Folk rock group
Ceili Rain has achieved critical acclaim for its spiritually influenced pop/rock music with a Celtic flair. A group that “weaves pop, rock, and Celtic sounds into an intriguing musical tapestry,” according to Paul Verna of Billboard, the musicians take their name from the Gaelic word ceili, which refers to “a party with live music and dancing.” This Nashville-based team of instrumentalists and vocalists, led by veteran songwriter Bob Halligan, Jr., has earned a large following among Christian youth. The Ceili Rain message nonetheless is about life, not specifically about Christianity. According to Halligan, Ceili Rain is spiritual but is not affiliated with a specific religious group. The band’s goal is to inspire its listeners regardless of religious preference or tradition.
Founder, songwriter, lead singer, and Ceili Rain spokesperson Bob Halligan is himself the son of a professional concert violinist, his birth father. At the age of two months, Halligan went to live with his adoptive parents who raised him in Syracuse, New York. He wrote his first song at age 15, and after high school, he majored in music at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. Interestingly, he began his professional career as an electrician, although a job as a skilled laborer lasted for just two days for Halligan. After that he abandoned the work-a-day world, realizing very quickly that his real niche in life was centered squarely on songwriting and performance.
Halligan first signed a music-publishing contract in 1982. Subsequently, the heavy metal ensemble Judas Priest made a hit of his song “(Take These) Chains,” which earned royalties for Halligan for many years afterward. The group later turned to Halligan when compiling its 1984 album, Defenders of the Faith, for which Halligan churned out another classic hit song, “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll.” Thus, even before he conceived of Ceili Rain, Halligan was well-established as a songwriter in his own right, having also collaborated on a series of songs with Michael Bolton. In addition to Bolton and Judas Priest, other top industry artists recorded Halligan’s tunes, including Cher, Joan Jett, Kathy Mattea, and Kiss. In 1985 alone, as a growing number of recording stars incorporated Halligan’s songs into their respective repertoires, Halligan saw more than two dozen of his songs put to disc by pop and rock bands and by soloists. With Halligan’s songwriting experience, it is of little surprise that Ceili Rain displays a natural bent for flavoring its songs with rock music, although the group avoids hard, heavy metal sounds.
Halligan signed a recording contract with ATCO Records in 1991 and released a solo debut of his own music that year, even while formulating the concept of Ceili Rain. Performing as a soloist he developed an aversion to presenting himself as a simple one-man acoustic act on the coffeehouse circuit and set out to establish instead a full band with a bigger sound and greater energy. He moved to Nashville in 1995 and re-invented himself by assembling his new group and creating a trademark fusion sound of rock and Celtic influences in the process. When Ceili Rain released its self-titled album on Punch Records in 1998, Verna called it a “stunning debut” in Billboard. That year the band toured Europe, including a stop in Rome for the World Youth Day celebration. The group then moved to an independent label and released a self-produced live album, We’re Making a Party, in 1999.
From the beginning, Ceili Rain featured the unique sounds of tin whistles, exotic percussion, and bagpipes, along with more traditional instruments, including violin, accordion, and drums. The original clan consisted of Chris Carmichael on strings (violin and cello), Rick Cua on bass, and Tony Hooper on electric guitar. Also heard were violinist Michael MacCaniess, along with drummer Cactus Moses, and percussionist Lang Bliss. Multifaceted musician Hunter Lee added the tin whistle, uilleann pipes, Irish flute, highland pipes, and didgeridoo. Ceili Rain included a range of songs on their debut album, yet each was basically a lighthearted ditty about love, life, or eternity. The musicians revealed themselves to be equally comfortable with performing love songs, such as “I Don’t Need a Picture,” as they were with dispensing tunes suggestive of spirituality and the afterlife. The album offers a whimsical allegory in a ballad about St. Peter at heaven’s gates entitled “All the Lumber You Sent.” Also featured on the album is Halligan’s musical musing about hell in the form of a song called “666 Degrees.” For listeners with a more cynical bent, the album offers
Members include Raymond Arias, lead guitar; Lang Bliss, percussion; Chris Charmichael, violin, cello; Buddy Connolly, button accordion; Rick Cua, bass; Chris Eddy, drums; Boh Halligan, Jr. (founding member), lead vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, harmonica; Bob “Buff” Harmon , bass; Tony Hooper, electric guitar; Hunter Lee, tin whistle, uil-leann pipes, Irish flute, highland pipes, didgeridoo; Michael MacCaniess, violin; Burt Mitchell, bag pipes, tin whistle, violin; Cactus Moses, drums; Gretchen Priest, fiddle.
Formed by singer/songwriter Bob Halligan, Jr., 1995; signed with Punch Records, 1997; released debut album, Ceili Rain (Say Kay-lee), 1997; released Erasers on Pencils on own Mima Rekidz label, 2000.
songs like “Long Black Cadillac,” an upbeat tune that conjures the illusion not of a limousine, but rather of a hearse.
By 2000 Ceili Rain had settled comfortably into a septet lineup, including Halligan on vocals, with Raymond Arias on lead guitar and Gretchen Priest on violin, and featuring award-winning accordion player Buddy Connolly. Burt Mitchell added Celtic vigor to the tone of the ensemble by means of his performances on bagpipes and tin whistle, while Bob “Buff” Harmon fills out the Ceili Rain sound on bass. For diversion there is drummer Lang Bliss who is an original member of the band. He proves himself to be not only long on tenacity but also long on ingenuity as he is capable of turning an object like a Venetian blind into a percussion tool. Bliss also contributes to the visual appeal of the group, wearing his hair in an easily identifiable, stark white shade of blond.
Ceili Rain is the realization of Halligan’s lifelong dream. He collaborates in songwriting for the septet along with his wife, Linda, and with his longtime friend, Cua, a former bassist for the band. For Halligan, the music elicits a distinctly aesthetic vein that was by definition conspicuously missing from the indelicate compositions and lyrics that he once offered to Kiss, Judas Priest and others in the heavy metal arena. Although he continues to sell songs on occasion to other artists, he reserves his greatest effort nonetheless for Ceili Rain, which forms the central focus of his career.
In 2000 Ceili Rain returned to Europe to participate in the celebration of the Millennium World Youth Day Jubilee. Later that year the septet released an independent third album, Erasers on Pencils, on its own Mima Rekidz label.
Ceili Rain (Say Kay-lee), Punch, 1997.
We’re Makin’a Party (live), Ceili Rain, 2000.
Erasers on Pencils, Mima Rekidz, 2000.
Billboard, March 7, 1998; April 25, 1998; November 11, 2000.
Record (Bergen County, NJ), August 9, 1991.
Tennessean, January 4, 1998.
“Bob Halligan,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll (June 25, 2001).
“Ceili Rain,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll (June 25, 2001).
Ceili Rain Official Website, http://www.ceilirain.com/intro.html (June 25, 2001).
“Entertainment Guide,” Washington Post, http://yp.washingtonpost.eom/E/E/WASDC/0001/32/27/cs1.html (June 25, 2001).
“Erasers on Pencils,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll (June 25, 2001).
ESP Magazine, http://www.espmagazine.eom/2001/1324/ceilirain.html (June 25, 2001).