Ha’Penny Bridge combines original Celtic tunes with traditional reels and jigs
Molly McNally is almost a snippet of a lass compared to 6-foot-5-inch Mark McKinnon. The 29-year-old brunette, along with singer/guitarist McKinnon, fronts local Celtic ensemble Ha’Penny Bridge—and she’s a vocal force to reckon with.
During a recent Wednesday night band practice at Ha’Penny Bridge mandolinist Jewel Cardinet’s house, McNally and McKinnon took turns singing lead on “The Bold Fenian Men,” an early-20th-century Irish rebel song about the Easter Rising of 1916. McKinnon’s assertive, passionate lead line was supported by McNally’s pretty back-up vocals. When it was McNally’s turn to take the lead, her singing was emotionally charged and lovely.
Ha’Penny Bridge was founded in August 2006 by Celtophile McKinnon and named after an ancient footbridge over the River Liffey in Dublin. The rest of the eight-piece, also in attendance at the rehearsal, includes fiddle players Vita Segalla and Rebecca Snow, accordionist/piano player Michael Cannon (also the leader of longtime local Celtic group the Pub Scouts), Tom Haber on electric-acoustic bass, and Dharma LaRocca on congas. Still charged up from its recent success at this past September’s KVMR Celtic Festival in Grass Valley, the band was getting ready for the upcoming CD-release party of its self-produced debut album of McKinnon’s originals, called The Awakening.
The group launched into “The Girl on the Innisboffin Ferry,” a song from the new album with a decidedly modern, rock-infused sound. Cardinet’s fine mandolin strumming held down the driving beat, along with LaRocca’s drumming and Haber’s bass. Segalla’s and Snow’s harmony fiddle lines were gorgeous.
The song morphed—in typical Irish-session fashion—into traditional Irish tune “Bill Hart’s Jig” and later back into “Innisboffin,” by way of another trad Irish tune, “The Hag at the Churn.”
Ha’Penny Bridge is quick to give credit to East Bay Celtic-meets-Grateful-Dead jam band Wake the Dead—which mixes Irish jigs and reels with Dead compositions—for a lot of its inspiration in segueing from McKinnon’s rocking Celtic originals into traditional tunes and back. The arranging hand of Michael Cannon (notable for the beautiful arrangements he did as musical director for local all-female Celtic group Thursday Morning) was evident.
Cannon, at the piano, shrugged off the accolades.
“It’s a cheap Irish trick,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, of the way he used the “A” part of “The Hag” as the transitional glue between the other songs.
Maybe, but one of a number of impressive “tricks” that Ha’penny Bridge has up its magical sleeve.