The Gloaming (group)

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The Gloaming (group)
The Gloaming group pic.jpg
Background information
OriginIreland, United States
GenresTraditional Irish, Celtic, world music, contemporary classical, jazz, chamber, folk, post-rock, minimalism
Years active2011-present
LabelsReal World Records (Rest of World)
Brassland Records (North America)
MembersMartin Hayes
Dennis Cahill
Iarla Ó Lionáird
Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh
Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman)
Matt Purcell

The Gloaming is a contemporary Irish/American music group formed in 2011 comprising fiddle player Martin Hayes, guitarist Dennis Cahill, vocalist Iarla Ó Lionáird, fiddle player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and pianist and producer Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman).

They have recorded two studio albums, The Gloaming (2014) and The Gloaming (2) (2016), and a concert recording, Live at the NCH (2018), all of which were released to unanimous critical acclaim.[1] Their touring career, meanwhile, has seen sold-out headline shows in some of the most prestigious music venues in the world, including the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Albert Hall, Teatro de la Ciudad, the Barbican, the Lincoln Center, the Philharmonie de Paris, the ElbPhiharmonie, Muziekgebouw, the Philharmonie Luxembourg, the Chan Center, the Kennedy Center, the Berklee Performance Center, the Walker Art Center, among many others, all the while maintaining an annual residency each spring at Dublin's National Concert Hall.[2]

The group has been widely credited with re-imagining the vernacular of traditional Irish music through a modern prism via elements of post-rock, jazz, contemporary classical, chamber, and minimalism in a manner that has never been attempted.[3] Lyricist Ó Lionáird often uses motifs, poetic verse and whole songs from the ancient Irish canon, with some lyrics dating back centuries.[4] The Gloaming's music has been described as a genre of its own[5] while also drawing comparisons with acts as sonically diverse as Sigur Ros, Brian Eno, Arvo Part, Buena Vista Social Club, Tortoise, Steve Reich, and Seán Ó Riada.[6][7]

The Gloaming are signed to Real World Records, whose founder, musician Peter Gabriel, described them as “a wonderful mix of soulful and passionate talents who have created their own genre”. In the US, their music is released through Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s Brassland Records, home of The National.[8]



"One thing I wanted to make sure was that this would not be a collaboration where we’d all just go on stage and do our own thing. This has to be its own thing: a collaboration between us all."

Hayes on forming the band [9]

In April 2011, the Irish Times reported that a “supergroup” made up of some of the biggest names in traditional Irish music had recorded material at Grouse Lodge Studios and were set to make their live debut that August.[10]

Ó Lionáird and Hayes had known one another since their youth on the trad circuit, and after meeting in New York in January 2010, agreed that they would begin a musical project with Hayes’ frequent collaborator, guitarist Dennis Cahill. Hayes also suggested Thomas Bartlett, a pianist and producer based in New York who was a long-time fan and friend of Hayes’, arguing that Bartlett would “connect the worlds” of the other four members.[11]

"We went to work in Grouse Lodge one year later, and I love the results of that week-long encounter. New songs, new tunes, old songs made new, and a cohesion and naturalness to the sound that surprises and delights equally."

Ó Lionaird on the band’s first meeting at Grouse Lodge Studios [12]

The final ingredient was Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, a young Dublin fiddle player who had developed a signature style through his use of a hybrid violin known as a Hardanger d'Amore. When Ó Lionáird had asked Hayes why he felt the line-up required a second fiddle player, Hayes replied that he was choosing “the man, not the instrument”.[13]

The band's concert at the National Concert Hall in August 2011 sold out before they had released any music, and was deemed “a revelation” by the Irish Times. The night was attended by President of Ireland Michael D Higgins (who has attended every season since), and saw the first signs of the broadly diverse audience that would become a signature of the group's live shows.[14]

The Gloaming[edit]

Following a hugely subscribed tour of Ireland, the band entered Grouse Studios in the Irish midlands to record their self-titled debut LP. It was completed in the summer of 2013 before the band returned to the road for another sell-out tour stopping off at landmark international venues in London, Amsterdam, Paris and New York.[15] Produced by Bartlett and the Gloaming, and mixed by Patrick Dillett (David Byrne, St. Vincent), The Gloaming was released on January 20, 2014 on Real World Records and on Brassland Records in America, Justin Time Records in Canada, and Planet Records in Australia.

