Following in the footsteps of The Chieftains, Planxty, the Bothy Band and more recently Altan or Lúnasa, The Gloaming is one of the rare traditional Irish music bands to enjoy a commercial and critical success both a home and abroad while at the same time making a significant impact on the contemporary musical landscape. Since their impressive live début in August 2011, the band have enjoyed an incredible run of sell out shows in Dublin’s National Concert Hall and released two albums for RealWorld Records, the self-titled The Gloaming in 2014 and The Gloaming 2 in 2016. Featuring six 7 to 18 minutes-long tracks curated from their live performances of the previous two years in what is effectively the band’s “home” turf, Live at the NCH was released on the same label on 2 March 2018 last.
The Gloaming’s success was instant as the band sold out their first 2011 show in Dublin without having recorded any music previously. Since then, the Gloaming have filled the National Concert Hall for a total of 23 performances, usually at the end of February/beginning of March (in recent years 5 nights in 2016, 7 nights in 2017 and 7 nights in 2018). Featuring a 1,200 seater auditorium, the NCH traditionally hosts classical music concerts as well as jazz or contemporary bands stopping over in Ireland as part of an international tour.
In other words, selling out the venue is an achievement in itself, but doing so over a seven-night residency is truly exceptional for any kind of a band. The Gloaming’s success on home soil has also been matched abroad as recent years have seen the band perform on the stages of the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Albert Hall in London, the Teatro de la Ciudad in Mexico city or the Philarmonie de Paris to name but a few. The “supergroup”’s April 2019 performance in New York’s Carnegie Hall is already sold out too.
As a unique partnership of kindred spirits and combination of instruments, The Gloaming have somewhat created a new sound that didn’t exist before but which audiences worldwide were ready to hear.
The hardanger d’amore, a 10 string version of the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle is of course totally alien to the Irish tradition. But its introduction by band member and Dublin-based fiddler Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh has had a similar impact when compared to the introduction of the Greek bouzouki in the late 1960s and its subsequent adaptation as a flat back accompanying instrument by Irish musicians. Paired with the fiddle, the hardanger d’amore adds a wonderful texture and depth to the overall sound of the band.
The piano has long been used in Irish music too as an accompanying and rhythmic instrument, but never before has it been granted such a leading role in a traditional band. As a singer (Doveman), pianist, producer or arranger, Vermont-born Thomas Bartlett boasts an impressive CV of eclectic collaborations – Recent projects include working on St Vincent’s Masseduction (2017), The National’s Sleep Well Beast (2017) or his collaboration with American composer Nico Mulhy Peter Pears: Balinese Ceremonial Music (2018).
Alongside an astute artistic vision, Thomas Bartlett turns his non-traditional Irish music background into a liberating strength when working with the Gloaming. Together with Martin Hayes on the fiddle, Dennis Cahill on guitar and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh on the hardanger d’amore (all well versed in contemporary and avant-garde sounds too), Thomas Bartlett’s free-flowing arrangements rejuvenate the repertoire and bring at times the quintet’s sound on the doorstep of jazz music.
The band’s contemporary outlook also provides a formidable support to Iarla Ó Lionáird’s sean-nós singing. Also signed to Real World Records, Iarla Ó Lionáird has been promoting the traditional Irish “old style” of singing to a worldwide audience, blending the songs with electronics as early as 1997 with his début The Seven Steps To Mercy or with the fusion band Afro Celt Sound System. With The Gloaming, there is a seamless and natural blend between songs and jigs or reels intertwined into superb sets such as on Cucanandy/Páidín Ó Raifeartaigh/Mrs Dwyer for instance.
One of the highlights of every Gloaming concert is perhaps the set of reels which includes Rolling in the Barrel/The Tap Room/Tom Doherty’s. Live performances of the set have evolved over the years. It was originally recorded as part of “The Opening Set” in their first record and preceded by a song a three jigs. On Live at the NCH, it is now bundled with “The Sailor’s Bonnet”. The interactions and exchanges between voice, piano, guitar, fiddle and viola remain fascinating, sounding at times like a full symphonic orchestra as all instruments build up towards a rousing finale. Impeccable and breathtaking.