NZ Arts Festival 2008, Pacific Blue Festival Club
March 1-3 | Reviewed by Tim G

TONIGHT the Pacific Blue Tent in Frank Kitts Park resembled a setting of the musicians’ native County Clare. The rain poured as it oft do in the Emerald Islands, and the essence of Eire resonated as Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill brought not only their spin on Celtic music, but an Irish charm to Wellington. The rain persisted, the alcohol flowed, and despite this, spirits were high and the best Celtic fiddle player in the world entertained. Who would have known we were in County Clare tonight?

Both Hayes and Cahill hail from East County Clare, but reside in Boston. Hayes is something of a virtuoso fiddle player. He has won international accolades and his talent is enchanting. Cahill is also accomplished in his own right both on mandolin and guitar. As the roof of the Pacific Blue tent filled with water from the persistent downpour Hayes and Cahill showed just why they are so revered. Theirs is a brand of Irish folk music that takes the qualities of the Celtic sound and stretches it out adding in other ingredients as it goes. A style that can all too often be pigeon-holed, the duo add in bits and pieces that are surprising yet complimentary. Their standard is to take three traditional or original songs, merge them and in true folk style make them their own.

As Hayes quipped “these songs probably don’t sound anything like the originals now.” Which is the beauty of this act; despite predominantly playing traditional tunes the two work them so beautifully they take on a life of their own. Hayes’ fiddle playing was nothing short of stirring, his talent bounced and swooned, surprised and compelled in a way only the greatest on the planet in this style could. Cahill complemented such a chameleonic sound with understated guitar playing and held the music together. His mandolin playing showcased the complexities of his ability. Jazz licks and blues scales were often dropped into traditional jigs by both musicians leaving the crowd mesmerised. Hayes’ humour also won over the crowd, in typical Irish method whether it be because of his witty humour, digs at kiwis or just his accent and eccentricities, the crowd responded zealously, also in typical Irish fashion.

As the encore of “Dear Irish Boy” was played out, the rain hadn’t abided, the delighted crowd mostly lingered for a few drinks, and slowly ambled away. It was as if a wee bit of Ireland had transplanted itself into Frank Kitts Park just for one night.