The Heartstring Quartet

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The Heartstring Quartet

One of the headline acts for the upcoming National Celtic Festival in Portarlington over the long weekend in June is a welcome return to Australia for Máire Ní Chathasaigh and the Heartstring Quartet. Chances are readers probably haven’t heard of the group as of yet, but over the years the members have throughout contributing to different projects had the opportunity to work with the likes of Enya, Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor, Elvis Costello, Rod Stewart and Spandau Ballet to name but just a few. When I got the opportunity to speak with Máire, harpist for the group, it’s 2:30 a.m. in England. Despite the late hour, she is excited as ever to return to Oz.
Comprised of two duos, this Australian tour is the first time for a while that the group will be playing together as a collective, the main reason behind this is that half the band live in England whilst the other half lives in Ireland. “We’re all doing different things at the moment. Arty is in France and Nollaig is playing a few shows, and we are getting ready and very excited to come back to Australia to play. It’s the first time that we’ve ever been to the Celtic Festival and we’ve heard some rave reviews from our friends that have played there in previous years, so we are really looking forward to jumping up at the festival and all the other shows we have lined up.”
Nollaig and Máire are sisters and have both been enthralled by music ever since they were small children learning the fiddle together. The years since have been filled with many positive experiences and been blessed with the opportunity to play with some of the world’s finest musicians. “We both started out playing fiddle together when we were young and when I was about ten years old I picked up the harp. Although Nollaig tried playing the harp, she really excelled on the fiddle, and we used to play music all the time to the point where my mother would plead with us to stop playing just for a little while. It was a very fun time, however, and we used to sing a lot. It was a very positive musical experience.”
From reading many articles on the internet, Ní Chathasaigh’s crowning glory was when she released the 1985 album, The New Strung Harp. Revolutionary to this day, the acclaim which has followed since was something that Ní Chathasaigh had never dreamt of. “Growing up in the household, I was playing a lot of traditional and classical music on the harp … I really wanted to play more Irish dance music which was a lot more fast and exciting, and because no one had done it before, I had to learn how to do it myself. It was a real statement to play that music in 1985, but now everybody in Ireland plays dance music on the harp.”
If you’re still thinking about whether or not to go to this year’s Celtic Festival, what better opportunity than to see in the flesh Van Morrison’s lead guitarist in duo mode and with the Heartstring Quartet. It may be a while before we see this incarnation of the band back in Australia, so make the most of this opportunity whilst you can.
WHERE&WHEN: National Celtic Festival – June 6-9
Written by Tex Miller