Twelfth Day with Joy Dunlop

Holy Saviour's Church, Tynemouth

30 March 2012

Twelfth Day are Catriona Price (violin and voice) and Esther Swift (harp and voice), both from Scotland, and for this concert they are joined by Gaelic singer Joy Dunlop.

Now straight away, from that information, you think you know what their music sounds like. But you're wrong, it doesn't sound like that at all. It's hard to define what is does sound like... they play their own compositions, and the music sounds extremely modern, there's barely a hint of a traditional Scottish tune all evening. Instead, Catriona's violin plays some very unconventional melodies and unexpected sounds, and Esther's harp adds layers of very intricate harmony (taking almost a piano-like role at time), and yes Joy does sing Gaelic, but the words are all by contemporary poets which the trio have set to their own music.

The overall result is a sound that is completely unique, in my experience, and nothing like I was expecting when I saw the concert advertised. Yes, you can hear the Scottish folk roots, but despite the traditional instruments it's most definitely a modern sound built on those roots. (Though I should have guessed that Esther Swift wouldn't be playing traditional music from when I heard the very modern harp quartet she wrote last year.)

But the important thing is not that the concert was unusual and unexpected, but that it was stunningly good. I mean, I'm predisposed to like anything with harps and violins anyway, but this was a style of music that made me sit up and take notice, and it was beautifully played and sung.

The other important thing is that the gig was unamplified, and there's a special quality to unamplified instruments that I love to hear. The sound carried perfectly well in the church, though if I had one complaint about the gig it's that the voices sometimes didn't lift above the instruments well enough for the words to be distinct — though of course this didn't matter in the Gaelic songs when I couldn't understand the actual words anyway.

Overall a fantastic concert, and I'm really glad I spotted it (at the last minute) and decided to take a chance on it. It's pity more people didn't, as the audience couldn't have numbered more than about 30 people, and this group deserves a lot more attention.

[Site Home Page] Home
[Review Index Page] Review Index