Gig review: Tradfest: Mummers’ Ball, Edinburgh

Armagh Rhymers
Armagh Rhymers
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When the Armagh Rhymers enter a room, the temperature drops… or perhaps that’s just my imagination.

Tradfest: Mummers’ Ball - Counting House, Edinburgh

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When, however, in the middle of a good-going ceilidh dance, the Robert Fish Band propelling a full house delightedly about the floor, these Northern Irish mummers slouch in, sackcloth-clad, cowled in wickerwork animal heads, droll, dark and anarchic, they utterly transform the ambience.

They evoke something from time out of mind with their incantations, guizers’ rhymes and snatches of balladry accompanied by concertina, rattling bodhran and bones. Their sheer otherness is the kind of thing about which W B Yeats, subject of an engrossing lecture by Professor Roy Foster earlier in the evening as part of the National Gallery’s series of lectures on the Celtic revival, might have penned an eloquent line or two.

The Ball was supposed to have also featured the Prestonpans Mummers, revivers of the ancient Galoshins folk play, but they’d been sidelined by injury – pagan ritual does take its toll. There was, however, an engaging spot from the Mons Meg Rapper Dancers, an Edinburgh-based troupe carrying on the north-east English pit communities’ tradition of clog dancing.

So a solo clog-dancer’s percussive rattling off the floor was followed by a complex fivesome involving some risky-looking manoeuvres with bendy metal swords and one dancer executing a fine somersault before a triumphal star of interlocked swords was brandished. No heads rolled, though at times it looked a near thing.

Seen on 02.05.14