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Live review: The Gloaming, Union Chapel, London

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The Gloaming
Union Chapel, London
June 19

ISLINGTON’S Union Chapel is full of worshippers.

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Hardly a pew in the Grade-one listed church isn’t full.  The high-steeple building, which is still used for services, is in fine nick. Full of grand Victorian Gothic splendour.

Smoke billows out from behind a piano at the altar. The lights, aimed at the makeshift stage, are suitably tame, dimly lit orbs which emit alternating soft red and yellow tones which seem to beckon the night’s approaching gloaming, the time just after sunset before it gets dark.

And it’s clear the other Gloaming – the Irish trad supergroup – have chosen the twilight start time to create the appropriate effect.

Martin Hayes, his wild black locks reminiscent of Brian May, tells us it’s the Gloaming’s first London show; but it is in fact the Irish-American group’s premier British date.

And it’s a truly dazzling show, where extraordinary musicianship meets with old Gaelic numbers – one of which, No. 44, is, we are told, some 800 years old – delivered with a contemporary twist.

The highlight of the evening? There’s singer Iarla Ó Lionáird’s rich, textured tones which heralds at the start of a 20-minute opening jam. Or Hayes’ melodious and furiously high-tempo leads on the violin, through reels like Rolling in the Barrel, which cause reflex stomps from the audience in the same way they would react to cues from a priest at mass.

Then there’s handsome New York pianist Thomas Bartlett’s subtle yet hypnotic piano lines.

But for me, it comes when fiddle maestro Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, draped in a loose white shirt set against the bandmates’ dark suits, turns towards Dennis Cahill, who is slowly-picking guitar lines. Raghallaigh gently scrapes out slow and sombre, drone-like notes from his five-string instrument to an awe-struck and hushed congregation.

Until the standing ovation that follows.

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James Martin
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James Martin is a freelance journalist. Follow him @JamesIsMartin

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