Sydney Morning Herald

heading-smhFit as a fiddle John Shand Published: Irish Music Altan and Lunasa The Factory Theatre, March 2

This double shot of Irish music provides living, breathing proof of the idiom’s breadth and malleability. Lunasa showed how feisty and energetic it can be, before Altan dug deep into traditional music — particularly that from Donegal and the north of Ireland — with a sound defined by the singing of Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh. Singing in Gaelic, Ni Mahonaigh said that the use of her native language is dying out, a body-blow to Ireland’s rich culture. Just as Italian could have been invented specifically for opera, so the vowel sounds of Gaelic are woven deep into the fabric of Irish music. Ni Mhaonaigh’s voice has a slightly reedy quality, reminiscent of uilleann pipes. Alas, both band and voice were overamplified, obscuring the gorgeous lilt of her voice. This version of the band Ni Mhaonaigh co-founded 27 years ago has two fiddles (one her own), guitar, accordion and bouzouki, putting ample meat on the bones of up-tempo jigs and reels, although the band’s real forte remains her plangent voice. Lunasa, by contrast, incorporated scything syncopations into beefed-up rhythms, but, crucially, without obscuring the delicacy of the twisting melodies. Bassist Trevor Hutchinson and new guitarist Ed Boyd developed hurtling momentum behind the tight unison of Kevin Crawford’s flute and whistles, Sean Smyth’s fiddle and Cillean Vallely’s uilleann pipes. It seemed a turbocharger had been switched on as they transitioned from one tune to another. They could also tap all the melancholy of Pierre Bensusan’s The Last Pint (a confronting thought, if ever there was one) with three low whistles, finger-picked guitar and bowed bass. Irish bands are also often good for a laugh, and Crawford’s chat was nothing short of hilarious, while Altan’s Ciaran Tourish provided his own wry asides. For the encores the two bands combined, to lavishly resonant effect on the classic Gleanntain Ghlas’ Ghaoth Dobhair by Ni Mhaonaigh’s late father, Proinsias. This story was found at: