Upon the release of The Gloaming 3 in February, it was announced that the beloved contemporary trad group would be taking a break for 2020.
Three is, as they say, a magic number. And it seems they may have gauged their break well.
Since their opening night in the National Concert Hall (NCH) in 2011, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Martin Hayes, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Thomas Bartlett and Denis Cahill have sold out the venue 30 times. Despite the smatterings of empty seats on Wednesday, those present were as appreciative as ever.
Starting with the opening track from The Gloaming 3, ‘Meachain Rudaí’ — a death-themed poem by the late Cork poet Liam Ó Muirthile adapted to song by vocalist Iarla Ó Lionáird — could have set a sombre tone for the evening if it hadn’t been for fiddler Martin Hayes’s unerring ability to catch an air on the breeze, coaxing a delicate
refrain into elevating medleys of more traditional Irish fare.
There’s a vague sense of atomisation from the group, a straining at the seams of the creative directions of the respective members; again, a year’s break to pursue other passions could be no bad thing.
It’s not that individual creative urges aren’t fostered. Ó Raghaillagh, who expressed his desire to bring in fresh experimental elements to the band’s music prior to the recording of The Gloaming 3, certainly has free rein: upon his arrival onstage, he removed his shoes to reveal a natty pair of spotted socks, the better to manipulate the electronic effects pedals he’s been working into his fiddle-playing, improvising seamlessly alongside pianist Thomas ‘Doveman’ Bartlett.
Songs from The Gloaming 3, including ‘Áthas’, another Liam Ó Muirthile poem, and ‘The Lobster’ were delivered alongside earlier material including the breath-taking ‘Samhradh Samhradh’.
An encore led off with ‘Amhrán na nGleann’, a formal keen from Ó Lionáird’s native Cúil Aodha: sean nós as it’s meant to be sung.
Once again, Ó Raghaillagh and Hayes picked up and carried the thread into a medley culminating in the reel ‘Music in the Glen’, demonstrating the ability to elevate not only music, but audiences to their feet, for the second standing ovation.