Do you remember your first time? That moment when your innocence was lost? When you stepped across that line, that Rubicon that couldn’t be uncrossed? A formative, life changing rite of passage that meant you would never be quite the same again. My moment of de-flowering found me leaning against a canteen wall out in UCD in the halcyon days of the early ’90s. Way back when nobody had an arse in their trousers, all one had for warmth was a threadbare lumberjack shirt on ones back, a pair of docks on the feet for ballast (to stop the slightest breeze from blowing your skinny ass away), a 2 litre of Linden in one hand and a dog on a string in the other. Ah, simpler times for simpler people.
I was but a lowly fresh faced undergrad out for a nights frolicking and merriment, when I was caught unawares and waylaid by a gang of marauding troubadours from South County Dublin. An innocent lad fresh from the bog, I didn’t stand a chance against their wily charms and otherworldly experience. Like a lamb to the slaughter they took full advantage of me on that fateful night.
Yep, we all remember our first time. That moment when a band shook us to the core. When they reached out and hit us full square in the solar plexus, forging an indelible connection. Our eureka moment. All others, and there were to be many others, would pale in comparison. For me it was that night out in Belfield, the first time I had my tiny little mind, body and soul blown by Kíla.
Those raggle taggle gypsies ensnared and enchanted me with their heady fusion of trad, folk, Afro and god only knows what else they threw into the mix. Even at that early stage in their career they were more than a match for those who had pioneered and blazed the trail of Celtic music before them. They were more relevant, global and forward looking than Planxty, less laddish-cock-rock than the Horslips and they had more chops, wit and groove about them than even the mighty Moving Hearts. I was pulled in right from the get-go and they quickly became my go-to band for a bit of the auld craic, damhsa agus ceol. I’ve lost count of how many times I saw them over the next few years, the madness and badness all blurring into one. But I can honestly say that I have never seen them phone it in and that every gig was a great night out that usually involved copious amounts booze, good times and whatever you’re having yourself.
But, like the good Catholic lad that I am, I lapsed and myself and Kíla parted ways. Not so much an excommunication or a divorce, more like a growing apart. They kept on doing their thing, getting bigger and better at it, and I got caught up in the things that “grownups” are supposed to get caught up in. So it’s with a wee bit of trepidation and a lot of anticipation that this Citizen State finds himself once more in a packed sweaty room, this time Whelans, waiting for Kíla to take to the stage. As I look around, I see a few vaguely familiar faces and a lot of not so familiar, the old vanguard mixing it up with the new.
Kíla assume position and take to the boards with their usual quasi-shambolic seemingly haphazard grace and we’re invited to summon the perennially tardy Dee to stage (somethings never change). Finally, with all eight members sardined on stage, they open with ‘Half Eight/Leath ina dhiaidh a hOcht’ and we’re off. There are a couple of members in absentia tonight; most notably Eoin Dillon isn’t present for piping and whistle duties. His place is ably filled by “James from Shankhill”. And whilst Eoin’s loss is akin to Richards not playing a Stones gig, James is more than up to the task and the looks of delight and disbelief in equal measures on his face are quite infectious.
‘Suas Sios’ follows and the musical moves from simmering to bubbling as Kíla move up through the gears and up the ante.. The pace slackens as we’re invited by Ronan to “talk quietly a little quieter” as they showcase the first of two pieces tonight from the soundtrack of ‘Song of the Sea’. Dutiful attentiveness over and the audience are rewarded with the proggy ‘The Length of Space’. If Neu! ever did a trad piece it would surely have sounded like this. At this stage the dance floor of Whelan’s is a-slithering and a-sliding. The tops of pints ending up splashed and sloshed on the floor, as the good people of planet Kíla, the dancers and chancers, the wasters and the wasted, get their collective freaks on. You could power a small city for a year on the energy being generated by both the band and audience here tonight.
Proceedings continue at a fair clip and climax pre-encore with ‘The Skinhead Reels’ and I swear to Sweet Baby Jesus they almost lift the roof the place. Despite their nods to modernity, there’s something ancient, pagan and intrinsically Celtic about Kíla. They tap into your primordial core as they brew up their musical maelstrom. They reach into your soul and lift you up, transcending the now. The lines between performers and audience blur as they feed of us and we feed of them. Each party driving the other onwards and upwards, inescapably bound together as we become enraptured in the carnival-esque cycle of the ceili. After a quick breather they return with ‘Tog e Go Bog e’. The interplay between Ronan’s direct style of sean-nos nua and his cohorts plaintive vocal responses prove to be as evocative as ever. It’s a perfect ending to what has been an almost perfect evening.
If Kíla didn’t exist we’d have to invent them and we would fail miserably for there’s more magic, mischief and melody between their jigs and reels, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy. But they do exist and our lives are all the better for it. Go raibh maith agaibh a cairde and see you soon!