Most people celebrate everything Irish once a year on St. Patty’s Day, but The Secret Commonwealth carries the luck o’ the Irish with them wherever they go.
It all started in college: a group of guys got together and wanted to surprise their friends at a St. Patrick’s Day party with half a dozen Irish songs. Imagine 80 people packed into a three-bedroom apartment near MTSU’s campus drinking green keg beer while the band pre-gamed in the impromptu green room with a tub full of Guinness. Isn’t that how all great musicians start?
The Secret Commonwealth has changed band members numerous times—founding member Jack Hunter Daves Jr. died back in 2004 and other members have come and gone since—but its Irish melodies and crude, humorous lyrics remain.
The initial trio consisted of Daves, Rob Campbell and Troy Guinn, which lasted from 1993 to 2003. After a several year hiatus (which still included an annual St. Patty’s Day performance at The Boro Bar & Grill), the band came together again. Uncle Don Clark and Franko Hashiguchi joined Guinn and Campbell about four years ago, much to the excitement of fans who wanted to see the band back together.
Even if you’re not familiar with Irish music, you’ll begin to feel the red hairs sprouting on your head while you tap your feet to the beats and your mouth waters for a strong, ice-cold brew.
“People get so charged,” Guinn said about the Celto-eclectic sound the band offers.
For the 18th year in a row, The Secret Commonwealth will fill the The ‘Boro with sounds of mandolins, flutes and guitars. In fact, that’s where the band played its first-ever live performance. Watching them pass instruments back and forth is nearly as entertaining as the music itself.
Guinn plays guitar, bass, mandolin and sings, while Campbell plays guitar, bass, mandolin, harmonica, percussion and sings. Uncle Don Clark comes in with guitar, banjo, harmonica, percussion and vocals—and believe it or not, he started out just playing spoons. Then Hashiguchi chimes in with his whistle, mandolin, guitar, bodhran, doumbek, alto saxophone, ebass and his vocal chords. To a lesser extent, he also plays hammer dulcimer, feet, low D whistle and tambourine.
“One of the prerequisites to be in the band is that you have to be able to juggle,” Campbell jokes.
Uncle Don replies, “I’m the smart one. I just sit here quietly and people hand me stuff.”
And because of the democratic nature of the band, they say they’ve all been able to contribute to both the songwriting and in building the repertoire of traditional and cover tunes.
“What you play gets into your blood,” Campbell explains. “For a real musician, it doesn’t matter what you play, you start to miss it after a while.”
These guys act like they’ve been playing together forever—maybe that’s because they’ve spent almost the past 20 years sharing jokes and finishing each others’ stories—and that comfortableness and ease shines through in their shows, especially in songs like Red Neck Girl, which isn’t Irish, but it’s surely enjoyable.
Guinn explained how Daves named the band after a book about truth titled The Secret Commonwealth; it offered secrets about the lives of fairies, gnomes and other such creatures. Appropriately enough, the band acquired their own gnome who serves as manager, takes care of public relations, provides jig instruction, handles the womanizing and coordinates dirty tricks. This guy gets more action than all the band members combined, they joke.
“The Gnome is The Secret Commonwealth’s international man of mystery,” according to the story on their website, “given to the band as a gift from some fans, who had themselves inherited him from other friends.”
There’s a rumor that the little guy escaped from Rock City, Tenn., or possibly someone’s garden.
“Let’s face it, gnomes live 500 years, and as our gnome likes to make it known to anyone who will listen that he is ‘fit and in me prime,’ one can only assume he already has a coule of centuries under hs prodigious belt. Discovering his true origins would be a task indeed, so we’re just glad he found his way to our doorstep to share the triumphs and travails of the hard-workin’, hard-playin’, hard-livin’ Secret Commonwealth.”
Seriously, though, check out the band, if even only to get a peek at the gnome. In addition to their gig at The ‘Boro Bar & Grill on March 17, The Secret Commonwealth gets its share of shows in Middle Tennessee. But as they’ll all agree, it has to be the right bar with the right atmosphere and the right crowd. Nothing too prim and proper, of course. Visit tscband.com for more info.