Nope, I’d never heard the Barra MacNeils, not even on a youtube video. I had heard of them. They’re a musical family, from Cape Breton and have toured for three decades. What else do I need to know, to conclude that this would be a great performance. Newton’s fourth law.
And it was. Okay, I’ll admit there were jigs and reels in the performance. I know the start of a reel does elicit some deep throated yells from the more excitable lads in the crowd, but to my untrained ear, reels, or jigs, all sound somewhat similar. But the Barra MacNeils didn’t overdo them: jigs or reels being one of those things that sound great, but have a very short half life in listener appeal. They work the Celtic folk genre, but at the same time the group’s program has variety and displays originality.
As you might expect, coming from Cape Breton, the five siblings that make up the Barra MacNeils play a prodigious range of instruments, including harp, keyboards, up to three violins at a time, mandolin, guitar and a bodhran. The latter is a very tuneful percussion instrument, and now that I’ve heard it, I wouldn’t listen to a reel without one. The MacNeils are a very tight ensemble, and they kept our party engaged with a generous and varied three hour musical program. And we sat on stools the entire time. They were that good. The MacNeils, not the stools.
The video gives you a taste of what the concert was like. Hugh’s Room is a very intimate and cozy setting, as you can see. I won’t say ‘comfortable’, because of the stools, but we managed. On this song, Dougie Maclean’s classic ‘Caledonia’, the band slows it down, and the crystal clear vocals of Lucy MacNeil move to the foreground, after the lovely harmonies she had provided that far in the evening. (If the video is blurry, press the HD button.)
And the group does all that other stuff, the jigs and reels and more, quite well also. Here is a bit …
This is definitely music that is meant to be heard live though. There are some bands that videos will never do proper justice. If you’re a Deadhead, you know what I mean. If you get a chance, do see the Barra MacNeils live; you’re in for a treat.