'Even colder than Wales': Irish folk band stunned when the Pentagon booked them for St Patrick's Day gig at Air Force base 947 miles from the South Pole

 

Arts Correspondent

As St Patrick’s Day approaches, Irish bands based in the UK will be much in demand. None will be booked for a more unusual gig than "Wee Bag Band", a Wales-based group who last night played to US servicemen and women just 947 miles south of the North Pole.

The five members of an amateur band which is more used to playing pubs in North Wales were “stunned” after receiving an email from the Pentagon, booking them to play for troops on the Thule Air Force Base in Greenland.

Rory McGough, who plays instruments including the guitar and runs an IT firm, said: “We haven’t done anything like this before; it was totally out of the blue. We thought it couldn’t be true.”

In two months, the band will be playing the Real Ale Festival in Caernarfon, but yesterday they were looking out over an icy wasteland ahead of playing to 600 people on the base.

“It’s quite an unusual gig,” Mr McGough said shortly before the soundcheck. “We are the only UK band they’ve ever had here. They normally just book bands from the States.”

The band, which has been playing together for five years, is made up of Mr McGough, Paul Bassom, Steve Owen, Alan Colinson and Julian Anderson.

 

One is a cartographer and another specialises in antique art. Yet another is a psychiatric nurse: “We need him,” Mr McGough joked.

They landed the gig by complete chance after an audience member at the Great British Folk Festival in Skegness recommended them to a booker in the US air force.

“It could have been any Irish band, but we happened to be in the right place at the right time. Whoever saw us liked what we did,” the guitarist said. “I got an email from the Pentagon. I nearly fell over.”

Thule is the US’s northernmost base, about 947 miles south of the North Pole. There is no local town, and the nearest Inuit village, Qaanaaq, is 65 miles away.

After spending 24 hours in Greenland, the tour becomes markedly warmer. The Wee Bag Band will be flown down to Cuba to play a gig at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. From there they head to Miami, the Bahamas for St Patrick’s night, and Honduras.

What did the band make of Greenland? “Bloody cold, we almost froze our nuts off. It’s minus 25. Even colder than Wales,” Mr McGough said.

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