We’re drained, excited and more than a little emotional. The Gloaming have just blown us away, taken us on a trip that can only be described as heart stopping. It’s hard to believe that live music can get better than this. It might have to, though, as we’re only at the end of their opening number. Admittedly it has lasted over fifteen minutes and taken in more twists and turns than another ten bands put together, but this opening section is almost as concerning as it is astonishing. What if the evening, their final night at the venue where they first stepped on stage as a unit, has peaked right at the off.
That’s a silly worry, of course, because we are in the safest of hands here. At this given moment on a Monday night, there are probably a handful of people playing Irish folk music across the city – many more around the world. It is still the people’s music, it’s just sad that so many of those people are tourists looking for a cliched experience or émigrés after a taste of home. Listen to The Gloaming, however, and the tradition comes to life in front of your very eyes. What is it about them, why is this at a level that few – if any – can match?
Ultimately it comes down to the five musicians on stage before us and the special combination of talents that they offer. Playing like a man possessed (arms and legs flying in all directions, as if a marionette controlled by a manic puppet master) Martin Hayes produces a sound that is a close to that of man’s soul as possible but, incredibly, he’s matched by those around him – especially Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett. It’s this pair that are possibly the unsung heroes of the piece, the former contributing a subtle counterpoint to Hayes’ fireworks, while the American (also the producer of their self-titled debut) cuts a mesmerising figure as he hunches over his piano, caressing every note and chord.
Two hours in their company flies by and before you know it, they’re taking a final bow after three encores and the NCH is on its feet. We expected magic but nothing like this, a masterclass that takes the album as a mere starting point and pushes the boundaries of what this extraordinary band can achieve, including a healthy selection of new material that confirms there is still much, much more to come. Enjoy every moment.
The Gloaming were photographed by Hugh McCabe – part of a series of beautiful long exposure live music images he takes. More info and prints available via his website here.