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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Celtic Musician Originally Played Rock-n-Roll

Sigean is a Tri-Cities-based traditional Celtic band. Tom Swadley is in the center of the picture.
Sigean is a Tri-Cities-based traditional Celtic band. Tom Swadley is in the center of the picture.

Sigean plays the Celtic Festival in Big Stone Gap, Va.


*** Published Thursday, Aug. 19 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***

BIG STONE GAP, VA — Tom Swadley liked to rock.

Not in chairs but with loud guitars, drums and such. Liked, that is.

Nowadays Swadley caters to the Celtic musician within him while leading Sigean (pronounced She-gan). The Tri-Cities-based traditional Celtic band will appear on Aug. 21 during the 2nd Annual Big Stone Celtic Festival in Big Stone Gap, Va.

"Every musician goes on a journey and I'm no exception," Swadley said Monday while on break from recording Sigean's new album.

Like many a teenaged musician, the Johnson City native turned to rock during the 1960s upon learning to play guitar.

"And I ended up playing blues," Swadley said. "I mellowed out and played bluegrass and then I ended up here. I finally arrived where I was meant to be."

In Sigean, that is. Swadley and Clay Henry founded Sigean in 1997 largely based upon the music of 1970s Celtic band the Bothy Band.

"What they did was to take this music out of the pubs," Swadley said. "Their driver and instrumentation was just phenomenal."

Though as with most disciplines, Celtic music demands practice and talent to master. That said, Sigean played its first show shortly after forming as a four-piece band.

"We did a show at Roan Mountain State Park," Swadley said. "We struggled. But we played and it was well received, though I can't understand why."

Time passed. Shows mounted, the band grew in members and songs gathered in their still ever-growing catalog.

"I struggled to learn to play this music," Swadley said. "You really have to work at it."

Some may have given up. But Swadley and band persevered thanks to love of music.

"It got a hold of me and I can't get rid of it," he said.

Hear Swadley and Sigean now. They draw upon hundreds of years of traditional Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English jigs and reels and sea shanties. And what of original music?

"Next to nothing," Swadley said. "We have some original material but we haven't worked it up yet. We're like a covers band of 200-year old material."

Perhaps that explains why Sigean has released only one album to date, a live disc recorded at Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion in 2007. However, a new CD is on the way.

"We're finishing a CD today," Swadley said. "It's got a lot of things that we do in concert."

Sigean started the album two years ago. Recorded at Classic Recording Studio in Bristol, Va. and Maggard Sound in Big Stone Gap, Swadley said that he hopes to have the album available for sale by next month's Rhythm and Roots.

"We have some jigs and reels on there like "Are You Sleeping Maggie" and "Blow Ye Winds," which is an old sea shanty that the Kingston Trio did in the 1960s," Swadley said. "We're real excited about the album."

Listen for the aforementioned songs and more in Big Stone Gap. But don't come looking to sit, stare and wonder what to do. Celtic music is music to move to.

"It's jigs and reels that people can dance to," Swadley said. "You can walk into a pub in Ireland or Scotland and hear a band just like us."

What: 2nd Annual Big Stone Celtic Festival
Who: Sigean, Appalachian Highlanders Pipes and Drums, Jack Beck, Gary Crum, Sandra Parker, John Skelton, Stardust Irish Dancers and Wendy Welch
When: Aug. 21, 10 a.m.
Where: Various locations in downtown Big Stone Gap, Va.
Admission: Free
Info: (276) 523-0115

A! ExtraTopics: Music