mon 22/07/2024

The Gloaming, Union Chapel | reviews, news & interviews

The Gloaming, Union Chapel

The Gloaming, Union Chapel

Exquisite folk minimalists launch second album

Group mind: The Gloaming at Union ChapelYork Tillyer

The Gloaming’s return to the Union Chapel in north London is a packed-out affair – and with good reason. Their British debut here, before the first album was released back in 2013, was a revelation. Few knew what to expect as Clare fiddler Martin Hayes, New York pianist Thomas Bartlett, Dublin-born viola and hardanger fiddle player Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, Sean Nos singer Iarla O Lionaird and Chicago guitarist Dennis Cahill launched into the epic "Opening Set" from that debut album.

Over the next 20 or so minutes they astonished all who were there with the space, dexterity, lightness and sureness of their group interplay, invention and touch. The quintet had singlehandedly raised up a completely new a kind of Irish music from the tradition, shorn of all those hoary old expat Irish pub clichés and craic, drawing more on minimalism, contemporary classical and improvisation than on the clapalong good times of audience participation.

Their second visit to Union Chapel came a year later, on the back of great acclaim, major gigs in Britain and Ireland, and five-star reviews. London’s Irish community were out in force that night, and loudly so – I recall talking to one eloquent audience member halfway through his pint of vodka, reeling off to his seat as time was called – and for that evening's "Opening Set", the pews soon resounded to an out-of-time footstomping that sounded like hooved livestock in the stalls – the kind of craic cliche The Gloaming go a long ways to avoid.

The Gloaming really listens down into itself and all its moving parts

Friday night marked the release of the group’s second album, and here they are for their third visit to the Union Chapel, focusing on new tunes from The Gloaming II, and while on the surface not a great deal has changed between first and second album, you can hear the stronger defining influence of Bartlett’s piano, and a more cohesive ensemble feel, with Hayes peeling off into solo territory less often, more often interweaving with O'Raghallaigh's unique, five string viola d'Amore. Bartlett takes the reigns in terms of defining and guiding the music; in concert, his elastic, elongated body movements, a sort of hunched-over method-acting approach to the keyboard, is in dynamic contrast to the two rocking fiddlers on the other side of the stage, Hayes' right knee pumping up and down.

A guest appearance from hip young US composer Nico Muhly for a four-handed instrumental keyboard coda with Bartlett seeped into O Lionaird's lone voice leading off on "Fainleog (Wanderer)". O Lionaird introduces his songs with wit and a depth of learning, so that you get a good contextual setting for, say, "Oisin's Song", drawn from the legend of ancient Celtic superhero, Finn MacCool, or how the song collector and singer Seamus Ennis beat a path to his great-aunt's door, which serves as an introduction to "Cucanandy", the 'dangling song' he draws from her expansive family repertoire.

Instrumental highlights hit a peak with the likes of  "The Rolling Wave" and the tremulous, exquisite "The Hare", led by Hayes' fiddle, after which you could hear a hair, let alone a pin drop. They're examples of how The Gloaming really listens down into itself and into all its moving parts, and then responds in kind, each part to each, so that all of us in the hushed Union Chapel audience – no stomping in the stalls from tonight's crowd – can feel themselves at the centre of a conversation in music, one that's worth having and repeating and passing on.

They astonished with the space, dexterity, lightness and sureness of their group interplay


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article


 'London Irish', 'livestock' and the 'half pint of vodka' is a bit arrogant/ verging on insulting. I went to that gig and it was wonderful. The foot stomping was joyous if out of step and the whole concert in both its upbeat and heartfeeling moments was clearly deeply appreciated by the audience. Don't be so precious. I would like to think that the musicians themselves wouldn't see it that way. I didn't get to this one sadly but I hope they don't get so fine as to lose the soul, clarity and freshness of the source that feeds their music.

About to listen to Gloaming 2 now. Excited!

It was a wondefful gig but the audience footwork did drown out subtleties which, from my interviews with band members and experience of them in concert, I am pretty sure they would rather not be drowned out... I had a good chat with the guy with the pint of vodka, smashesd as he was, and there were a lot of Irish in the audience - nothing arrogant or insulting about that, simply observation from the night. They were very into it and a lot noisier than audiences for this gig or the very first. Noisier than most audiences I've been in at trad music gigs in Ireland. 

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters