FolkWorld Live Review 09/2004 by Alex Monaghan

Weston Auditorium, Hatfield
March 2004

North Cregg, photo by Eugene GrahamThe University of Hertfordshire booked this powerful young Cork band as part of their Paddy's Day celebrations. The gig was in a plush new concert hall seating well over 400. They didn't fill the place, perhaps because the advertising didn't reach the right audience, but those of us who went had mighty craic altogether. I'd say there might have been 150 bums on seats, aged from 7 to 70, clustered round a vast stage which was almost empty apart from six chairs and a lot of wires. Most of us knew what to expect, but there were some bemused faces as the appointed time came and went. After a few minutes, five lads and a young lady wandered out, said "Hi" politely enough, and filled the high hall with Tim O'Brien's song Walk Beside Me. Bemusement turned to amazement as Fiona Kelleher's clear voice cut through fancy fingerwork by the five fellas.

Amazement quickly changed to admiration when Christy and the boys launched into their diesel-sucking Sliabh Luachra repertoire: Callaghan's Polkas, The Pitchfork Reel, slides, jigs and hornpipes came cascading out of box and fiddle. Feet were tapping, hands were clapping, everyone was in motion. There had been a free bar beforehand (also not advertised), but that wasn't the main reason for this tremendous reaction to North Cregg's music. Even those in the know were unprepared for the wall of sound, the power and the passion that poured across from this group of jeans-clad geniuses. Animation turned back to amusement as Christy Leary talked the talk, mostly true but none the less outrageous for that. The role of ragged-trousered raconteur suited him perfectly: he had an instant rapport with the audience, helped by giving them all his home address and phone number.

North Cregg, photo by The MollisSo who were these masked men? Christy's box was joined by fiddle fireworks from Caoimhín Vallely, vamping and virtuosity from ivory-tickler Ciarán Coughlan, with solid rhythm provided by the guitar of Conal Early and the deft drumming of Frank "Trad Mad" Torpey. Fiona Kelleher was on and off the stage like a Mexican bandit in a spaghetti western, walking out to thrill us with the crystal clarity of Spencer the Rover, the tearful balladry of The Recruited Collier, the blissful whimsy of Summer At My Feet.

After a well-earned break, North Cregg produced a second half that was even better than the first. As well as their stunning arrangements of Geese in the Bog and Thunderhead, there were classic Sliabh Luachra tunes aplenty, plus a fine trio of Christy's own polkas. Fiona's voice shone out in There was a Maid, and in the enigmatic notes of Ger Wolfe's endearing Swallow Sing. No sign of North Cregg's fabulous version of Fred Finn's Polka, though: maybe next time. There were a few anxious moments when Christy announced that the next night's gig was in Deptford, producing groans and gasps from the audience: but I've had email from the lads since, so they must have survived.

In true Cork style, the gig ran late but nobody was complaining as Fiona and the boys gave us two encores. Chalk up another outstanding success for this fresh and exciting band, worth going a long way to see. After a great evening of music and song, we headed home while North Cregg searched in vain for the Hatfield party scene: where do they get the energy?

Photo Credit: Photos (1) by Eugene Graham at Tonder Festival 2002 (2) by The Mollis at Folk at Fram 2002

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