughout Europe.
Their shared discovery of the deep resonances exist between Irish traditional music and the traditional music of Southern Italy - particularly Tarantella as its played in Calabria - led to the decision to bring together a group of like minded musicians from each tradition and see if a collaboration would be successful. A serendipitous meeting led to the involvement and support of David Teevan at Ten42 Productions bringing momentum and management experience to the process.
Finding the musicians for the project was crucial and the search took some months. It was important to find the right people as much as the right players, because most of the development work was residential with the band living together and sharing cooking and cleaning chores. Working in multiple languages, with arrangements being created by listening and playing, rather than being written was challenging - but the musicians rose to the task with energy, curiosity, humour and a genuine sense that they were creating something novel and unique.
The ensemble came together in April 2023 for a period of writing and development in County Tipperary, Ireland before embarking on a sold out Irish tour.
In August 2023 they travelled to Calabria as guests of Tchaikovsky Conservatory of Catanzaro-Nocera Terinese to be artists in residence in the village of Monasterace for another period of rehearsals and composition in the heart of the Calabrian Taranta tradition culminating in a series of sold out and highly acclaimed festival performances.
For our first meeting we were incredibly fortunate to be able to gather in rural Tipperary on the slopes of Slieve na mBan. This isolated and beautiful setting was perfect for allowing the musicians to get to know each other.
Although we had spent a lot of time preparing and planning online - this was the moment where we found out if the combination of instruments, traditions and people was going to work together.
Day Two : Then there were Six
We (and Terry the studio dog) welcomed the arrival of singer/guitarist Mico. He demonstrated traditional instruments the lira Calabrese and Zampupetta - which a few people had never heard before. A full day of sharing and learning each others songs and tunes, as well as experimenting with different arrangement ideas to build these into new collaborative pieces. The added complication of Mico speaking Calabrese, which had to be translated into Italian and then into English, presented no barrier to our understanding each other - communication isn't only about language, it's about a willingness to listen and a desire to be understood.
Day Three: Time for a Session
Having put a few solid arrangements of tunes together we decided to go to into the local village and hold an impromptu session in the café. These things happen in Ireland. This also provided our documentary filmmaker Michael an opportunity to capture us performing in front of a small (and slightly surprised) audience in an unusual setting. We also had some delicious stew! Our piper and concertina player, Lottie joined us in the afternoon so we now had the full ensemble of musicians, and another beautiful moment where our Calabrian friends heard the Uileann pipes live for this first time.
Day Four: Playing for an audience
Today focussed intensively on the material that we will present in our first public concert. This whole week is an experiment in developmental collaboration and sharing this new music with an audience in the next practical step - however it means we will need to move from the comfort and intimacy of playing in a circle around a wood stove to a more formal concert situation with all the technical and logistical issues of microphones, staging and lighting. We have a great crew setting up the venue for us and all the tickets are sold out - we were still refining and running new material during the soundcheck and even in the dressing room before the show
Behind the Scenes
It takes more than simply performing music to form an ensemble, and we were able to enjoy cooking, eating, long chats and walks in the idyllic surroundings of our hosts David and Theresia's wonderful home. Neighbours stopped by for dinner. We were served home-made Calabrian cheese and sausage, delicious pasta and a taste of that famed Irish stout. These informal interactions and exchanges allowed us to be much more relaxed and confident when playing together.
We were honoured to be hosted as artists in residence in Monasterace Superiore - a small medieval village in South Eastern Calabria dating back to the 7th century BC when it was part of Magna Graecia. It has a panoramic position overlooking the Ionian Sea and is in the heartland of the Calabrian Tarantella tradition where the music and dance are still part of peoples everyday lives. A hugely inspiring place to gather together again for more music making.
After a decent night's rest following our awful travel experiences with a low cost Irish airline (musicians everywhere will understand this) - we refreshed ourselves with a morning dip in the Ionian Sea, then climbed the steep hill to our rehearsal room in the village cultural centre. With temperatures in the high 30s fans and copious amounts of water were vital. Reuniting with Andrea and Mico in their homeland, and welcoming our new Chittarra Battente player Marcello De Carolis, plus our guest performers Danilo Gatto and Antonio Critelli added a new intensity to the process. As soon as we lifted our instruments it was immediately clear that the synergy we experience playing together was as strong as ever. As we worked through the material we refined and developed the arrangements and had the exciting discovery of tunes from each tradition that are almost mirrors of each other.
Our debut performance in Italy was part of Festival d'Autunno, a high profile concert series that runs throughout Calabria for several months. The venue - a 1000 year old monastery in a breathtaking location on a mountain top overlooking the ocean. Exceptional venues are truly rare, and we were all determined to put on the best show possible. The brilliant local crew had been there since early morning setting up staging, sound and lighting and we were able to sound check and get ourselves accustomed to the astonishing setting. As it was night was falling our hosts took us to a nearby village where we had dinner (this is important in Italy). As we made our way slowly back in the dark through the suddenly heavy traffic (all headed to the show, we were assured), the visual spectacle of the venue now lit up in the landscape was simply stunning - and we had sold out. Time to bring the music to the gathered crowd.
We played out hearts out, what else would we do? People roared with delight, and many left their seats to dance. The Sirocco brought a cooling breeze from the ocean, and the moon rose because these thing happen at the right time.
It was a long way from Tipperary.
Our next concert took us on a long drive across the mountains to the Mediterranean side of the peninsula and Festival Meditteraneo in the town of Fuscaldo. We were delighted to be working with the same great crew from Montauro who had everything ready for us (and a street closed). This was a different scenario as the gig was unticketed and we really didn't know how many people were going to turn up. After soundcheck we were taken to a local seafood restaurant (more of which later) and took to the stage in true Calabrian fashion - having just finished a stunning meal and with scant regard for the time on any clock. The street and the balconies overlooking it filled up with people and emboldened by our experience playing on the mountaintop, we seemed to move up another gear as a band, getting even tighter and more fluid in our playing and transitions. The response was warm, enthusiastic and loud - with many people wanting to talk to us afterwards about how they had travelled far to see the show and how they loved the music. Our recording engineer and documentary crew were delighted with the audio and video that they were able to capture. Having packed up our instruments we grabbed a quick late night gelato and piled into the van for the long hot drive home, getting back at 4am. It's not all glamour and glitz.
After a well deserved night off we were playing as part of the Taranta Power festival right in the village we were being hosted in. A home gig. We had been living Monasterace for a week and were now on nodding acquaintance with many of the villagers who greeted us with a cheery 'Salve!" as we climbed the steep cobbled streets with our instruments to rehearse every day. We knew that they all would be there. Also many of the musicians attending the festival workshop programme were also going to be arriving in town. No pressure.
We planned an acoustic session style set in the piazza with the expectation that others might join in the proceedings and maybe there would be some dancing. What happened was simply magical. We shared our arrangements of Irish and Tarantella tunes with an attentive and fascinated crowd, and then things took on their own momentum. Guest musicians added their instruments and the dancing began in earnest. In this region there is a style called rota (wheel) where dancers form a circle and the 'dance master' literally dances people into couples in the middle of the fray. This went on for many hours with many musicians trading tunes while the dancers span and whirled around them to jigs, songs and tarantella. The Irish musicians in the band witnessing the living heritage of Taranta at its source, as well as the deeply resonant space that this music shares between the two traditions.