The longtime core of the band is comprised of Terry and Mac Bellner, a couple with shared interests that include historical re-enactments and maritime festivals. Alongside the Bellners are their son JohnAndrew Bellner (Irish tenor banjo), plus Garry Farren (percussion, vocals), Ken Langell (octave mandolin, vocals) and Dmitri Alano (pennywhistle, bagpipes).
A Hogeye show is intimate and informal, with jokes, banter and poetry recitations sprinkled throughout. The band uses a wide range of traditional instruments, including the concertina (a sort of squeezebox), the bodhrán (an Irish frame drum) and the highland bagpipes. Several members play guitar, and all members sing, regardless of whether they should.
“Really, we’re a primarily vocal group because we all love to sing,” Mac Bellner said. The band’s typical set list is chock full of shanties, or traditional shipboard working songs.
Shanties were used at sea to keep time for laborers doing rhythmic work, and there were various shanty styles for various tasks. Tempo and mood vary from shanty to shanty, giving the modern interpreter a wide variety of styles and moods to work with.
The band carries that passion for work songs into their name: “Navvy” is an obsolete British term for a day laborer, particularly someone involved in construction or excavation, or digging canals (after “navigation” company workers in the British Isles). To complete our etymological study, according to Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, “hog-eye” can refer to flat-bottomed boats used in the San Francisco Bay during the Gold Rush era, a hamlet, the anus and male or female genitalia. Take your pick; language and music are highly allusive and one word can carry many meanings. (Or continue this discussion on the band’s Web site: www.hogeyenavvy.com).
“A lot of times, tunes and themes were borrowed,” Terry Bellner said. “This allowed for a lot of different styles and stories to emerge.” The band also has in its repertoire a number of American folk songs and Scottish tunes.
Since their formation, the band has played a number of different venues, from college campuses to two pre-game shows for the Pacers (on nights when they were playing the Celtics, of course). They toured Ireland in 2001, and play regularly at Fionn MacCool’s Irish Pub in Fishers and Nine Brothers Irish Pub in West Lafayette, as well as their Saturday night engagement at The Aristocrat.
The band has released six CDs to date, including live recordings of performances at The Aristocrat and the Indy Folk Series. A new one is on the way this year.