The Gloaming in the west
A review of The Gloaming’s weekend show in Galway
It’s about five minutes in when the moment occurs or, rather, the first of the moments. A look between the players onstage, a nod, a quiet smile: the human version of what happens when a rocket is warmed up and ready to engage. When those subtle connections occur between the five musicians onstage – when they take a moment to acknowledge that what they’re doing is part of a bigger entity than just the five of them sticking to their own scripts – you kind of know you’re in for some magic.
In the case of The Gloaming, you get the feeling amongst people who’ve watched this ship come and go in the last few years that such magic is often taken for granted, but that should not be the case at all. Everyone has off nights, even this trad supergroup. There have been a few shows over the years which did not meet the high mark they’ve set from the get-go and they’d probably acknowledge that themselves. You can’t get it right every time.
Tonight, though, in a big top pitched by the river in the middle of Galway, the show comes together with a sort of carefree ease which you can’t set up or manipulate because it has to be in the stitching and fabric to begin with. At this stage of the curve, with all the shows the five have played together and those two albums under their collective oxter to map where those lines and routes are going, there’s a hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder understanding about what’s going on. When those looks are thrown left and right on the stage, it’s time to strap yourself in.
What’s interesting too about all of this is the setting. Most of the band’s boldest moves have been taken on that hall on Earlsfort Terrace, but unless they set up there for a month, they’re unlikely to be able to get all those who want to see them into the hall. It means making a jump and taking a chance on open-air shows than the band onstage) or bigger halls or circus big tops like this one.
The Gloaming’s music may not at first brush be made for such landscapes, but that is soon set on its head this evening. None of the subtlety in the notes or the shadows and shade in the space inbetween is lost in the upscaling. The quieter moments mean you lean in to catch every nuance and rub, while the louder ones mean there’s far more room for the exuberence to fill. If there’s anyone talking about car tax this evening, they’re keeping their voices down.
The magic is helped by how the musicians bop and bend to what’s going on. They may not be a touring entity in the traditional sense of the word, but they’ve done enough shows together now to realise where the various rises and falls come in and go out and who needs to be in the lead. What’s fascinating to observe is the powerful give and take between the fiddlers which has emerged with time and practice. It often felt as a listener that nights were dictated by either the soft, dulcet blur of Martin Hayes or the scratchy, eerie, off-kilter spirit of Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, but tonight, there’s so much instrinsic, warm and natural back and forth between the pair that it’s hard to seperate the player from the sound. With Thomas Bartlett applying the rightest of touches from the piano stool to steady the direction or push the ship into more colourful waters, Dennis Cahill’s guitarlines keeping things tidy around the edges and Iarla Ó Lionaird intoning those songs with great moods and movements, it’s a sound which now sounds free, unforced and deeply moving in every sense.
There are many songs which replay in your mind on the rocky road back east tonight. The manner in which “Samradh Samradh” takes some of the snap of the twilight heat into its unwinding. The beautiful old soul set loose in “Fáinleog”. The way in which “The Sailor’s Bonnet” unfolds into a mighty wave which turns, rises and falls, turns rises and falls, turns, rises and falls into a perfectly controlled crash and wallop.
Most of all, you take away what this band have become. They’re certainly not at a crossroads because they’ve passed those stop and yield signs some time ago. They’re booting down the highway now and there’s a mission underway here which can’t be articulated in neat sentences or smart phrases. It’s a case of five musicians just going for it and realising that this is really all it’s about. Going for it, going for it again and again, going for it because it’s the most natural thing to do and it’s far too late to stop now. Going for it: the purest feeing in the world.
The Gloaming on OTR: interview with the band from February 2016, review of the band’s Dublin show from March 2015, interview with Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh from September 2014 with links to his two albums released in 2014; Banter podcast interview with Iarla O Lionaird from September 2014; interview with the band from August 2014; Banter podcast interviews with Martin Hayes and Ó Raghallaigh from Other Voices Derry 2014 and Other Voices London 2013 respectively, review of the band’s Dublin show from January 2014 and interview with Hayes from August 2013