Four Shillings Short

Amy Dalness
2 min read
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The thing about Four Shillings Short is that they're so unique, writers who attempt to explain their sound have gone to great lengths to describe them in likewise original ways. Sure, they're amazing folk musicians who travel around the world in a white van stuffed with an array of instruments. Sure, both Aodh “g” Tuama and Christy Martin are talented, well-educated musical entrepreneurs. Their traditional Celtic yet Indian-influenced bluesy American folk is just so undeniably good, and they're obviously far from “short” on anything—where’d “Four Shillings Short” come from?

Well, from James Joyce, a fellow Irish artist and visionary. Included in Joyce’s collection of short stories, Dubliners, is a story titled “A Mother.” It tells the story of a Dubliner named Mrs. Kearney and her daughter Kathleen, a proper young lady and musician. After years of training and social appearances, Kathleen was asked to play at a local concert. Of course, Mrs. Kearney wanted to make sure her girl got everything she deserves. A contract for four concerts was signed, plans went underway and the show, to some degree, failed. A night or two were canceled and Mrs. Kearney demanded full payment (as any modern manager would). She received a sum, which was not the full composition as laid out in the contract, and she famously replied, “This is four shillings short.” Despite her mother’s obvious disapproval, Kathleen played the final show anyway, proving her love for the art.

Tuama says the group came to be named from this short story in which “another musician was short changed,” yet where the protagonist proved herself a true musician. It's the philosphy behind what Four Shillings Short does now, by living as nomads, taking their music and their message from city to city, and devoting everything to the art.

Four Shillings Short will play at the Blue Dragon Coffeehouse on Saturday, April 8, from 8 to 10:30 p.m. The show is free and all-ages. For more information, visit

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