FolkWorld Live Review 3/2000:
Sun 2nd to Sat 15th Jan 2000.
Live at HQ, Hot Press Irish Music, Hall of Fame, 57 Middle Abbey Street, Dublin 1
Sponsored by Celtic Note, in association with Radio 1
What a better way to see in the new millenium, but a fantastic festival showcasing the best in Irish and Celtic traditional music, with top acts such as Solas, Danu, Lunasa, Dolores Keane, Dougie MacLean, Anuna and Davy Spillane, just to name a few. The Celtic Flame festival, held at HQ, which was the perfect setting for these concerts - cosy, lush comfy cabaret style seats, with waiters coming to take your orders so you didn't even have to get up and go to the bar for your next pint of (now, what else would itbe?!) pure 100% Guinness, that ultimate drink with which to enjoy a sensational evening in excellent, toe-tapping, body-swaying, heart-soaring traditional music - was definitely not one to miss. I can only say that it was a real treat, and truly, I did indulge myself - seeing Solas and Sean Tyrell on Sunday evening, with Danu and Lunasa only two nights later renewing every bit of faith I had in the contemporary traditional music scene. It is really heartening to know that this genre of music has survived way into the 21st century, and to be completely honest, even Robbie Williams couldn't compare, no matter how much he croons his heart out about the millenium!
Sean Tyrell opened his set with 'The Rising of the Moon', 'a song', he quipped, 'as old as the hills. My heart leapt as soon as he said the title of the song, but no, this was not to be the rousing Guinness-slurred rendition that Shane MacGowan so shamelessly belted out on The Snake album; instead, this was a slow number which began with the words 'As we wandered through the universe on this dark winter's night'. So much for a wild Pan-esque start to the Celtic Flame festival! Sean Tyrell sang a few more numbers, including 'The Lights of Christmas', 'The Game's Over' (a song supposedly lamenting man's heartless destruction of the planet) and endedon a light-hearted 'bit of boogie-woogie, Irish style', or more familiarly known to us as the indispensible tune to which every fresh-faced child who watches Sesame Street sings along - 'You Are My Sunshine'!
Half an hour later, Solas were ready to take the stage, and they were well-received by the audience. This band has now earned a most favourableand reputable name for themselves, following the new release of their latest album, 'The Words that Remain'. They are trail-blazing their way through the charts, receiving excellent reviews as 'One of Irish Music's best kept Secrets', and are heralded as 'the hottest new act in town'. With Seamus Egan (yes, he did feature on the soundtrack to the film 'The Brothers McMullen') on flute and bango, and Winifred Horan on fiddle, this American band opened the Celtic Flame festival with great zest and energy,to a very receptive audience. The band's music also provides the underlying rhythmic drive to Jean Butler and Colin Dunne's production of 'Dancing on Dangerous Ground', which is currently showing in London.
The band started off their set with a slow number called 'The Beauty Spot'. This generally set the pace for the evening, which comprised of more slow airs and haunting love-songs (including 'The Edge of the White Rocks')than fast and furious jigs and reels. Following an upbeat version of 'The Yellow Tinker', the lights dimmed and focused on Seamus Egan and Winifred Horan, who proceeded to perform a call-and-response solo on the flute and fiddle respectively. As the plaintive wails and breathy notes echoed round the room in almost surrealist fashion (the blue spotlights did help!), the audience was hushed and I was suddenly all too conscious of swallowing my mouthful of Guinness with an embarrassing gulp. All in all, an evening which I enjoyed, although I somehow expected more out of a band that hadcrossed the waters of the Atlantic to play a one-off gig in Dublin this time. I guess it was their somehow sedate mode of performing which contrasted greatly to the more hair-flying, sweat-dripping, fiddle-stringsbursting live acts that I've been accustomed to, and the knee-slapping,toe-tapping numbers were swiftly followed by more mellow ballads that slowed the pace of the gig down again. But I'm certainly glad I crossed the waters of the Liffey to see Solas live!
Now, the gig on Tuesday evening, with Danu and Lunasa, who are the two most inspiring Irish bands on the traditional music scene today, was a different thing altogether. With surprise guest Luka Bloom chipping in on the set to sing his well-known hit, 'You Couldn't Have Come at a Better Time', this evening was truly magical. It was a brilliant evening of music from top-class musicians, each of them playing their instruments with a little bit of heart and a whole lotta soul, and definitely a night well-worth an entry in that little diary which all trad music lovers keep hidden in their bottom drawer.
Danu launched the night off in zesty fashion, with an upbeat set of jigscalled 'Ditty O'Brian's. Following that was a song about 'yer ma bringin'in a handful of nettles into the bedroom at five o'clock in the mornin'',and the fiery fiddle start to that tune was absolutely superb. Highlights of the set included 'Green Brooms', 'Fair and Tender Ladies', a song made popular by Liam Clancy, whose daughter was, incidentally, in the audience,'Are you Ready Yet? - I'm Ready Now', and 'Banish Misfortune', a wonderful set of jigs and reels. Danu left the stage to thunderous applause, and the definite feeling that they'd be a hard act to follow. Hence the nail-biting 15 minutes that I spent during the interval, nervous with anticipation for Lunasa to come on-stage to strut their stuff. Another 10 minutes later though, I was sitting back with the hugest mother of a grin on my facethough, as the band opened their set with 'Eanair', the first song off their self-titled debut album. Make no mistake, the audience were in for areal treat, and they lapped up every single note of pure 100%freshly-squeezed trad music juice with pleasure.
With established musicians Sean Smyth (of album 'The Blue Fiddle' fame) on fiddle, whistles and viola, Trevor Hutchinson on a funky top-of-the-rangeelectric double bass and cello, Kevin Crawford on flute, whistles and bodhran, Donogh Hennessy on guitars and guest musicians John McSherry and Stephen McDonald on heart-soaring uillean pipes and trumpet respectively,it is no surprise that critics, musicians and audiences alike have been raving about Lunasa to no end. Their new album, 'Otherworld', released this year on Green Linnet records, is an excellent follow-up to their self-titled debut release. (hint : no true trad music fan's collection is complete without this one!) A definite personal favourite of the evening was 'The Miller of Drohan', a tune first performed by the trad music maestros, De Dannan, and which features on Lunasa's new CD. The piece started off with three whistles in unison, the melodies interweaving most intricately to spin a web of pure enchantment. Stephen's trumpet then blended in seamlessly, and gave that extra touch of oomph to the tune. Other memorable pieces were 'The Snows They Melt the Soonest', a slow and heart-aching reel, ' The Last Pint', 'O' Carolan's Welcome/ Rolling in the Barrel' and 'Stolen Apples', the latter two of which are on their new CD. This was definitely a show to remember, and when both bands came on stage to play the encore, the spectacle of these 11 lads on stage, combining their individual talents to produce such heart-soaring music, I was close to tears, I tell you! If only Luka Bloom had come back onstage as well, the evening would have been perfect, but sadly, he didn't. Oh well, nevermind. As the strains of pipes, fiddle, whistles, accordion, bouzouki, bodhran (you name it, they played it!) drew to a close, the clapping and wolf-whistles from the audience truly reflected a top-class evening of tradmusic from two of the scene's youngest and most proficient bands. I'll be back for more next year; until then however, I suspect that Celtic Flame will keep on burning!
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