Young Dubliners Brendan Holmes On Crafting Melodic Celtic Rock

WITH YOUNG DUBLINERS, BRENDAN Holmes has released eight studio albums and toured the world alongside such acts as Jethro Tull and Chris Isaak. More than 16 years after teaming up with singer Keith Roberts in their adopted home of Los Angeles, the Brendan and the Dubliners are busier than ever, averaging 250 shows a year. A self-taught player with a driving style, Holmes co-wrote the band’s latest single, “Rosie,” as well as the fiery instrumental, “Saoirse,” which features a guest appearance by guitarist Kenny Wayne Sheppard.
By Jimmy Leslie ,

WITH YOUNG DUBLINERS, BRENDAN Holmes has released eight studio albums and toured the world alongside such acts as Jethro Tull and Chris Isaak. More than 16 years after teaming up with singer Keith Roberts in their adopted home of Los Angeles, the Brendan and the Dubliners are busier than ever, averaging 250 shows a year. A self-taught player with a driving style, Holmes co-wrote the band’s latest single, “Rosie,” as well as the fiery instrumental, “Saoirse,” which features a guest appearance by guitarist Kenny Wayne Sheppard.

 Photo: Madeleine Glindorf

What’s your musical forte?

My forte seems to be writing riffs and melodies for other instruments. I usually render them on bass, then they wind up being played on violin, whistle, mandolin or guitar. My ideas tend to have Irish themes, which is odd because I never listened to traditional music when I was growing up in Ireland. My primary influences are Geddy Lee, Pino Palladino, Mark King, Graham Maby, and Phil Lynott. I learned a lot from Irish rock bands like Thin Lizzy, Horslips, and Moving Hearts, who mixed rock and traditional music to create a new sound.

Which playing techniques work best with Young Dubliners?

I prefer to play Irish music with a pick, and I infuse it with a lot of attitude in order to suite the style. The songs tend to be uptempo drinking and fighting material, and I need to get that across to the crowd. Other material is more mellow, with a pop-rock feel. Playing fingerstyle is more appropriate then, and it allows me to throw in a bar or two of funky stuff now and again, which satisfies that craving.

Do you have to consciously govern your bass playing to suit the band?

I grew up playing in a lot of trios, which allowed more freedom. With the Young Dubs I have to limit myself to keeping it simple, straight, and solid. A solid foundation is a requisite in most music, but it’s absolutely essential with Irish rock, since it lends more freedom for the melody.

How do you know when to give the melody away to another instrument?

I separate the groove-oriented bass lines from the melody lines in my head. I’ll generally work on the foundation with the drummer first, and then try to improve on that as the work progresses. After hearing the song’s hook, the melodic juices start to flow. I’ll render it on bass, and then transpose it to a corresponding instrument in the band.

How do you determine which instrument is most appropriate?

Playing together in unison is very common in Irish music, so it really doesn’t matter 99 percent of the time.

Do you have any theories about why you eventually wound up embracing Celtic music?

I guess it must be in the blood, and it took all these years to tap into. I was surrounded by traditional Irish music growing up, so like it or not, it was drilled into my head. You never know—maybe I’m a sleeper cell planted by the government that got awakened 20 years later to help keep Irish music and culture alive.

HEAR HIM ON

Young Dubliners, Saints and Sinners [429, 2009]

GEAR

Bass Ernie Ball/Music Man Stingray (with Hipshot Xtender)
Rig Warwick TubePath 10.1 head, Warwick 6x10 cabinet
Strings & Picks Dean Markley Blue Steel (medium), Clayton picks (heavy)

 Photo: Madeleine Glindorf