LIVE: Altan Delivers Unforgettable Night of Celtic Music at Proctors 2/27/20
Now entering into their fifth decade as a band, Altan has an extensive and far reaching musical history, originating in the ’80s through the musical and romantic union of Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Frankie Kennedy. Though Kennedy passed in the early ’90s, the band continued to grow and thrive from his artistic vision, and with Mairéad’s persistence despite tragedy, both within Ireland and internationally.
Thursday’s show included members, Mairéad (fiddle, vocals), Ciaran Curran (bouzouki), Dáithí Sproule (guitar, vocals), and Martin Tourish (accordion, vocals). Perhaps most striking about this quartet was their familiarity with each other, with the music, and with the stories they shared. It was evident that songs were not simply rehearsed and performed. Rather, they were felt and known by the band’s members on a spiritual plane known as the gap of dreams: an ethereal place from which musicians draw their inspiration. The set that followed was certainly something that came from a life full of experience and a deep love and appreciation of Irish tradition.
Altan started the set with an upbeat traditional tune, “Seán sa Cheo” (John in the Fog). The entire room was quite literally rocking. Not a seat was still as the audience stomped and clapped along. Intertwined throughout every number were pieces of lore or historical context that helped to illustrate exclusively instrumental numbers. “The Piper in the Cave / An Ghoath Aniar Aneas (The South-West Wind),” chronicled the tale of a lone bagpiper and his dog who happened upon a cave. The pair entered, but the piper was never to be seen again. His bagpipes washed ashore, and his dog was found alive and well. “The song is followed by a lively jig, of course!” joked Martin Tourish.
While a majority of Altan’s setlist included the types of songs one might expect to hear from a live band in an Irish pub, others like “The Road Home,” and “Gleanntain Ghlas Ghaoth Dobhair,” (The Green Glens of Gweedore) provided the listener with another facet of Altan’s style. With beautiful instrumentals and burgeoning chord progressions, these songs elicited a sense of longing for the rolling green hills, and rocky coastline of Altan’s home, Donegal.
Special appearances of the evening included Mairéad’s teenage daughter, Nia, who was touring with the band during her gap year from school. Nia, who is quite the prodigy, joined the band with her fiddle for a song she had written, “The Gap of Dreams / Nia’s Jig / The Beekeeper.” During “Tullaghan Lasses / The Cameronian / The Pigeon on the Gate,” a professional Irish step dancer emerged from backstage, followed by the roars of an electrified audience.
The show concluded with the four main members, special guests, and every attendee on their feet to close out the night with “Maggie’s Pancakes/Píobaire an Chéide/The Friel Deal.” Altan delivered a truly unforgettable show.