Two Irish fiddlers and two supporting guitarists turned the Scandinavian pine of Kings Place into a pub for the night. Frankie Gavin, of the folk supergroup De Dannan, went first. He played his reels intently, still but for the sawing bow arm and flying fingers, opening his eyes only to cue his guitarist Mike Galvin in to a change of tune.
Between tunes, he retailed old jokes and anecdotes. An old wife, in a tight Cork accent, complains of her husband’s “premature emancipation”. Is it serious, asks her friend. “Ah, it is serious. The doctor says it’s touch and go …”
Gavin widened his repertoire out: jigs with a hint of Baroque; a concerto by the Irish hero Turlough O’Carolan; comic glissandi as an air heated up into a reel. “My Lagan Love” he played slow, raw, with the construction lines showing; notes sliding over and past each other, with just the occasional sprinkle of pretty notes from Galvin to disrupt the ghostly shiver of bow. But then the breakneck canter of “The Foxhunter’s Reel” brought his set to a close as breathless as a bluegrass breakdown.
In their matching uniforms of black waistcoats and trousers and white shirts, Gavin and Galvin looked like snooker players resting between frames. Martin Hayes, by contrast, had tumbling locks of curls and Dennis Cahill a black beret; the incongruous appearance of Steven Isserlis accompanied by Richard Thomson.
Hayes, sweeter toned and five years younger than Gavin, set up a slow air, with Cahill plucking slow notes as punctuation, the two leaning back and forth into the beat like the crew of a rowboat. As the first sequence heated up into jigs and reels with the flavour of a Renaissance estampie, Hayes drummed his heels, the right at twice the speed of the left, Quebecois percussion taken up by the audience. Cahill watched intently, waiting for the tempo to leap up with each change of tune; Hayes, tossing his hair in front of his glasses, was in a world of his own.
A couple of jigs allowed them to catch their breath, then there was another long sequence. “Dear Irish Boy”, a melancholy air with Cahill plucking chiming fourths, was succeeded by “O’Neill’s March”, its ancestry stretching back through Horslips and the Chieftans; then faster and faster reels with wilder improvisation. Periodically, Hayes would drop back into the kernel of the tune, before springing off and upwards again.
For an encore all four musicians shared the stage. Hayes and Gavin sat close together, taking turns to lead a cadenza while the other kept the rhythm going. Gavin, as ever, made it look easy; Hayes made it look impossible. ★★★★☆
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