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Arts Festival Review: Hayes and Cahill

Arts Festival Review: Hayes and Cahill

Review by Nick Tipping

Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill
Pacific Blue Festival Club, 1 and 3 March
Pataka Museum, 2 March

On Saturday night in the Pacific Blue Festival Club, a packed house was treated to a masterclass in Irish fiddle playing. In an atmosphere more resembling a steam room than an Irish pub, and with rain pelting down outside, Martin Hayes (fiddle) and Dennis Cahill (guitar) drew the crowd into their world as they ran through Hayes’ “shopping list” of Irish jigs, reels and airs.

From the opening air, “The Windswept Hill of Tulla”, it was clear that we were in the presence of two extraordinary musicians, but musicians who played as if with one mind. Hayes, the leader, was shadowed so closely by Cahill that for most of the performance it sounded as if the fiddle and guitar were two halves of the same instrument. The fireworks and wizardry belonged to Hayes, but credit for the ensemble must go to Cahill, whose patience and musicality provided the perfect support. Much of the time it was hard to tell he was there – his rhythmic drones and occasional reharmonisation sat well in the background – but his playing was integral to the performance, and allowed Hayes the freedom to show the skill that earned him six All-Ireland Fiddle Championships.

Hayes is a master of technique and musicianship. His treatment of the never-ending procession of tunes was at once precise and from the heart. Each bracket of melodies began quietly and slowly, and built over several minutes (and tunes) to a toe-tapping climax. Transitions between the different numbers showcased the duo’s almost telepathic communication, with changes of key and tempo happening at will. Hayes’ command of inflection and the subtleties of melody and improvisation ensured the audience’s attention was held across medleys which lasted ten minutes or more. Tunes such as “The Lark’s March”, “The Hole in the Boat” and “The Black Rogue” saw Hayes, bow flashing and hair flying, push his fiddle to the limit. Cahill had two moments in the limelight – during his own composition “Jimmy on the Moor”, and the encore, a version of “Dowd’s #9” which incorporated elements of jazz and funk.

Hayes’ presentations between brackets belied his playing style. Light and self-deprecating, he talked more about his colleague than himself, and even apologised for the number of tunes and names he had to announce. Cahill, reminiscent of Silent Bob of the Kevin Smith films, sat almost silently apart from the odd knowing smile and whispered comment to Hayes – which was then faithfully relayed to the crowd.

The festival club is a wonderfully atmospheric venue, although last night it was shown to be poorly ventilated, and anyone more than a few rows back in the central seating area had to crane to see the seated performers. However the audience left happy, humming and whistling to themselves as they headed back out into the torrential rain.


Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill on the Arts Festival website
Scoop Coverage: Arts Festival 2008

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