Irish folk maestros Four Men And A Dog back on home soil for special anniversary gigs
One of the most strikingly named traditional Irish groups, Four Men And A Dog, are staging two concerts in Northern Ireland this weekend to mark their 25 years on the road.
Formed in 1990 they are regulars at fleadhs and festivals around the world and have played for presidents as well as fans.
They were asked to perform for President Bill Clinton in 1995 when he visited Northern Ireland for the first time and when he switched on the Christmas lights in Belfast to a rapturous reception from the thousands thronging the streets.
And one of the founding members, Pomeroy native Cathal Hayden, was among traditional Irish music luminaries invited to take part in celebration concerts in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil in 2004 during President Mary McAleese's state visit to the country.
The group has undergone a number of changes in personnel over the years - currently consisting of Cathal, his brother Stephen, bodhran player Gino Lupari from Magherafelt, Donal Murphy from Co Limerick and Kevin Doherty from Buncrana.
Its name evolved from one of the original members, Mick Daly, who was affectionately known in his native Cork as "the black dog".
Tonight the group plays in the Burnavon Theatre in Cookstown and tomorrow night in Belfast's Lyric Theatre.
While essentially a traditional Irish music group, Four Men And A Dog also fuse rock, jazz, blues, bluegrass, swing, salsa, polka and - astonishingly - rap into their performances. The rap influence came from former Belfast Telegraph journalist and folk music critic, the late Neil Johnston, who wrote the lyrics to the song Wrap It Up performed by the effervescent Gino on their first album, Barking Mad.
The music was written by Neil's good friend Arty McGlynn from Omagh who Cathal describes as a major influence in the group getting together. "We had known each other for many years and Arty produced our first album and shaped us up into a band. Neil was a very good friend to the band outside of the music and his song was just a bit of craic. Performing rap was a very novel idea for a traditional music band at that time. He is sorely missed".
In the last 25 years the band has performed across Europe, chiefly France and Germany, in the UK and in Australia. Cathal says: "It was great craic in the early days but as time goes on it is good to play more at home where we do 15-20 gigs a year mostly at festivals.
"The make-up of the band has changed from time to time - those who play occasionally with us are known as honorary dogs - and we all take time out now and again to get involved in other projects."
Cathal is also a member of the Mairtin O'Connor band which has accompanied acclaimed singer Christy Moore on numerous tours.
But even after 25 years the band has no intention of stopping gigging and already have pencilled in dates in Canada, Switzerland and France.
Cathal says: "We originally met some of the organisers of those festivals 25 years ago. If they are still happy to use us we must be doing something right".
Four Men And A Dog play Burnavon Theatre Cookstown tonight at 8pm (www.burnavon.com) and the Lyric Theatre tomorrow night at 8pm. For details contact www.lyrictheatre.co.uk.