By Peter Henderson
The Moscow Tribune
Most people ask 'Why?'
And the answer, from all over Russia, is: Celts are hip.
On a recent Monday night in the smoky Mexican bar La Cantina, folk group Western Gate's rendition of an exuberant and mystical thousand-year old Gaelic tune fit in right well with their version of "Jail House Rock."
Already, six professional groups croon their way through the Moscow bar circuit on a wave of Gaelic hymns on mandolin and electrified banjo. Russian versions of moody incomprehensible Irish classics, such as James Joyce's Ulysses, have been snatched up by a Russian public not satiated by their own moody dramas.
"Celtic is the original country music," urges Gladkov, who was turned on to elves and four-leaf clovers by one of the founders of Russian rock, Akvarium leader Boris Grebenschikov.
Akvarium used to play Celtic tunes during rehearsals, and Grebenschikov passed around tapes of the original music, Gladkov says.
Now he passes tapes and Celtic histories off to southern Krasnodar, for instance, where a group of Russian Gael-o-files is in desperate need of an Irish Fix. "They heard about the Russian Celtic society and they wanted help. They have already read all their J.R.R. Tolkien," Gladkov says. No one is quite sure where Celts came from, and no one is quite sure why Russians are interested in Celts, either.
Celts today live in Ireland and parts of Scotland, Wales and French Brittany. They are descendants of a hardy people, including the Gaulles, who terrorised Caesar's Rome and took over the British Isles before apparently even hardier Anglo-Saxons pushed them to the fringes of the islands.
Celtic lore, spun by druid priests, included all sorts of fairies and elves and other creatures who ended up in Tolkien, and now are sung about on Moscow stages.
Certainly something has clicked between the two, since the 400-odd Irish in Moscow are catered to by about six Irish bars as well as a handful of supermarkets.
Earthy Irish traditions point to a worldwide trend towards musical roots that all countries share, Yaroslav Agafonikov, the mandolin player for Western Gate said during their gig at La Cantina.
Agafonikov explained his group's future. "We're going to be famous. That's because we are unplugged," he said, referring to MTV's popular acoustic concert series. "People need that unplugged sound to relax. They are tired of unrelenting electric music. Unplugged has a huge resonance."
So bring on the pipes, the mandolin, and a bass guitar for good measure.
The group is even planning a tour to Ireland to show off, which Clare said could be a big hit. After all, there are more Irish in America than in Ireland, so why can't Russians be more Celtish than Celts?
In the end, Gladkov says, Russians may learn more about themselves. "You learn more about your own culture through studying another's. For instance, a Georgian highland tune sounds a lot like a Celtic jig."
So maybe that's where the Celts came from.
Celtic bands will play in the St. Patrick's Day Parade at 2 p.m.
on Mar. 17 at Novy Arbat. AM, Rakurs radio.
No 51 (841) Moscow, Saturday, March
For six years now, Celtic culture has been finding many a responsive heart here in Russia, and this calls for a celebration. Lovers of Celtic music, who regularly
attend concerts by the Moscow groups 'Slua Si', 'Puck & Piper', 'Telenn Gwad', 'Ulchabhan Ban' and 'Si Mhor', will not be able to miss this opportunity to see them performing together, with their different interpretations of traditional Irish, Scottish and Breton music. Also playing will be the St. Petersburg group 'Greensleeves'.
According to the Celtic calendar, June is the best month for practicing and performing music, so the timing is just perfect Tune your heart to the Celtic waves, and find yourself travelling to the lush fields of the Emerald Isle and the misty hills of the Highlands, accompanied by the sounds of the harp and the pipes.
Find yourself travelling in time, as well, for shows by the historical club 'Bran' will take you back centuries, to the time of Braveheart. Celtic warriors clad in 11th century costume will lock swords and spears on the lawn in front of the Central House of Artists.
Winding up the festivities will be the guest musician and dancer Roy Galvin from Tipperary, a legendary figure in the Celtic world who has performed with the 'Chieftains', the Irish National Ballet and has made numerous performances on radio and TV.
During the festival make sure you check out the Irish Mist tasting: even if it doesn't help you sing in Gaelic, it will at least help you set off on a Celtic reel, with a little bit of guidance from the performers of 'Riverdance'.
There will be videos on sale of their latest show, along with CDs of Celtic music. As promised by the organisers, there will most certainly be a lot of fun for everybody.
By Lyuba ProninaThe concerts start at 18:00. For more information, contact the Arts Centre 'Stolitsa' at 238 19 55 or http://celtic.atom.ru
Tickets are priced between 30-50 roubles and are available at the box office of the Central House of Artists, Krymsky Val 10 (metro: Oktyabrskaya or Park Kultury)
No 49 (1246) Moscow, Friday/Weekend, June 5-7, 1998