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The Secret Commonwealth isn’t your daddy’s Irish band...though it should be
After two decades, Murfreesboro band The Secret Commonwealth has proven once and for all that you can’t keep a good Celtic band down. Despite an impressive number of players coming and going over the years and the tragic and untimely loss of founding member, singer and lyricist Jack Daves in 2004, the band has continued writing and performing some of the best Irish and Scottish tunes this side of the Atlantic.
It all began as a one-off back in 1993 when three college buddies (Daves, Troy Guinn and Rob Campbell) decided to throw some songs together for a St. Patrick’s Day party. Thanks to the energy and wit of that first performance, the fellows were encouraged to do a second show, then a third and before anyone realized what was happening, they were a full-fledged band playing regular gigs in and around Murfreesboro and Nashville.
Two clubs in particular served as home base to the band whose ranks swelled with the addition of new singers and instrumentalists: The Boro in Murfreesboro and the now defunct Sherlock Holmes Pub in Nashville, the latter being immortalized in a tune on their first album. Indeed, The Commonwealth and the Sherlock Holmes became so intertwined that to this day fans can’t think of one without thinking of the other.
The enthusiastic response to the Commonwealth soon rocketed them to almost cult-like status. That notion is borne out by the fact that the band’s hardcore fan club, The Screaming Blue Woadies, are still following them from gig to gig, sometimes driving hundreds of miles to do so. The band’s influence on the local and regional musical scene, particularly where Celtic music is concerned, cannot be underestimated. It is arguable that they actually helped create it.
There were traditionalists playing at the time, but The Secret Commonwealth was one of the first modern acts to combine the folk-revival tunes of the Clancys and Chieftains with the hard-as-nails, turn-it-to-eleven punk sensibilities of the Pogues. It was a powerful alchemy, which is why when a young fellow from Chattanooga with similar tastes happened to catch the band in Nashville in ’97 he decided that maybe his hometown could use a rambunctious Celtic act as well (but that’s a story for a different day).
The band self-describes as “Celto-eclectic” which is a pretty spot-on assessment given that one is as likely to hear the theme from the 1968 horror flick “Green Slime” as “Whiskey in the Jar” or “Wild Rover”, and it is a fact that no other Celtic group in the Southeast can come close to their version of the Swedish werewolf song, “Varulven”.
In fact, the perfect Secret Commonwealth cocktail is probably three parts Irish, three parts Scottish, two parts sci-fi and two parts supernatural with a light twist of English tunes. Serve in a goblet made from the skull of a telephone sanitizer and sip through a Silly Straw…cautiously.
These days, the band consists of founding members Troy and Rob with the addition of Franko Hashiguchi and Uncle Don Clark. Don, a successful solo performer, has taken over the position once occupied by founding member Jack and it is a testament to his talent and character that he has never claimed to “fill the big man’s shoes” but then Don has a pretty damn big pair of shoes himself.
There is no doubt the four men make for a powerful line-up, a big ol’ Kelly green, whiskey-soaked ball of fun that you, gentle reader, can see for yourself at the Honest Pint’s “Halfway to Paddy’s Day” celebration a month from now. The second Saturday in September The Secret Commonwealth will share the stage with fan favorites Cutthroat Shamrock and others. Start saving up your energy now.
You’re going to need it.