THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH has been Middle Tennessee’s most enduringly popular Celtic band since their inception in 1993. Influenced by The Pogues, The Chieftains, and traditional Irish pub bands, TSC’s music mixes original material with traditional music and many styles of American and European folk.
The band first came together to play a single St. Patrick’s Day party on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University. What was supposed to be a one-off gig met with such an enthusiastic response that they soon branched out to play pubs, clubs, private events, and conventions, plus Celtic, International, and Americana music festivals. Their annual St. Patrick's Day shows have resulted in a packed house every year. As is inevitable with a band that has existed for over two decades, the lineup has changed often. Because of the democratic nature of the band, each member is able to bring their personal stamp to the band's sound, contributing to both the songwriting and in building their repertoire of traditional and cover tunes.
Secret Commonwealth has recorded four albums, two of which have been nominated for multiple awards. The most recent release is entitled Lager & Blood and features many audience favorites from the band’s 25+ years of performing!
Guitar, bass, mandolin, percussion, lead & backing vocals
Rob originally hails from Venice, Louisiana, but spent most of his formative years growing up in Alabama. Rob first expressed his musical interests at the age of five, when he was reprimanded for ruining some of his father’s classical music LP’s by playing them on his “Close-n-Play” kiddie phonograph. Like many kids his age, his first hands-on musical experience was singing in church choir.
In the years that followed he poured his efforts into learning and performing music from as many genres as possible. Drums & percussion were his main instruments of choice during high school and college, where he played drums in the marching, concert, and jazz bands. Upon graduating from college in 1985, he picked up the guitar on a whim, and taught himself to play.
In 1993 he joined with Jack Hunter Daves and Troy Guinn to form The Secret Commonwealth. In 2004, he, Jack and Troy co-founded The Exotic Ones, a garage-rock band with horror and sci-fi themes. Rob has also played mandolin in fellow Secret Commonwealth member Uncle Don Clark’s group, The Don Clark Trio.
Rob suffers from M.I.A.S. (musical instrument acquisition syndrome), and is always hunting for unusual musical instruments to add to his cache. Although he does not consider himself a virtuoso by any means, he has learned to play over a dozen different instruments well enough to “fake it”.
Apart from being a multi-instrumentalist, Rob is also an avid record collector, a passion that has lasted for over 25 years. Rob’s collection of over 1800 vinyl LP’s and CD’s profiles a broad cross-section of popular music ranging through all genres and time periods; as a result his musical influences are far too numerous and eclectic to mention here. He also likes to geek-out on movies (preferably 50's & 60's B-flicks), scale modeling, backcountry camping, college football, mid-century architecture, and history—his favorite subjects being Scottish history, the Cold War, and American Pop Culture.
UNCLE DON CLARK
Guitar, banjo, harmonica, percussion, bass, lead & backing vocals
Uncle Don Clark's interest in music started early. By age 8 he had his first real guitar. By age 10 he started learning how to play. He watched others as he taught himself. At 10 1/2 he wrote his first folk song even though he didn't know what folk music was.
The next 37 1/2 years Uncle Don worked perfecting a style. He has yet to determine what that really is. Others have placed him in the Americana, Folk or Storyteller categories. His solo performances consist of 90-99% originals.
Over time, his music became more eclectic. Music was changing so much and there was such diversity. He gleaned what he thought to be the best of each style and still writes and plays that way today.
Uncle Don has been in 4 different bands while performing solo acoustic in between. One of them, his own band, The Don Clark Trio, released a CD in 1998 entitled "Whatever Works" - the motto Don feels best describes his approach to music. There were as few as two and as many as seven members in the "trio".
He became friends with Troy Guinn, Rob Campbell and Jack Hunter Daves. the founding trio of The Secret Commonwealth, in the early 90s. He sat in with the group from time to time but did not become a member of TSC until around 2004.
Guitar, bass, mandolin, lead & backing vocals
Troy Guinn is something of a walking Nashville cliché: He works in the music industry by day, and plays music in the Nashville clubs by night. Even though he has performed in bands for over 20 years, music wasn’t always his chosen creative outlet. Until he was 18, Troy wanted to be a comic book artist.
Music was one of his great loves from as far back as he can recall, and always played in the background while he drew and drew. Troy’s Dad exposed him to Bob Dylan and the folk movement, while his Mom’s younger siblings were loaning rock albums to Troy and his older brother…the latest Hendrix, Bowie, and Beatles just as they were hitting the stores.
It wasn’t until Troy graduated high school that he actually picked up a guitar. He played his first live performance in true punk fashion, playing bass after having only even touched that instrument two weeks prior to the show. After spending the late 80’s in punk/funk/experimental bands such as Scrotum Dog, Aargh!, Vincent Van Gogh, and Skinwalker, he went to college at Middle Tennessee State University, where he co-founded The Secret Commonwealth with Jack Hunter Daves and Rob Campbell.
Troy graduated in 1999. In addition to Secret Commonwealth, he is a member of monster-rock band The Exotic Ones, which he also founded with Jack and Rob. He is also a member of tribute bands The Eat My Fuks (dedicated to recreating classic punk rock music) and Zipper Catches Skin (an Alice Cooper tribute).
Troy works for Sony/ATV Music Publishing. He lives in East Nashville, sharing a duplex with his younger brother and four cats. Besides music, his passions include horror movies, collecting Godzilla stuff, football, history, and reading.
Penny whistles, mandolin, guitar, bodhrán, doumbek, alto saxophone, e. bass, his vocal cords, hammered dulcimer, tenor banjo, feet, and aux perc.
Franko Hashiguchi got into Celtic music the old-fashioned way, via old-time Appalachian flatfootin’/pickin’ and medieval/Renaissance danse/music. These portals funneled him into playing Irish, Scottish, and generic British Isles folk. Eventually he moved to Tennessee and increased the playing of Irish.
He became friends with Troy Guinn, Rob Campbell and Jack Hunter Daves, Jr., the founding trio of The Secret Commonwealth, in the mid 90s. He sat in with the group from time to time but did not become a member of TSC until around 2004.
Although the Secret Commonwealth is his main band, Franko occasionally plays with The Un-Named Assembly Band (which supports Sunday Assembly Nashville), The Jack Laddies (with TSC bandmate Troy Guinn), and is seeking to play out on his own more post-pandemic. Always willing to sit in with other bands, too!
Groups he has been a major part of: The Celtic Badgers, the Jump Gypsies, the Celtic Commodores, JonesWorld, and Richard Morton & Friends.
Groups that he has sat in with on stage: the Bow Shakers, The Nashville Celts (formerly Ric Blair Band), Marcus Hummon, Plaidgrass, Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers, and the St. Augustine Ramblers.
Franko has had the honor to play in St. Patrick’s Day-related showcases at The Bluebird Cafe for multiple years with Richard Morton & Friends, onstage at The Ryman Auditorium for “A Songwriter’s Story - an Evening with Marcus Hummon” and twice onstage at the Ryman with The Nashville Celts for “A Christmas Celebration at the Ryman”. He helped lead a pile of Irish and old-time musicians’ jam for a pre-show in the Tennessee Performing Arts Center lobby before a Chieftains performance. He’s also popped up from time to time in other, less lofty locations!
A smattering of influences:
Jethro Tull, The Beatles, Fairport Convention, The Bothy Band, Steeleye Span, the Tannahill Weavers, The Chieftains, Garbage, The Bow Shakers, Donovan, The Freight Hoppers, No Strings Attached, Dead Can Dance, Led Zeppelin, Tom Mason, and every band he heard in person (no matter what the genre). And this is prior to the iPod era, Kiddies!!!
Heroes? Ian Anderson, Danny Elfman, Shirley Manson, Lewis Carroll, Iris & William "Bill" Hashiguchi, Robin Williams, and Jackie Chan.
Any advice for fledgling musicians? Listen a hell-of-a-lot. Play a hell-of-a-lot. Join a weekly jam session, Irish session, band, etc.
Playing by ear and by little black dots on a page are *both* great ways to learn tunes.
He also goes swing dancing at major honky tonks and other venues around town, is the Grant & Donor Manager for the Nashville Shakespeare Festival.
Contact him at Franko (at) TSCBand.com if you want to hit him up.
Https://linktr.ee/celticjamboy for more info, portfolio, and links
Fiddle, mandolin, lead & backing vocals
Vicky first picked up the violin at age 10, largely as an excuse to get out of gym class, but her talent and passion for the instrument was quickly realized. For eight years, Vicky was classically trained by her orchestra instructor, Sara Johnson, who also introduced her to a variety of traditional Celtic and bluegrass fiddle tunes, not to mention some more contemporary tunes (ever heard a high-school orchestra perform Zeppelin's Kashmir, or Hendrix's Purple Haze?). Nonetheless, when she graduated from high school, she packed up her fiddle indefinitely, and engrossed herself in her newfound passion - science!
For over two years, she devoted herself to her studies as a biology student at MTSU until, after much goading by her academic advisor, Frank Bailey, and fellow biologist Matt Elrod-Erickson (both musicians and bluegrass enthusiasts), Vicky finally unpacked her fiddle and joined their after-school bluegrass jam.
From then on, Vicky delved deep into the Murfreesboro music scene. She learned to play the guitar and mandolin, started writing and performing her own songs, and begin recording with local artists such as Rick Perry of Ashes of Folly, and singer-songwriters Levi Massie and Terry McCLain. One day, friend and fellow Murfreesboro musician Uncle Don Clark of The Secret Commonwealth invited her to sit in on a band practice. The chemistry was undeniable, and in 2016 Vicky became the newest member of The Secret Commonwealth.
Vicky's musical influences include John Hartford, Paul Warren, Vassar Clements, Jimmy Page, and Chris Thile among many, many others. Besides TSC and Good Dogs, she performs in a Ramones tribute called Rocket 2 Russia.
Manager, public relations, financial adviser, dance instructor, ladies' man, dirty tricks coordinator
Who better to manage a band than one to whom guarding gold is second nature?
The Gnome is the Secret Commonwealth’s international man of mystery. Given to the band as a gift from some fans, who had themselves inherited him from other friends, no one knows whether he was at some point spirited away from someone’s garden, or even from Rock City, Tennessee itself. He was rumored to have manned the tip jar at a Murfreesboro music/dance club for a time, but nothing has been proven.
Let’s face it, Gnomes live 500 years, and as our gnome likes to make it known to anyone who will listen that he is “fit and in me prime”, one can only assume he already has a couple of centuries under his prodigious belt. Discovering his true origins would be a task indeed, so we’re just glad he found his way to our doorstep, to share the triumphs and travails of the hard-workin’, hard-playin’, hard-livin’ Secret Commonwealth!
A great many have questioned how The Gnome spent the four years when the band was on hiatus from 2003-2007. Turns out that he used it to expand his land holdings and build extra wings onto his sprawling estate. Don’t try and find it…it’s all underground, don’tcha know.