Doolin Folk Festival

Venue: Various
Town: Doolin
Date: 13-15/6/14

The right turn out of Kilcolgan had the ring of synergy to it, as myself and the elder child began the kilometre countdown to this years Doolin Folk Festival, which lineup wise, promised much, both in strength and variety.

The subtle, energetic strains of The Friel Sisters music greeted us as we walked on site; this Glasgow based sibling trio bewitched all who heard and met them over the course of the weekend. If anyone thought that the home based tradition was in abeyance then Clann Droney, led by the 90 year old patriarch Chris, gave the lie to that with a triple concertina frontline, augmented by fiddle and piano, reels and jigs played with brio and harmonic invention. For me, the standout of the set, though, was daughter Anne Kirrane's reading of If You Love Me, with gorgeous, sparse, piano from Gary O'Briain. Sharp intakes of breath at its conclusion were the order of the day.

Since they began singing together some years ago, I have been a huge Lumiere fan, their natural harmonies and unerring choice of material, of both traditional and contemporary provenance, making a critical and commercial connection. Among the standouts in a compelling set were Cold Stone Walls from the late, much missed Tony Small, and The West's Awake, Donogh Hennessy's gorgeous guitar work perfectly underpinning those crystalline harmonies.

"Folley that" might well have been the audience supplication, but no better duo to do so than Paddy Glackin and Liam O'Flynn. There's a practised ease to what they do, years of playing, and intuition for what's right hallmarking their set, which mixed jigs from The Goodman Collection, with, amongst others, solo standouts-An Raibh TĂș Ar an gCarraig from Paddy-beautifully ornamented-and Buachaill Caol Dubh from Liam, the regulators providing the harmony. Rarely has an hour passed so quickly, and been so full of music.

If there is a better duo than Seamus Begley and Jim Murray to draw the curtain on the first night formalities, then I need to see and hear them-now!. High octane reels slides and polkas were the order of the day for an hour or so, laced with great humour, and, later, driving up to my lodgings, I wondered at the twitch in my right leg. It had to be from that last set of polkas?

As Saturday dawned, two questions came to mind. Firstly, how far to the nearest ATM?Eight miles, as it turned out. Secondly, what is this thing called folk music, donning as it does so many clothes, each outfit looking for its share of authenticity. The afternoon programme began with Tommy and Louise McCarthy, with Noel O'Grady on bouzouki; they performed a beautifully paced set of original and traditional tunes, many of them closely connected to the area. Virtually every occasion of this kind unearths a talent of special note. Doolin 2014 was no exception. Twin Headed Wolf-sibling sisters-are the most unusual duo I have seen in quite some time. Vocalising through teapot spouts- I kid you not, playing bandsaws with bows, and mini harmoniums, they are unusual enough to make a large splash, and from chatting to them, canny enough to do it.

I have always loved-almost above all else in music-harmony-and when it is of the standard purveyed by The Whileaways-and the songs are as good as they are, it is irresistible. Lonesome Sparrow, its uptempo rhythm giving each of the three principals a chance to shine is breathtaking, with Down In The Valley-a reworking of an Irish trad. song, not far behind.

Moxie-their first album to shortly be delivered-have been creating tsunami style waves, and no wonder. Theirs is a true sonic attack, with twin boxes, banjos, guitar and percussion, and mostly original tunes creating a heady concoction, with no loss of subtlety. The next big thing, maybe?Would not bet against it.

Three virtuosos in one band-Mairtin, Seamie and Cathal combined to rip the arse out of the evening, much of the material coming from the last album. Lead lines, and harmonies are picked up and swapped at will, and if there were penalty points for fast playing these guys would have been off the road years ago!This is musical brainfood for oxygen deprivation. Pick one tune, though, and I'd plump for the Home Ruler, Cathal Hayden's version of the hornpipe which owed more to the blues than any other branch of music.

It was that time again, and Solas took the stage to rapturous applause. Since their formation in the mid 90's, they have created benchmarks for excellence, respect for tradition balanced with innovation. Seamus Egan's flute and banjo playing, Win's soaring/swooping fiddle create the sonic bedrock, but the biggest cheer of the evening was reserved for when they were joined by Luka Bloom for two numbers. City of Chicago and You Couldn't Have Come at A Better Time were stunningly delivered, two of the true highlights of the weekend.

The Unwanted

Sunday delivered as many surprises as the previous two days. Three standout performances in the earlier part of the day defined things for me. The first of these was the performance of Lisa O'Neill, a former student of my own. The material, mostly taken from her latest album, Same Cloth Or Not, is devastating. Tales of interpersonal relationship, no trains to places are delivered in her stand alone voice. Nobody sings /writes like this. To pull a quote from her song Red Geansai "I have built my very own world". She has, too, the architecture of her compositions beautifully supported by Aisling O'Sullivan on viola, and Mossy Nolan on guitar and bouzouki.

Two into one won't go?Wrong. The combined forces of The Unwanted-Seamie O'Dowd, Cathy Jordan, and Rick Epping -joined up with Leonard Barry, festival organiser Conor Byrne, and fiddler Andy Morrow to play two devastating sets, delivering in the process-as New Road-the song of the weekend in No Expectations. This was awesome stuff, and when mazurkas, hop jigs and reels are thrown in, there's an alchemy created that defies description.

The festival closer, one Damien Dempsey, delivered one of the most blistering sets I've heard in many a day. Since first hearing him at the turn of the Milennium, both ihis writing and singing style has changed. He's- like Luke Kelly before him-the champion of the voiceless songs such as Twist The Knife and Almighty Love showcasing two sides of his appeal. The band too, were drum tight, each note and riff made to matter. Schholdays over, Eamon De Barra's flute to the fore, was powerful, the entire performance brimming with conviction. God, this guy is so good. Will I be back next year. No question. A most memorable weekend.

Oliver P. Sweeney

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