The Idyllwild Brewpub honored St. Patrick’s Day with the performance of Port O’Thority, an Irish pirate folk group. Here (from left) are James “Hooke” Thompson, Michael Hubner, Colin Smith, John King on fiddle, Sam Kesler on ukulele and Caitlin Cickles on fife.
Photo by Steven King

James Tompkins, also known by his stage name “Hooke,” brought together the members of the band called Port O’Thority. Hooke develops the sound for the compositions the band plays. He also plays guitar, world-percussion drums and ukulele, and uses his years of training in theater to put together their pirate act. As with most artists that come to Idyllwild, Tompkins has a multitude of talents.

He originally hails from Detroit.

How did Tompkins become Hooke? Back when Tompkins was a network engineer, he visited the home of Jonathan Sher, dean of students at Computer Learning Center, Tindell College, Madison Heights, Michigan. When Sher’s toddler daughter saw him, she said, “HI, Captain Hook.”

At that time, Tompkins said his hair was short, his clothing was business attire and he wondered at being called Captain Hook. It was Sher’s daughter’s “magical thinking,” that caused Tompkins to be called Captain Hook, as it was an extension of her father being Peter Pan, she being Tinkerbell, and when Tompkins arrived, she’d found her Captain Hook.

“The funny thing,” said Tompkins, “is that within three years of my encounter with Tinkerbell, I had grown a beard, my hair was long and I was on stage as a pirate.”

When Tompkins was asked why is Hooke with an “e,” he said it was “an alternative spelling I had found while researching the influence of Irish sailors on maritime folk music. There was mention of a sailor named Hooke who was Irish and led a lot of music aboard his ship. I thought that was cool, so I added it.”

Tompkins wants the public to know that he does not do “old-man sweater music.” Rather, he “matches Irish with Middle Eastern sound, and changes the key.” Still, Hooke is “hooked” on his Irish heritage, a result of his admiration of his grandfather, Jack Hughes.

Tompkins has been a professional entertainer since he was age 14. He took acting classes with Keegan Key of Key and Peele. He incorporates all his experience in music and acting to put on an entertaining performance while on stage. His band dresses like pirates and the act has an air of burlesque about it, “somewhat like a carnival on stage.” Tompkins shared that his grandfather said, “It wouldn’t be Irish without jokes and toasts.” Tompkins said burlesque entertainment is “educated entertainment for uneducated masses, like slap stick on a high-brow joke.”

As part of the band, Tompkins does lead vocals, emcees, and plays guitar and the Irish Bodhran (a round-frame drum played with a stick against your body), an instrument he has been playing since he was 12. He is self-taught. He also plays mandolin, ukulele and banjo.

Tompkins’ wife Caitlin also plays in the band. She plays the flute and penny whistle. She’s had 10 to 12 years of classical training on flute but has only been playing the penny whistle the last two years yet “she is owning it,” said her husband. Of Caitlin, Tompkins says she is “the love of my life.” They have an adorable son together, Owain, who holds up three fingers to tell his age.

Colin Smith, who also performs with Pentagrams and Daisies, plays bass ukulele with Port O’Thority. He and wife Monica, the other half of Pentagrams and Daisies, live in Idyllwild with their son Orion. Smith is an Idyllwild native who has been playing an instrument “since he could walk.” Said Tompkins, “He was born and bred to it.” Tompkins said Smith is “a hell of a good guitar player,” but “he owns the bass ukulele.”

Michael Huebner plays percussion with an acoustic kit made of hand drums sporting splash symbols, which make for a more authentic sound. Huebner is a professional drummer with 20 years’ experience playing in Celtic bands.

John King plays the fiddle for the band. “He is,” said Tomkins, “an extremely accomplished bluegrass fiddler.” He also plays guitar and mandolin. King also lives in Idyllwild.

The Port O’Thority band played at the Idyllwild Brewpub’s opening and its anniversary this year. They will play at the Brewpub in May this year. Follow the group on www.Facebook.com/portothority and/or contact them at portothority@gma.com

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