Wookalily Strap on the Banjos

Adele Ingram on the bluegrass revival and playing the Ulster American Folk Park

Who and what are Wookalily?

Between hammerin' out the harmonies, slammin' on the geetars, slappin' the bass, beatin the drums, pickin' on the banjos (not to mention the banjo player), chopping on the fiddle and striking blows to the flute, it's a miracle Wookalily haven't been arrested for cruelty to expensive musical instruments. Despite our reckless ways, we've managed to create a unique and quirky sound that's all heart.

Our style, sometimes referred to as chillbilly roots, has an old-time feel with a young-time appeal. We turf out timeless songs from the bogs of Ireland to the bayous of Louisiana. Our first EP is a testament to that, with one of the tracks entitled ‘Memories of New Orleans’ (listen above). Negotiations are underway for a US tour in 2012

I play a five-string banjo and guitar and provide backing vocals; Elaine Murphy is on lead vocals and plays mandolin and flute; Jan Lyttle plays fiddle and sings backing vocals; Sharon Morgan plays lead guitar, fiv-string banjo and mandolin; and we use session double bass player and percussionist/drummer.

Why the fascination with bluegrass? (Shouldn't you be playing trad music?!)

It has to be in the blood. Bluegrass was inspired by the music of immigrants from the United Kingdom, particularly the Scotch-Irish immigrants in the Appalachian Mountains. The distinctive styles of many modern-day American country, bluegrass and folk music performers can be traced directly back to the 18th century Ulster-Scots or Scots-Irish frontier settlers. Our music crossed the Atlantic many years ago and we're just bringing it home.

The public are buying into the recent revival of Americana folk music (I'm thinking Springsteen's The Seeger Sessions, Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes etc). Is it a fad?

I doubt it's a fad. It's definitely more popular now, especially after movies like O Brother, Where Art Thou, which revived the public’s appetite for bluegrass and traditional country music. Its popularity will shift, but it won't fade away.

Does that mean we should expect Britney Spears to come back with a thigh-slapping concept album?

'Hit me baby one more time' with the question please... Well, actually, Toxic was covered by bluegrass band Nickel Creek, so you never know, Britney might get a taste for it.

You guys are playing at the 20th annual Appalachian and American Bluegrass Festival at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh on September 2. Has it really been going for that long?!

Yeah, it has indeed, I believe it started off with just a few local solo performers in the park. It's now one of the largest bluegrass festivals in Europe, and we're delighted to have been asked to play on the 20th anniversary this year.

It's the perfect setting for such a festival. Will there be spittoons and gunfights between songs?

We're up for a banjo shootout.

Which other artists/bands are scheduled to perform?

Some of the biggest names in bluegrass including Dailey and Vincent, The Malpass Brothers and Footworks Appalachian.

If you could play alongside any artist, alive or dead, at this year's festival, who would it be and why?

Steve Martin, a movie star and banjo extraordinaire. That would be cool.

Are there any upcoming young Northern Irish artists in your field who we should look out for in the months and years ahead?

The White Mansions are a new, bluegrass influenced, Americana band from Belfast, worth watching out for these guys. They'll be playing one of their first shows at The Maiden City Festival concert in Derry~Londonderry this August. Also The Down and Out Bluegrass Band – nothing down and out about these guys when it comes to musicianship and pure unadulterated bluegrass.

The Sons of Caliber are making a name for themselves too. However, like ourselves, they're not strictly bluegrass, more Fleet Foxes sounding but unique and distinctively Northern Irish with great original songs. Last but definitely not least, Acoustic Dan and the Black Mountain River Dipsos, a psychobilly band from the wild west of Belfast. We're talking super speed banjo and stompin' drum beats with funny and sometimes shocking lyrics. These guys and one gal rock.

Who is the last man that done you wrong, and what would you like to do to him?

The man who didn't pay us for a gig. We'd just repetitively play duelling banjos at him for several hours until he coughed up.

The Appalachian and American Bluegrass Festival takes place at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh on September 2-4.

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