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Dream Team Gather in The Gloaming

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Friday August 19, 2011

from The Irish Examiner

Dream Team Gather in The Gloaming
By Nicki Davis

THE enigmatic Dublin-born fiddle player Caomhín Ó Raghallaigh has stirred the traditional scene, releasing five albums in 10 years, four of them collaborations with leading lights in Irish music.
Known for marrying old-school techniques with an experimental outlook, Ó Raghallaigh now brings his unique soundworld to The Gloaming.

The Gloaming’s upcoming series of concerts around the country are the realisation of a dream for two of Ireland’s foremost musicians, Iarla Ó Lionáird and Martin Hayes. The vocalist and fiddle-player have played regularly in the last five years in Europe and around the world, experiencing what they describe as a “kind of feeling” onstage together. Seeking to create a context where they could create that feeling with a group and sustain it, Ó Lionáird and Hayes met in New York in 2010 to hatch a plan.

The celebrated guitarist Dennis Cahill, Hayes’ long-term collaborator, was an obvious choice to join their dream team. Adding the extraordinary talent of New York-based pianist Thomas Bartlett was more of a surprise, and will attract a new audience to traditional music here, the young musician having already worked with such seminal artists as Antony & the Johnsons, Laurie Anderson and David Byrne. To complete the quintet, Ó Raghallaigh came to their minds immediately.

“I suppose my background in a way is very traditional up until quite recently. One of my most memorable early moments was when I was about 11, and I heard Martin Hayes for the first time. That had a great effect on me.” It was 1991, and Ó Raghallaigh was at the Comhaltas Summer School. “It was the quiet in his playing, it could bring a room of screaming kids to silence. The teachers all would have played for us and we were pretty noisy regardless, but when Martin played you could have heard a pin drop.”

In particular, Ó Lionáird and Hayes were drawn to the sound of his hybrid Norwegian instrument, which Ó Raghallaigh called the 5+5. It is, he explains, “a cross between the hardanger fiddle and a viola d’amore.” The instrument has 10 strings in total, five playing strings and five which resonate of their own accord.

Bartlett was introduced to The Gloaming project by Hayes. “Thomas grew up together with Sam Amidon and they were really good pals. When they were about 14 they made this Martin Hayes tribute-type album. They held Martin in massive regard. The two of them organised a gig for him in Vermont around that time and I think he didn’t realise they were only 12 years old ‘til he arrived!” Amidon, who returns for his second Irish tour this year in September, has been enjoying exponential growth in an Irish fanbase. Although he isn’t involved in The Gloaming, his continuing involvement with pianist Bartlett and their deep involvement in the New York alternative music scene will allow this project to tap into popular culture.

“Thomas is an amazing musician, you just have to play with him to understand,” say Ó Raghallaigh. “He plays these clusters of notes, not blocking out chords or imposing harmony. It’s very suitable to trad, and he just has such a great feel. Thomas and Iarla seem to have this understanding, it’s amazing to see. I’m delighted to be working with them, and of course just watching Dennis play with Martin is very special.”

The group spent four days in January at the Grouse Lodge recording studio in Co Westmeath. Ó Lionáird brought to the table a selection of Sean Nós songs which were explored, alongside new arrangements of old Irish poetry dating back to Tudor times which he developed with Ó Raghallaigh. “I’ve done some recording with Iarla and I just love the way he works, he’s really open, not looking to reproduce what’s in his head, he might give you some sense of what he imagined but really he leaves the canvas blank.”

Alongside more traditional sounds, some of the new music will have a darker, contemporary and alternative flavour. With the musicians involved each lauded for their improvisation and experimentation, every concert promises to be unique. “Somebody starts something, we’ll join in and it will go somewhere! It really is an unknown thing. It’s nice for us all if it’s completely different every night.”

The band’s name was coined by Ó Raghallaigh. “I came across the word gloaming in Beckett a couple of times. The way I have it in my head is somehow specific to Scotland at certain times, in certain conditions. Something about a quality of light, well after the sun has set, maybe with a bit of mist too. In some way I think it has something to do with the playing of Iarla and Martin. It’s an in-between time, I suppose, a time when new things seem possible.” nTHE GLOAMING TOUR AUGUST: Tomorrow, National Concert Hall, Dublin; Sunday, August 21, An Grianan, Letterkenny; Wednesday, August 24, The Model, Sligo; Thursday, August 25, The Riverbank, Kildare; Friday, August 26, Cork Opera House, Cork; Saturday, August 27, Glor, Ennis; Sunday, August 28, Mandela Hall, Belfast.

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