March 12, 2014, Bowker Auditorium, University of Massachusetts
Review and photos by Lahri Bond
On one of the coldest nights of an exceptionally chilly New England winter, the Irish sextet Danu warmed the hearts of the near capacity crowd in Bowker Auditorium on the University of Massachusetts campus.
Danu has been active since 1995, with seven albums to their name, and several line-up changes. Though not as well known as current groups such as Altan, Dervish or Solas, they are one of the most instrumentally rich Celtic bands touring today. Danu features Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh who is not only their lead singer, but who also contributes masterfully to their instrumentation with her skilled flute and whistle playing. The rest of the band currently is made up of Dónal Clancy on guitar, Oisín McAuley (previously a member of Stockton's Wing) playing four and five-string fiddle, Éamon Doorley on a unique guitar-shaped bouzouki, founding member Benny McCarthy on button accordion/melodeon, and their newest member, from Scotland, Martin O'Neill playing some astounding bodhran.
The band began the evening with a lively set of reels, including the Paddy Moloney composed “Garech's Wedding,” followed by “Reel Gan Ainm,” “The Moving Bog,” and “Cliffs of Glen ColmCille.” The fun continued with a set of jigs “Peggy's Nettles/The Butlers Of Glen Avenue/The Mountain Top,” featured Doorley's excellent bouzouki playing, which places a strong emphasis on countermelody, and had a few people in the crowd dancing in the aisles.
Other highlights included a set of dance tunes with playful titles like “Around the House, and Mind the Dresser,” and “Mary Will You Hold the Chicken Steady While I Shave its Upper Lip.” Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh's rich warm voice was featured on several fine ballads, including “Cailín na nÚrla Donn” a song learned from Seosaimhín Ní Bheaglaíoch, sung in Irish and English, and the lovely “County Down” by Tommy Sands. Clancy took the lead vocal on the Scottish ballad “Broom of the Cowdenknowes,” and his “Clancy’s Farewell to Whiskey” was matched with “An Dro des Petits Bateaux,” a beautiful Breton Dance tune arranged as a lullaby. Martin O'Neill took a five-minute drum solo, where he rang every tone and nuisance out of his bodhran, using multiple beaters and advanced dampening techniques.
The band were joined, for one evening only, by guests Caitlin Nic Gabhann (Irish step dancer) and Ciaran O Maonaigh (fiddle), who performed in a featured set, and later joined the band for a closing set of reels. The evening concluded with a beautiful rendition of Richard Thompson's Fairport Convetion-era ballad “Farewell Farewell,” where Nic Amhlaoibh's voice evoked the spirit of the song's original singer, the late great Sandy Denny. Though most people went home to get warm after the show, a few brave souls gathered with the band at the local Irish pub The Harp to raise their glasses, as a session went well into the evening.
Thanks to Julian Kkarlen and Baylin Artists Management, Halina Kusleika, director of Center Series Programming at UMass, and Danu, for a great evening.
Buy CDs: Danu CDs