Belfast based five piece group Tamalin want to take Irish music in a new direction, they tell Roderick O'Connor.

Tamalin set themselves a tall order: using their grounding in Irish traditional music to pitch themselves in the pop market. They have just released their debut album, called Rhythm & Rhyme, which shows they are a talented bunch, and which will go a long way to achieving their goals.

For all the mentions of pop music before I heard their new album, I was surprised just how much traditional music it contains. There are two covers; a passable version of Fairport Conventions Crazyman Michael, and a bluesy version of Robert Plant and Jimmy Pages Poor Tom. Tina (28), a flute player and the main singer, tells me she is a big fan of 70s heavy rock group Led Zeppelin, especially their early acoustic based blues material.

The chief instruments are flute, uilleann pipes and fiddle, the latter played by another McSherry, Joanne. Completing the line up are Paul McSherry on acoustic guitar, and Kevin Dorris a long-time friend of the family, who plays bouzouki and bodhran.

"Our roots are definitely in traditional music," says Tina. "But when we were recording this album we wanted a modern edge also. We think its good to experiment."

On the subject of roots, the McSherrys grew up in West Belfast. "Our father played classical music on the piano and a few Irish tunes on the tin whistle and his mother came from the Co. Donegal gaeltacht. Listening to Irish music and speaking Irish was strongly linked with our identity", says Tina. She says all the family were self taught. John won all Ireland titles, and at 18 was the youngest person to win the senior Oireachtas title, beating former Bothy Band member Peter Browne. Among his favourite musicians are Johnny Doran, Tommy Peoples and Paddy Keenan.

After studying Celtic languages in University, Tina taught music through Irish for a while. However, she and John decided to going to be their main occupation and Tamalin evolved about five years ago. The ball started rolling when Dave Early, a drummer who had worked with Sade and Van Morrison, took an interest, organising finance and some studio sessions. 'Dave was a big inspiration, encouraging us to go with our instincts,' says Tina. Sadly, Dave was killed in a car crash last year. However, his work helped Tamalin secure a deal with Grapevine.

August 1997