The last concert in our Sydney Festival extravaganza was a concert by Irish musician Colm Mac Con Iomaire with gathered musician “friends” as he put it. And you can believe they are friends. Colm is so low key, humble and understated that you could believe that they enjoy cups of tea and the occasional beer together. I had no idea about the music before walking in, except that he was Irish and liked to mix things up. His type of music, I discovered, shows what can happen if you combine a detailed and sophisticated understanding of Irish culture with a knowledge of how to use music technology and a willingness to absorb other cultural elements.
I had expected the sort of Irish music everyone hears when you see any Irish program or documentary about Ireland. Jigs. Lots of tin whistles and bodhrans, Chieftains style – or perhaps what we consider “traditional” Irish music (check out “Paul Keating” in the video!). However, it wasn’t in terms of style. His is modern Irish music that has matured and changed in contact with the world outside Ireland. Colm was very particular about telling us where the musicians in the group came from, as if to tell us about their cultural background and how that might inform the music. The same went for his introductions of the songs, where the influences were discussed. He reflected at one point about an Eastern Europeans writing music in Ireland, and vice versa being a great thing, which it is, symbol of the blending of global boundaries to create new musical voices.
His music also makes extensive use of technology, where he recorded his violin (though, probably more accurate to call it a fiddle) playing a particular loop while he placed other layers on top – but wasn’t afraid to start again if he stuffed up, showing his desire to provide the best sound for the audience. It gave a more haunting and rich quality to the music being made. It also added an element of the type of repetitive looping that was heard earlier in the week with Philip Glass. Except this time, it wasn’t there to show the mechanistic nature of modern society, more as a way of driving the music forward, provide a framework over which the melodies sang their links to Ireland and the Irish people.
Ultimately, while this music had influences from various cultures, especially bluegrass from the USA, it softly spoke about Ireland, its history and its people in musical forms. Colm’s love of Irish Gaelic could be seen in the way he spoke the soft phrases from the language in his introductions, as well as in reading poetry by Michael Hartnett and the softness could be heard in the music and the gentle way it wandered. In that, Colm had much in common with Paul Kelly – he is telling the story of his people in just writing about them – except in a more abstract fashion. It was a lovely sorbet after the massive feast of sounds we had been enjoying.
Talking of that feast, there will be blogs this week about other events from the Sydney Festival – Minto Live, Eddie Perfect and the Symphony in the Domain. Hope you enjoy them and get something out of them.