wed 24/07/2024

The Gloaming, Union Chapel | reviews, news & interviews

The Gloaming, Union Chapel

The Gloaming, Union Chapel

UK premiere by Irish music's latest supergroup surpasses all expectations

Unfolding as one long, sustained arc of breath: The Gloaming

While the melodic and rhythmic subtleties of traditional Irish music are best experienced through listening to the solo performer, it's very much through groups that the music has reached a global audience. While some so-called "supergroups" have promised much and delivered very little – being nothing more than a session on stage with no thought for arrangements, pacing or mood – in this much anticipated UK premiere The Gloaming spectacularly fulfilled, and surpassed, all expectations.

This surely has something to do with the fact that four-fifths of the group - fiddler Martin Hayes, guitarist Dennis Cahill, hardanger player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and singer Iarla Ó Lionaird - are old friends who have worked with each other on various projects over the years. The wild card in The Gloaming is NYC-based pianist Thomas Bartlett (a.k.a. Doveman), and it was his subtle reharmonisations, crisply articulated rhythmic motifs and extensive textural palette that really helped to create such a unique group sound.

Hearing Ó Lionaird's wonderfully rich timbre filling every last corner of the Union Chapel was one of the musical highlights of the year

Hailing from Cúil Aodha in the West Cork Gaeltacht, any group that has Iarla Ó Lionaird as their singer already has a distinctly unfair advantage. One of the glories of contemporary music, in songs such as “Muince An Dreoilín”, the pithily titled “Song 44” and “Samhradh, Samhradh” (known to many from the 1975 album The Chieftains 5), hearing Ó Lionaird's wonderfully rich timbre filling every last corner of the Union Chapel was one of the musical highlights of the year. Also providing subliminal drones on harmonium, the esrtwhile Afro Celt Sound System member occasionally hit notes that sounded like they'd been mined from the earth.

Performing a continuous, almost two-hour long set, in a similar way to Arvo Pärt's Te Deum the concert seemed to unfold as one long, sustained arc of breath. Hearing Hayes unpick and reconstruct “Chasing the Squirrel” in as many ways imaginable, you were struck with the thought that when a tune is played with such strength and beauty, the power of the melody alone is really all you need.

Similarly, in a tune set that kicked off with the gorgeous slip jig, Catherine Kelly's (recorded by Hayes on Under The Moon), and concluded with the coruscating reel, Tom Doherty's (the latter a regular fixture in the Hayes/Cahill touring repertoire), the hypnotic ebb and flow of the music completely swept you up in its embrace. As Hayes remarked at one point: “If the tune's good you want to keep playing it over and over”.

The banter from the stage was every bit as good as the music. As Ó Raghallaigh made some fine adjustments to the hardanger's tuning, Hayes quipped that “there are five strings that he plays. There are five strings that he doesn't play, but he's still tuning them anyway. It's the stuff that you don't hear that matters.” The one slightly jarring note came when Ó Raghallaigh bemoaned the time he spent living in London. His claim to have been friendless while living here, when on any night of the week there's a traditional session happening in some part of town to which he would have been welcomed, seemed just a little bit disingenuous.

But no matter. The music-making was sublime and the standing ovation entirely deserved. With their eponymous debut album scheduled for release in the autumn on Real World Records, The Gloaming look set to make a deep impression on Irish music worldwide.

Watch a clip of The Gloaming at the Pavilion Theatre

The hypnotic ebb and flow of the music completely swept you up in its embrace


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters