Hitting the right note at the right time
A review of the Trad Rising concert in Dublin’s Button Factory last week
There are some moments which are destined to stick in the mind for a while. A Thursday night in Dublin’s Button Factory and it’s a full tilt boogie for the Trad Rising show as part of the Musictown festival. You couldn’t get anyone else into the room and no-one inside is prepared to step out. Between acts, the babble which is a constant at every live show in the capital is loud and lusty. But when Landless step onstage and open their mouths, the hush on the room is louder than any amplifier hum, as everyone pays attention to the songs Lily Power, Meabh Meir, Ruth Clinton and Sinead Lynch are singing.
Such attention is the theme of the night in the front of the house and is something worth noting. Every single act performs to a room which is paying full and complete attention to what’s happening on the stage. Be it Twin Headed Wolf’s glorious, gobsmacking, gorgeous version of the traditional “I Lie Stretched On Your Grave” (“Táim sínte ar do thuama”) or the manner in which Skipper’s Alley set the cat reeling in the middle of the pigeons with their barrage of squeals and squalls, the crowd give it their full attention.
Then again, there was a strong sense all night long that this audience were here to bear witness to something. You have to call it “something” because it’s so hard to define what exactly it is without throwing some shade around. What Musictown did was simple enough in one way: they put a clatter of bands who are making shapes on the folk and trad scene together for a night as part of their festival. However, any such night – which pulls together a number of bands, puts a title on the endeavour and ties it all together with a bow of any sort – is open to all kinds of interpretations by chin-stroking bowsies like myself. There’s no such thing as randomosity with this class of a yoke.
By showcasing a bunch of acts who are doing a range of right things, Trad Rising hit the right notes at the right time, which is quite an accomplishment for a Thursday night in April. There are huge stirrings at every stop on the trad and folk spectrum in Dublin and Ireland right now. The bold type can be used to sum up the manner in which The Gloaming have effortlessly taken their place at the international table or how Trad Rising headliners Lynched have played their cards with streetwise acumen and aplomb, but that’s really just the headlines. Dig deeper and you’ll find a lot more going on.
For instance, Ian Lynch from Lynched spoke enthusiastically a few weeks ago about the singing scene in the city with clubs like The Night Before Larry Got Stretched joining long-time established nights like the Góilín. “Behind those bands (playing Trad Rising), there’s all these different sessions of unaccompanied singing, proper serious traditional stuff. Playing in a band is great fun, but the real thing is going on behind it. A lot of the newcomers are really digging deep; it’s not young ones singing Dubliners’ songs. You hear people singing these long narrative ballads and they’re into the serious stuff. I think it’s grabbing attention and taking off because a lot of people are looking for something deeper than a lot of mainstream music culture has to offer.”
Many in the room the other night would know all about those clubs and singing shebeens, but it’s also worth noting that this world probably remains hidden to many others who headed along to the show. What an event like Trad Rising does is act as a signpost: here are some acts we think are worth seeing and if you want more, you can go digging. It’s certainly not capped at the musicians who played the show.
It’s also clearly not capped at a certain sound or swagger or swing. The biggest takeaway for me was the variety on show. What exactly links the slo-mo Nordic atmospherics of Slow Moving Clouds’ beautifully poised cinematics and the bawdy bravado and spirited colour of Lynched’s punk rock folk from the streets and gutters of the capital, bar their pitch within the broadest of folk and trad tents? Both the magnficent Landless and Twin Headed Wolf may share some similarities on paper, but acts perform on a stage and not paper where it’s a far different kettle of folky fish. Skipper’s Alley may sport plenty of heritage back to the Moving Hearts’ hey-day but it’s when they start doing stranger things with those pipes or that harp or the banjo that they really find their own mojo and momenetum, which is (of course) far more interesting to observe.
No doubt, there will be other nights like Trad Rising to come, other nights which will take a selfie of what’s going on and flick it into a snapshot of the “something” which is happening. Those clubs and sessions and gatherings in the nooks and crannies of places like The Cobblestone and Walshs, the places where this scene actually began, will continue to add paragraphs to the text. This is a story which is far from the final page.