Éamonn Coyne grew up shaped by the traditions of Roscommon and Donegal, in Ireland, while Kris Drever had his first musical learning in the Orkney Islands, off the far northeast coast of Scotland. Joining forces on the album Honk Toot Suite, these two multi instrumentalists go beyond their traditional backgrounds to point a new path that both encompasses tradition and moves it forward.
“The Edinburgh scene whirlpooled us together and we have enjoyed the result,” says Coyne, who moved to Scotland’s capitol about ten years ago. He is best known as a banjo player, having worked with artists on both sides of the Atlantic, including Sharon Shannon, Tommy Peoples, John Doyle, Dermot Byrne (of Altan), Stockton’s Wing, the Alison Brown Quartet and Russell’s House. Currently he is a mainstay of the unique Scots Latin fusion band Salsa Celtica. In 2003 he released the solo album Through the Round Window to critical acclaim.
The tunes on Honk Toot Suite range from original compositions by each man to traditional music from Donegal, Roscommon, Cavan, Orkney, and Brittany. Fitting right in with the mix are the strutting 1920s song "Cock a Doodle", and another visit to 1920s tradition, "The Lakeside Barndances". "The Lucy’s Swamp" set shows the versatility and originality of the duo’s playing and ideas, as Coyne’s banjo and mandolin set a dance for Drever’s double bass and guitar and John Joe Kelly of Flook to join in, on a pairing of the traditional "Lucy Farr’s" with avant garde banjo master Bela Fleck’s tune "Down in the Swamp". Whatever he’s working on “My writing is mostly influenced by traditional music forms,” says Coyne.
The eleven tracks on Honk Toot Suite, be they traditional, modern day covers, or original material, are collaborative arrangements between Coyne and Drever. “We know each other’s influences and backgrounds really well so arrangements come quickly and easily,” Coyne explains, citing their experiences playing together in the band Russell’s House and on gigs with material from Through the Round Window. “Things fell into place very quickly and naturally - nothing was forced,” he continues. ”Kris chose the vocal songs but we both arranged what we played on them. Kris came up with the set of tunes that is Twenty Quid which was a new thing for us as a duo and was quite exciting for me,” he says of the set of three reels which finds the banjo steady leading the way as tenor guitar, guitar and double bass weave around in rhythmic conversation. “Kris also brought other tunes to the recording which meant some learning for me which is always fresh and good,” Coyne adds.
Kris Drever split his early learning of music between the traditions of Orkney, the Celtic rock of his father, Ivan Drever, a member of the internationally known group Wolfstone, and as he admits, Metallica and Pantera. Moving to Edinburgh, he began to focus more on folk and traditional skills. He and Coyne met when Drever filled in as a replacement with the band Russell’s House, and then continued on playing together when that group ceased performances. As a guitarist, double bass player, and harmony singer, Drever has toured with folk superstar Kate Rusby and worked with leading Celtic artists John McCusker, Tim O’Brien, John Doyle and Cathie Ryan. Drever recorded two albums with Fine Friday before they split in 2006 and is currently a member of bands Session A9 and Lau. Drever just recently released his first solo recording Black Water to critical acclaim including receipt of the 2007 BBC Radio 2 Horizon Award. As does Coyne, Drever draws on an eclectic mix of traditional and not so trad rhythms and ideas in his music. “A guitar’s like a portable piano, in terms of its range. I like to try always to use interesting colours in the chords and harmonies I play, rather than just doing the obvious,” he says. Drever is a singer, as well, on Honk Toot Suite adding his voice to the jazzy swing of Cock a Doodle and the Norse ballad style song "The Viking Bride", composed by his father, Ivan Drever. “I like either to do songs that haven’t been covered much before,” he says, “or folky standards that are open to a different interpretation. I try to steer clear of that kind of typical folk-singer sound, and put my own mark on things.”
Éamonn Coyne and Kris Drever have put their own distinctive and collaborative mark on the music of Honk Toot Suite, from lively Roscommon reels to Breton tunes to Norse laments to their own fusions of those traditions. It is ever changing music, and as Éamonn Coyne explains, that’s what you hear on Honk Toot Suite. ”The arrangement work was done in various places: the studio; some came from informal pub music sessions (’jams’) which was remembered and revised at a later time; some came from rehearsals; and others came from gigging using the ’what works’ method.” It is a method of collaborating and carrying forward tradition that is as old as the sharing of music and as new as tomorrow: the end result is one of the most enjoyable duet records to be released in recent years.