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by Christine Hansen
“Saying Goodbye to That Irish Feeling”
The bellows of Uilleann pipes combined with the occasional shrill of the tin whistle and wooden flute resonate as glasses of Guinness clash together in cheers of merriment. The thump of shoes clomping against the floor reverberates to the festive music. Shouts of “Oh Danny Boy!”ring in the air. Is this a bar in Dublin, Ireland? Is it St. Patrick's Day, the one day of the year that Celtic music is as omnipresent as the color green? No, it's the sound of one of Baltimore 's favorite local bands, O'Malley's March. Until recently, it didn't have to be St. Patrick's Day for the gregariousness of the Irish spirit to be heard in this city, where the mayor was the lead singer, songwriter and acoustic guitarist of this Celtic rock band.
On March 14, 2005, three days shy of the biggest Irish celebration, Martin O'Malley posted a farewell to fans on the band's website, announcing his decision to commit his “aging creative energies” to the progress of his mayoral duties. The St. Patrick's Day show at the Recher Theatre was his last season performance with the band. The mayor said he needs to take his focus on “continuing the city's remarkable progress and being laser focused on getting the state moving in the right direction again.”
Annette Jones-Wilson, the band's manager and long time friend of O'Malley, says Martin's decision was not a surprise.
“Martin really wants to decrease the homicide rate, improve the schools and improve the living conditions for everybody in Baltimore,” Jones-Wilson said. “He continues to be re-elected and we've known for a while that this was coming.” They will still continue to play their booked shows whether O'Malley is there or not.
Despite the recent announcement, O'Malley's March still remains a Charm City favorite. The band was established in 1988. The songs were a combination of the sounds of Jamie Wilson on the drums, Jared Denhard on the harp, Highland bagpipes and trombone, Jim Eagan playing the electric and string violin, Sean McComiskey playing the button accordion, Ralph Reinoldi playing the electric guitar and mandolin, Pete Miller on bass and the voice and songs of Martin O'Malley. The band played year round at local clubs and in Washington D.C., Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pa. Its roots originate and will always remain a part of Baltimore.
The band infused the traditional cadence of Celtic song with the elements of rock rhythms, but added a little more than just a modern twist to a classic beat. Perhaps the popularity of the band was due, in part, to the “local” feeling. Although the band plays the festive music of a faraway place, just the plain fact that every single member lives and is from Baltimore contributed to a huge part of their success. The fact that the lead vocalist was the mayor may have also had something to do with it. The songs that were written by Mayor O'Malley brought the distant sounds home to Baltimore , giving the band a more local feel and flavor. Songs like “The Battle of Baltimore,” “South Baltimore Lullaby,” and “Streets of Baltimore” connect with the city--Irish descendents or not. O'Malley combined his love for Baltimore and his appreciation of his roots in many of his songs. Annette Jones-Wilson says that the songs are more about the experience of coming to Baltimore and about the Irish immigrants.
“‘Battle of Baltimore'” is about the historical events that happened in Baltimore and how Baltimore defended the country against the British,” Jones-Wilson said. The song brings a very patriotic feeling, not only for the country, but for Baltimore. Lyrics like “We'll stand alone for love and liberty. We'll stand alone for this one land of the free. And when the bombs of Hell come raining down tonight, we'll stand alone for Baltimore and liberty…” definitely pulls the pride and heart chords of Baltimore residents.
“I definitely think that Martin has very strong patriotic feelings for Baltimore . I really feel that he has a general passion and love for Baltimore and his Irish roots,” Jones-Wilson said.
Each of the band members originate from Baltimore or areas around Baltimore and some have been lifelong residents of the city. Jim Eagan has lived in Northeast Baltimore all his life, attending local schools, such as Waldorf School of Baltimore, Baltimore School for the Arts and Loyola College. Sean McComiskey attended Calvert Hall College High School and attends Towson University. Jamie Wilson moved from Virginia in 1972 to attend the Maryland College Institute of Art and has remained a Baltimore resident ever since.
If that wasn't enough for Baltimore residents to feel connected to the band, the performances were so energetic and lively, it surely got their hearts pumping. The band members jumped, danced, and jigged; giving the music more life. The band members got a feel for the crowd and played according to the mood of the crowd.
“When they were on stage, they got such a feel for the crowd they played for. They were so palpable,” Jones-Wilson said. “They would be in the middle of a set and were able to adapt and try different songs to play for different types of crowds,” Jones-Wilson adds.
Jamie Wilson, the band's drummer said, “It depends on the venue, but places like the Funkbox, brings a crowd that listens.”
The Funkbox, formerly known as 8x10, is located in the Federal Hill neighborhood of the city, claiming to be “Federal Hill's only live music venue.” Equipped with a spring-loaded floor, it's easy to groove, leap and sway to convivial sounds of O'Malley's March.
Nonetheless, the show must go on, with or without the mayor. O'Malley's decision to direct all his focus on his political duties has given the other band members the opportunity to pursue other projects. “We will continue to play the gigs we have booked,” Jones-Wilson said. “They've known this was coming for a while and most of the guys will work on other various projects. They've got so many gigs they will be so busy, they won't feel it for a while,” she said.
“Everyone is busy on a lot of other projects. Martin's decision has given us a work on those. I think everyone will just get busier with their other projects,” Wilson said.
In fact, many of the band members have already begun new projects and have worked on them for the past couple years. Currently, Wilson is in three other bands and also records in his studio at home. Jared Denhard, the harp player, is also in another band and has been focusing on his other various projects.
Even though O'Malley's decision will deeply affect his band members and his fans, the show must go on for everyone. O'Malley's contributions to the band will be remembered and the sounds of O'Malley's March will forever be one of the distinctive sounds of Baltimore.
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