Sunday, October 15, 2006

How to Change a Flat Tire

See update (December 2020).

This was the unlikely name of a Celtic music ensemble that came together in 1975 at the California Institute of Arts, relocated to the East Coast, and was active at least through the summer of 1980. They released two very listenable LPs, both on Front Hall Records. On the first, Point of Departure, which was released in 1977, the band members were Jim Cowdery (recorders, mandolin, banjo, and guitar), Bo Hinrichs (flutes, fife, and whistles), Ginny Phelps (vocals, guitar, mandolin, etc.), Jim Martin (mandolin, guitar, banjo), and Dean Kuth (bodhran, spoons, bones, concertina, mandolin). If you're keeping score, that's four mandolin players, though I suspect some of those instruments were actually bouzoukis or something along that line.

By the time of their second record, Traditional Music of Ireland and Shetland, which was issued in 1978, Hinrichs and Phelps had moved on and fiddler Maggie Holtzberg had joined the band. Except for some tin whistle (credited to Cowdery) there are no winds on this second album, nor did anyone take over on vocals in the absence of Ginny Phelps. The credits for Martin and Cowdery now include “tenor mandolin.” The photo above shows the revised lineup.

I've been told that the group later issued a third recording that was only available on cassette, but I've never seen a copy. They appear live on at least one compilation, a locally produced LP called Fiddling Celebration: Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, Cross River, N.Y. This was issued by Soarin' Hawk Records in 1980 or shortly thereafter as SH-002. I saw the group live once or twice, at the (now long defunct) annual fiddle festival where that LP was recorded, though I didn't happen to be there that particular year.

As far as I can tell none of the group's music was ever issued on CD, and I suppose it's not very likely that it ever will. I think the group must have disbanded in the early eighties. Jim Cowdery, who seems to have been the arranger and band leader, became a musicologist and has compiled an instruction book on playing the Irish bouzouki. Maggie Holtzberg became a folklorist and the author of several books but has also remained active as a performer, with a group called the Flexible Flyers String Band. I haven't been able to find any record of the subsequent activities of the other band members.


Unknown said...

The photo was taken against the chapel at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Ct, perhaps before a concert. Maggie (shown on fiddle) was a transfer student there in 1977 (1978?). Jim was teaching at Wesleyan as well and I think Dean was a student there. They played many gigs there. The music got under my skin and never left.

Chris said...

Thanks for that information. As far as I can tell there are still no CDs or downloads of their music.

Anonymous said...

Saw them play at The Towne Crier, then in Pawling NY, in '76 I think. I was about 12 - they left a big impression!

Richard H said...

Does anyone know what happened to Ginny Phelps?

Chris said...

No idea, I'm afraid. Maybe she'll drop in!