Ye Vagabonds @ St. Luke’s, Cork 1 Oct 2016

ye vagabonds st. luke's

Debut EP Rose & Briar  Out Now.

As we are all aware a ‘vagabond’ is a someone of no fixed abode who tends to wander rather than settle in one place. Conversely, it can also mean someone who is ‘disreputable’ or ‘worthless’. Having said this, there is no way that anyone could label the wonderfully gentle and elegiac music that Dublin folk group Ye Vagabonds perform ‘worthless’ or anything of the sort.

The last time they played the atmospheric and beautiful St. Luke’s in Cork, they were in support of Lisa Hannigan on her recent tour of intimate and unique Irish venues. However, tonight is an entirely different story. Buoyed by the success of that gig and the continuing accolades for their debut EP Rose & Briar, the brothers have returned to headline this time around showcasing their expanded line-up and ever growing confidence.

For the gig, they’ve brought the Cork based Tiz McNamara along with them to support. He’s a purveyor of what I like to call the ‘sadly sung, softly strummed’ brand of singer songwriter folk. His songs are gentle and delicate, ranging from songs about his cat Daisy to gently finger picked numbers of recovery. His genial manner and emotive songs are well received by the receptive crowd, while the songs themselves are given extra gravity by the wonderful setting. A promising performance.

For the first few songs of Ye Vagabonds’ set just the core duo of Brian and Diarmuid MacGloinn take the stage. There is something wonderfully precise and earnest about their musical understanding of each other. Their harmonised melodies are meticulous and exact, but absolutely never neutered as a result. Often, when a musical presentation is too perfect or flawless, the humanity and vulnerability can be lost from the performance. It can be too exact. Sometimes a scuffed note or the crack in a singer’s voice can illuminate a performance, drawing the listener in with the imperfection. However, in the case of Ye Vagabonds, the precision only adds to their solemn and emotive renditions of traditional folk songs and their own equally affecting material.

They open with ‘Barbara Ellen’. A traditional Scottish ballad that tells a tale of unrequited love, the duo’s version is a simple one. A sole violin accompanies the brothers’ mournful voices. The simplicity and unadorned nature of the musical arrangement allows their voices to ebb and flow, skirting around each other melodically as if in some wonderfully choreographed dance. ‘Whistling Wind’ is another early highlight. Again, the performance consists of a simple musical composition, with the addition of delicate and tender guitar work upping the ante somewhat.

This is the group’s first gig with additional members added to the duo and the band becomes a quartet for ‘Half Blind’. The music remains earnest and restrained, but the additional instrumentation adds a subtle depth that gives the performances added width and penetration. If this is the route the band take for their upcoming debut album, it could be an even more wonderful offering than their debut EP.

Elsewhere, the gig feels somewhat like a watershed career moment with Ye Vagabonds playing tribute to a number of influences on their musical journey and sound. They play an affecting guitar instrumental in a warm open tuning called ‘For Bert’ as testament to legendary folk singer/songwriter Bert Jansch, who Led Zeppelin famously plagiarised on ‘Black Mountain Side’, their version of the Irish folk instrumental ‘Down by Blackwaterside’, which very closely resembled Jansch’s seminal version.

What follows this is a remarkable story of how the duo found recordings of their own grandfather in the Irish Archive. Before the discovery they had only known his work and songs by reputation. Their performance of one such song their grandfather recorded for the archive, ‘Siún Ní Dhuibhir’, is given an added weight and wonder by the familial connection and how bizarrely coincidental life can sometimes be. Throughout, the crowd are more reverential than participatory. However, this response is entirely apt as the performances are at times breath taking. If Ye Vagabonds performance tonight is any indication, we can look forward to a future filled with their wonderful contributions for many years to come.

Photography by Shane J Horan.

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