Mad Pudding – A Canadian cross-cultural twist on Celtic music

Mad Pudding brings their unique Celtic Funk sound to the Mel Lehan hall at St. James Community Square, on Nov. 26. For guitarist, vocalist and founding member Andy Hillhouse, Mad Pudding is all about bringing a unique sound that’s both true to the band members and totally danceable.

“I think folks are in for… a unique experience. We’re kind of doing our own thing and so hopefully you feel like it’s something special,” says Hillhouse.

Celebrating and appreciating Celtic music

Hillhouse says the history of Mad Pudding goes back to the late 80’s or early 90’s when Celtic music was seeing a revival through bands like The Pogues, as well as Canadian groups like Great Big Sea and Spirit of the West. Hillhouse says that Mad Pudding came about through an appreciation and celebration of that music. Band members were inspired by the exciting sound and characteristic qualities of the genre.

The band originally started as more folk-focussed but grew to take on an even groovier, danceable feel and focus, incorporating a bit of funk as its characteristic twist on Celtic music.

“We wanted to sort of play dances and make people dance, so we added bass and drums. It kind of came about fairly organically that the groove we kind of put on there [was] more kind of funk, and then that just became part of what we do,” says Hillhouse.

Indeed, Folk and regional music has come to take on a more complicated character in an increasingly globalized world. Hillhouse even obtained a PhD in ethnomusicology focussing on that very topic. Based on his own experiences with cross-cultural collaborations at music festivals, his dissertation examined the nuanced cross-pollination of music and cultures, and the effects of that cultural blending on native musicians.

“Folk music has often historically been very much about place and about local groups of people. But with [globalization], it’s a different take on that,” Hillhouse points out. “It’s more like, we’re looking at who we are, but we’re looking at it with a new lens, [a] more contemporary lens, in a world that’s more sort of cosmopolitan.”

While some of Hillhouse’s work focussed more on musicians playing their own native folk music, he says it’s always been important for Mad Pudding to be respectful in navigating the music of another culture. The goal has been to ensure the music they made spoke to the members of the bands themselves. That has meant incorporating some elements of Canadian fiddling music that band members have ties to and covering Canadian folk songs in their own unique style.

“A lot of our existence was figuring out what the heck we were, because we didn’t fit into any easily definable category,” says Hillhouse. “I’ve gone out to learn more about Irish traditional music and the very specific sort of aspects of style and the tradition… And what we played, we’re very careful to not give any kind of sense that we think that we’re pretending to be totally traditional Irish.”

In all, it’s led to an exciting formula ripe for frequent reunions to this day. Hillhouse hopes it’s just as fun for the audience as it is for the band members.

“It’s quite amazing. You get that, that connection where, even if you don’t do it for a while and you get back together, you feel this sort of almost intuitive connection musically with each other,” says Hillhouse. “For us to get together like this is really fun, that way, and we hope that that translates to the audience too.”

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