'Celtadelic': Tempest fuses Celtic rock with Norwegian folk

  • The Celtic rock band Tempest's annual tour will bring them to Ballydoyle pubs in both Aurora and Downers Grove.

    The Celtic rock band Tempest's annual tour will bring them to Ballydoyle pubs in both Aurora and Downers Grove.

By Raymond Benson
Posted4/1/2010 12:01 AM

They call it "Celtic rock" for lack of a better term.

Tempest, the five-piece band hailing from the San Francisco Bay area, celebrates its 22nd anniversary this year with a brand new studio album, "Another Dawn," and the annual tour which brings them back to the Chicago area next week to perform at Ballydoyle's pubs in both Aurora and Downers Grove.


What is Celtic Rock? Basically, you'll hear a lot of Irish reels and folk songs played on electric mandolins, guitars and fiddles.

"I formed the band in 1988 because I got tired of playing acoustic folk music," said Lief Sorbye, founding member, electric mandolin player, vocalist and frontman. "It didn't have the impact I was looking for - I wanted to make a lot more noise! I always tapped my foot to a fiddle tune rather than pop music. It communicated to me on a primal level more than other music."

Sorbye searched for rock musicians rather than folk musicians so that the band could explore folk with freshness.

"And we're in our fourth year without a personnel change!" he said with a laugh. Still, Tempest has had a revolving door of members since 1988.

"But we have three out of five original members still with the band," Sorbye said. "It's usually the guitarists and bass players who have come and gone. Most members who left chose a different lifestyle. They got married, had kids, whatever. It's hard to be a full-time musician 'on the side' and get somewhere with it. But actually it's inspiring for us to have new people. It gives us a chance to explore different avenues."

These new avenues are nowhere more apparent than on their new CD released in March by Magna Carta. "Another Dawn" features instrumental material composed by new guitarist James Crocker, which allowed Sorbye to concentrate more on the songs themselves. "I'm finding I listen to the new album for pleasure," Sorbye said, "which is not something I normally do with Tempest albums. I think it's one of our best."

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The album also features the band's first single in years, a cover of the Grass Roots' hit, "Let's Live For Today." While it might at first seem to be an unusual choice, Tempest put a "Celtadelic spin" (their words) on it and made it their own.

"It was actually an assignment from the record label," Sorbye said. "The CEO requested it. He wanted a single, so he picked the song and said he'd push it if we covered it. It came to us without effort, and when something comes to you with no effort, you want to go there."

The band also brings in other world influences to their sound. Sorbye hails from Oslo, Norway, where as a teenager he played folk music on the streets. Thus, he brings a Scandinavian folk tradition to the band.

"It's really not that much different from Irish music. Norway and Ireland often share the same tunes and ballads but with different lyrics, of course," he said. "With Tempest we try to combine some Norwegian music with the rest."


Founding drummer Adolfo Lazo hails from Cuba, adding a sensibility from that corner of the world. Original fiddler Michael Mullen comes from Fresno, California. New members - guitarist Crocker and bass player Damien Gonzales - arrived from Devon, England, and Los Angeles, respectively. Each member contributes something from his personal background to the music.

Tempest continues to enjoy a consistent level of success, which Sorbye attributes to a loyal fan base (much of which is in the Chicago area) and by the band giving 200 percent to make it happen. "Whatever success we get, we earn it," Sorbye said.

"Living for today is the only way to do it."