Interview: Cathy Jordan of Dervish, coming to Proctors on March 3rd

One of the biggest names in Irish music is coming to Schenectady’s Proctor’s Theatre, Dervish, this Friday. Their lead vocalist and world-renowned singer Cathy Jordan met with Nippertown this week in preparation for the big show.  

“I’m in Ohio now, and hoping the weather allows the travel, “ Cathy shared at the start of the interview. The heavy snow storms of the past few weeks have definitely presented a challenge for the group in their concert series. 

“I’m very glad to be here and come here to the states the past 27 years. The states have a great network of concerts and followers, and travel is typically very easy. We don’t have a similar concert circuit in Ireland,” Jordan went on to explain, “but most have informal acoustic sessions.”

Jordan was born in Roscommon and grew up in a very musical family. The youngest of seven children, Jordan watched her brother play his Yamaha guitar and had an early ambition to do the same.

“I sat in the back of the house in an uninsulated room and played until my fingers bled. Joined a choir too and loved all music,” she recalled. Jordan “let down” (her words) the guitar because her style of playing didn’t lend itself well to the tribe, has also taken up bouzouki, bodhran, and bones player. And, of course, there are her easy and sweet vocals, celebrated by those across the globe for her contributions to West Irish music.

Dervish is playing the Passport Series and is aptly known for carrying Irish History in its sets. Jordan recognizes that St. Patrick’s Day raises a high level of interest in Irish music for a whole season, which is also different from Ireland’s celebration. She shared she really enjoys the American traditions associated with the holiday and sees Ireland taking some cues about celebrating being Irish for longer periods of time. 

“But I prefer bacon and cabbage,” she laughed, “over corned beef.”

Jordan mused about her experiences performing in Ireland, from her parents’ and siblings’ great pride the first time Dervish played in Dublin to the smaller, more intimate acoustic sets she’s played in pubs. These smaller sets are clearly important not only to Jordan but the evolution of the genre. “It’s where we get our tunes; it’s the well from which we take. It’s an extraordinary thing to be part of – the camaraderie among the musicians who play the tunes.”

Jordan became a female performer at a time when mostly males dominated the stage but never found it to be a problem. “Maybe because I have four brothers, and I’ve always been one of the lads, so I didn’t feel any different. The differences were to my advantage. The better room was given to me; if flowers were given, they were handed to me, and when we won awards, I was often the one in the center. I know it has been hard for others, but not for me.”

Jordan went on to share that her band members have always given her privacy and respect. ”A lot of Irish bands highlight a group with just one female singer. The lads were the ones to get the band together and then brought in a female front. When you look at the model, I suppose it works, but it does make one realize that has become the norm.”

Jordan and Dervish have traveled the world playing music and communicating their culture through performances. Her favorite trip was the Rock and Rio Festival, where they headlined for Dave Matthews and Neil Young and were the first Irish band ever to play in Brazil. They performed for a crowd of over 250,000 people.

“The response of the Brazilians to Irish music, the music they’ve never heard before, was wildly positive. It gets me in my soul when you connect with those who haven’t heard it before,” she stated, “It’s music on its own merit.”

Jordan is a mentor for many, inspiring other young musicians to capture and express history and culture through music. Jordan mentioned a young woman Julia Spanu, who plays with a group called Moxie, and how the Tunisian musician has shared parallels between cultures with her.

“She’s a beautiful singer of French songs, and we recently began talking about a matriarchal figure in Tunisia that is similar to St. Bridget in Ireland, and we’ve been exploring the parallels between cultures and exchanging songs. I am very proud of her,  how she’s come on and embraced the culture,” Jordan said.

Jordan has a strong emotional connection to her music and clearly will bring that with her through the snowstorm for the Passport Series on Saturday night at Proctors. If the concert whets your appetite for even more, Jordan hosts tours of Ireland for travelers seeking a musical backdrop to their travels. You can find out more about those at her website

But until then, come dance a jig and enjoy western Irish sounds and stories at Proctors on Friday night. More can be found about tickets at Proctor’s box office.

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