|The Voice Squad in Great Hall photo Mark Graham|
'It's like being on Grafton Street ' said Phil Callery of The Voice Squad in the
medieval Great Hall in Bunratty Castle during their set as part of the annual Winter Music Weekend . It
might seem like a strange comparison but there was indeed an element of indoor busking as young and old, weekend day trippers, sight seeing tourists and music lovers promenaded through the lofty dimly lit, medieval hall at times invading the performers space during their set on a pale wintry afternoon The three man acapella group, seemed unperturbed and are happily reformed with all the original members after a break of some years, their distinctive pure blend of voices still sounding as rich and satisfying as the creamiest caramelised rice pudding. I spoke to Gerry Cullen following the gig about the resurgence of singing clubs. Aficionados present included Mr Year of Festivals, Mark Graham and photographer Christy McNamara They were followed by Two Time Polka, a six piece spicy, cajun stew of a line up, featuring mandolin and accordion /concertina. This was a rare opportunity to hear them without the thick varnish of amplification giving altogether a more delicate auditory experience. Some of the vocal introductions of both groups were lost in the large space but it was a price worth paying if only for Ray Barron's wistful rendition of Across the Universe on mandolin. Sometimes less is more.
|photo Mark Graham|
This was, I believe, the second year that the Folk Park and castle were used as part of the annual Shannonside Winter Music Weekend hosted by the Sixmilebridge Folk Club and it seems a perfect synergy with a confluence of performing spaces of varying degrees of size, accessibility and comfort. I found it easier to stay in one venue and didn't venture beyond the castle but musicians I spoke to reported that they enjoyed playing in The Barn. There was a resonance with my own past as it was my first visit back to the Hall where I performed myself in my first summer job. I was accompanied by my daughter, she now the age I was then when I sat in a long gúna waiting as the harpist began the tortuous process of tuning up. Those corkscrew staircases didn't seem so quite narrow back then.
|Two Time Polka photo Mark Graham|
Saturday night in the pub venues in Sixmilebridge is not for the faint hearted and even though I was looking forward to hearing both bands on the bill, I beat an early retreat from the Mill Bar as American band Special Consensus were tuning up. At ten o clock the venue was thronged making any movement very difficult. Although two bands were advertised for 9.30, the first scheduled band did not take to the stage 'til almost 11pm, (a raucous duo were belting out folk covers in the interim) by which time the consensus among my party was that the degree of discomfort was too great to stay any longer and we bailed out. One of the problems was that although The Mill is a large space, with the placement of the stage right at the back, a large proportion of the audience have a restricted view of the performers. Being Saturday night, the pub was full of people who naturally want to chat and it did not make for good listening . Although this was a write off in gig going experiences, I enjoyed one of the best bluegrass gigs of last year at the same venue last month. You can read about it here . Driving home Niall Toner with his finger on the musical pulse echoed the live experience on the airwaves playing Special Consensus just as they were starting their set in Clare and followed up with a track from The Voice Squad.
|Gypsy Rebel Rabble in Cellar Bunratty Castle photo M Graham|
La Savoy at Sixmilebridge WMW 2012
Sliabh Notes at WMW 2011