I have been with them from the beginning. In the summer of 2011 I was at a gathering at a friend's house on the outskirts of Dublin. I felt out of place and was not enjoying myself. Suddenly it dawned on me that I could jump on my bike, cycle very fast across the city and be at the National Concert Hall in time to try and see the Gloaming. I had seen the listing; I was a fan of Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill and I knew Iarla Ó Lionáird from the Afro Celt Sound System. My plan worked out. Although the concert was officially sold out, the box office were able to sell me a single seat near the back of the stalls.
The Gloaming were a new supergroup and that show at the National Concert Hall in 2011 was their live debut. It was great, but over the years they have only gotten better. I saw them once more at the Concert Hall, on one of the nights when their fan Michael D Higgins was in attendance, and once at Womad, probably my favourite time I have seen them.
The quintet have released two albums on Real World and they have been returning annually to the Concert Hall in Dublin, which they call their spiritual home. This year they sold out an unprecedented seven shows. I was at night six.
The Gloaming are Martin Hayes on fiddle, his longtime accompanist Dennis Cahill on guitar, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh on hardanger fiddle, Iarla Ó Lionáird on vocals and pump organ and Thomas Bartlett on piano. All musicians except Thomas come from a trad background, but the music they produce together is much bigger than trad. It is hard to describe. There are trad parts, particularly played by Martin, but they are woven into larges pieces of music, sometimes jazzy, sometimes classical, often up to ten minutes long.
The tunes start off softly and slowly, but gradually gather pace until all musicians are in full flow. The result is hypnotic and spellbinding. I read some reviews online and Jim Carroll said it best in the Irish Times: “Breathtaking, groundbreaking, grandstanding and any other accolade you want to apply from your big bag of superlatives.”
The band members take turns addressing the audience in between songs. Larla gives us background on the songs, Caoimhín mentions that Philip King is in the house, Martin makes us laugh with his droll sense of humour. Thomas mentions that he is nervous as his best friend Joanie is at the show. Only later does it become clear that this is none other than Joan As Police Woman, who will play Dublin two days later. Dennis is the quiet man, but then he is their backbone musically.
They play for over an hour and a half in a set that includes all the best pieces from their two albums. The audience is totally quiet while they play, but erupt in loud and elongated applause when the songs end. The sound is perfect; sometimes barely more than a scratchy whisper (Caoimhín's fiddle), at other times thunderously loud (Thomas' piano). The lighting is pretty and underlines what a beautiful place the Concert Hall is for witnessing live music. At the same time the music makes you forget where you are. We are in a large room in the city centre, yet the sounds are such that you feel yourself out in nature, confronted by rolling waves, noisy waterfalls, moon and stars above. I found myself wishing that the night would not end.
The band members are incredibly talented and involved in many individual projects. I can only hope that they will continue reconvening as a group periodically and treat us to such magical performances.
For those unfamiliar with the Gloaming we have some recommendations:
Documentary about Martin Hayes, 'Natural Grace' (2012), directed by Art Ó Briain - Trailer
'The Gloaming – Moment to Moment' (2016), documentary directed by Philip King, available on the RTE Player.