Folk band showcases traditional Irish music and style with a modern twist

The Gloaming, a band that blends together traditional Irish fiddling with more contemporary elements such as jazz and dance-oriented music, will perform at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on Friday.
(Courtesy of Rich Gilligan)

The Gloaming, amid folksy fiddle notes reminiscent of Irish childhood, inserts its own modern take on an age-old art form.

The band, consisting of fiddlers Martin Hayes and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, guitarist Dennis Cahill and sean-nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, blends together traditional Irish fiddling with more contemporary elements such as jazz and dance-oriented music. The Gloaming will perform songs that delve into the depths of love, history and emigration, as well as lighthearted drinking tunes at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on Friday.

The Daily Bruin’s Kaia Sherry spoke with Hayes about the band’s formation, the history of Irish fiddling and modernity.

DB: Can you tell me about the formation of The Gloaming and the history of how it began?

MH: (Cahill) and I had worked as a (duo) for many years and I know that sometime after, (Ó Lionáird) had expressed an interest in maybe perhaps performing and touring with (Cahill) and I. So he asked to see if he could do that. I didn’t necessarily think that trio would be a good combination, so then I thought about it for some time and interacted with Thomas Bartlett, who I’d known for many years as well. I thought he, (Cahill) and I would be a good combination with (Ó Lionáird). I kept that in my head for a month or two, and then I started thinking that I needed maybe one more person, an instrumentalist who didn’t just play a harmonic instrument. I had been working with (Ó Raghallaigh) for some time before that and I thought he would be the guy. That’s how the band came together. It kind of gradually fell into line.

DB: In terms of your own professional musicianship, can you tell me more about your musical background and how you began playing the fiddle?

MH: I grew up in a family home where traditional Irish music was prominent. My father and uncle were two fairly prominent musicians nationally at that point in the ’50s and ’60s. They had been making records going back to the late ’40s almost. I grew up in that environment. Also, the locality in which I grew up was a region which was well-known as an area of music and culture, so I knew many of the older musicians as a child and I heard a lot of that music close-up. It became something that I was immersed in and began to love and to be knowledgeable of. It felt very natural for me to take up music as a trade, especially the fiddle.

DB: Can you tell me more about the history of fiddling within Ireland?

MH: The fiddle might be one of the more popular instruments of traditional music and there’s a huge variety of stylistic approaches up and down the country in various regions and even within each region. It’s an instrument that doesn’t get taught in the normal, formal way that you have in music academies and conservatories of music where they have classical music. Instead, with Irish music, there’s a lot of the musician coming to know the instrument in their own unique way and coming to find solutions for playing tunes unique to them. So you end up with a lot of very distinctive style and a lot of variety.

DB: How would you describe The Gloaming’s music within this historical context? What elements would you say come through the most?

MH: The Gloaming touches on a few things. I think it goes into a part of the music that is quite elemental and very old and traditional. I think there’s a fascination among the musicians of the band to explore that. There’s also, I think, a shared idea in the band and that we are open to all kinds of modern music for new ideas. … It could be anything from Arvo Pärt to Sigur Rós, all these things are floating around. It’s not like we try to put these things into our music, but we are also quite careful not to exclude them if they come naturally into our music. We play a traditional music form that speaks to the now, that speaks to this moment and then also has a cultural resonance. The feeling is that we love the depth of the tradition, but we’re not interested in it as an artifact. It has to be a form of expression in this current moment.

DB: In what way would you say The Gloaming has taken modernity and applied it to music?

MH: For example, Bartlett is a record producer and a collaborator who has collaborated significantly in the modern folk and indie worlds of music. (Cahill) is a guitarist who has had a unique approach to this music for many years and (Ó Raghallaigh) is a bit of a free-improviser and avant-garde musician in his own way. (Ó Lionáird) has had a background working with composers, so he has a cutting-edge background in music, also working in a dance-oriented, African-infused type of music. It took all of those things combined to make a sound that is a bit more modern and connected to the sounds of the world around us right now.

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