Bathed in blue stage lights, with the ageing pipes of an old church organ looming impressively over them, Cúla Búla towered over the crowd upstairs at The Quays on a stage built at least seven feet off the ground.

But never did they give the impression they were looking down upon us. No delusions of grandeur here, barely even a performer/audience barrier. Clad in ripped jeans and a grubby jumper, vocalist and tin whistle-ist Bisckits Musicman – through audience manipulation that would make Enormodome veterans green with envy – had the crowd stomping all over the fine line between traditional Irish dancing and moshing.

Bassist Luke Longarms hopped down from his perch stage right to demonstrate the finer points of ceilí dancing with Musicman. Dance steps that were an enthralling cross between drunken frog-lurching and waltzing, kept in time by Tadhg Kelly, who’s impeccable drumming lead the band through rhythmic variations of trad, through punk, to reggae-inflected grooves.

And the crowd moved with Cúla Búla through these off-kilter shifts, flinging bodies and limbs in time with the ever-changing beat. A sweat-soaked mass of flying hair and ravaged livers.

The times they have a-changed. Ergo, therefore, and hence, the folk music of the people has to have changed with it. Cúla Búla are here to play that music.

Celebrating in plainspoken, humble terms the virtues of Cans At Dawn and the reinvention of the traditional as something modern. When Musicman played Cliff Burton’s iconic bass riff from Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls on his tin whistle, a roar of recognition/approval rose from the congregation. Living, singing, dancing proof that the lines between sub-cultures have become so blurred as to be almost indistinct. 

It has been noted that the future of music lies in the fusion of seemingly disparate genres together into something simultaneously futuristic and classic, just like Cúla Búla’s trad remix of Metallica. Or their rugged folk-punk reimagining of House Of The Rising Sun. The future of the folk is in Cúla Búla’s safe, virtuoso hands. 

Grand exceeded all the expectations that their self-deprecating name set. Melding everything wonderful about roots music into a sound crisp and clear as an un-muddied lake, the seven instrumentalists on stage succeeded in perfectly complementing each other’s playing, rather than descending into a cacophonous wall of mushy sound.

They didn’t take to the stage until the witching hour and their party raged on into the wee hours of the morning. And though the floor was slick with beer-sweat and packed to capacity with bodies who had long since abandoned dancing in favour of rhythmic thrashing, still we shouted for more.

Grooving loose as a pack of wild animals, Grand tore through a setlist of some of the finest original roots-music material on the Emerald Isle. They delivered the pure, raw adrenaline thrill of the finest rock n’ roll without an electric instrument having to grace the stage.

Larynxes were shredded shouting “HI-DEE-HI-DEE-HI-DEE-HO!” during a storming rendition of Cab Calloway’s Minnie The Moocher. Feet moved so fast on the floor it’s a wonder someone didn’t tear a ligament. All the while, Grand’s irresistible groove carried the audience along on a cloud of pure joy.

“Move me, move me!” implored vocalist Phil on one of Grand’s original songs. And how anyone could not be moved by the immediate and intense bond between Grand and the crowd is beyond comprehension. For who can resist the sexual sound of a muted trumpet, hoisted into the stratosphere by the pure sound of a double bass?

Well, no one bothered to try and find out if they could resist it. We soared through the night in a haze of dance and song. A real sense of community pervaded the venue throughout the night. That wonderful synergy where everyone knows that everyone else is simply out for a good time and no one’s going to fuck it up for anyone else. ’Twas a beautiful thing to behold.

But it wouldn’t have happened without the bands. Without them and their arsenal of finely-honed tunes, there would have been no night at all. Just that horrible feeling of the absence of craic.

by James Fleming

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