When the faces of one hundred plus people leaving a concert are, without exception, beaming from ear to ear, with many eagerly clutching their newly purchased and signed CDs, it stands a good chance that the evening has been a successful one. Such was the case last night as Ranagri made a triumphant return to St. Edith Hall.
Boasting two new members since their previous visit, with Ellie Turner on electric harp and vocals, and Joe Danks, bodhran, bouzouki and vocals, joining founder members Donal Rogers, guitar and lead vocals, and Eliza Marshall, flutes, whistles and vocals, the enthusiastic full-house were royally entertained by one of FATEA's favourites.
Nestled between the Wicklow Mountains and County Carlow lies a stunning area of lush farmland, a place of untouched natural beauty, of peace and contemplation. This idyll is called Rathnagrew (pronounced Ran-ag-rye!). Thus were named the often mis-pronounced Ranagri.
It would, however, be a mistake to view Ranagri as a folk band in the traditional sense. Classical, blues and traditional Irish backgrounds would be claimed by the group members, all of whom happen to have a passion for folk music. If a label has to be applied, then perhaps contemporary folk music would be appropriate. Even this, though, would do them a disservice. Whilst there may be a Celtic heartbeat to much of their music, at times there are Indian influences, African rhythms and wider Elmer-like sound patterns. Combine these with high quality contemporary song-writing, exemplary musicianship and the ability of the group to fully engage their audience and you have a winning combination. Folk-Fusion anyone?
As an opening to a set there surely can't be much better than the lively instrumental The Hare, with the group setting down a marker with which many other "bigger name" bands would have had difficulty competing. Whilst an explanation of the band's discography is, to say the least, convoluted, suffice to say that the group's debut CD, (except it isn't), Voices, from which this song is taken, (it also appears on the virtually impossible to get hold of SACD only release Fort of the Hare), was well represented tonight, with nine tracks being played.
Tonight the group paid homage to four traditional numbers, but delivered them with such originality and innovation as to move them towards new vistas.
Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song), was far removed from the somewhat sparse versions by Dave Van Ronk and Pete Seeger, or indeed the recent Inside Llewyn Davies soundtrack, with flute and harp intertwining to add texture to Donal's plaintive vocals. A rousing interpretation of High Germany again bore scant resemblance to versions by Martin Carthy, Shirley Collins or Pentangle and was an audience winner. Comparisons of Eliza's flute playing with Ian Anderson are inevitable, given they both employ similar techniques, and as a Tull fan of some 50 years it was particularly rewarding to hear such wondrous sounds filling the hall.
P Stands For Paddy, I Suppose, followed, with the bouzouki and guitar introduction developing into a rich, full arrangement. Finally, a six minute version of The House Carpenter gave ample evidence as to the undoubted skill that exists within the band in taking the old and imbibing with the new. Building from firstly the bass flute, with then bodhran, before guitar and voice join with harp, a crescendo built at about two minutes, with a corresponding increase in rhythm, before the tempo, and intensity diminished once again for the final three minutes. Three changes of instrument during the song for Eliza, and a version of the song which is so different to that of one of her heroes, Paul Simon, but one of which I am sure he would be proud.
Another great strength of the group is their own creative song-writing ability. Two published group compositions, the African inspired The Rhythm Takes You Back, together with the politically tinged Bogeyman, (recently, of necessity, resurrected courtesy of Mr Trump), were both delivered with passion, whilst a new, as yet unreleased, song, Waiting For The Rain slotted seamlessly into the repertoire and sounded like an old friend.
Of the remaining songs played, eight came from the talented pen of Donal alone, the diverse nature of which demand further listening. From an up-tempo Jon Boy, through the jaunty, Tremors to the closing song of the first set, The Wrong Direction, the band communicated, through their music, a range of emotions.
With Voices, the group showed that their talents extend to relatively quiet songs too, with the complementary four-part harmonies sounding crystal clear in this delicate, tender offering. This is a band, however, who exude good times and happiness, and are not averse to a good old sing or clap-along. With the infectious Never Look Back, the sentiments expressed in the title passed me by, as my mind wandered back to Birmingham Town Hall 1974 and the first time I saw Alain Stivell perform live... thank you Ellie.
The final number, You Can Do Better, was enthusiastically received by those present, before a well-deserved encore, the somewhat incongruously named Sad Songs, with its uplifting and joyous chorus, ended a tremendous evening.
What was apparent, and commented upon by several departing patrons, was the enthusiasm and verve shown by the band throughout. Seasoned gig-goers recognised the fact that the group members actually seemed to not only relish playing the music, but also enjoyed each others' stage presence and company, which in turn reflected positively onto the audience.
Plaudits too for Simon and the sound last night.
Recently, an esteemed editor wrote, 'if they're not playing near you, buy the album, if they are, buy the album and go see.' Plenty took that latter advice last night, and were glad they did.
Catch this band, you'll enjoy.
David Pratt words & pic
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