Nicknames have a way of sticking. Barbra Streisand is known to her devoted fans a Babs. Dwayne Johnson kicks butt on the movie screen and in the WWE ring as The Rock. President Bush lovingly embraces his possibly self-declared nickname, Dubya.
Traditional Irish band The Boys of Sligo are known around the world as Dervish.
In 1989, five musicians from the Irish town of Sligo recorded an album of local, traditional music in what was supposed to be a one-time thing. The album, Dervish, was so named after mandola player Brian McDonagh, who drew parallels between whirling dervishes and Irish musicians—both poor but spiritual people who become enraptured by music. The album was well received, but misnamed The Boys of Sligo, with the artists listed as Dervish.
"People kind of got it ass about face," says Cathy Jordan, who joined Dervish in 1992 as their singer (once the band decided to move beyond local pub gigs). Under the name Dervish, this high-energy group has recorded 10 albums, visited China to promote commerce with representatives of the Irish government and received Sligo's highest honor—the Freedom of the City.
"If we had sheep, we could graze them practically anywhere," Jordan says. "Even the bishop's front lawn. But, because none of us own sheep, it doesn't really apply. ... Unfortunately, there isn't a [Freedom of the City] sticker you can put on your car and park anywhere."
Jordan says the Freedom of the City was traditionally given to civil rights activists, artisans and the like. Adding musicians to the list is a fairly new thing. "We're very honored," she says.
Dervish sticks to a traditional sound, using flutes, fiddles, bodhrán and bouzouki to capture the sad, soothing and lively Irish spirit. But Dervish doesn't just play reels and jigs: Their set list often includes covers of contemporary folk and pop songs such as Cher's "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," Dire Straits' "Brother in Arms" and Bob Dylan's "Boots of Spanish Leather."
"We do them Irish-style and it sounds like they're born out of Ireland," she says.
Jordan first sang "Boots of Spanish Leather," her favorite Dylan song, at his 50th birthday party in Dublin.
"It was a fantastic honor, until I discovered he wasn't going to be there himself," Jordan says. She sang anyway and since then "Boots of Spanish Leather" has become Dervish's most requested song.
Jordan says Dervish is working on their next album, due out next year, which will include more contemporary songs turned traditional Irish, as well as folk songs found in peculiar places. For now, she's happy to be touring the Southwest in flip-flops and T-shirts while everyone back in Ireland is wearing raincoats and welly boots.