For more than a decade, Ceann had a reputation as the biggest Irish party band to come out of Pittsburgh. Started for fun by a couple of Pitt students in the late '90s, the band grew to be a touring act, playing with bands like The Town Pants and Scythian. A mix of irreverent humor and old-fashioned rollicking fun colored the band's album and live shows. Then, in 2011, tragedy struck: Singer and guitarist Patrick Halloran died in a car accident on a snowy February night in Vermont.
As one would expect, it dealt a serious blow to the band, which was already in turmoil.
"It was pretty surprising," says Ceann co-founder Marc Wisnosky. "And it was at a time when there was a lot of flux in the band. The previous New Year's, some of the guys had a falling-out with Pat and left the band, so there was this rebuilding happening. When Pat died, all of the people who had been part of the incorporation of the band were no longer in the band; the estate was signed over to his sister, so no one knew what was our intellectual property. It was a weird time for it all to happen in terms of the dynamics of the band."
After Halloran was memorialized, the band called it quits for a while. But that wasn't the final note for Ceann, and a tribute album, put together last year by Halloran's brother Brian, played a part in the band's revival — which continues this St. Patrick's Day weekend with two shows on the South Side.
"Pat and I lived together here, so I had all of his stuff in storage," explains Brian, who is a solo musician himself and had played with Ceann for a time. "All the notebooks and files. And he was notorious about keeping his computer backed up constantly. So I started finding all these demos of songs that I never even knew he had written. I thought, rather than having people retread Ceann songs for a tribute, take one of the songs he never got to finish or record himself."
The Legend of Handsome Pat is the album that resulted — a 15-song collection with contributions from Brian Halloran and Ceann, Pittsburgh names like Paul Tabachneck and The Hang Lows, and bands like Scythian and The Fighting Jamesons, who had played with Ceann. A couple of tracks are unreleased tunes from Patrick Halloran himself.
The compilation largely maintains the irreverent humor Patrick was known for. (Ceann's tunes had names like "Where's Your Kilt" and "Moron With the Bodhran," which, if you happen to speak Gaelic, is a rhyme.) The title track, performed by Brian, is a tall tale about Patrick's life. The Hang Lows do a song called "Beer Pong"; one of Patrick's songs that made it to the album is called "Hot Dogs."
But there's a softer side, too: Patrick's band with his sister, Peanut Butter and Julie, is represented with a tender tune called "Running." Ceann itself shows up with "The Sun Is Still My Least Favorite Star," a tale of heartbreak.
"For the most part, we tried to stick to the funnier stuff," says Brian. "But he had a lot more facets as a songwriter. He told me before he passed that he wanted to do an album of his more serious stuff."
By the time the tribute came out last spring, Ceann had already started to play some one-off shows together again, with Brian taking on guitar and lead vocals.
"I think it seemed OK to people because he's Pat's brother," says Wisnosky. "It wasn't like just bringing in someone to take over."
Even though Patrick spent the last several years of his life living in New York City, playing St. Patrick's Day shows in Pittsburgh is a given for Ceann. St. Patrick's Day in Pittsburgh is why the band began in the first place.
"We put together the band St. Patrick's Day of '98," explains Wisnosky. "Because we used to go out, and it was expensive. We played in the kitchen for our friends; we had a party. But then I went to Ireland that summer and brought home all these books of songs, and Pat and I learned them. Then the next year, we played the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern for St. Patrick's Day."
The state of Ceann today somewhat mirrors where the band was then — playing a few times a year, not touring exhaustively or playing huge festivals. It's a good excuse to get together, and a good way to keep Patrick Halloran's name alive.
"We all have personal pursuits, too," says Brian. "Getting together a couple times a year is great; we don't want to get to where it feels like a chore for any of us. We all love each other and love getting together and playing the songs, because they're great."