Other Voices Derry - Day Three: What the word special was made for
It's the last day of live shooting in the Glassworks venue in Derry and while the IMRO Other Room will be shooting bands like Spies, The Clameens, Conor Walsh and Mojo Gogo in the Guildhall the next day, it's the last day for public events and the main shooting schedule.
There's no time in the schedule for idling. The visiting performing bands must do a location interview somewhere in the city, and if time and artist allows, a performance away from the Glassworks. The Gloaming could be found in Bound For Boston being interviewed by Aidan Gillen while George Ezra was at a terraced house on Beechwood Street to perform while Poliça are interviewed by The Guardian after their set.
The band are a unique prospect that definitely can be filed in that "other" column. There are two drummers at the back and in front of them a bass player and producer Ryan Olsen and some minimal electronics. While the bass does much to add to the headnodding funk rush of the tunes. It's the voice of Channy Leaneagh that ties it together. Hers has a smooth and mellifluous tone that just automatically sounds musical. When the melodies are strong on top of the drums, bass and synth sonic foundation as they are on the hazy 'Tiff', the strident 'Chain My Name' and the unfolding 'Warrior Lord', all songs from the Minneapolis band's second album Shulamith, they are a stellar proposition.
His messy hair might make him look like a teenager who just woke up but when he opens his mouth, Bristol singer-songwriter George Ezra sounds like he's digested a hefty old soul and blues singer. His voice is deep, booming and has a classic feel to it, particularly when he lets it soar. There's a vintage feel to his set not least because of his old-style guitar but also because of his howling bite on 'Did You Hear It Rain', the less bloodied 'Cassy O' and the chirpy single 'Budapest', sure to be a festival singalong hit. Last year Ezra performed in the Other Room in Derry. This year, he returned on the cusp of success and showed us why he already has 49 sold out tour dates lined up.
For his first song, by way of introduction, William Doyle, East India Youth works an arpeggiated keyboard that sounds like an accordion put through a Twin Peaks filter. When the myst clears, there's a sweet and polite crooning voice in the mix. Synthesizers swirl, percussion races and 'Find You Out' reveals Doyle as old soul sounding like '50s pop music.
Other times he can be found on an 80s synth high, in a choral echo, in a dubby electronic spiral, in an ambient cave or wrapped up in a krautrock blanket of noise but the multi- instrumentalist (keys, bass, voice - often at once) is always dizzying and unpredictable. His songs from the debut album Total Strife Forever can go anywhere and they often do, pushing the edges of what's expected.
That exploratory feel is something that's representing in the music of The Gloaming. At the heart of the tradition-fuelled supergroup is a "let's see what happens" ethos but here you have five people who have built up many hours playing together. As revealed in the documentary produced by South Wind Blows, Moment To Moment, which serves as a fine intro to the band, fiddle player Martin Hayes first met American pianist Thomas Bartlett and fellow fiddle player Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh when they were young lads. Hayes has played with Chicago man Denis Cahill many times and singer Iarla Ó Lionáird and Hayes have known each other a long, long time. There's a sense that these five men have been gathering up experience to get to this point.
"Every time you think you've solved the problem it becomes unsolved." - Martin Hayes.
When you get five people with such musicianship between them, the capacity for beauty through sound is high and The Gloaming achieve it regularly by building and arriving, removing and dismantling, always with an ear on creating something new within the moment. It's there in 'The Girl Who Broke My Heart', an improv that is played until something reveals itself as worthy. The innate dynamic between the group means that doesn't take long.
Thomas Bartlett sits at his piano intently watching the others waiting to pounce, ready to respond. Adding when needed, providing backbone when required. His playing style is a complement to the more traditional Irish songs, some of them which are really quite old but these guys play them in a new and hugely exciting way.
In introducing the documentary he made about the band in the Nerve Centre on Sunday afternoon, Philip King talked about a moment when Planxty we're playing live years ago when everyone in the room picked up on what they were putting out and claimed it as something that was part of them, a part of Ireland. The audience last night felt that connection of country and culture.
The important part is the melody of the tune not the actual playing. The less you play the better. " says Hayes introducing 'The Sailor's Bonnet' which reaches a point of rapture that has the audience on its feet, feeling that bond.
The Gloaming's music is an example of music at a high level and that common thread. It's music as pure conversation and communication. Music isn't magic but it sure feels like it when these guys play it.