As the crow flies, the distance between the Irish town of Bundoran and Schenectady is 2,984 miles. But over time the span has diminished in some ways as connections grew between a band from across the pond and the Gaelic music-loving community in our region.
The Screaming Orphans—four sisters who are renowned at Irish festivals across the U.S. for their pop music as well as their renditions of traditional music—have been crowd favorites for years at the annual Irish 2000 Festival in Ballston Spa (and formerly in Altamont). And their popularity here has led to recurring visits to the Summer Concert Series in Freedom Park in Scotia and several other local venues. On March 16 they return to the area at the GE Theatre at Proctors as headliner of an old-fashioned Irish Hooley.
Beyond the musical connection, a bit of the Albany region travels with them to every show around the world. The band’s logo was designed by Brian Karas, a 46-year-old graphic designer living in Glens Falls.
His journey with the band started in 2012 when his wife Megan came upon a co-worker’s flier on a tour of Ireland with the band. The couple had always dreamed of going to Ireland and the tour price was reasonable. The only question was: Who are these orphans and why are they screaming? Undeterred by their lack of knowledge of the band, they signed up.
“[The trip] was beyond our expectations,” Karas recalls. “The tour was great. The county was beautiful and the people so friendly. The one thing that I wasn’t expecting was how much we fell in love with the band, not just the music, but them as individuals, each one having distinct personalities to make up an amazing and talented group of women.”
Karas’ “love” of the four Diver sisters evolved through their interactions with his wife and him and their tour mates. It started on the first evening when the sisters invited all to their family home for tea and biscuits and an intimate gathering of song and stories. Their mother, Kathleen Fitzgerald, who fronted a band that performed weekly on Irish radio for 11 years and recorded on major labels, also joined in and sang during the impromptu céllí. Other trip highlights included a few moments with one of the siblings as she meandered the poets W.B. Yeats’ church-side gravesite with Megan and Brian at Drumcliff Cemetery in County Sligo,’and the band feteing the couple from the stage on their wedding anniversary.
So if the sisters introduced the tour guests to their parents, why the band name? They are neither orphans nor do they scream. They approved a friend’s suggestion of the name because “it was not girly, nothing Irish, you either love it or hate it, but you always remember it,” lead vocalist and drummer Joan Diver told the Irish Examiner in an interview.
The opportunity to design a new logo began with Karas’ mention of his profession to the band’s tour manager, Renate Laine. He offered to help the band in any way and eventually, Laine reached out with a request for him to update their logo.
The original featured a screaming infant the band named Ollie. Here is excerpt of what Laine requested he incorporate into the design based on input from the “girls” for a teen version of the “orphan:” “Please make the hair blonde and crazy, kind of like in the attached bus tour picture. Make her mouth a bit smaller but still keep her screaming and tilt her head down a bit more so that you can see her eyes and make her eyes bigger … Give her a hat; kind of like a train-driver hat … The girls love their hats. Dress her up in modern clothing—pants, big sneakers, a t-shirt, and a large belt. The girls love their belts.”
Karas made certain each sister was reflected in the image. “The skirt is from Joan, the hat from Gráinne (guitarist, vocals), the earrings for Angela (bass, violin, vocals) and the belt from Marie Thérèse (keyboards, accordion, vocals). I put a little bit of each of them in the creation of Doris (the “teen” version of Ollie) but all the while she kept screaming. I’m very proud of how she came out. It was weird seeing something you designed on a bass drum head.”
He adds, “It’s funny to look back now, to think that with the chance that Megan had not seen that flyer on the coworker’s desk that we wouldn’t have had such a memorable life-changing trip. We would have never met and become friends with such a great group of strong Irish—and one Latvian [Laine]—women who are extremely talented, unbelievably compassionate and amazing to their fans.”
Karas owns Only Child Imaginations. His specialities are illustration, logo creation, photography, sound design, video, and animation. In 2017, he animated the Orphans’ video of their rendition of The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” which is available to view on YouTube.
He says he will continue to help the Diver sisters “in any way I can.”
Screaming Orphans will headline an Irish Hooley at Proctors on March 16. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 day of the show.
Note: The author—publisher of The Collaborative and the marketing and corporate relations director of Proctors Collaborative—traveled with the Orphans (and the Karases) on the band’s 2015 bus tour of Ireland.