Apr 1, 2017
By David Abbott
Christy Martin and Aodh Og O’Tuama, collectively known asFour Shillings Short, have been on “perpetual tour,” performing 150 shows per year throughout the U.S. and Ireland since 1997.
The couple will be at the Occidental Center for the Arts, returning for the first time since 2015, on Sunday April 9 from 4–6 p.m. performing a show featuring music from around the world, spanning the arc of history.
On the first day of spring, while the rain continued to come down in the West County, they were traveling from Des Moines, Iowa to a show in Lincoln, Neb. on a beautiful windy day in the Midwest.
“It really makes the wind turbines go,” Martin reported from a rest stop in eastern Iowa that displayed one of the 100-foot-plus blades. “They’re huge.”
But the pair is no stranger to remote places on the prairie, and has spent the better part of the past 20 years traveling the highways and byways of the “flyover states.”
“Somebody sent me a postcard from California a few years ago,” Martin said. “It had a picture of a joint on it and said: ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore.’”
Martin and O’Tuama have many stories of weathering inclement weather on the road, from surviving a dust storm for “40 or 50 minutes” in eastern Colorado, to the time in Illinois when they veered off the road following a truck in zero visibility conditions.
With Sonoma County spring building to full throttle, Four Shillings Short and their audience should not have to worry about whiteouts, but should be prepared for an evening of special music.
O’Tuama, from Cork, Ireland, grew up in a family of poets, musicians and writers, and received his degree in music from University College Cork and a Fellowship from Stanford University in California in Medieval and Renaissance performance. He plays tinwhistles, woodwinds, recorders and spoons, among others, and sings in English, Gaelic and French.
San Diego native Martin, too, grew up in a talented family comprised of musicians and dancers, so it was no surprise when she picked up the sitar at the age of 15. She studied under Ravi Shankar for five years, while her repertoire grew to include many stringed instruments including the dulcimer, banjo and guitar as well as other instruments from various countries and time periods.
Four Shillings Short takes its name from James Joyce’s book “Dubliners.”
According to O’Tuama, the book contained a short story titled “A Mother,” where a “talented pianist is shafted four shillings at the end of her concert because her ‘stage mom’ is a real pain in the arse.”
“So she ends up four shillings short, which is a great description for the state of musicians in this world,” O’Tuama said. “You’re usually paid less than you’re worth but it’s never enough to end you up in the poor house.”
Some combination of Four Shillings short has been performing since 1985 when O’Tuama and Ernest Kinsolving, from Phoenix, Ariz., joined musical forces. Over the course of the next 10 years, the band expanded to as many as six players, mainly from the Bay Area, playing at local coffeehouses and outdoor concert series, art fairs and pubs.
O’Tuama met Martin at a show at St. Michael’s Alley in Palo Alto in 1995. They fell in love, started sitting in with each other’s bands and within a few months, Martin became a part of Four Shillings Short.
In 1997, the pair set out on the road “performing 60 concerts in 90 days in 30 states and driving 30,000 miles.”
“We loved it and discovered that we were well-suited to the gypsy-troubadour-lifestyle,” O’Tuama said. “So by 1998 Four Shillings Short was a duo and touring full-time on the road.”
The lure of the road was strong, and they found they couldn’t do music the way they wanted if they remained in one place.
“We decided that going on the road full-time was the only way we could do it,” Martin said. “We’ve found that this is the life for us, so we went on full-time.”
In order to make it work, they have developed a network of people to stay with and also trim their budget by camping whenever possible in national parks and other places.
“It’s led to great connections with people of different beliefs and lifestyles,” Martin said. “We’ve stayed with farmers and teachers, musicians and professors.”
They have also found that in order to keep their performances fresh and continue to make a living, they have to continually recreate themselves to fit their audiences.
“We’ve played coffee shops and bars and now we are doing programs for schools and libraries,” Martin said. “We do a show called ‘around the world in 30 instruments,’ because we play more than 30 instruments between us.”
Since 2008, they have worked for stipends, doing free concerts sponsored by libraries, schools community centers and arts councils. They also have an archeology project that takes them back to Ireland regularly, and conduct workshops on everything from the tinwhistle to singing in Gaelic.
“It’s a tough way to make a living because we’re working musicians—heavy on the ‘working,’” Martin said. “Folk music creates a link between the past and the present and creates context. This is what our ancestors went through. We work in the bardic tradition of the troubadours.”
The performance will feature traditional music from Ireland, Scotland, England, Europe, the Americas and India on 30 different instruments from around the world,
It is a great show for kids of all ages, and the cost is $12 general, $5 children ages 5-17, with children under 5 free. Family price available by request. Call 874-9392 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Refreshments will be available for purchase. OCA located at 3850 Doris Murphy Court, Occidental, is accessible to people with disabilities. The art gallery is open for viewing during events.m Tickets can be purchased online at occidentalcenterforthearts.org