FolkWorld Live Review by Michael Moll

Folk stars in the remoteness
Altan & Cliar Double Bill Concert in Portree

Altan & Cliar, photo by The MollisIt was for Altan a long held ambition coming true: Touring through small venues in the Highlands and Islands. The tour, where Altan were joined by Scottish band Cliar, was made possible through a number of sponsors. The two bands crossed our way when passing through Portree on our honeymoon - no excuse there, this was an opportunity not to be missed!

The tour was part of the Scottish Arts Council "Tune Up" scheme, promoting live music in Scotland from home and abroad, while support through the Columba Initiative (its aim is to foster support for the Gaelic language and develop links between Gaelic Scotland and Ireland) allowed the tour to be extended to a number of places in Northern and the Republic of Ireland.

The concert in Portree was part of a highest profile folk music series in Portree's Aros Centre. It was rather fascinating that all announcements during the concert were made bilingually - Gaelic and English. And a good proportion of the audience seem to be Gaelic speakers.

Cliar, photo by The MollisThe concert started off with a guest performance of four students of the Plockton High School, the National Centre of Excellence for Traditional Music (see separate article). They called the band for the night Crooked Billy No Maids, and there music was inspiring and impressive indeed - well possible that they will be the traditional music stars of tomorrow. For my taste, their set could have gone on for the whole night, that enjoyable it was!

I was not sure what to expect of Cliar. Cliar have been dubbed "Gaelic dream team", and I knew that all of its musicians are top class, and Cliar's CDs are great stuff - however, the CDs are overall quiet, and slightly academic. Experiencing Cliar in live, I soon knew that the "Gaelic dream team" is no overrating - this is a band of the highest possible calibre, a band that understands to combine high quality music and song with good entertainment. Cliar feature three of Scotland's most outstanding Gaelic singers, Maggie MacDonald, Mary Ann Kennedy and Arthur Cormack. Musically, they were joined for this tour by Ingrid Henderson on Harp (who is also a great singer), her brother Allan Henderson on Fiddle (well known through Blazin Fiddles), and finally Ronan Martin on guitar.

Cliar's show was made stunning especially through very smooth interaction, and a great combination of solos and group playing. The solos were often incorporated into sets of tunes where other band members would join, so there was always the feeling that Cliar was playing as one band. The Gaelic songs were enchanting; each of the singers have beautiful voices in their own right, and in combination they form perfect harmony. Cliar were a very difficult act to follow - this is super class performance by super class musicians, taking any audience away into a world of beauty. Again, I wished to be able to listen to Cliar for the rest of the night...

After the break, the band that most people came to see tonight was on: Altan, one of the most famous and most popular traditional bands from Ireland. The musicianship of Altan's band member is unreputably among the best you can find in Irish music, a stunning combination of fiddles, accordion, guitar. And then there is, of course, the crystal clear voice of Mairead, enchanting any audience.

Cliar & Altan, photo by The MollisThe band started off with a fiery set of fast reels, and got the audience directly going. However, I have to admit, I was overall a bit disappointed by the Altan set; it might be that I expected too much of this top band. One particular weakness I felt was the large number of long solos by each of the musicians - a whole series of solos, without much band interaction. When they did not play solo, most numbers were very fast tunes - which enthused the audience, but again does not showcase the skills of the band. Don't get me wrong, of course the musicianship was perfect, and there were many enjoyable moments in the concert - I just had the feeling that they could do better than they did that night.

The concert finished off with both Cliar and Altan playing together a song and some tunes, to send us off to get back to our Bed & Breakfast, where our nosy B&B landlady would be awaiting our return....


Photo Credit: All photos by The Mollis
(1) & (4) Altan & Cliar together on stage; (2) Cliar, (3) Altan

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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 09/2004

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