When one of the finest banjo players on the Irish music scene joins forces with one of America’s most celebrated bluegrass banjo players you should be prepared for fireworks!
This July/August, Coleraine’s Damien O’Kane and California’s Ron Block join forces for their first UK tour, showcasing their captivating and singular debut duo album, Banjophony.
The humble banjo has long been the brunt of jokes. Banjo players can be almost apologetic about the instrument ; Block himself has been known to jokingly describe it as the ‘high school chick repellent’. But on either side of the Atlantic O’Kane and Block decided to stop laughing at banjo jokes – and learn how to play one – and how!
With two bold and acclaimed recent albums to his name – the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards ‘Best Album’ nominated Areas of High Trafficand last year’s Avenging and Bright, O’Kane thought it was high time to join forces with a musician he had long admired – Alison Krauss & Union Station’s banjo star and multiple award winner Block (no less than 14 Grammy Awards and six International Bluegrass Music Awards to his name for starters).
They have collaborated to create arguably their own genre. Says Damien: “We coined the phrase ‘Banjophony’ meaning the wondrous sounds of the banjo and decided that described the album well.”
A union of transatlantic cultures, Banjophony explores and melds two different styles and approaches to the banjo to impressive effect, the musicians demonstrating high level connectivity and empathy and they hop across genres from folk roots to rock, bluegrass to jazz.
“Ron Block and Damien O’Kane have created something I have never heard. Damien’s sense of piston-like drive and Ron’s stately tone and string-bending accuracy mix to create a confluence of the perfect banjo. The other respected musicians dance around them and give them the space to chase, harmonize, or counter each other throughout this experiment.
It works. It all works. Listen to it and see if you agree with me”Jerry Douglas
The end result is a sparkling rollercoaster record which showcases an instrument that proves incredibly versatile in the right hands – both showy and subtle. Together O’Kane and Block’s fused talents have succeeded in making two banjos subtle, awe-inspiring and majestic.
Now UK audiences will get a rare chance to see that synchronicity in action – as what promises to be one of the most entertaining tours of the summer kicks off – eight select dates bookended with two key festival appearances.
Damien and Ron will launch Banjophony with a special gig at the Underneath the Stars Festival on Friday, July 20 before embarking on a UK tour taking in London’s King’s Place and ending at Cambridge Folk Festival
DAMIEN O’KANE & RON BLOCK UK TOUR
Saturday 21st July BARNSLEY Underneath the Stars Festival
Wednesday 25th YORK The Crescent
Thursday 26th GRANTHAM Guildhall Arts Centre
Tel: 01476 406158 / https://www.guildhallartscentre.com/
Friday 27th SALTAIRE Caroline Social Club
Saturday 28th LONDON Kings Place
Tel: 020 7520 1490 / https://www.kingsplace.co.uk/
Tuesday 31st KINGSKERSWELL Parish Church, Devon
Wednesday 1st August TRURO The Old Bakery
Tel: 01872 278804 / https://www.oldbakerystudios.co.uk/
Sunday 5th CAMBRIDGE Folk Festival