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Sat, 14 Jan


Wellington Bluegrass Society

Criú: Traditional Irish Music. Live in Petone!

A rare chance to see this epic five piece Irish band perform in an intimate setting

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Criú: Traditional Irish Music. Live in Petone!
Criú: Traditional Irish Music. Live in Petone!

Time & Location

14 Jan 2023, 8:00 pm

Wellington Bluegrass Society, 54 Richmond Street, Petone, Lower Hutt 5012, New Zealand


About the event

Combining the sounds of the wooden flute, fiddle, guitar, accordion, tin whistles and uilleann pipes (the irish pipes), these musicians weave together melodies that have survived in the irish music tradition, sometimes for hundreds of years. The music is full of life, mystery, playfulness and sometimes sorrow. It will have your toes tapping or your feet stamping at one moment, then the next transport you to some faraway place of deep joy or sadness.

Headed up by Irish flute player Rennie Pearson who now lives in Takaka, Criú is made up of some of Wellington's very best traditional musicians, with James McNamara (fiddle), Duncan Davidson (accordion), Kris Neilson (Uilleann pipes) and Tui award winning guitarist Bob McNeil.  The band was formed with the purpose of bringing the music of Ireland onto the stage, with tight arrangements, interesting sounds, driving rhythms and stories and history behind the tunes.

The first seeds of the band were sown in 2011 when Rennie, Bob and Duncan were all teaching at Celtic Music summer School ‘CelticANZ’ in the North Island.  They were thrown together along with a few other musicians, including Emily Roughton and Kathleen Wojick and asked to put on a tutors concert. They had all played together quite a lot in jam sessions but this would be the first time they had performed together on stage and how it would go was rather up in the air.

Bob McNeil reports having low expectations, however the music just clicked and they locked in from the word go. Partway through the night, lightning struck the power lines and everyone was plunged into darkness. The sound gear was also rendered useless of course. Someone brought out a large number of tea light candles and everyone shuffled closer and continued the concert acoustically. It turned into one of the most magical nights which remains in the memory of all who were there.

They talked about forming a band after the show but it wasn't until 7 years later that they finally reconvened. This time with local Wellington fiddle player James McNamara. The four of them had played together a lot over the years at the late Kitty O’Sheas bar on Manners St.

Many a night had been spent over frothing pints of beer playing jigs, reels, polkas, hornpipes, slides and all manner of traditional Irish music. Their first outing as a band was at the Hanging Ditch Pub on Leeds St in Wellington. At that point they were more of a glorified session than a band, with lots of energy and a lineup of very skilled musicians, but very little rehearsal as a group and lacking the tight arrangements and variety that they showcase in their concerts now.

The original idea was that Criu, (meaning Crew) would be an interchangeable lineup that would be able to do various different gigs with any good musicians who were available. There were many different iterations of the band as members came and went. Doing just a few shows each year but not really refining the tunes much as the members were constantly changing.

In 2021 following another tutors concert, this time at ‘Ceol Aneas’, NZs main Irish music festival in which both Rennie and Bob were teaching, Rennie was inspired to rekindle the fire behind Criu and take over the band again. Though no longer living in Wellington, he reassembled the original Crew of Bob, James, Duncan and himself and set about organizing to play at Auckland folk festival along with a few other shows in the Wellington area.

With Duncan Davidson flaking on Auckland folk fest due to family responsibilities, Rennie arranged to add Uilleann piper Kris Nielson to complete the lineup.Once they heard Kris playing in the band it was decided he needed to be a permanent member and Criú became a 5 piece. The line up was locked in, no more changing around. The plan was to get the band tight and play awesome shows around the country, bringing an amazing experience to audiences that was rare to find outside of Ireland.

All the Wellington shows sold out and the following year they toured the south island with backing from the Irish Embassy. Later that year they all taught their respective instruments at the Ceol Aneas and headlined the final concert as Criú.

They are performing in Petone at the Wellington Bluegrass Society on Saturday the 14th of January at 8pm which will be a special chance to see them in an intimate setting. Tickets and more info can be found at

Meet the Musicians:

Rennie Pearson

Starting on the flute at the age of 8, Rennie has been immersed in traditional music for his entire life. At 16 years old he was teaching traditional flute at his first group workshops and was featured with his duo ‘Polytropos’ as one of the guest artists at Wellington festival. Since then he has performed up and down New Zealand and overseas, traveling to Nova Scotia at the age of 19 to become the apprentice of flute virtuoso Chris Norman. For the past two years he has been working full time as a musician, traveling with his solo show of tunes, songs and stories from Ireland, Scotland and Maritime Canada. He has two albums to his name, the most recent of which was just released in October last year.

Rennie is the band manager for Criú and also arranges most of their music.

Bob McNeill

Originally hailing from Scotland, Bob McNeill has been one of NZs foremost Celtic style guitarists for many years and has played with many top level musicians, including with Orkney fiddle player Kenny Rich as their duo ‘Ben the Hoose’. He has also toured as a solo act and has over 4 albums to his name. Most recently he has been touring with fiddler Gillian Boucher from Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia and soon he and Rennie will be performing together as a duo.

James McNamara

James has been playing traditional Irish music on the fiddle for nearly 20 years. He started while a student in his hometown, Wellington, and is a regular contributor to sessions in the city. During ten years studying and working abroad, he tracked down the Irish music community in parts of Europe, Asia and North America. He loves learning and teaching tunes, and exploring the variety in traditional rhythms and repertoires. He is a keen player for dancing, gaining a wealth of experience through the Cambridge University Ceilidh Band, which he also led for a year. In 2017 he was a founding member of Vic Folk at Victoria University. Other assorted highlights have included playing at the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Ennis, the Cambridge Folk Festival, and a gala opening at Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing. With the group Silent Sessions, James has devised, performed and recorded folk music soundtracks for theatre, toured the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010, and adapted a soundtrack for The Tempest in 2016.

Duncan Davidson

Duncan is a multi-instrumentalist, who plays button accordion, flute, bouzouki, banjo and fiddle all equally well. He has performed at festivals in New Zealand and in Europe including playing at the  Scoil Gheimhridh Frankie Kennedy (“Frankie Kennedy Winter School. Duncan loves Donegal music especially – along with scottish and french tunes, as well as other traditions. Duncan has been one of the top Traditional musicians in the country for many years and is much sought after both as a teacher and a performer.

With Criú, Duncan mostly plays the button accordion which is his main instrument.

Kris Neilson

The most recent addition to the band is the uilleann piper Kris Nielson. Coming from a background in both the highland Bagpipes and the Smallpipes, Kris has been working his way into the Irish music scene over the last 6 years making a name for himself as one of the top Uilleann pipers in the country today.

He has taught at Wellingtons Vic Folk Club and at Ceol Aneas

In Addition to performing with Criú, He performs with Wellington based trio Ceann an Éisc and is a regular feature in the Ceilidh band for Vic Folk Club. He is also skilled on Irish whistles which he uses to great effect when he's not playing the pipes.

There will be a cash bar so bring cash!


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