The band with President Michael D Higgins at the National Concert Hall

The album received extremely positive reviews from critics. The Guardian described the record as “exquisite”, while Uncut called the debut collection of songs “a magisterial set”.[16][17] In their five-star review, the Irish Times said the album was “contemporary music making at its very best: unself-conscious, freewheeling and yet deeply thoughtful, revealing layer upon layer with each listening”.[18] Music magazine Mojo’s verdict was that The Gloaming was “a very organic, modern album. And it's brilliant”, while the Boston Globe noted the record's “energizing tension” and “the pull of the past and the call of what's to come” present in the music. NPR Music, meanwhile, named it "One of the Year's Best Albums" and called it "astonishingly beautiful”.[19][20]

In April 2014, the band closed proceedings at the Royal Albert Hall alongside Elvis Costello, Glen Hansard and Imelda May as part of the President Michael D Higginsofficial state visit to Britain.[21] The group would also perform shows across Europe and North America that year.[22]

Following the quintet's sold-out three-night run at Dublin's National Concert Hall in February 2015, their debut album won the Meteor Choice Music Prize for Album of the Year, beating competition from acts such as Hozier, U2, Damien Rice and Sinead O'Connor.[23] That same year, album track 'Samhradh Samhradh' was named Best Traditional Track at the 2015 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.[24]

The Gloaming (2)[edit]

"I do feel we have a stronger record, I do feel our feet are stronger now. I don’t think we’ve exhausted the initial sandbox. We’re not too far removed from our initial creative area so there’s still plenty we can do. In terms of pushing the boat out, we’ve pushed it out in the water, but there’s a whole lot of rowing we can still do."

Ó Lionáird during recordings sessions for The Gloaming (2)[25]

In an interview with the Irish Times in August 2014, Hayes had revealed that the band were all eager to begin work on new material.[26] In December 2015, they entered Real World Studios in England to record material that had mostly been written and previewed during the group's 2015 touring schedule. The follow-up album was recorded in just five days, with Bartlett once again producing and Patrick Dillett on mixing duties.[27]

The Gloaming (2) was released February 2016 to extremely positive reviews and debuted at No.1 in the Irish Album Charts.[28] In its review, the Herald said that the new body of work “takes things to a higher level”, while the Irish Times called it a “richly textured thing of beauty”.[29][30] The Guardian once again dubbed the Gloaming's music “exquisite” in its review, and NPR labelled the record “wistful, tender and completely transforming”.[31] “Top-class” was the verdict of the Telegraph, while Mojo described these new recordings as “an album of dark beauty and unnerving enchantment”.[32] The LP would finish the year with inclusions in various end-of-year lists.

A five-night residency in Dublin's National Concert Hall was timed to coincide with the release, with all five nights selling-out in record time.[33] More high-profile live dates took place that year across Europe and North America, including London's Royal Festival Hall, Philharmonie de Paris, Teatro Viriato in Portugal and the Kennedy Center in the US.

Demand for the group continued right through 2017, with the Gloaming playing some of the most prestigious venues across Europe and North America as well as a sold-out seven-night residency in the National Concert Hall in early March of that year.[34]

Live at the NCH[edit]

The Gloaming live at the National Concert Hall, Dublin, in March 2017.
The Gloaming live at the National Concert Hall, Dublin, in March 2017.

In February 2018, RTE reported that the Gloaming were readying the release of a concert album timed for release with the group's sold-out seven-night residency in Dublin's National Concert Hall in March (their only live dates of that year).[35] The album would act as a celebration of the 17 sold-out shows the Gloaming had performed at the NCH over the course of their career to that point.

