The eccentric pianist is positioned to the left of the stage, hunched over a glistening grand piano. To the right, the three traditional musicians sit in a circle, instruments at the ready. Centrestage is singer Iarla O Lionard, sitting upright at an ornate harmonium, marrying the contemporary and the traditional. Over the course of the night the quintet will guide us through the entire spectrum of human emotion. From the twinkling high keys of the piano to the heart wrenching lower notes on Ó Raghallaigh’s Hardanger fiddle. Their music is as unpredictable as the weather and it’s this quality that make them so spellbinding to watch.
They breathe new life into old words. O’ Lionard unearths lyrics from deep within the rubble of Irish language poetry and plants them in the Gloaming’s music to have it sprout and blossom all over the world. The lyrics for ‘The Pilgrim’s Song’, he tells us, have been plucked from the poetry of Sean O’ Riordain in which he describes the Cuil Aodha countryside coming alive as the poet ambles along.
A blue light descends on the stage and the low keys on the piano become a steady fall of raindrops. Ó Raghallaigh’s violin is a river of sound. Cahill gently plucks the high strings on the guitar and it’s like flowers erupting in blossom on the first day of spring. We are guided down some stony path by O’ Lionard’s velveteen voice, until we are no longer in the National Concert Hall but strolling along with the poet in his homeland. Martin Hayes wears a halo of curls, the stray hairs around his head illuminated by the stage lights, he reaches his bow towards the sky. His fiddle is the sun. Breaking through a cumulus of mellow notes with a brighter sound and relieving the tension like a joke told at a wake. Lifted from our trance-like states as the music folds into a jig. We’re back in the room.
Or rather, we’re in a different room. Some nameless pub at some ungodly hour. Where the music, like the local ale is rich in flavour and flows all night long. The change in pace brings me back to the last time I saw the quintet live. Dancing welly-clad in a field in Westmeath among a thousand or so people linking arms and circling one another in a botched attempted at an Irish dance. There are few musical acts that can draw in a crowd of young people covered in varying amounts of glitter as well as an attentive seated audience of trad enthusiasts. But the Gloaming take it in their stride. It’s a testament to their prowess and versatility. But also to the nature of the music itself. Mimicking the landscape from which it was born; wild, exquisite and rebellious but never dull.
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