Huartan, Gradaim NÓS, review

February 14, 2024

Ram, bam, thank you man. Huartan play Irish trad music with rave dynamics, masks and pagan intent. They attach meaning to pre-Christian spirits, especially the hawthorn tree, a species you don’t want to mess with. Just to make the point clear, there are two dancers on stage, representing the fairy folk – alternately good and evil, light and dark. They are denizens of the hawthorn manor and they have assembled at the Black Box to enact síogaí magic.

Huartan. Photo by Stuart Bailie

They are joined by Stiofán Ó Luachráin with the flute, the ram’s head and the Chile 20 Adidas Originals. Catríona Ní Ghribín sings and plays accordeon. Miadhachlughain O’Donnell also summons up vocals, flute and presence.

Huartan. Photo by Stuart Bailie

These players are intensely rooted in the tradition yet they aim to skew the story. They have just collected an award – Nuatheachtaí na Bliana ­– the appointed newcomers in the Gradaim NÓS, which recognises top work with music in the Irish language. It’s a popular call and the Black Box people are elated.

IMLÉ. Photo by Stuart Bailie

The night has also gifted tunes from Dublin’s IMLÉ, using dub frequencies, recalling Massive Attack and Portishead. Afterwards, Torby brought fever and loverman moves. He’s famously a fan of the chicken panini and has a wit that won’t be denied. He cops his humour of the Rubberbandits and manifests the verve of Big Tom. All of it as Gaeilge.

Múlú. Photo by Stuart Bailie

Miadhachlughain O’Donnell supplements her time in Huartan with solo work as Múlú. She draws the air into the reeds of the shruti box, bringing Asian drones to the Celtronica and it’s tremendous. Her EP, Sásta a bheith anseo is all over the nomination categories, with reason.

GrooveLine. Photo by Stuart Bailie

Just to confound things, GrooveLine are here from Leitrim with the slap bass and some fiddle – trad agus funk, slick and joyful. Let’s say Level 43, for the sake of it.

Huartan. Photo by Stuart Bailie

Kneecap are in the house, previous Gradaim NÓS winners and a sure bet for the 2025 awards. But this is Huartan’s night, a chance to see the dance potential of old tunes like ‘Dúlamán’ and ‘Cad é Sin Don Té Sin’. We might remember these from our old Clannad records but we should also remember that in 1970, Clannad were mixing their folk songs with Pentangle jazz and Joni Mitchell, unphazed by the purists. New release ‘Bhean Udaí Thall’ is another old story from the Donegal-Scottish shadowlands that literally knows where the body is buried.

There are shamanic rituals with ribbons and rose petals and a real sense of the audience being lifted, somewhere. This is old stuff, that’s previously been an inspiration for the KLF, Flowered Up, Transglobal Underground and a load of acid house tricksters. Huartan, come from another time and place but are also aiming for transcendence and strangeness. Future gigs will be rammed.

Stuart Bailie


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