Twilight Music


We were at Union Chapel in Islington recently to see The Gloaming. It was our first visit. Why had we never been before? It makes no sense. It’s a wonderful, atmospheric venue with a long tradition of showing class acts in intimate surroundings, and The Gloaming are certainly a class act. We arrived early and sat on the hard pews for far too long, but the music was worth the wait.


They began slow with an air from Iarla Ó Lionáird sung in a strong, beautiful voice and progressed with fiddle and piano to what seemed like parlour music, but before long I was pinching myself in amazed disbelief at the incredible dancing lines they were all weaving together. Could this really be? Iarla Ó Lionáird on harmonium, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh on hardanger d’amore, Dennis Cahill on guitar, Martin Hayes on fiddle and Thomas Bartlett on piano gradually stirred us into a frenzy.


Here’s a little sample, The Old Bush, starting with gentle guitar, the scrape and drone of the ten string hardanger fiddle, the piano played inside and out, then another more nimble fiddle, all reeling us in and spinning us all round the houses, with grace and beauty and the best will in the world.


A trio of enthusiastic Irish sisters sat in front of us, head-banging and pew-dancing, also recording proceedings on iPhone. Watch out for this one on You Tube. Loud whoops and hollers and cheers of delight rang from the galleries. The chapel was storming!


I first heard of The Gloaming here from Christopher Corr and he was at this performance too. Here are some of his photos…

Gloaming A

Thomas B

Gloaming B


Thomas Bartlett

Gloaming C

Gloaming end

This last one is at the end as the musicians take a bow, and Thomas Bartlett suddenly remembers he’s left his bottle of red wine behind!


Tim Cumming was also in the audience – Great wasn’t it, a livelier crowd than last time, could’ve done without the pew stomping during the closing Opening Set…Irish bloke up in the bar drinking vodka from a pint glass. Lit up like a Christmas tree… Tim was reviewing it for The Independent.


He’s also written a nice piece – Twilight Music – for the March issue of Songlines magazine –

…Gloaming is the right word for the music; it’s an old word that glowers deep in the jaw. You can follow its underground course through to the Middle English ‘gloming’, via the Old English ‘glom’ for dusk, and ‘glāmr’, Old Norse for moon. An old, heavy word knotted and overgrown with otherworldly associations…

This is a trailer for Moment To Moment, a biographical film about The Gloaming that I got from NPR’s First Listen. And there’s a bit more here from Real World Records – The Gloaming. But nothing beats a live show. Watch out for their next performance, it’ll be transforming.

Frames of reference

5 thoughts on “Twilight Music”

  1. It was indeed a mighty concert, with a lively and vocal crowd, I think a good London Irish contingent who know the tunes well, and were wowed by what the Gloaming did with them. Here’s my review in the Independent today. They haven’t been able to get it together to actually put it online, poor things.

    “There were long queues on a rain-lashed Friday night up till showtime to see The Gloaming, as the release of their stunning debut album on Real World drew a full house and a strong London Irish contingent, whooping and stamping its approval and involvement through a 90-minute set of reels, songs, and tunes ranging from medieval laments to spare contemporary settings of popular tunes and the closing, epic Opening Set, a 16-minute tour de force that begins with a song collected in 1913 from singer Iarla O’Lionaird’s village, then dives deep into the cross-currents of a half dozen airs, reels and lullabies.

    The Gloaming bring experimentation and risk as well as joy and bravura to Irish folk, via the musical symbiosis of Sean Nos singer O’Lionaird, formerly of Afro Celts Sound System; the extraordinary fiddler from east Clare, Martin Hayes; his regular US accompanist, guitarist Dennis Cahill; the expressive minimalist playing of American pianist Thomas Bartlett; and young Dublin-born Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, a player at home in the avant-garde as well as the folk tradition, and whose instrument, half-viola and half Hardanger fiddle, gives the music a deep, absorbing chiaroscuro of resonating drones. His duets with Hayes, punctuated by Bartlett and Cahill’s pulse-like support, inspired waves of applause from the audience, and is at the heart of what makes their music so powerful and memorable.”

  2. Thanks for this piece about The Gloaming. It’s a great introduction to their music and philosophy. I really like their music fusion. They sound so eastern or north African, at other times just good and Irish. I like the way they strip a tune down to its roots, with no sentimentality or folksy bits and slow it right down and give it a pure and simple interpretation.
    It’s so good to hear Thomas Bartlett’s piano playing in this genre and so expressive and searching.

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