In an interview, Bartlett said of the venue: “After playing our very first show there, we became really bonded to the National Concert Hall. It's still absolutely amazing to me to have fallen into the situation where such a thing was even possible. I think because the room holds such importance for us as a band, and because the residency has become an annual tradition, we approach these shows with a particular kind of fire and focus, but also in the knowledge that we can really take our time to stretch out and explore, and that the audience will happily go wandering with us.”[36]

Compiled by Bartlett from two years’ worth of concert recordings, the six-track Live at the NCH was released on March 2 on Real World Records to widespread critical acclaim.

The Irish Times’ review of Live at the NCH felt the recordings “capture the essence of this band whose live performances are akin to mesmerising, whirling dervishes”.[37] In its five-star review, The Arts Desk called the release “one of the great live recordings, in any genre”, remarking that it was the sound of a band “fusing form and feeling with dazzling improvisations that transform tunes like ‘The Sailor's Bonnet’ into huge and hugely enthralling explorations”.[38] Celtic Sounds noted that the album was “filled with a sense of communication and collaboration, which is, at times, almost transcendental”.[39] Album track 'The Sailor's Bonnet' was also highlighted in the New York Times' Playlist.[40]

In early March of that year, music magazine Hot Press reported that Live at the NCH had gone straight to No.3 in the Irish Album Charts upon its release.[41]

In a review of these NCH shows, Irish music source Golden Plec commented that the Gloaming had “taken on a considerable cultural significance”, and that the group's popularity “speaks to the vitality of traditional Irish music as an art form”. “In an era where American sounds and images reign supreme, The Gloaming remind us as a people of our own cultural inheritance.”[42]

New studio album and 2019 NCH residency[edit]

"I arranged music for Father John Misty on his Pure Comedy album, so I got to know Thomas Bartlett of The Gloaming... I think The Gloaming are a supreme group. They’re one of the best around."

Composer Gavin Bryars on his love for the group.[43]

In an interview with the Irish Examiner ahead of The Gloaming's sold-out Spring 2018 residency at the NCH, Ó Raghallaigh revealed that those Dublin dates would be the group's only touring commitments in 2018 because the main focus would be the writing and recording of a new studio album. The fiddle player also said that he personally hoped the new LP would be different to its predecessors, saying: “I'm really proud of the second one in particular, but it would be great if we all agreed that something different is required for a third album, and explored how would we go about achieving that as a group.”[44]

In October 2018, the quintet announced plans for their Spring 2019 residency at Dublin's National Concert Hall, with a run of seven shows billed to take place between March 4th and 11th. Hot Press also revealed that work was underway on a third studio LP noted for release during Spring 2019.[45]

The Gloaming 3[edit]

On January 15, 2019, reported that the group had officially announced the imminent release of their third studio LP on February 22. Produced by Thomas Bartlett and recorded in New York at Reservoir Studios in Autumn 2018, The Gloaming 3 was to be preceded by new tracks ‘Áthas (Joy)’ and 'Sheenan’s Jigs’. In an accompanying statement, author Colm Tóibín described the music of The Gloaming as "a rare and exhilarating kind of beauty".[46]

Musical style[edit]

"There’s a fair proportion of people who come to see us who don’t have much knowledge of traditional Irish music. I have a feeling it’s much larger than one might think. People respond to the energy rather than the surface form. It seems to bypass those stereotypes. And it’s nicer to operate just on the basis of ‘music’. Just the thing itself. It’s a blindness worth having sometimes."

Ó Lionáird on the Gloaming's appeal[47]

The Gloaming's blend of influences and the diversity of their members’ backgrounds has meant their music has been difficult to categorise since they first appeared in 2011. While clearly rooted in the Celtic tradition, they have drawn comparison with a range of left-of-centre world music acts, composers and sonic experimentalists, from Brian Eno to Buena Vista Social Club.

