Those who know Marc Gunn know him as a man who wears many hats (kilts?). Dubbed “The Celtfather” because of the gift of his talent to promote Indie Celtic Music, Marc is a Celtic musician, all-around entertainer, podcaster, promoter of Celtic musicians and Celtic music, husband and father to his beloved wife and daughter. Described as “a lover of cats, producer of podcasts, writer of filk (parody fan fiction songs) . . . [o]ne part musician, one part entrepreneur, full time busy guy,” he maintains numerous blogs and online resources to spread his passions with as many people as possible. And since today—St. Patrick’s Day!—is his birthday, Marc Gunn—here is your life! (Well, some of it, anyway…)
Marc was born on March 17, 1972, in Germany to a military family. He spent his early years—until age 10—in Silver Spring, Maryland, before moving to San Antonio. He spent a year—his senior year in high school—in Italy. Having family in Italy, he later took opportunities to tour Italy as a musician, enjoying the opportunity to visit family!
Marc’s Scots-Irish heritage provides one source of his interest in Celtic music, though traditional Irish and Scottish music was not part of his early family life. The Gunn family arrived in the U.S. in the early- to mid-Nineteenth Century. His dad was into folk music, and did take Marc to a few Highland games, but Marc’s interest in Celtic music didn’t really take off until the late-90s, which is pretty incredible given how much ground he’s been able to cover in such a (relatively) short time!
His family’s love of music paved the way for his later discovery of singing, song-writing, parody, and the autoharp, many of which he inherits from his dad. Marc’s whole family is musical to some degree. His mom plays the piano; his dad plays various folk instruments, particularly the banjo. His sister plays the flute, and his brother, the guitar. His mother’s Elvis records provided another early musical influence, and the autoharp that became his primary instrument, signature sound, and key to his song-writing endeavors belonged to his dad.
Marc’s musical aspirations started in earnest in Austin, TX. While studying at The University of Texas, Marc had a short-lived gig as an Amway distributer. When asked what his dream was, he replied, “music”—and unlike many, he has really lived the dream!
Marc’s earliest musical endeavors were not, in fact, Celtic. He barely listened to any Celtic music except the odd bagpipe or Irish-influenced genres like bluegrass and folk. But with his Scots-Irish heritage and St. Patrick's Day birthday, well. . . things just fell into place! Rather, caught up in the 90s alternative movement, Marc first styled himself as a grunge musician. A poet at heart, Marc had an interest in writing lyrics, and so turned to the autoharp. Because it is a relatively easy instrument to play, he was able to focus on writing and singing.
In the fall of ’99, still in Austin, Marc started working at the University of Texas. Thinking about stories of Janis Joplin playing autoharp on the South Mall at UT, and trying to build up his confidence about performing live, he began to practice on the Mall each day at lunch. One day, Marc was approached and invited to perform at the Excalibur Renaissance Festival. Having long been a D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) geek, he jumped at the chance, but as he was still nervous, he asked friend Andrew McKee to join him. Hence, the Brobdingnagian Bards—the name derived from the kingdom of giants in Gulliver’s Travels—were launched.
Collaborations and Manifestations
The Brobdingnagian Bards, who had the honor of being headliners at the Oscar party for The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, enjoyed almost 10 years together with Marc on autoharp and vocals and Andrew on recorder, mandolin, and vocals, before parting amicably to pursue their solo careers.
Over the years, Marc has collaborated by many musicians and performed and recorded under many different names. Some highlights include Gunns & Drums, with friend Jamie Haeuser, work with fiddler Samantha Gillogly, and The Bedlam Bards. Rie Sheridan Rose, a Bards fan turned friend and writer, has joined with Marc to collaborate on lyrics, while artist Nikki O’Shea has created comics to memorialize Marc and the Bards and designed cover art for Marc’s CDs. Marc’s furriest collaborators are most certainly The Dubliners’ Tabby Cats, of Irish Drinking Songs for Cat Lovers fame.
Marc’s endeavors are too vast to number here. For more details, visit his web site. But just to mention one way Marc promotes his own music and Celtic music and musicians, he has, at one point or another, maintained six podcasts: the Irish & Celtic Music Podcast, Renaissance Festival Podcast, Pub Songs Podcast, Cat Lovers Podcast, MarcSongs Podcast, A Brobdingnagian Minute. The Cat Lovers Podcast first came out on May 1, 2005, with the Irish & Celtic Music Podcast and the Pubsongs Podcast not far behind. For a complete discography, see his web page or his Wikipedia entry.
