It’s just over 23 years since Four Men and a Dog played the opening concert of the very first Celtic Connections, and they affirmed their standing here not only among the festival’s originals, but as one of the best Irish trad-based acts of the last three decades.
Four Men and a Dog / Ímar *****
New Auditorium, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Following their own recent 25th anniversary, they’d brought an extended celebratory line-up to Glasgow, featuring core members Cathal Hayden (fiddle/banjo), Gino Lupari (percussion/vocals/craic), Dónal Murphy (accordion) and singer/guitarist Kevin Doherty, with Hayden’s fiddler brother Stephen and James Delaney on keyboards.
Although they were early adopters of the Irish/Americana connection, The Dogs’ primal signature remains the force and intensity with which they again dug into their own native tunes, mining fresh and thrilling treasures via myriad quicksilver variations and bravura ornamental flourishes, underpinned by implacable rhythmic drive.
The Stateside influences showed in Doherty’s soulful, country-hued ballads and Lupari’s occasional Tin Pan Alley excursion, abetted by Cathal Hayden’s sizzling bluegrass and Western swing licks.
When The Dogs played that first Celtic Connections, most of Ímar’s members were babies or toddlers, but a phenomenal opening set saw the Glasgow-based outfit emphatically coming of age. Combining five outstanding instrumentalists from Scotland, Ireland, England and the Isle of Man, each with early roots in Irish music, their sound centres on a brilliantly melodious frontline of uilleann pipes, fiddle and concertina, and an essentially no-frills approach to trad-based material.
Genuinely jaw-dropping collective virtuosity supplied frills to burn: they played their hearts out and their socks off, ultimately bringing the audience to its feet.