The Next Generation Leahy


Music in their genes

By Pam Dillon

In the summer of 2014, a group of multi-talented musicians with the last name Leahy put on a show in Bancroft, Ontario. The crowd was wowed. If you assume it was the Juno Award-winning, powerhouse Canadian folk-roots band, you’re wrong — but close.
The Bancroft concert was the first performance for Next Generation Leahy, an amazing group of six accomplished sisters and brothers who have fiddling, step-dancing and all the rest of the Leahy magic imbedded in their genes. Like their dad, Doug, a member of Leahy, these siblings absolutely love music and, onstage, their dazzling combination of prodigious talent and toe-tapping joy is irresistible. In the years since that first gig, they’ve performed across North America, and shared the stage with such high-profile acts as The Chieftains, The Tenors, We Banjo 3, and Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy.

There have been accolades aplenty and sold-out shows described as “astounding,” “breathtaking,” “exciting” and “full of energy.” It’s hard to believe only one of them, the eldest, is old enough to drive.

Adele is 17,Gregory is 15,Angus is 13, Cecilia is 12, Joseph is 10 and Evelyn is eight. While they all step-dance, sing and play the fiddle and piano, Adele also plays cello and ukulele, Gregory plays accordion and drums, Angus plays guitar, Cecilia plays mandolin and Joseph plays accordion. What’s more, they show no signs of sticking with the status quo. “Because everyone is so young, and there are new instruments being added practically each day it seems, their sound continues to develop,” Doug Leahy explains.“What remains consistent is the joy that music brings the kids, and especially when they perform together.They don’t play ‘by heart’ they ‘play from the heart.’”

This is something their dad understands well. Like his own kids, Doug took to music early while growing up in a big close-knit farm family in Lakefield, Ontario. His father, Frank Leahy Sr., was an accomplished fiddle player and his mother, Julie, was a singer, pianist and champion step-dancer.

“That’s even how they met: through music,” he reveals.“Through music, they passed on to all us traditions that go back to both Scotland and Ireland. Much like Next Generation Leahy, we were kids playing music and people started asking mom and dad if we could play for them. And it evolved into us forming our own band and led to us opening for Shania Twain on her first world tour, winning several Juno awards, and travelling the world. We never saw music as a job; it was part of our DNA.We were always playing music.”

The Band Plays On

Even now, that’s still the way of things. As he puts it, music “is who we are.” Happily, he found a like-minded spouse. Doug, a fiddler and dancer who is one of 11 Leahy siblings, married Jennifer, a singer and pianist who’s the youngest of 13. Together, they’re raising the kids at the Leahy Homestead in Lakefield, where they operate a cow/calf beef farm. In all, they have nine kids. The three youngest are aged four, three and one-and-a-half.

Since Jennifer has a teaching degree and the kids are home- schooled, schooling and musical touring are compatible. So far this year, Next Generation Leahy has played dates in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Upcoming concerts will see the band travel to places such as Edgerton, Wisconsin, Pawleys Island, South Carolina, and Providence Bay, Manitoulin Island, where they’ll perform at the Bluegrass in the Country Festival.

“Being able to travel and to experience so many different places and things is key to their development,”Doug says. “We don’t travel as tourists. We get an opportunity to experience culture and live in a city in its ‘real’ state.We are privileged to see a place as it is, which has allowed us to meet so many great musicians and be exposed to so many great styles of music and dance.” The youngsters are taking it all in, he notes, adding these life experiences are contributing to how their music evolves.

Certainly, their style does not try to replicate that of the aunts and uncles who are Leahy. As explains, “The ‘Leahy sound’ — a combination of strong stride piano, unique bass guitar and drumming styles along with driving rhythm guitar — was the foundation from which wildly talented fiddle-led instrumentals and vocals were launched to mainstream music listeners.”

The wildly talented junior Leahys are on a path all of their own, with different influences and interests along the way. “The Next Generation Leahy sound has been evolving and developing, and will continue to do so for years,” their father says. “Our music is an expression of minds that are developing and creating music with influences from around the world. For instance, I didn’t have the Internet growing up. Our kids literally have the world of music before them.”

Since they’re interested in so many different instruments, new music is inevitable, and that’s fine with them. “The kids aren’t trying to fit into a category. They’re proud of their heritage and everything that has led them here today, and they play that music with great love,” says Doug. “But NGL’s own sound involves more vocals, more instrumentation, and a wider variety of styles. Each voice in the band is heard because they’re interested in such a wide variety of things; each has something to bring to the table.”

Much has changed since the long-ago days when the kids were turning heads at fiddle and step-dance competitions and people began asking for them to perform at events. “When we first started out [as a group onstage], Jen and I were in almost every number and we were carrying a lot of responsibility and carrying the show,” Doug mentions. That scenario has since reversed. “Now we are only in a few numbers and now they are the show. And that’s the direction we want things to go. They were part of our show, and now they bring us on for a number or two and we’re part of their show.”

Mind you, it has certainly helped to have a parent who also grew up as part of a musical family that performed for audiences. “My upbringing, having been part of Leahy, has had a huge influence on The Next Generation Leahy,” he notes, “simply because I have been able to bring all the experience of growing up in a large family, travelling, and playing music, not to mention being familiar with how the business side of things works and how to put on a great show. These experiences have guided our decisions with NGL.”

“We’re told that our music makes people happy and brings them joy.”

Over the years,and undoubtedly guided by his own experience, Doug has learned how to inspire his eldest three girls and boys, and how to make what they do exciting so that it’s not a job or a chore.The aim, always, is to make the music and performances enjoyable so the children will want to continue. Clearly, so far, they’re having a blast.

In fact, a new Next Generation Leahy CD is scheduled for release in 2019, and the siblings are definitely pumped about the project. They released their first self-titled CD in December of 2015 and Doug says it was a “snapshot” of where the youngsters were as musicians at that point. In the three-plus years since the first recording,“the kids’ expertise and involvement and skills have evolved remarkably and they’re very excited to get into the studio and record.”

Whether they’re in the studio or live on stage, their passion for music in all its forms and their sheer, unbridled delight in performing it, are enthralling.“Our show has been described as not-so-much a performance, but more of an experience, and one that you won’t soon forget,” Doug says. “It’s a high-energy show that incorporates Celtic music, jazz, swing, French-Canadian step-dancing and accordion music. It comes from within and the excitement and joy that the kids have is overflowing and pours into the audience. Audience members have consistently told us that it’s so hard to contain themselves in a chair; they want to get up and join the party on stage.”