The Secret Commonwealth w/ Dylan Walshe
The Secret Commonwealth:
The best way to sum up The Secret Commonwealth is to think of it as an unplanned, ongoing accidental experiment.
It's a tale oft times told, but let's get it one more time: In 1993, Troy Guinn and Jack Hunter Daves, Jr., longtime friends and roommates at Middle Tennessee State University, had a few weeks before their traditional St. Patrick's Day party, and they were cooking up a surprise for all the friends who would invade their apartment that coming 17th of March. Jack and Troy, who'd kicked around the idea of doing a music project together for some years now, had started collecting Celtic music, as an extension of their love for both music and the history of the British Isles. Hugely influenced by The Pogues, an English/Irish band that seamlessly blended the energy of punk rock with the sensibilities of traditional Irish pub songs & ballads, Jack had the inspiration of learning a handful of songs and springing them on the unsuspecting St. Pat's revelers. Jack, who had never performed music in any setting to that point, bought a tin whistle and carried it around with him religiously. By the time of the performance, he'd have the basic nuances of the whistle down pat, and had discovered a heretofore unknown ability to quickly find his way around musical instruments of many types.
Meanwhile, a newer acquaintance, Rob Campbell, had gotten in on the action and turned out to be a perfect compliment, musically and philosophically, to the project, which Jack had named The Secret Commonwealth. Come the 17th, the trio was ready to perform the 8 songs or so they had worked on nearly every night leading up the party. Jack's St. Pat's parties were already eagerly anticipated, so the apartment was filled wall-to-wall with green-wearing Guinness drinkers. Jack, Rob, and Troy were JUST able to squeeze into a corner and run through their tunes, a mix of Pogues songs and old Irish rousers. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and after a performance by their vastly talented friends, The Shakers, TSC took the corner again for an encore of their 8-song set. Of course, there had been some time to drain some Guinness in the meantime, and Rob Campbell would later attest that he had no memory of playing that second set.
It might have ended there, but the enthusiasm of their friends prompted TSC to take their songs to an open-mic night at The Boro, a popular Murfreesboro hangout. Soon after that, their first headlining gig, and then suddenly, they turned around and they had become an official band!
Again, all unplanned...without ever a sit-down discussion on goal, direction, needs or purpose, some magical things still managed to fall into place. Before 1993 was over, TSC had expanded to include a fiddler, Calpernia Addams, and an accordion player, Eric Torstenson. Two years later, when it was suggested that a female vocalist might be a nice addition, not one but two talented ladies auditioned on the same night. Both Danielle Johnsen and Laura Joseph were welcomed into the lineup, and Laura would go on to be the longest continuing member of TSC after the founding trio. When Danielle and Laura made their debut at the 1995 St. Patrick's show, audiences saw what was to become the classic components of TSC for the rest of the initial ten-year run: Jack as the loquacious, jolly Falstaff at the center of the mayhem, Rob and Troy carrying the rhythm by trading off bass, mandolin, and guitar duties, a fiddler and/or accordionist to tear into those rousing instrumentals that Celtophiles adore, and then two female vocalists to interweave lovely harmonies and bring transcendence and magic as a counterpoint to the bawdy, manly tunes of war and drinking.
The faces changed often, oh yes...so many talented players made unforgettable music in TSC, and because of the democratic nature of the band, they got to contribute to both the songwriting and in building the repertoire of traditional and cover tunes. After Addams, Torstenson, and Johnsen left the band in 1997, their roles were filled by fiddler Kevin Arrowsmith (who tours today with Jessica Simpson) accordianist Seth Timbs (a multi-talented songwriter with the popular band Fluid Ounces) and Swedish songstress Malin Jonsson, who introduced songs from her Scandinavian homeland to add another exciting element to Secret Commonwealth.
During their solid run from 1993-2003, TSC became middle Tennessee's most popular Celtic band, entertaining folks in rock clubs, pubs, weddings, Scottish games, you name it. Their annual St. Patrick's Day shows at The Boro in Murfreesboro were a packed house every year. They also recorded two albums, a self-titled debut in 1997, and The Uninvited Guest (2002) a concept album collecting their many Halloween and supernatural-tinged original songs. Their true home, though, was The Sherlock Holmes Pub, where every month for years they played 4-hour shows for a loyal following of fans, friends, and family. It was at the Sherlock Holmes that the true spirit of TSC and their extended family was forged. Amongst the raised glasses, the laughter, and the music, many friendships were made...and some folks became more than friends! There are even some kids around now whose parents met at Secret Commonwealth Saturday at the Sherlock Holmes!
The ever-changing lineups, plus Jacks deteriorating health, always worked against the band's plans to carry their music to an audience beyond Nashville and Murfreesboro, but it could never be considered anything but a success, when that success is measured in great times, great music, and tons of memories.
Kevin Arrowsmith and Seth Timbs ended their run with the band in 2000, and fiddler Jennifer Halenar brought her great attitude and fine playing to TSC in the fall of that year. The family feel of the band was enhanced when Troy Guinn's younger brother, Jeremy, joined to play bass. Over several months in 2002 and 2003, first Laura Joseph and then Malin Jonsson and Jennifer Halenar left the lineup. No matter how much fun it had been, after 10 years it was decided that a break was needed. TSC went on indefinite hiatus so that Jack, Rob, Troy and Jeremy could launch The Exotic Ones, a garage-rock horror/sci-fi band that Jack and Troy had been planning since they first became friends.
TSC played two reunion shows, on St. Patrick's Day, 2004, and one more appearance a month later at The Sherlock Holmes...which would turn out to be Jack's last performance with the band, as he died on the 23rd of August, 2004. In October, 2004, there would be one final performance at The Sherlock Holmes, as nearly all the past TSC members joined to play and pay tribute to Jack.
TSC reunited to play St. Patrick's Day at The Boro every year from 2005-2007, in addition to one-off appearances at a few Celtic festivals. Their fans said it was not enough...they wanted their Secret Commonwealth back! In the Fall of 2007, their wish was granted as TSC returned with a brand-new lineup which includes long-time friends and Nashville music-scene vets Uncle Don Clark and Franko Hashiguchi. Fiddler Ron Ault was introduced to the band and the chemistry was immediately apparent, and Ron was brought on board to complete the lineup. The initial performances from TSC's new lineup brought back raves and smiles...but what about those lovely female vocals that were part of the band's signature sound? Happily, those are back too, as Malin Timbs returned to the lineup in the winter of 2009! The former Ms. Jonsson married ex-TSC member Seth Timbs and they have two beautiful daughters, Ester and Mathilda.
Each year seems to bring new changes, and this July saw Ron Ault play his final show with TSC. Ron is returning to playing the Old Time/Irish Trad that he so loves, but he will continue to see TSC's smokin' new website to its completion. We hope to unveil it by the end of this summer!
There's no question, The Secret Commonwealth and their fans are a family united by music...and Rob, Don, Troy, Franko and Malin promise that the good times have just begun!
That's the story so far...but IT'S NOT OVER YET! Become a fan of this page for forthcoming news on future shows, albums, and other Secret Commonwealth adventures! And in the meantime...drop yer pants and holler WHISKEY!!!!