Trad Supergroup The Gloaming Hit Belfast

Listen to a track entitled 'Óró, Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile' and find out why the moniker is justified

'Supergroup'. It's a label that can turn out to be the kiss of death for some bands, a guarantee that crash and burn will shortly follow. Think Cream, think Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Big egos, big expectations. It's a difficult burden to carry.

That's possibly why the five members of The Gloaming, who play the final night of Belfast's Féile An Droichead festival at the Mandela Hall on Sunday, August 28, are slightly baffled at the supergroup moniker they seem to have attracted.

'Never really thought about it that way,' says larla Ó Lionáird, the band's vocalist. 'The others are all super guys though!' he jokes. And The Gloaming is, he emphasises, together for reasons other than ego-rubbing and mutual self-congratulation.

'I guess we all share a certain aesthetic', he comments, 'with healthy differences too, but more similarities when it comes to our understanding of the old music, and our interests in contemporary music and other genres.'

 

There's no denying, though, that The Gloaming boasts a formidable line-up of traditional music talent. Three of the five members are native Irishmen: sean-nós exponent extraordinaire, Ó Lionáird, fiddler-meister Martin Hayes, and hardanger fiddle virtuoso Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh.

Add crack guitarist Denis Cahill from Chicago, and Vermont's hugely versatile pianist Thomas Bartlett (whose credits include Antony & the Johnsons, Nico Muhly, David Byrne, The Frames and Yoko Ono), and you can see where the 'supergroup' label comes from.

The Gloaming emerged from a series of exploratory sessions at Grouse Lodge Studios in Westmeath in early 2011. Ó Lionáird remembers them fondly. 'We had a great time in Grouse Lodge,' he says. 'We were very focused too, I feel.'

Ó Lionáird, with Hayes, was a key instigator of the project, and from the outset he was keen to push the envelope musically. 'I was of the opinion that to write and create something new was a goal for me. And I found that we were able to explore together without boundaries or intellectual analysis. This may be due to our high level of trust in the process of making music, or our knowledge of each other, and/or luck!'

In a band packed with strong musical personalities, I wonder, did the kind of open-minded collaboration and free improvisation that Ó Lionáird wanted come easily? 'Very much so,' he answers. 'There is care taken, but letting things happen is key, and capitalizing on special occurrences as they come into view.'

An outtake from those Grouse Lodge sessions (listen above), a swirling, vertigious take on the traditional 'Óró, Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile', with a chugging backbeat snitched from New York minimalism, shows that 'special occurrences' were indeed happening very quickly.

From there it was a short step to planning live appearances, distilling the Grouse Lodge experience for a broader audience interested in new ways of taking traditional music forward. Had the relatively brief time period available to put the shows together meant rehearsals were necessarily a little pressured?

'Certainly it was focused and determined,' recalls Ó Lionáird, 'but not heavy. Our work in Grouse Lodge paid great dividends, and we found designing the flow and curve of a live show very interesting, and by its nature a work in progress.'

The work in progress that is The Gloaming was unveiled for the first time at Dublin's National Concert Hall last Saturday, drawing a strongly positive reaction. 'Taking a brace of traditional tunes as their starting point,' reported Irish Times critic Siobhán Long, 'Martin Hayes and his newly convened compadres took an audacious leap of faith into the unknown.'

Alongside explorations and re-imaginings of traditional tunes, there was also original material. Ó Lionáird himself carefully avoids strait-jacketing The Gloaming's music with too many specific labels. It is, he says, primarily 'music of the heart and the imagination, music that has tenderness and power in equal measure, music that takes people to other places in their hearts and minds'.

And what of the future? A album recording will almost certainly happen early in the New Year. Beyond that, will The Gloaming continue? 'Hopefully,' is all that Ó Lionáird is saying at the minute. In the meantime, for adventurous trad fans and the musically curious, the opportunity to go roaming in The Gloaming at the Mandela Hall this Sunday evening is there to be taken.

Book tickets to see The Gloaming perform in Belfast, or call the Belfast Welcome Centre on 028 9024 6609.

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