This was my third visit to the sessions in the past 6 years and as ever it did NOT disappoint. The line-up I thought could not get better, but it just keeps on giving and delivering bigger and better than before.
I recall interviewing Aly Bain a few years ago for Irish Music Magazine and thinking I was making the biggest phone call of my life. I’d seen the sessions prior to chatting with him, and he had really become a musical idol of mine. So I had good reason to be extra excited going along to the Millennium Forum last Saturday night for the biggest gig of 2019 IMBOLIC festival.
This musical concept was born as a tv series 25 years ago and is a wonderful mix of Irish, Scottish and American folk and trad. Saturday last consisted of a very impressive 16 performers: these included 5 singers who took center stage at various intervals throughout the show. Of course the biggest cheer on the night was for our very own Cara Dillon.
But first we heard the wonderful voice of Scotlands Paul McKenna singing Long Days. A song he wrote when based in Florida and missing home. He followed this with a ballad, a tribute to Michael Davitt, The Banks of the Moy.
We went on to meet the fabulous Tim O’Brien, Molly Tuttle (whom I did love very much), Cara Dillon and Gretchen Peters. All performers were in such splendid musical form that each was brilliant in every way. But by far the warmest welcome was of course to Cara Dillon as she sang The Banks of the Foyle, a song about Derry.
Being an avid Seamus Heaney and uileann pipe fan, the night was won for me with the tribute to Liam O’Flynn by Phil Cunningham. This was just special in every possible way. One could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium throughout this tune. Simply wonderful.
I cannot write about this event without paying homage to the man that is Jerry Douglas. Larger than life, this Ohio-born talent and his character steer the show from beginning to end. Leading the ensemble at all times, though never fully taking center stage, he is ever engaging and fully immersed throughout.
This two hour plus show had at its core, the Transatlantic ‘house band’, led by Shetland fiddle maestro Aly Bain and dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas, featuring Russ Barenberg, Phil Cunningham, John Doyle, Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker, Donald Shaw, Danny Thompson and James Mackintosh.
The music and tunes throughout the show brought Scottish, American and of course Irish folk and traditional music, together. The connection is so poignant and so apt and the unfolding on that Derry stage was spectacular. As the 16 strong set played to an audience who appreciated every single note, they were also playing among themselves. This is what’s really special. The musicians are onstage but it feels like they’re in the parlour of ones country kitchen, entertaining the neighbours. This is a session in all its glory. It’s a session everyone is enjoying. At no time do you feel you’re at a world class concert and world class musicians are in charge. Everyone feels like an equal in this environment. The audience participation is equally as important as the music delivery. It really does feel like being at a truly unique, authentic, original session of music.
IMBOLIC Music festival has yet again been a runaway success in 2019 and TransAtlantic Music Sessions allowed the Derry audience to enjoy and explore the very best, that the very best has to offer.
Derry, take a bow. That was awesome.
Credit goes to the fine backing musicians throughout the two-hour-plus concert, compère and dobro maestro, Ohio-born Jerry Douglas, who has recorded an impressive fourteen solo recordings, as well as a group of musicians from Scotland, including Donald Shaw, a founding member of Capercaillie. Their foot-stomping reels interspersed well with the soothing ballads.
Reflecting the homey, communal nature of the performance, aside from floor lamps, couch and coffee table at the rear of the stage, guest singers also contributed their vocal harmonies to great effect in support of each other.