My good friend Paul Dengate had recently travelled to Ireland (he knows how to make a chap jealous) and told me that he had been to see a new band that Donal Lunny had put together for a TV series. Cutting to the chase this series is the nearest the ‘folk’ world will get to the X-factor and quite honestly thank God for that! Of course, with someone like Mr Lunny at the helm this is done without the crassness of patronising comments from a panel of “so-called” judges. From the opening episode that features our man trawling the pub session hotspots to the universities and colleges of Eire the viewer is immediately engaged in the beauty of all things ‘Irish’. From the pulsing energy experienced walking the streets strewn with amazing musicians to the serenity of life on the campus the editing leaves you feeling that you are involved in the selection process not only for the group but also to something akin to a travelogue. Also, as if it wasn’t enough in putting together a band, the ever-inventive Lunny aspires to create a new percussion instrument (a sort of acoustic drum kit) to be featured in the band line-up. Over the series of eight half-hour shows not once does Donal’s thought process waver in filtering the artists to be utilised in the project. Technical skill is of course top of the agenda and whilst the combination of Uillean pipes, flute, violin, guitar, concertina, keyboards, percussion and vocals might at first appear an unwieldy proposition the overall texture is as impressive as it sounds. With the benefit of wisdom imbued by none other than Paul Brady, Michael McGoldrick and Noel Eccles the youngsters (all in their twenties) are inspired to new heights of performance and the sense of pride they convey to each other motivates not only themselves but also the viewer who feels as if he has invested something of himself/herself in the selection process. Of course, we’re all going to have our favourites particularly with regard to the choice of vocalist. Heathen that I am, I know nothing of Sean Nos (Gaelic) singing but to my Philistine ears it was always going to be the more contemporary approach taken by the English singing Ciara Cunningham that would win through…and indeed she did. The final episode features the debut public performance by the band Ciorras and trust me, if you get to see the series you’ll be rooting for them too. Possibly the surprise of the night is the “Duelling Banjos” style presentation of Robert Harvey’s vocal lilt sparring with Dermot Sheedy’s bodhran which brought to mind The Bothy Band’s interpretation of “Fionnghuala”…clever and entertaining. I could write a dissertation on this project and, who knows perhaps I will someday as I found the whole process illuminating, stimulating and cathartic in equal measures and if anyone at BBC4 TV is reading this, do us all a favour and feature it as soon as possible because it really is required viewing or better still TG4 make it available on DVD…I’m sure every ‘folk’ music enthusiast in the country would want a copy…it really is that good!
Artist website: http://www.tg4.ie/