Event Review: Imagining Ireland @ Barbican Centre (London; Monday 5th March 208)

On Monday 5th March, a rather interesting group of musicians came together on the Barbican stage to present Imagining Ireland, a showcase, or – as Serious and The National Concert Hall presented it – a snapshot, of Irish music today.

The first half of the evening began quite safely, with a series of solo artists, and the wonderful Crash Ensemble – an all-female string quartet who wove in and out of all of the evening’s performances. Maria Kelly was the first to sing, treating us to two delicate and carefully crafted alt-folk tracks. Folk singer-songwriter Seamus Fogarty then took the stage for a jovial set, including the song “Carlow Town”, for which he was joined by headliner Lisa Hannigan on vocals.

Next came Loah, who stole the first half of the show for me. Her soulful voice was a refreshing insight into Irish music and an enjoyable contrast to the large amount of folk-influenced artists on the night. We then enjoyed a solo violin performance from Dowry, who also arranged strings for the concert, as well as a poignant poem from Stephen James Smith. The rather elderly audience members in front of us then jumped in their seats, startled, as the energetic MC Mango and his beatmaker Mathman bounded on stage, on a mission to show London exactly what urban grime from Dublin sounds like! Their upbeat and unique set closed the first half of the show – for many people it was probably their first experience of genuine Irish hip-hop.

The second half opened with another poem from Stephen James Smith, called “My Ireland” – an incredibly honest exploration of Ireland and ‘Irishness’ that was in equal parts funny and sad. Next up came Saint Sister – the act I was personally most excited about – a female duo that uses close harmonies, a Korg synthesiser, and harp, to create music that gives you goosebumps. They did not fail to disappoint, delivering a standout set that was my favourite of the whole concert. Luckily for me, they stuck around, singing with headliners Lisa Hannigan and Paul Noonan later in the show.

The concert then took a more lively turn with a couple of songs from Brian Deady – a Cork musician with blues, R&B and gospel influences, and a sound reminiscent of fellow Irish singer Hozier. Irish folk star Lisa Hannigan also took to the stage for a solo set, and delighted the crowd with four songs from her last album At Swim, showing off her sultry vocals and insightful lyrics which have made her a household name in Ireland. The show’s other headliner Paul Noonan played the final solo set, performing much loved Bell X1 tune “Rocky Took a Lover”, and finishing off the show with a beautiful collaboration involving the entire cast.

The way that the performers and musicians were able to create a cohesive piece from the different genres and artists was impressive. One can only hope that this will become a yearly occurrence, and continue to show us some of the gems being uncovered in the Irish music scene.

Photo ©: Emile Holba (#CultureIrelandGB18)