A great week with two great gigs at the Black Box and Down Arts Centre in Downpatrick, both part of the Moving On Music Festival.
Moving on Music is a bit of a hidden gem in the avalanche of festivals that Belfast boasts of. Small but beautifully formed, it gives off different light depending on how you look at it. The traditional music fan will see the warm glow of Buttons, Barrels and Bows – Michael Ó Raghallaigh’s concertina as it teases out Anach Cuain or Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s dTigeas-sa Damhsa played on Norway’s national instrument, the Hardanger fiddle or flautist Catherine McEvoy as it echoes tunes heard and composed and danced to in Ireland’s west.
The trio’s music seemed to have a choreography – unsurprising given that so much Irish music is dance music – with each individual performance wonderful of itself, like the dancers in Swan Lake, but greater for being part of a bigger artistic endeavour.
The setting in Down Arts Centre was perfect for the slow airs while the audience played its part with some vigorous foot-tapping for the livelier numbers.
Often, you’ll hear traditional groups praised for having the energy of a rock band but BB&B’s energy is of a different nature, less forced and more natural as if it could run a marathon without sweating.
Rhythm was never sacrificed for speed, there was no guitar to act as a jockey’s whip to gee the music up and a bodhrán woud be an insult.
Instead, we got the timbre of music as it was meant to be played, as it has been enjoyed for centuries and will be for centuries to come.
The previous night, I was at the Black Box for another great gig.
It is unusual for a support band to be praised as much as the main act but on Friday night, Jonny and Lucy from the northeast of England won the audience over with songs of the most beautiful simplicity, Jonny’s beautiful guitar playing and Lucy on the fiddle. Expect to see them back in Belfast again.
However, the main act proved why they are just that, the main act. The Unthanks, Rachel and Becky, have astonishing voices and a repertoire not heard much on this side of the Irish sea, but the full house at the Black Box loved every minute. While Jonny and Lucy’s music was sweetness and light, the Unthanks was bold, full of drama and darkness. Highlight – for me – was Anachie Gordon, a beautiful song that is well-known over here but there were so many great songs, some so powerful they would stop even Malcolm McDonald in his tracks. And they do a mean clog dance!
The two gigs I saw were only part of the Moving On Music festival. There was something for, if not everyone, then for every discerning music lover. Keep in touch with them at Moving On Music.
Caoimhín’s album ‘Where the One-eyed Man Is King’ can be bought or downloaded by clicking here.