The message from this Celtic Connections double bill was that traditional, and tradition-based contemporary, music in the north of Ireland is in good hands. The first half gave us the marvellously talented siblings of the Rooney Family from Co Down. The four sisters and two brothers, aged from about 12 to 20, presented an energetic mix of traditional and contemporary music with a couple of songs along the way.
The sequence of Irish and Scots jigs gave the Rooneys a chance to display their skill on flute, whistle, guitar, accordion, fiddle and bodhrán. The highlight of their surprisingly long set was the bodhránb duet featuring the eldest and the youngest of the family.
In the second half, we had the Armagh flute and whistle maestro Brian Finnegan, the co-founder of Flook, and his Northern Irish troupe of virtuoso musicians, singers, and a dancer, presenting The Singing Tree, a new performance in words, music and dance celebrating the rich musical traditions of the north of Ireland. The poet Paul Bradley set the scene and closed the show with a couple of strong poems that evoked another minstrel of Northern Ireland, Seamus Heaney; the accompanying cello and viola enriched the words.
In addition to the instruments the Rooneys had played, the Finnegan band had banjo, viola, cello, piano, uillean pipes, bouzouki, and double bass. Over a short but superb set, this impromptu group of youngish musicians played a variety of styles, from solidly traditional to up-tempo and funky jigs and reels by contemporary Northern Irish composers.
A particular highlight was Finnegan's salute to his late granny. She'd been one of 14 in the Starrs family. "The Last of the Starrs" was a haunting flute-led tribute, with guitar, cello, and piano prominent.
The best of the evening's singing was the spirited duet "The Streets of Derry", with Damien O'Kane and Cara Dillon. The final element of The Singing Tree was provided by the dancer Sibéal Davitt, whose fair-haired, black-clad figure made several appearances; her improvised step-dancing added yet another dimension to the music.
If there were any complaints, it was that The Singing Tree was over all too soon, and, while the sound-mixing was excellent, such is the layout of the Royal Concert Hall's Strathclyde Suite that we didn't see the pianist Caoimhín Vallely until he took his final bow, nor could this tall reviewer see the dancing feet of Sibéal Davitt. Nevertheless, another typically happy Celtic Connections concert.
Tony McGowan, Senior health promotion officer, Hamilton
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