Aodh Og O’Tauama and Christy Martin entertained a receptive crowd Friday night in the first live music show at the Espresso Shop since moving to its new location at Fourth and Chestnut.
About 75 people attended and enthusiastically applauded O’Tauma and Martin’s songs and witty, intriguing stories of Ireland, northern Europe, and India.
The husband-wife duo, known as Four Shillings Short, played a variety of instruments for more than two hours. Martin focused on the hammered dulcimer, branching out to sitar, guitar, a variety of mandolins, banjo and ukelele.
O’Tauma played woodwinds, flutes, tin whistles, native recorders, spoons, darbuka (a large, goblet shaped hand drum with roots in ancient Egypt) and other instruments. At times, they played bowed psaltries, an instrument that originated in Germany.
The audience clapped and cheered throughout.
The couple performed a few vocal and instrumental solos, but focused mainly on duets in harmony, and told fascinating stories of Ireland and other places.
O’Tauma displayed Irish humor with a touch of Blarney, joking that a sober dulcimer is the opposite of a hammered dulcimer. He said the Bodhran hand drum is made of goat skin, although cheaper versions are made of dog skin, which are called “bow-wow-dhrans.”
He also joked that Cork County might secede from Ireland, referring to similar talk that comes and goes in the United States. With a gleam of mischief, he said Cork residents “know we’re superior.”
Martin slipped off her shoes and sat on the floor to play the sitar. She carefully tuned and explained the complex instrument, which she learned under a stellar student of Ravi Shankar. It was the first instrument she learned to play at age 15. She played a wistful instrumental song, accompanied by O’Tauma on a large wooden recorder. Afterward, she folded her hands and thanked the audience, a customary gesture in India.
Their songs spanned centuries. Martin sang a pirate song (“in the key of ARRGH”) about Grace O’Malley, a female captain of the 16th century, whose crews and ships exacted tribute from freighters bound for her territorial waters. O’Malley protested Britain’s rule, which at the time was over all but two of Ireland’s most desolate counties.
O’Tauma also touched on political issues in his homeland, lamenting continued British rule over parts of northern Ireland — six of the 22 Irish counties. Thanks to Brexit, he said, Ireland might be fully united sometime in the next 20 years. On one of the final songs, he sang, “Before the darkness calls me/I would love to see Ireland free.”
The couple closed the two-hour plus performance with a six-verse, original, humorous song comprised entirely of euphemisms for death, such as, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” “I’m on a one-way train to the happy hunting ground,” “lying belly up six-feet under,” “doing the grim reaper rag,” and becoming “part of the continuum.”
Four Shillings Short has traveled as a duo since 1995. They arrived in North Platte from Fort Collins, Colo. and left for Hastings, Lincoln, and destinations in Iowa. They said it feels great to be on a full touring schedule with appreciative audiences, after the pandemic.
Each year, they lead two, two-week tours of Ireland. The tours are booked this year, but they encourage audiences to sign up for 2024 on the website, fourshillingsshort.com.
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