Happy St. Patrick's Day! If there’s one musical genre that doesn’t get a whole lot of media attention, it’s Celtic rock. In fact, I'd bet that some of you reading this aren't 100 percent sure what Celtic rock is, so here's the gist: it's a blending of traditional Irish and Scottish music which utilizes bagpipes, fiddles, tin whistle and other Celtic instruments with modern rock melodies.
If you haven't heard a lot about the genre, you shouldn't write it off; many Irish-inspired punk and rock groups have decade-spanning careers and die-hard fan bases. Some bands have even ventured into mainstream success, like Flogging Molly and The Dropkick Murphys (“Shipping Up to Boston” exploded when it essentially became the theme song for The Departed), or like The Pogues, inspired countless bands outside their genre, proving that the audience for Celtic rock goes beyond Hibernophiles.
If you need another push, let me remind you of a little British band called Mumford & Sons—they explore a traditional folksy sound, utilizing banjo, mandolin, dobro and even accordion, yet they still made it to number two on the Billboard 200 chart. So, are you ready to expand your musical mind? Sit down, grab some haggis, and take a look at these eight notable Celtic rock bands below.
Did you watch Titanic and think, “Wow, steerage looks like a lot more fun than first class since they get to dance to jaunty Irish music?” If so, this first one's for you. The band playing in that scene is Gaelic Storm, one of the biggest names in contemporary Celtic music. Ever since forming in a Santa Monica pub in 1996, Gaelic Storm has been producing high-quality traditional Irish music with a modern slant. Gaelic Storm’s 12th album, Matching Sweaters, came out in 2015, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down. “It’s not a fad,” band co-founder Patrick Murphy said to Rambles. “It’s not like Irish music is popular for two or three years and goes away. It’s always there.”
When you think of major names in Chicago music, the Tossers are probably not the first one that comes to mind. But maybe they should be: their album Long Dim Road made the Illinois Entertainer’s list of the “25 Essential Local Albums" from 1996-2006, among albums by big names such as R. Kelly and Kanye West. Perhaps what makes the Tossers stand out is the way they embrace their Irish roots: vocalist Tony Duggins told Chicagoist, “It’s old music. That’s the beauty of it. That’s what I like about it. We’ll never change, because we love what we’re doing.”
You might think that any band with the word haggis in its name is bound to be so over-the-top Celtic that it is essentially Riverdance music, but that's not the case with Toronto-based Enter the Haggis. The band, which plays world-fusion music (that is to say, they draw inspiration from sources besides Celtic culture), has been playing for over 15 years and has an extremely devoted fan base – so much so that their most recent album, Whitelake, was funded entirely by fan donations. For evidence of why ETH’s fans love them so much, just take a look at their live performance of “One Last Drink” on Live With Regis and Kelly!
This Texas-based group was once called "a Celtic version of Collective Soul,” and that’s exactly what you get from their catchy rock rhythms laced with a gentle Irish flourish. Although the Killdares aren't overbearing in their Celtic sound, their lineup includes six-time National Fiddle Champion Roberta Rast and renowned bagpipe player Matt Willis. The band knows that their use of fiddle and bagpipe are what make them unique: “These two instruments play both lead and supporting roles in the sound of our band, which in and of itself is pretty unconventional,” band founder Tim Smith said. See Rast rock a fiddle solo in this clip from their live DVD/CD set, Up Against the Lights.
Black 47 is not an arbitrary band name - it's another term for the summer of 1847, which was the worst year of the Great Irish Famine. It is only fitting that a band with such a loaded name is known for their political opinions: lead vocalist Larry Kirwan is outspoken about many high-profile issues, from his Irish Republican sympathies to his opposition of the war in Iraq. Even his thoughts on music piracy are controversial: he encourages fans to record Black 47's shows (His reasoning? Every performance is different, and there should be a record of all of them). And we're glad he does, or else we might not have this spirited video of Black 47 live in New York, performing with Irish step dancers, to share!
Horslips are definitely a veteran band on this list, forming in 1970, calling it quits a decade later. They reunited in 2004 and have been performing regularly ever since...thank goodness! They're largely considered one of the founding fathers of this genre, birthing the sound we've all come to love. Listen above, you'll note that there's nothing dated about it.
Another legacy act! You don't mess with greatness, ya know? Steeleye Span pre-date even Horslips, starting in 1968, calling it quits in 1978, reuniting in 1980 and sticking to it ever since. That's a long relationship. In that time the English band has released a whopping 22 studio albums and countless (we mean countless) singles. There's no wrong place to start in their repertoire as long as you start. You won't be sorry.