Rowdy Celtic band Ceann returns with brother sitting in for late frontman

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Ceann was the kind of Irish drinking band that would do a cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice."

The group, formed on the University of Pittsburgh campus in 1999 as the duo Ceann na Caca, bucked tradition with such songs as "Erin Go Braghless," "Iron at the Bar" (a local spin on "Whiskey in the Jar") and "Top of the O," a song about buying beer at the Original Hot Dog Shop.

Ceann, eventually based in New York and Pittsburgh, became a popular full touring band until tragedy struck in 2011 when frontman and songwriter Patrick Halloran was killed in a car accident in Vermont.

When and where: 3:30-7 p.m. Saturday, Claddagh Irish Pub, SouthSide Works (412-381-4800); and 8 p.m. Monday at Excuses Bar and Grill, 2526 E. Carson St., South Side (412-431-4090).

Ceann shut down, except for a few tribute concerts featuring his brother Brian, who played bass in the band from 2007-10 and has his own career as an acoustic artist.

"About two months after he passed, we got together and played a tribute show at Harp & Fiddle," Mr. Halloran says. "The turnout was overwhelming. It was around then that I came up with the idea of a tribute album. Pat and I lived together here in New York. After he died, I started going through his old computer files, notebooks, etc., and found a mountain of songs and demos he'd written that almost no one had ever heard."

He sent the lo-fi demos out to Ceann-associated bands and artists and came up with the 15-song "The Legend of Handsome Pat," led by a rollicking, tall-tale title song he wrote for his brother.

"I wanted to write a song that I thought would encapsulate Pat's spirit," he says. "Most of my stuff is of a completely different ilk. I do more, I don't want to say serious, but less humorous stuff. I wanted to write something Pat would have written for himself, had he thought of it. And the song almost wrote itself."

The record is anything but a somber, serious affair with such songs as "Beer Pong" (The High Lows), "Such Lousy Friends" (IceWagon Flu), "Halloran's Jig" (Scythian) and "Let's Stay Together" (The Havers), which, with a chorus of "Let's stay together, stay together, for the dog," is nothing like the Al Green tune.

Patrick Halloran's voice is heard on offhanded ditty "Hot Dogs" and as part of Peanut Butter & Julie, his folky side group with sister Julie, and Ceann pitches in with the abstract "The Sun Is Still My Least Favorite Star."

"I had challenged Patrick to write a Flogging Molly type song, and this was the result, and so I felt I should record that one," says original member Marc Wisnosky, who sings and plays Irish tin whistle and trumpet.

"The Legend of Handsome Pat" was released last year with a handful of shows, and now Ceann returns for Pittsburgh's St. Patrick's Day festivities for the first time in three years, with Brian fronting a group that features Mr. Wisnosky, drummer Scott Taylor, bassist Tom Snodgrass, fiddler Patrick "Tricky" Manion and sax players Dan Rusnak and Greg Sloan.

On taking his brother's role in the band, Brian says, "It's always kind of threading the needle of paying tribute and not letting it devolve into Blues Brothers 2000 territory. He really was the guy in the band. He was the frontman and wrote the lion's share of songs."

He sees Ceann being an occasional, mostly seasonal band.

"So many of us have our own projects. I have my own music. What we want to do is get together at least a couple times a year, once in Pittsburgh, maybe try to get into a festival and just keep it going, but I would feel kind of mercenary if I tried to just get the band up and going full-time again."

Scott Mervis:; 412-263-2576; Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.

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