Cliar, Edinburgh Folk Club, Pleasance Cabaret Bar
LET’S face it, you can enjoy traditional music more than the twice-a-year allowed by the media calendar - Hogmanay and Burn’s Night being the officially sanctioned dates.
Now that the last of the one-night-only attractions of the festive season has gone, and Jackie Bird has put her dcolletage away for another year, it was a case of normal musical service being resumed at the folk club, courtesy of Cliar and some excellent support sets.
It’s not every night that there’s audience participation in Norwegian, Gaelic and Scots songs .
Third-day-bridal tunes, tonsil twisting Puirt a Beul and north-east bothy song The Strae Mannie, all knocked any last vestiges of January lethargy, and indeed the weather, for six.
Cliar have the onerous honour of being hailed as the Gaelic supergroup. Accolades such as this can prove albatross-like, but when the talents of the six members are considered, it’s no wonder that Cliar are indeed lauded.
The sound is perhaps best described as comfortably contemporary. The presentation of songs and music is clear and direct: Cliar aren’t in the business of avant-garde arrangements. There’s no need, since the talented line-up have little to prove .
The instrumental backbone - fiddle, clarsach, keyboards and guitar - is perhaps familiar, but with members of Dimh and Blazin’ Fiddles, there’s the potential for the crossing of a traditional edge.
Bruce MacGregor’s fiddle playing, when let loose in a piece like the skewing, sloping Cambridge Caravan Catastrophe, is dynamically enthusiastic, but he can play politely as you like when the tone is gentler.
The voices of Cliar - Arthur Cormack, Mary Ann Kennedy and Maggie MacDonald - together create a wonderfully rounded sound which transmits the confidence and vibrancy within this tradition without losing the sensitivity which many of the songs require.
Cliar present songs of love, songs of longing, stark laments. In short, the type of repertoire you might expect from the Gaelic - or more broadly Scottish - singing tradition. But while this is something less than a summary, it also touches on the truth of just why songs endure, be it for decades or for centuries.
Cormack’s interpretations of ’S truagh nach d’ rugadh dall mi (Oh that I were born blind) and the tragic Nuair a Rinig mi’m Baile (When I got to the village) were sensitive, and conveyed the love-longing and despair to both the Gaels and non-Gaels in the audience.
All the singers make the songs their own, while opening them up to be part of the shared experience. (Don’t know any Gaelic? See Cliar and you will!)
Dutiful bardic panegyric was touched upon with MacDonald’s version of Orando Dhomhnall gorm og (Song to Young Domhnall Gorm) and a wider political plaid was woven by the inclusion of Cl Mhic Ille Mhcheil (Carmichael’s Cloth).
Of course there was an encore. Of course the audience joined in the refrain of Gradh Geal mo Chridh. If you had been there, wouldn’t you?