I thought of the title of the Bothy Band album, Out of the Wind, Into the Sun as Máirtín O’Connor, Cathal Hayden and Seamie O’Dowd struck up the first notes at their Rath Celtair Folk Club gig at Down Arts Centre in Downpatrick last night.

My journey to the venue was hampered by rain, darkness, sleet and high winds but once Máirtín and his band started off with a set of reels, the sunshine in their music instantly made the journey worthwhile.

The trio are consummate musicians. Flann O’Brien wrote in The Third Policeman that, because of a molecular transference – mentioned elsewhere on this blog – a man could turn into a bicycle after a prolonged period in the saddle.

He could have come to the same conclusion watching Máirtín, Cathal and Seamie. The difference between a good and a great musician is that the instrument and the great player seem to become one entity in a performance and such is the skill and understanding of players such as these that you sometimes if it is the instrument playing the man rather than the other way around.

(l-r) Cathal Hayden, Máirtín O'Connor and Seamie O'Dowd
(l-r) Cathal Hayden, Máirtín O'Connor and Seamie O'Dowd

Old tunes and newly-composed ones, the deeply traditional to jazz-inflections and classical adaptations bore testimony to the vastness of each player’s musical comfort zone and the full-house at the newly-refurbished Down Arts Centre were treated to some sublime musicianship.

Among the highlights was Rock the Boat, a tune dedicated to film-making maverick Bob Quinn. I closed my eyes for this piece and I swear I head seagulls and smelt seaweed so evocative of a calm day at sea was the music but you just knew the tempo would rise as the wind got into the sails and so it did.

Seamie O’Dowd is of course a brilliant guitarist, but he has a great voice too, and his version of As I Roved Out would give Andy Irvine’s a run for its money.

Cathal Hayden is equally adept on the fiddle and the banjo as he proved on a set of reels on the banjo but, well, everybody knows what a great fiddler he is too, playing everything from the rousing to the plaintive with equal aplomb.

Most of Máirtín O’Connor’s titles have to do with travel, Perpetual Motion, Getting Places, The  Connachtman’s Rambles, and he of course played The Road West and other standards such as Catwalk, Crossroads and others from his solo albums and his various collaborations with a great mix of head, hand and heart.

For an encore, the trio played the tune I was hoping to hear all night, the magnificent Arrival of the Queen of Sheba by that well-known trad-head, Johann Sebastian Bach, earning the band a final roar of approval.

Then it was time to head back into the wind and the rain outside – but the sunshine still glowed in the memory.

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