Welcoming spring with Caladh Nua

A review by Al Thorleifson

Southern Manitoba Concerts hosted Ireland's Caladh Nua at Morden's Access Event Centre on Saturday, March 10. With the breath of spring in the air and a lilt in the music, Caladh Nua brought a sense of warmth to the room, one song moving to the next with effortless ease.

'Caladh', an old Irish word for 'harbour' or 'shelter place', leaves Caladh Nua meaning 'New Harbour' - and they certainly provided a warm comfortable place with music and song sets to warm our hearts.

Caladh Nua, formed in 2009, is made up of five excellent musicians - Eoin O'Meachair on strings and vocals, Paddy Tutty on fiddle and bodhran , Lisa Butler on fiddle and lead vocals, Derek Morrissey on button accordion, and Colm O'Caoimh on strings and vocals. They harken from the south of Ireland, from Carlow, Waterford and Kilkenny.

While some of their music celebrates the traditional music of their heritage, they have also brought with them new music, drawing from many styles, some sung in all seriousness, some performed with a tongue-in-cheek energy and an unerring sense of musical shape and direction.

As Linda Butler came on stage to promote next year's SMC stars - including Ben Heppner and a Christmas performance by the WSO - the fiddles could be heard warming up in the green room. With the announcement that Rudy Krahn from Altona had won the 2012-13 SMC subscription draw, Caladh Nua took the stage with a set of hornpipe and reels, a confident, unison fiddle duet, and a guitarist (O'Caoimh) whose precision picking would be replaced by a bar-chording technique which allowed the guitar to double as a bass.

A set of jigs, led by the tune The Wishing Well, featured the banjo of Eoin O'Meachair and Derek Morrissey on the button accordion. The set started in a plaintive minor and ended with a sprightly major - wonderful and playful sound.

Lisa Butler's high lyrical voice was featured in a series of traditional ballads interspersed through the concert, starting with the dark story of the Cruel Lowland Maid. The modal quality of the song was highlighted by Paddy Tutty on the Irish bodhran, the sound of justice to come.

In the midst of traditional Irish tunes, all of a sudden, we were listening to Bill Munroe's blue grass tune, The Gold Rush. Eoin O'Meachair, who led with his banjo, stated that he had been introduced to Munroe's music by a friend and hoped to learn more of it - bluegrass with an Irish flair, was the way he described this catchy set. Later in the concert, O'Meachair performed jazz-style dance hall tunes by the Flannagan Brothers, Irish emigrés who became famous not only in the dance halls and vaudeville theatres of America, but among their own people back home, as well.

In the Temple House set, Caladh Nua showed themselves as a tight, precise ensemble with a sense of intelligence in their phrasing; they compliment their audience by expecting we will understand their musical logic. The shifts in melodic phrasing kept the audience's interest, and kept a smile on our faces at the musical jokes.

Colm O'Caoimh noted he had written Trip to Brussels while making wonderful money at a terrible job there; the rest of the musicians invited him to return to Ireland to join Caladh Nua where, now, the money is terrible while the job wonderful - a not unfamiliar musician's lament.

The most beautiful of Lisa Butler's tunes was undoubtedly The Banks of the Lea, a lament for lost love where the haunting cadences of the penny whistle double the story's mood and the song ends in a sparse vocal solo - alone with grief.

One of the most stunning performances of the evening was Paddy Tutty's bodhran solo. Most of us expect to hear one tone from a drum, but Tutty lifted a melody from the drum, an intricate combination of rhythm and tone that left the audience holding its breath. After the show, he discounted his own skill, noting that he had not really made the drum himself, he had just prepared the skin. Continuing, he downplayed his own musicianship - since the other four were trained musicians; he was just a carpenter. The final kicker came when he noted that he made violins - including the one he was playing in this concert. None of us, hearing the fiery phrasing and lilting rhythms of his fiddle solos would ever consider discounting his musicianship; no, there is a professional there.

The Caladh Nua concert was inspiring, bringing the freshness of spring, the lift of a soft wind, and the love of a people for their music. What a wonderful evening.