Much preparation has gone into this exploration of traditional Celtic music – support from the Irish government, months spent studying and selecting from thousands of traditional songs, years spent honing the sound of centuries-old everyday life. And yet the atmosphere is akin to a highly accomplished jam session – no bad thing at all.
There’s a wonderfully relaxed feel to the performance, which isn’t usually true of the Usher Hall. It’s like being invited to a very select, intimate gig, albeit with several hundred other spectators. The five piece ensemble – made up from players from Ireland, Catalonia, and America – move on and off stage regularly, different songs requiring different instruments. The viol, the fiddle, the psalter, the bodhran – these (and more) are combined differently for almost every song, with an enormous range of tempos, moods and melodies. And the obvious love for the material, and the respect that the musicians have for one another, shines through; on every piece.
Occasionally, an introduction to an instrument is given, and the show would have benefited from more of this, as well as similar information regarding the subject matter of the reels and ballads. And gorgeous and life-affirming though the sound is, over two hours of very similar material can drag on occasion. The quality never dips, but the attention span occasionally wanders.
But the aim of the evening – to make sure this music doesn’t fade into the past, that these are songs that need to be played – is magnificently achieved, with sublime technical skill to match a giant beating heart. It’s a shame no-one broke into an impromptu jig.