Folk is difficult to define. What a pity we have to. It could be the acoustic instrumentation, a respect for innovating within tradition, or an idealistic wish for music to be of the people. But as someone once said, ‘whatever’. I just like this music.I’m not a folk musician. But I love certain kinds of instrumental folk music. I offer here a selection of mainly celtic tunes in performance which fill me with joy, however you define folk music. It’s all original. It may be a bit ‘diddly di’ for some listeners, but I find it remarkable and virtuosic. How can you hold tunes like this in your head, let alone have them come out of your fingers?
Lau is a Scottish collaboration between Kris Drever (guitar/vocals), Martin Green (accordion) and Aidan O’Rourke (violin). This track, Hinba, is in 7/4, (I think) which makes it difficult to grasp at first, but then there’s this moment of marvelous release when it’s not any more. There are ‘cleaner’ tracks of their online, including the vocal Wintermoon, Throwing Pennies from their new album Race the Loser and their unique cover of the Beatle’s Dear Prudence. But I keep coming back to this amazing performance. These guys don’t, characteristically, give away much when they’re performing, but they can’t contain their exuberancein the trance-like whirl of Hinba. Stay with it till the explosive coda if you can.
Three Cane Whale are a English multi-instrumental trio, playing ‘acoustic miniatures which draw influence from folk and minimalist music’. It looks like their new album is going to be location recordings. This is Issio. The guitarist is left-handed and plays a right handed guitar upside-down. (Not hanging upside down: he flips the instrument) Their quiet is very loud.
Formed in 1996, Lunasa are a terrific Irish band, quite famous and mainstream really. Bassist and founder Trevor Hutchinson, formerly of the Waterboys, adds a bottom end to the tunes that you don’t usually get with Irish music. I was lucky enough to see them play live, and they were very engaging as well as virtuosic: piper Kevin Crawford took the role of ‘talking us in to’ each of their songs, balancing off the more reserved personae of the rest of the group. Morning Nightcap pulses with life. It puts a spring in my step.
Irish Violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire has played with Glen Hansard’s The Frames and Oscar-winning Swell Season. He released his first album The Hare’s Corner in 2008. It’s gorgeous. Here he is in his home studio, doing a looped version of Emer’s Dream. I like his delicate foot movements as he manipulates the loop pedals.
Spiro (Guitar/Mandolin/Violin/Accordion) from Bristol, are rather stiff and serious. I like them for that, and how it conflicts with an implicit desire to cut loose. They play very precise music, from which interlocked patterns emerge in a similar way to some techno music, or maybe a complex mosaic. Binatone is from their first album, which was recorded live if you can believe that.
Jevan Cole and Jan Van Dijk are a guitar/violin duo from Brisbane, combining their own compositions with tunes from western Europe. They’re beautiful to see live, the way they connect with each other within the tunes is sweetness to behold, whether you like this kind of music or not. These guys have just put out a new record. I’ll leave you with Leaving Raven.