More than once, the music created by the quintet has been labelled a genre all its own due to the way it has one foot in the past and one in the future. It has also been said of the group that they have reconfigured the traditional musical syntax of “reels”. Customarily performed in simple rhythmic meters (2
or 4
) and repeated in configurations that can bring on a hypnotic-like sensation in the listener, the Gloaming have slowed and deepened the typically fast pace of these rhythms to reveal elements hidden in historically familiar patterns.[48][49]

"It sounds closer to a piece of contemporary chamber music than a traditional tune, though the players improvise freely. For the climax, the band accelerate into an exhilarating reel; and when the audience – President Higgins included – rise to their feet, no one in the hall seems quite sure what they have heard, though they've never heard anything quite like it before.” "

Review of the April 2014 Royal Albert Hall show, the Guardian[50]

The fiddle-playing of Martin Hayes has its origins in the East Clare style, known for a slow, contemplative, and melancholic sweep.[51] Hayes spent much time in the US where his ear was broadened by exposure to acts such as Arvo Part and Sigur Ros.[52] Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, meanwhile, has developed his own style through both his use of a customized hybrid fiddle (part Norwegian Hardanger, part viola d’amore) as well as a fascination with minimalism and a more discordant or “ugly” sonic palette.[53] This interplay between such distinct fiddle styles is considered a signature of the Gloaming's sound.[54]

Despite his family's close ties to Dingle, Co Kerry, guitarist Dennis Cahill was not brought up in a traditional Irish music household. His musical roots are in Chicago blues, jazz and rock, and it was only after he began playing with Hayes in the 1980s that he found a way to wed his unique percussive style with Hayes’ fiddle and eventually the compositions of the Gloaming.[55]

"Martin and I belong to the last generation to have learned the music at first-hand, sitting at the master's knee. But at the same time we never pretended not to have listened to other things. We were into the Beatles, we were into Abba, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Philip Glass. The Gloaming is a curious kind of band. Not everyone will like it. Traditional music can be suspicious of innovation - my father, for example, was my greatest musical mentor, but I'm not sure he would have entirely approved. But at this point in my life, I felt that I had to try and make music that my father wouldn't like."

Ó Lionáird on diversity of influence in the band[56]

Iarla Ó Lionáird comes from the Cúil Aodha townland of West Cork, where sean-nós singing – solo singing unaccompanied by any instrument – is the lingua franca. Passed down the generations, the songs cover a multitude of themes, from historical events and romantic ballads to accounts of loss and emigration, and, of course, drinking and devilment. Ó Lionáird was a star of sean-nós from a very young age and took the passion and textures of this vocal style to his work with Afro Celt Sound System, solo material on Real World Records, and collaborations with composers such as Nico Muhly, Gavin Bryars, and Donnacha Dennehy.[57]

Interestingly, before Thomas Bartlett became a mainstay of the New York contemporary scene, the Vermont native was immersed for a period in the structures and cadences of traditional Irish music. From age 10, Bartlett was intrigued by Hayes’ music, particularly his eponymous 1992 debut LP, and he continued to listen to and play Irish music through his teenage years while studying piano. Since then, Bartlett has produced and collaborated with a wide spectrum of artists, including David Byrne, Yoko Ono, Antony and the Johnsons, St. Vincent, Sufjan Stevens, Sam Amidon, The National, Bell X1, Glen Hansard, and Anna Calvi. It is thought that this dexterity as well as his familiarity with Hayes’ style allows him to place influences of jazz and classical to the Gloaming's foreground.[58]




"Given the power of The Gloaming’s live performances and the unique relationship between the band and their audience, I’ve long wanted to find a way to capture the energy and beauty on film. I’m delighted to say that we’ve done just that. We were able to take a photograph of this incredible band at a unique moment in time."

Producer Philip King on producing The Gloaming at the National Concert Hall[59]

In December 2013, RTE aired Moment To Moment, a documentary portrait of the band directed by Philip King and Nuala O’Connor, and produced by South Wind Blows with funding from the Arts Council of Ireland in association with RTE. Using archive footage and interviews with each of the band members, the film was described by the Irish Times as being “a thrilling insight into the Gloaming's formation and purpose, and where they hope to bring traditional music”.[60]

The group collaborated with Philip King once again in 2018 for a special concert film recorded during the final night of their National Concert Hall residency that year that would act as a visual accompaniment to the Live at the NCH album. The Gloaming at the National Concert Hall was broadcast on RTE on Easter Sunday (April 1), and was described by Hayes as doing “a masterful job of capturing the feeling and atmosphere of our NCH concerts”.[61]


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External links[edit]