The Teetotallers in Concert

Photograph: Jeff Willner

The Teetotallers in Concert

Paul O'Connor on the joys of live music as delivered by Martin Hayes, Kevin Crawford and John Doyle.

For some aspects of the art, recordings are the ultimate way to consume music; but for multiplicity of experience they can never match live performance. 

My experience the other night at the Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge of the current tour of the Teetotallers (Martin Hayes, Kevin Crawford, John Doyle) reflects the differences. Though still somewhat in the fire, to use Hayes’s analogy of the forge, there were moments when the live clash of styles inherent in this trio produced unique sparks.

I found the flute dominated the fiddle a little too much at times, especially in the lower registers. This is a problem that the mixing desk would sort out in recorded music, but which in the live concert was more than made up for by the great moments of red hot, beaten-out trio playing that were reached regularly. Those moments were summed up for me in Crawford’s mid-breath call for ‘one more’ in the last few notes of the encore of Ó Riada reels that he was clearly so caught up in himself he didn’t want to let go of. Reflecting the levels of variation and harmonic divergence the trio employed, there were quite a few tunes that could have withstood another round or two, in particular, for me, those in the Clare set (the ‘Clare Reel’, the ‘East Clare Reel’ and ‘Sporting Nell’).

Though operating almost fully as a trio throughout, the two duet pieces were among the highlights for me: Crawford flying on tin whistle with Doyle droning, colouring and pacing it with him through the ‘Dear Irish Boy’, the ‘Hole in the Boat’ and two great finds from the lilting of Irish emigrant to Australia, Sally Sloane; and then Hayes starting a set with a dramatic rendition of O’Carolan’s ‘Farewell to Music’ and then going into a gentle and personal version of Peadar Ó Riada’s ‘Feabhra’, before picking up pace, as well as Doyle’s fiery accompaniment, for a brace of reels (‘P Joe’s’, the ‘Mountain Lark’ and ‘Tom Doherty’s’).

It was very interesting to see that Crawford’s and Doyle’s experience of group-sized arrangement was evident, and very successfully employed, on a much smaller scale during Doyle’s (scheduled) songs, including the ‘Lancashire Lads’ and his own ‘Song of the Arabic’. (He was prompted by a request from the audience to play ‘Pound a Week Rise’, and did so alone.) And how about Crawford singing harmony? Not something you’ll find on a recording, I believe, but he can do it … live.

The banter was thick and fast, both between the musicians and with the audience, which presents another aspect of live music that makes it so appealing to so many; especially, I would argue, with traditional music played in intimate venues. And, finally, there was the shared love for straight-up presentation of melody and song that had brought these musicians together in the first place, which was best witnessed in the body language of their playing and listening and responding to each other.

The tour continues from tonight as follows: 20 January at the Tipperary Excel Centre, Tipperary Town; 21 January at the Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray (SOLD OUT); 22 January at the Hawk’s Well, Sligo; 23 January at the Station House Theatre, Clifden; 24 at the Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar; 25 January at the Dock, Carrick On Shannon (SOLD OUT); and 27 January at the Templegate Hotel, Ennis.

Published on 20 January 2012

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