29 January 2014 (gig)
27 February 2014
The very gifted Nuala Kennedy is a consummate performer with a bubbly personality. Her music, described as unique and evocative, springs from the traditional music of Ireland and Scotland, and from the fathomless realms of her own imagination.
Originally from Ireland, Nuala made Scotland (bonnie Edinburgh to be precise) her hometown of choice – a place where her passion for traditional music (singing and flute playing to be precise) was further strengthened and where she honed her instrumental skills. The result was a comprehensive repertoire of Scottish as well as Irish tunes – albeit often with a modern twist.
Amongst others she has performed and recorded with American hipster and indie-poet Will Oldham (an album which received 5 stars from MOJO magazine), and cutting-edge Canadian composer Oliver Schroer, with whom she recorded ‘Enthralled’, a duo album of original compositions, nominated for a Canadian Folk Award in 2012.
Her third album 'Noble Stranger' (released on Nashville’s Compass Records label) was recorded live in the Scottish borders with her touring band, and has been receiving plaudits around the world for its fresh, dynamic sound.
To see and hear what all the fuss is about I went along to the splendid Oran Mor venue where Nuala and her band headed an evening of traditional music. The Oran Mór (meaning ‘great melody of life’) is Glasgow’s prime venue for all things Gaelic entertainment, and even offers its own Whisky Bar. Though that shall be reserved for another time!
As it so goes with British Rail, the quick train from Edinburgh to Glasgow was cancelled, meaning that unfortunately I arrived at the venue when the band had already gone on stage. None the less and despite the alternative magic roundabout route, luck was still with me as the gig turned out to be quite a session, and an excellent one too!
Nuala, dressed in a black dress that oozed casual chic, was flanked by her talented fellow musicians: Shona Mooney on fiddle, Mike Bryan on guitar, and Donald Hay on fiddle.
Song after song, the band proved that here was a quartet at work that has as much fun as it has enthusiasm and skill. These guys are a team if ever there was one, you could tell straight away from the interplay and the banter they shared between each other and also with the audience.
The extensive repertoire mainly consisted of numbers from Nuala’s current album ‘Noble Stranger’, and included ‘Gabriel Sings’ - refreshingly modern, followed by the marvellous arrangement that is ‘Lonely City’. The exquisite ‘Love At The Swimming Pool’ proved to be a number that particularly showcases Nuala’s gift as a highly accomplished flautist.
She also has a damn fine voice to match her instrumental skills, singing both in modern English as well as in traditional Gaelic. ‘Lord Duneagle’ and the epic ‘Asturias’ turned into a full-on jam session, and if the venue wouldn’t have been so filled with bums on seats I’m sure folks would have gotten up and swing their legs to some jigs n reels dancing. And this despite one part of the melody originally being a children’s song first mentioned in a Scottish witch trial record around 1590!
Nuala also dedicated the traditional ballad ‘Fair Annie Of The Loch Royanne’ (also known as ‘Lord Gregory’) to the late great Pete Seeger – a gesture particularly well received judging from the punter’s cheers.
After several morbidly hued numbers were performed, Nuala quipped with a bemused twinkle, “So far, the body count this evening has been quite high… let’s continue…” and promptly got awarded with outbursts of laughter from the audience.
During the course of the evening each band member threw in impressive solos and whaddya know; Shona, Mike and Donald all turned out to be virtuosos on fiddle, guitar and drum kit respectively! The leading lady held another surprise in store… well, those acquainted with her music weren’t really surprised but newcomers certainly were. The lass performs some tunes with the help of a mini-Casio, not the kind of instrument you’d associate with a traditional Ceilidh. “Remember those from your school days?” she joked… “We all had one of those”, before demonstrating (while performing ‘My Bonny Labouring Boy’) that casios and traditional instruments perfectly go hand in hand.
Running over time, but unfazed by it, the band thanked their fans for coming along, before bursting into another great session which turned out to be ‘Voodoo’.
(The Nuala Kennedy Band is currently touring the US and having a blast, so check them out when they return to native shores towards end of March.)