If you had your eyes shut for the duration of Jenny Keldie and Brian Cromarty’s opening set at Cullivoe last night, you might have imagined you were watching a four or five-piece band, with a top fiddle player, a great keyboardist, an excellent guitarist and two lead singers.
You might also have drifted off to sleep, in a good way, listening to Brian’s gentle and amusing banter between songs.
It’s hard to do justice to how good this duo are together, they sang poignant and reflective ballads and swinging country songs, bordering at times on gypsy swing, creating a sort of Hot Club de Cullivoe.
Particularly moving were Jenny’s song for her Great Uncle Sammy who was lost at sea and Brian’s cover of ‘Lucky Man’ – although the mood of the latter was somewhat undermined by Brian having teasingly dedicated it to David Spence who was sitting near the front; the more intimate lyrics causing much hilarity in the crowd.
Jenny’s apparent frustration at Brian’s inability to do a song without a ten-minute preamble was also highly entertaining. At one point he introduced a song that not only did they not have on their playlist but it was one that he played with his other band. A cracking start.
Up next was Daoiri Farrell, a man who plays the bouzouki in a way that makes you think it must have been a traditional Irish instrument stolen by the Ancient Greeks.
Daoiri seemed a little nervous at first but the crowd warmed to him and everyone quickly relaxed. His ability to switch between moods was startling, a beautiful lament like Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore followed by the heroic feats of the tragi-comic Fergie McCormack with enough time in between to lead the crowd in a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday to Granny June.
In true Cullivoe fashion, he had been asked to do this by her granddaughter in the shop when he had gone in to buy a postcard earlier that day.
Standout for me was Rosie Riley, a fine song, with the audience singing along on the chorus, another moving ballad with a twist.
Daoiri won the crowd over and we were even able to forgive him telling the tragic story of the death of his pet hamster, Elvis, who was, apparently, “caught in a trap.”
When The Cajun Country Revival appeared on stage, I thought I was stereotyping all female double bass players as I was sure I’d seen her before.
It turns out I had – Nadine Landry was a member of the Foghorn Stringband who took Burravoe by storm a few years ago.
There was less patter in-between the songs, partly explained by Joel Savoy, one of the band’s two excellent fiddlers: “We don’t usually do concerts. We’re a dance band and will often play at dances for five hours.”
Jesse Lége, the accordion player and singer, led the band through a series of fantastic two-steps, waltzes and country songs, interspersed with fascinating vignettes about the history of Cajun music and why, in the Deep South of Louisiana, they sang in French.
The fact that the Cullivoe Hall was pinned with an enthusiastic sell-out crowd was a mixed blessing – there was literally no room to move and this music just made you want to dance.
I would have loved to hear a bit more of Nadine’s singing – she got a rapturous response for her take on Loretta Lynn’s “Tippy Toeing”.
Also outstanding was when guitarist Sammy Lind took up the fiddle for an incredible set with just him and Joel Savoy on the stage. Awe-inspiring is about the only way to describe it. “We’re very proud of our musical heritage and our language” said Joel at one point. They should be.
You can’t help but love Baltic Crossing. They just look like they’re having such a good time, jigging and dancing to their delightful opening set of Finnish tunes.
I’m sure that musicologists would have something to say about the shared heritage of their culture but this seemed to me to be a group of highly talented musicians coming together to perform music they loved and that moved them.
They were just as much at home playing 300 year old English tunes, the delightfully named “The Lady’s Plaything” as they were on Norwegian reinlanders and Czech polkas.
About halfway through the set, Ian Stephenson introduced a moving, slow waltz that he had written for his grandmother, explaining how she had asked to hear it again before she passed away in hospital.
The song was beautifully played and Ian seemed very moved at the end by the tune itself and the audience response. The respite was short-lived and the band stormed home with more strident tunes audience participation – we now all know the international sign language gesture for ‘Baltic Crossing’.
The music, though infallibly tight and well performed, was interspersed with chaotic chatter and laughter.
As Ian Stephenson explained, “We’re very slick at the beginning but can only hold it together for 20 minutes.”
It reminded me of how, some four hours earlier in this magnificent evening, Jenny Keldie had tried to keep Brian Cromarty in line. She would have had her hands full trying to organise these boys.
By Stuart Hannay