Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Seán Óg, Petter Berndalen, Nic Gareiss @ Fringe

Last night’s fun was a gig, Four on the Fringe of Folk at the Grand Social, that cleary had a powerful impact on a lot of people – it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a tight space, filled with so many people totally unphased by having to stand still and crowd in to get a peek of the performace that was producing this amazing soundscape, and beg for more at the end of it. The applause & cheers said it all after nearly every number.

Nic Gareiss is a dancer from Michigan. Petter Brendalen is a Swedish percussionist. Seán Óg is saxophonist from Dublin (who we know here from his work with Eithne Ní Chathain.) Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh hardly needs an introduction here. (Describing each of the musicians by their main instrument, thus, is to do them a disservice – reducing masters of musical creativity to mere players. These guys go beyond the medium.)

To get the negatives out of the way: I thought the saxes were a bit too backgrounded at times; and not being able to see Nic’s feet was a real let-down. I, at six foot tall, could just about see his waist, so I guess some didn’t even see his head, never mind his feet. Not the best view of a dancer, and when percussion is there taking up the same auditory space – you don’t even have the sound to fall back on. It’s a shame a mirror or even projection of some sort wasn’t used to help “amplify” the dance element, which featured in nearly every number. Hearing fully Nic’s footwork on the salted stage during his solo piece only served to make you realise even more just what it was you were missing the rest of the time. Pity.

But those issues aside, this Caoimhín-organised collaboration of musicians, including Nic, really produced some of the most ear-opening live musical experiences I’ve had in a while. There was a wide range of influences on display including American, Eastern European, Irish, Scandinavian, and much respect for tradition to be heard throughout, but with Caoimhín’s ambient & lyrical leanings, Sean Og’s jazz & electronica input, Nic’s movements as a focal point for the musicians, and Petter’s transcending percussion, each number took off to the fringes via a quirky route of its own – sometimes even surprising the musicians themselves, I sense.

Perhaps the most eclectic of numbers (in the same standing, say, as Gonzo eating a rubber tyre to the music of the Flight of the Bumblebee on the Muppet Album) was Petter’s solo drum one, which started out with him doing da-da-da mouth drumming, and pretending to teach the audience different parts of what would have become an audience participation piece but which through various ironic, comic turns, including sounding like he was telling a story, still da-da-da’ing, and gradually transferring the narrative onto the drum kit and off again to return to the oral delivery, he had the audience in the palm of his hands and laughing continuously. Genius. (For another number, Petter was up dancing behind Nic while continuing to provide a full range of percussion with a tiny hand-held steel shaker thingie. It was amazing what he could produce with it and the fun he had doing so was written all over his face and flowing from his body.)

Sean Og’s solo number started off less flamboyantly, but through digital layering & delays he quickly built up something really magical and just when you thought it couldn’t get any better he was  joined by the others on stage to take the piece even further … and it blew my mind.

Caoimhín was delighted that four became five for a while, as by happy coincidence one of his most favourite musicians ever, Dan Trueman, American hardanger fiddle player, composer, physicist (etc. etc. etc.), had just arrived in Dublin for a year and Caoimhín asked him to join them for a few pieces. More thrills for us and for the guys on stage too: it was apparent throughout how much they were enjoying themselves up there and loving each other’s musicianship.

So thanks are due to Caoimhín and to the Fringe organisers for enabling this international “happening” to take place in Dublin, bringing such wild and wonderful creativity to the stage for only the price of a main course. (It’d be great to get this performance into a bigger, fully seated venue with unobstructed views etc.)

Apologies for the quality of the shots – no tripod was possible.

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