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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC graduates bring Celtic punk-grass to Triangle

The band Tan and Sober Gentlemen is composed of all current and former UNC students and perform Celtic punk grass. Photo courtesy of Ben Noblit.

The band Tan and Sober Gentlemen is composed of all current and former UNC students and perform Celtic punk grass. Photo courtesy of Ben Noblit.

The band has created their sound by being the antithesis of their name — extreme “Celtic punk-grass” fun.

Ben Noblit, a UNC class of 2012 graduate who plays upright bass for the band, said he founded the group after his former band split up. Now, most of the band graduated from or currently attends UNC.

He said the group doesn’t focus on perfection, but rather getting people excited and dancing.

“The whole synthesis of our music would be ‘Take his melody, and then I will play a Memphis train beat under it,’ and that’s like 95 percent of our songs,” Noblit said.

Since forming, the group has evolved with different musical styles.

But at the root of it all, they share a common background of deep North Carolina and Scotch-Irish roots.

Eli Howells, the fiddle player and one of the newest members of the group, said he found a love for Celtic music through listening to Celtic Winds on his local public radio station every Sunday as a child.

“I started playing because my best friend at the time was also playing and we were really into Celtic music,” he said. “I’ve also always really liked punk music and rock, anything from cheap pop to actual good music.”

Taking the images of bands like these, the seven current members have just released their newest album, “Those Boys are Insane,” and recorded it in just the manner one would expect — in a rowdy, crowded bar without a hint of sobriety in sight.

“We went to a bar in Hillsborough called the Nash Street Tavern, drank a lot of whiskey, played a show and recorded it,” Noblit said.

Alan Best, who plays accordion, mandolin and pennywhistle for the band, said the recordings were not what would traditionally be recorded for an album, but they ended up sounding fun and energetic.

“The songs that we ended up taking were the ones at the end of the set,” he said. “I can remember playing one of the songs and during recording I was sweating so much that my hands were slipping off of the accordion’s keys and I was thinking ‘There is no way this sounds good,’ but that’s what we ended up taking.”

Howells said the band’s attitude is as fast-paced and spontaneous as their music.

“I think that’s us in a nutshell,” he said. “It’s going, ‘What is that? We have never played it before. But, hey, it went OK and everybody had a good time.’”

The men of Tan and Sober Gentlemen said they think their music is important to North Carolina culture while still having something for everyone.

“A lot of the stuff we play came from Ireland and Scotland and these people settled in western North Carolina and it’s been here forever.”

Howells, who before becoming a member discovered the band by accident last St. Patrick’s Day, said he was drawn to the group because of its uniqueness.

“A real reason to care and to come out to shows is that it is a very unique sound,” he said. “I’ve never heard anything like this before. It’s difficult to find something like us in this area.”

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