True to his Celtic roots

Though John Whelan grew up near London in Dunstable, England, he was raised on the fiddle and pipe music of Ireland.

Dunstable was home to a large Irish community, and Whelan's father was from Ireland's County Wexford. At 14, already a winner of numerous accordion championships, Whelan recorded his first album, "Pride of Wexford." The album is still in print and sells steadily.

Whelan's music caught on in America, and he moved to the U.S. in 1980. He soon was performing with Riverdance fiddler Eileen Ivers in a celebrated Irish duo. More recently, he was voted Top Button Accordion Player by the Irish Musicians Association.

Whelan, along with fiddler and vocalist Charlene Adzima and Zac Leger on guitar, bouzouki, pipes and flute, will perform reels, jigs and solos at 7: 30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30, at Pioneer Hall, 73 Winburn Way, Ashland.

While Whelan's Celtic allegiances remain firm, he continues to bring new music to audiences.

Whelan's name turned up on recordings such as "Celtic Odyssey" in 1993 and "Celtic Legacy" in 1995. In 1996, he signed with Narada, an independent, new age label. He released his first solo album, "Celtic Reflections," on Narada.

Whelan's next Narada recording, "Celtic Crossroads," featured American country singer Kathy Mattea and Nashville musicians Tim O'Brien and Jerry Douglas, among others. The album spent more than two months at the top of Billboard's World Music chart.

In 1998, the John Whelan Band performed at music events such as the Philadelphia Folk Festival, the Washington Irish Folk Festival and others around Europe.

Whelan's pursuits expanded with his 1998 album, "Flirting with the Edge," a showcase of artists such as Samite on kalimba and vocals, Latin guitarist Oscar Lopez and vocals by Celtic singer Connie Dover and longtime fan Bernadette Peters.

In 1999, Whelan released "Come to Dance," his milestone album that served notice to genre purists that the seven-time All-Ireland accordion champion was as instrumentally agile as ever.

The year 2001 brought Whelan's "Celtic Fire," along with an ensemble of young instrumentalists in today's traditional Irish music.

The Ashland Folk Music Club will sponsor the John Whelan Trio's concert at Pioneer Hall. Adzima is an award-winning fiddler, and her debut album, "The Initiation," was released in 2006. Leger was a gold medalist in the 2003 Mid-Atlantic Fleadh, taking several other medals on other instruments. He also holds a senior All-Ireland piping title. Advance tickets cost $15, $10 for children younger than 12, and are available at Music Coop in Ashland or by calling 541-488-0679. Admission at the door will be $17, $12 for children.

Share This Story