In (musical) conversation with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill

“You know what we do, right, we play tunes. Over and over, we’ve been doing it for years.” With characteristic understatement Martin Hayes introduces an evening of heart-and-mind moving music to a packed St Mary’s. The captivated audience of nearly 400 certainly know and have come in record numbers to hear.

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Two sets of tunes into their first set, Martin Hayes wanders into a description of the transcendent, lilting Irish folk tunes which the audience are blissfully enjoying: “Every tune is like a little story; there’s an opening statement, a phrase that says something. That has to be answered and there begins the conversation. Second time round it’s variations…” He stops himself – “I didn’t mean this to be a masterclass and rob the joy from the evening” (not much chance of that Martin) “there’s nothing worse than verbally explaining music” and tongue only slightly in cheek concludes, of their roles as folk musicians, “it’s a simple job, somebody has to do it” before picking up the fiddle again.

Over the next two hours Martin Hayes and his long-time collaborator Dennis Cahill take us on a mesmerising journey through the “remarkable storehouse of melody” that is Irish folk music. It is a night of conversation: the stories told through melody, and the unspoken but profound and almost symbiotic communication between the two musicians - the duo have been playing together since the late 1980’s.

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“Forget all the rest, let’s just have the essence” Martin jokes later, describing a melody as the ‘essence of butterfly’, but it is a very apt description of the pair’s take on traditional Irish music. Spare and essential, leaving room for the stories of the melody to be told.

With two standing ovations the audience roar their delight, appreciation, and joy. Sounds like Walthamstow is ready to hear more of Martin and Dennis’ conversation.

Greg Staw