In the cabaret room of Dublin’s Sugar Club is Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, seemingly the hardest working musician in Ireland these days. You can hardly keep up with the bands he appears in and tours with, bringing the beguiling sounds of his custom made hardanger d’amore fiddle to a variety of musical approaches in what might clunkily be described as Avant Trad. While The Gloaming held a more central course, his own work is quite out there and could easily exist between trad, free jazz and Aphex Twin. It’s a delight then, as we are just getting used to how to spell his name, that we get a show such as this Music Network event – not a gig per se, but a potted history of his arrival at the instrument itself and the way he plays it today.
So polite and affable a gent, he begins with an intro through three fiddles on stage, and through three pieces he shows his progression from the straight-up four string fiddle through the hardanger. And then to the hybrid of that and the viola d’amore that he now plays, with its resonance strings and bespoke carvings. His chat is soothing and informative and the music interspersed is a range of traditional and his own, but all played in his fingerprint style. He is a player now committed to a style where the bones of a journey are begun and he just goes with it, building and almost improvising the style as it makes sense along the way. What he plays and how he does it whirls you in so that it seems almost mediative.
The film part of the evening arrives and we meet some pre-recorded friends and influences filmed by Caoimhín himself in a calm, soft black-and-white. He duets live to these recordings, which works remarkably well, matching with the informal way he has filmed it. A harpist finds ambient music as the wind rushed over his strings, a neighbour’s dancing taps out an unusual variety of percussion on various house-and-garden surfaces and the man who introduced him to the hardanger, Dan Trueman appears too. On record this music can sometimes require a brave and open ear, but live it can just wash over you and sweep you along with it. The images never distract from the music and he uses footage to back up his solo playing too. Shots of an Ireland he keeps being in awe of.
An evening inside the man’s world, it was itself a brave show to put on and full credit to Music Network for bringing an evening like this around the country. To know more about the guy, the instrument and the world behind the beguiling music makes is all the more richer when it’s listened to it again. Though on the night it wasn’t quite possible to lose yourself completely in the sounds because of the storytelling which emerged after almost every track. That will be for another day. For now there was enough music, and a big picture that emerged that made a quiet Tuesday night quite wonderful.
Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh photographed by Dara Munnis