So a Glaswegian and an Ulsterman met, started to make music together and Wavelength is the first recorded fruits of their partnership. Bene, the Scot, is just 20 and plays fiddle. He’s already confirmed as a finalist in Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year for 2019. Cormac, from Belfast, has reached the dizzying heights of 21 and plays guitar, tenor guitar, bass and banjo. And let me tell you that these guys can play!
The first thing you notice about the opening set, ‘Monica’s’, – two tunes by Mike Vass and one by Bene – is the lightness of touch. Guitar and fiddle flutter around each other to be joined by Conor Broderick’s piano as the music swells to its climax. ‘Sevens’ – a tune each by Bene and Cormac – begins in the same vein with the addition of Ciara Ni Chonghaile’s bodhran and now your being lulled. Then ‘Vale Of Shadows’ hits you with Cathal Murphy’s electric guitar and drums and all bets are off until a brief taste of electronics allows Bene’s fiddle to break through.
You have to pay attention now as ‘Could Do’ opens with Cormac’s guitar and a fiddle drone with Cathal’s electric guitar allowing the two leads to swap roles. As if to make fun of the title ‘Velocity’ starts out very slowly with Hamish Napier’s ‘Raft Race’ as the, presumably home-made, craft build up speed with banjo – either Cormac or Liam Doherty – imitating the bubbling water but by the time we get to Aidan O’Rourke’s ‘Falun Fine’ the tune is racing for the finishing line. As a complete contrast, ‘Teacht An Earraigh’ is a lovely pastoral guitar piece putting Cormac front and centre.
What else? ‘The Grafspee’ is the only all-traditional set and although the title is obvious I can find no reference to ‘The Caucus’ or ‘The Virginia’ which I thought to be warships but which don’t seem to have been present at the River Plate. ‘Molly Might Fly’ returns to the feel of the opening tracks while the final ‘Yellow Jacket’ finds an entirely new direction.
This is an excellent debut from two extraordinarily gifted young musicians and it comes enthusiastically recommended.
Irish traditional music with added chutzpah is probably the best description of Cúig’s second album, The Theory Of Chaos. Actually there are only two traditional tunes here: ‘Eamon Coyne’s’ and an untitled jig, which sounds like a distant relative of ‘Rocky Road To Dublin’, plus one tune by John McAskill and one by Jarlath Henderson – all done by the end of the second track. The remaining material is written by Cathal Murphy, Eoin Murphy and Rónán Stewart.
The band’s melody instruments are button accordion, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, Uilleann pipes and piano with Ruairi Stewart on guitar and two guest bass guitarists in Ronnie Flynn and Paul McCabe. At the core of each track are the patterns of traditional music but the arrangements by Cúig and the production by Dave Molloy have a great deal to do with the finished sound. Take ‘Before The Flood’, written by the Murphys: two fine tunes with an accompaniment which switches between pounding drums and the most delicate of light percussion. I have to say that the music doesn’t stay delicate or light for very long and it seems clear that Cúig’s real metier is on the live stage but that’s not to say that The Theory Of Chaos lacks subtlety. Just listen to the opening of Eoin’s ‘Tirolo Nights’ for confirmation of that.
There are three songs here, a first for the band. Two are written by Cathal and Rónán and one by Cathal alone and all three add a contrasting touch of lightness to the intensity of the music without being what you’d call showstoppers, although there’s something about ‘Carry On’ that draws you back to it.
Cúig are a young, exciting band with lots of ideas and considerable musical skill. Who can say where their journey will take them from here?
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