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Joy Dunlop & Twelfth Day | Live Performance Review

Joy Dunlop and Twelfth Day - Hootananny, Inverness, 28 March 2012

A PUNTER, leaving the bar, pauses at the door. “You’re beautiful”, he says, rather wistfully, to Joy Dunlop, Catriona Price and Esther Swift.

Indeed they are, and they’re also brave. It takes courage to perform what is essentially a classical suite of songs in the spit-and-sawdust-shebeen ambience of the Hootananny downstairs bar. It turns out that this is a last minute change of plan by the bar management – they were originally booked to play the quieter, smaller bar upstairs, two hours earlier, which would have been an entirely different affair. Michael Marra sings yearningly of Frida Kahlo coming back to life in the Tay Bridge Bar but if Elvis himself took the stage late on a Wednesday night at Hootananny, he’d be hard pushed to get an audience to notice him.

Top marks for self-possession, then, as the young trio forge through the suite, gradually winning over a good half of the crowd with their selection of poems by Scotswomen set to some truly lovely tunes. Jackie Kay’s ‘Darling’ comes zinging out, set to music by Swift that briefly hushes the bar chatter, followed by ‘Firewirks ower Bressa Soond’, an Orkney/Shetland fusion with music by Price and words by Christine de Luca.

Price’s music for Sheila MacLeod’s ‘Maid’ (based on the ancient Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens) is also lovely. Dunlop’s waulking songs catch the Invernessian ear and there’s a small outbreak of feet tapping at the bar. But most of this audience is not in the mood for the carefully crafted beauty on offer – they want simple singalong tunes with strongly marked beats. More’s the pity for those of us who are straining to hear through the noise.

In the second half, Liz Lochhead’s ‘Two Birds’ and Violet Jacob’s ‘The Lost Licht’ stand out. Throughout the evening Price’s fiddle playing is remarkable, and Swift’s performance on the concert harp is a rare treat, while their voices entwined with Dunlop’s beautifully pure, clear, true tones are exquisite. This reviewer looks forward to hearing Fiere performed in a venue where it will be treated with the respect it undoubtedly deserves. Until then, there’s the CD.

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