Current Bands: Marc Gunn, The Dubliners Tabby Cats, Gunns & Drums, The BandShee
About the Autoharp
Marc has played guitar, dabbled with banjo, hammered and mountain dulcimers, the penny whistle, and even the bodhran (so this guy walks into a bar with a bodhran under his arm. . .) But it is with the autoharp that he produces his signature sound.
The autoharp is a mystery instrument to many people. When they have to guess what it is that he’s playing on his CDs, people have guessed dulcimer, lute, banjo, and even harpsichord. Although it is easy-to-play, Marc sees unrealized potential in the autoharp, and it is one of his goals to bring out that potential for the benefit of his listeners.
The autoharp has five octaves, which is unusual for a folk instrument. However, it is limited by only 15-21 chord bars. For the musically inclined—that means if you?want to play a diminished 6th, you can’t unless you replace a chord bar. Marc’s 21-chord autoharps include most of the major, minor and 7th chords. When you learn to change chords quickly, you can play melodies on the autoharp fairly easy, but that takes time. But at the basic level, just press a button and strum.
In 2008, Marc recorded A Tribute to Love as a sort of call to the
universe for someone to love. That metaphysical call was answered by his wife Gwen. During the summer of 2009, Marc went on tour and met her at a house concert in Virginia. They hit it off amazingly well and started spending as much time as possible together. She moved to New Orleans at the end of
the year and she and Marc were married a few months later.
The ultimate collaboration, their daughter Kenzie was born on October 27, 2010. She was born with a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot with Pulmonary Atresia. She will require several surgeries throughout her life, the first of which, in November 2010, was a tremendous success. Currently, she is a beautiful 2 ½ year old, cared for by dad while mom works on a graduate degree, and as the daughter of a poet, is learning her language skills very well! (Watch out, Dad—it’s the 3s that are a challenge!)
“The first year at Excalibur was a learning experience for Marc who says his autoharp hates being outside. Gunn says that one broken string on an autoharp is not a big issue; with two strings, it is out of tune but playable; when the third string breaks, it is finished. He chuckled when he told me that he didn’t think Andrew, who had some stage fright in the beginning, had forgiven him yet for turning to him at one of their early sets and saying ‘OK, finish the set.’ In another memorable instance, Marc says Andrew appeared to do a Matrix impression as the string broke and flew toward him. McKee slowly ducked back as the string flew by, never missing a note as he continued to play. One weekend, 21 strings broke.” –FaireNews.com
“One of my favorite moments was on the 2nd Bards Trip to Ireland. We stopped off in Blarney. Andrew and I decided to play music in the park there for our fans. One fellow sat down and three songs later raised his hand, ‘Are you Marc Gunn? I listen to your podcast.’ Turns out he was a fan of my Ren Fest Podcast.” – Old Haint Press Interview, Bengal’s Corner Interview
“Another trip in Ireland had me drunk and singing at the top of my lungs, when an employee of the castle we were at shouts, ‘Don't quit your day job.’ To which my fans responded, ‘This IS his day job!’”
Picture taken at ‘Turlough O'Carolan's' gravesite.
Wisdom from Marc Gunn
“There is definitely something inherent in the Celtic culture about death and irreverence. Perhaps because it's such a frequent part of their culture over the last few hundred years with rebellion against oppression. Personally, I love the juxtaposition. I'm a naturally optimistic person and there's something fascinating about death. My friend Jamie (who recorded on this CD) once said the two most amazing things about life are the entrance into it and the departure from it. And I agree…it calls into question our own mortality. But I don't think we should approach it as a sad occasion. I don't want people to mourn my death. I want them to celebrate my life. And God willing, I'll give them many reasons to celebrate it.” – Happy Songs of Death Interview
“Help people. One of the best lessons of marketing I learned was to help other people. And do it selflessly. It's the law of the universe that the more you help others, the more it'll come back to you. Don't EXPECT it to come back, but it will. You just have to have faith. Tough, but believe.” – Bengal’s Corner Interview
Material for this biography was collected from several interviews and bios around the internet. Thanks to the following sites and sources:
- “About” MarcGunn.com
- Bengal’s Corner Interview (2008)
- The Dubliners’ Tabby Cats
- Examiner.com: Happy Songs of Death Interview with Samantha Gillogly (2009), Pt. 1 and Pt. 2
- “Have You Met Marc Gunn?” FaireNews.com (2008)
- Marc Gunn Interviewed by Olde Haint Press (2010)
- Old Haint Press Interview on MySpace (2010)
- “Support Kenzie” MarcGunn.com
- Wikipedia: “The Brobdingnagian Bards”
- Wikipedia: “Marc Gunn”
Happy Birthday, Marc!