Ann Arbor is fortunate to have local bands playing music across a wide range of genres, and in Ghost City Searchlight it’s got the classic Celtic pub band fully covered. The six-piece band led by singer-guitarist Tommy Coupar will get your feet tapping and the pints flowing in just about any barroom setting. Tall and wiry, with shaggy hair and muttonchops, Coupar is full of energy. Early in a recent Ghost City Searchlight show at Woodruff’s in Ypsilanti, Coupar broke a guitar string during a flurry of strumming. “I’m a bit gun-shy now,” he said, later in the set, “I’m not strumming as hard.” He then proceeded to dive into another song, playing just as frantically as he had all night–and threw in some theatrical jumps for good measure.
Joining Coupar in Ghost City Searchlight are accordionist Jesse Miller, who also plays in Black Jake and the Carnies; Jesse’s wife, Sian Miller, sharing vocals; multi-instrumentalist Dave Brandt on lead guitar, banjo, and mandolin; Joe Sleep on bass guitar; and Jessica Hanna on backing vocals and stand-up drums, which she thumps with mallet sticks.
Coupar and Brandt first met and played music together in Stone Crazy Pirates, a pirate-themed band–yes, pirate-themed. They formed Ghost City Searchlight, Coupar says, with a shared desire to “play Celtic and American folk music with all the attack and energy associated with a punk rock ethos.” He fondly recalls visiting Great Britain with his parents (his father is Scottish and his mother English) and discovering the Corries, a Scottish folk band that sang tales of battles and outlaws and the general carnage that accompanies such themes. He was enamored by both their lyrical storytelling and the “driving, leg-stomping, hand-clapping, table-pounding beat that propelled the songs forward.” Discovering the Dropkick Murphys several years later reinforced his love of the Celtic genre.
Ironically, all the band members can trace their lineage to a country in the British Isles, but none of them to Ireland. That doesn’t stop them from sounding Irish–though Coupar admits that the accent he often sings in comes from channeling his father’s angry voice.
Onstage, Sian Miller matches Coupar’s energetic singing, either trading lead vocals or accompanying him for a richer, fuller sound. The voices mesh well together while keeping the sense of spontaneity that traditional Irish music needs–particularly when it’s fused with punk.
In November the band released a five-song EP; mastered by Jason Magee of 16 More Miles and Erik Santos of the October Babies, it’s on the local label Oddfellow Music. Coupar and the band are currently wading through a backlog of original material to prepare them to begin work on a full-length album later this year.
In the meantime, get out and see Ghost City Searchlight, preferably at an establishment that serves good pints and is well equipped with a dance floor. They’ll open the Friday night music season at Mark’s Carts Courtyard on May 3 and are at the Crazy Wisdom Tearoom on May 10.