Formed in the spring of 1990, The Irish Descendants, have been a mainstay in the Newfoundland and Canadian music industry for over two decades. In that time the band has performed over 4000 shows across North America and beyond! With the founding members all hailing from various outport fishing communities, the original goal for the group was to take the music that they all learned and performed home in their kitchens, to the festival stages, pubs, and concert halls of their beloved Newfoundland. In a very short time, after the release of their first CD Misty Morning Shore (1991), the first CD ever released by a Newfoundland band, it was clear that they were on track to take their music on a worldwide journey!
The independent success of that first release was a bright moment for the band. The Newfoundland public was excited by the music and it soon sold over 15,000 copies. That success, led to signing a 5 album international recording deal with Warner Music Canada, another first for a band from the province. This relationship set the seeds for what has been a whirlwind 21-year career. The group began touring across Canada with a vengeance, some years doing close to 300 shows, and began to make their mark in the mainland markets. The trail they blazed would make way for a huge wave of successful bands and artists from the province for many of the following years!
The band stuck gold on the third recording, Gypsies and Lovers (1996). With a big Celtic wave sweeping North America, they were primed for success, and less than one year after it’s release the recording attained certified Gold status in Canada, (50,000 units), and would go on to sell over 100,000. With that success, came an East Coast Music Award for entertainers of the year, and then, another first from a Newfoundland group, a coveted Juno award for, Best Roots Traditional Group. The American equivalent of a Grammy award, attaining “Juno status” helped to propel the group to the next level, taking their wares to the international stage, where they have been fortunate to have a long and rewarding career. The band has performed widely across North America over the years, bringing their brand of Irish and Newfoundland music to Irish festivals in Milwaukee, Boston, Chicago, Dallas and many other cities, returning to many of them several time over the years!
In 1997, the band was selected to perform for the 500th anniversary celebrations of the discovery of the Island, by John Cabot in 1497, This summer long journey saw them perform for the Queen of England, and heads of state, of Ireland, and Spain. To date the band has released 13 studio recordings, the most recent entitled “Southern Shore”, (2008). It is preparing to release the next studio album, number 14, on September 9. 2011, and are looking forward to a very busy couple of years as they tour the world in support of the new release!
Over the years the line-up of the band has been led under the guidance of front man and founding member, Con O’Brien. One of Newfoundland’s most recognized entertainers, his rich baritone voice, once described as, “ a voice that could wake the dead”, has been performing Irish Newfoundland music for a quarter century. The current line-up, for the winter and spring 2011 touring season, will see regulars, Robert Kelly from Fogo Island Newfoundland (bass & vocals), and veteran St John’s musician Dave Panting (guitar, bouzouki, mandolin & vocals), joined by another icon and veteran traditional player Kelly Russell (fiddle, bouzouki, concertina, whistles, vocals). Dave and Kelly are reunited again in this ensemble, having both spent many years together playing in the influential and legendary Newfoundland band “Figgy Duff”! It is a great treat to have Kelly back in the band! For a number of years from 2001-2007; he was full-time member, contributing to several of the band’s recordings over that time. He is stepping in this winter and spring, to fill in for Duncan Cameron (fiddle, bouzouki, bodhran, whistles, concertina, harmonica, vocals), from Toronto Ontario, who will return to the line-up this coming April, when his studies are complete.
The brand of music that The Irish Descendants are known and loved for is steeped in a rich tradition. Con O’Brien is the oldest member of the 12th generation of his family living on the Island! The O’Brien’s of Bay Bulls as they are locally known, came from Waterford City Ireland in 1721. These forefathers settled in the little town of, Bay Bulls, (Today’s population 1200). Located on the Southern Shore of the Avalon Peninsula, 20 miles to the south of the capital city St John’s, North America’s oldest city! Here in this place they were able to carve out a life for themselves using the almighty cod fishery as a means to survive, all the while, like all of the Newfoundland Irish, passing on the traditions and culture of their Irish home, generation to generation!
The Irish Descendants are one of the products of this proud heritage!