Irish trad hits the Finnish line with Slow Moving Clouds

PROBABLY no festival will bring as many different musical styles to Cork this year as Sounds From a Safe Harbour, returning this week after a much-lauded debut in 2015.

Aki, Kevin Murphy and Danny Diamond of Slow Moving Clouds: Playing in Cork.

Among that eclectic lineup is one of the most intriguing groups to have emergedin the last few years — Slow Moving Clouds, the trio of Dublin fiddler Danny Diamond, Cork cellist Kevin Murphy and Finnish nyckelharpa player Aki.

The group’s method, as evinced by their debut album Os, is to reach back into the traditional repertoire of Ireland and Finland to create a new, hybrid sound world, one in keeping with a mood of reinvention and invigoration that has taken in the trad world, winning new audiences and challenging preconceptions.

The trio have also scored an early success in their scoring of Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake (Loch na hEala), and when we meet in a Phibsboro pub, Diamond is just back from Australia, and gearing up to travel not only to Cork, but to Moscow with that show in October.

For the Safe Harbour festival, the group have a gig in St Luke’s with Saint Sister, and will be appearing at a number of secret events and at the Space for the Liberty Muse, a dance project with Jessica Dessner.

They both recall the buzz the festival created first time out. “We’re very much looking forward to it,” says Murphy, who has previously impressed in such groups as Interference and Seti The First.

“We’ve assembled our musical arsenal away because we areworking on stuff for our second record so that’s all there.”

Where the group’s first album was mostly a collection of Irish and Finnish tunes, the second, says Diamond, will be more original compositions. 

“I suppose we have the familiarity of playing together for a number of years now. We were wrestling with this idea of playing Irish and Finnish music together for ages but we found you have to make a different sound altogether and situate the traditions in that. The new album is an expansion of that world, but without the same underpinning from the repertoire.”

The same spirit of experimentation with tradition applies, however. “I’m not from as strong a trad background as Danny,” says Murphy. “I’ve played in trad bands all my life, but I’ve played in other kinds of bands too. But at the same time I always felt that if you slowed those tunes down and got in around the notes, there’s lots there that is untapped.”

Diamond did find what he called “license” for the Slow Moving
Clouds project in his work as a musical archivist. “I was going back looking for hardcore trad stuff to
inform my playing, but I found all these mavericks and old masters. You can go back to wax cylinders and you’ll hear this expansive music, but I think it’s got narrower and narrower over time. But to me it gave license to what we do, to explore and go in your own direction, not in this prescribed way.”

There is an eclecticism inherent in this group’s DNA, with the three members coming from such different backgrounds. Perhaps that is what audiences have been appreciating. 

Musical lodestars for Murphy, for instance, include Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and Cale-era Velvet Underground. “Look at ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’,” he says, “it’s a folk song.”

Slow Moving Clouds play Live at St Luke’s on Sunday. See soundsfromasafeharbour.com

They play the Sugar Club in Dublin on November 7


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