In a little over a year Dallahan have taken the traditional music scene North of Hadrian’s Wall by storm, ending the year on a high with a nomination for the Best Up And Coming Act, category at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards. It doesn’t take much more than a single play through When The Day Is On The Turn, their first full length album, to establish what all of the fuss is about, because as good as the self titled EP that preceded it was, this is truly something special. Individually they are five supremely talented musicians, but together they do that magic thing of being more than just the sum of the parts, making When The Day Is On The Turn a début of immense promise and immediate reward.
The band met on the Edinburgh session scene, but come from disparate musical backgrounds. The band’s singer and guitarist Jack Badcock was originally born in Dublin and spent the first 10 years in Kilkenny, Ireland, before moving to Leeds. It was there that his interest in traditional music developed, but it’s since moving to Edinburgh, that it has truly flourished as Jack has immersed himself in the Scottish and Irish session scene. He recently made it to the final of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award.
Jack met Ciarán Ryan, a versatile musician who plays fiddle and mandolin, although best known as a banjo player having been crowned the All Britain Banjo Champion in his age group in 2006, at Sandy Bell’s bar in Edinburgh and the two immediately found common ground and a complimentary way of playing together. It’s around this duo that Dallahan have coalesced.
Seeking out like-minded and equally talented musicians around the session scene, Hungarian fiddle-player Jani Lang and Tomás Ó’Briain on button accordion were soon added to the line up. Although Tomás plays on the record, he has now been replaced by Paddy Callaghan, another multi-instrumentalist from Glasgow, Scotland. As well as being an accordion virtuosos, Paddy reinforces the Irish connection, because as with many from the West of Scotland, Paddy has family origins in the Tyrone, Derry and Donegal. Jani, however, is Hungarian and a winner of that country’s first ever traditional music prize, so brings Balkan roots and Gypsy fire to their musical mix.
Completing the quintet is bassist Balázs Hermann, another musician with a strong and varied pedigree, who is equally at home in the jazz and classical worlds as he is with anything folk oriented. Like Jani, he has Hungarian roots, but is a mainstay of the Scottish scene and another to be recruited from the Edinburgh session scene.
The title track that opens the album is unusual in taking it’s time to unfold, although the strong interplay between Jacks full toned guitar and Ciarán’s slick and quick-fire banjo picking is immediately apparent. None the less, you’ve clicked over 50 seconds before the fiddle and accordion join in and the instrumental continues through to the 2.22 mark before Jack’s voice joins the party and with a subtle lengthening of the rhythmic stride the song lopes into life.
It’s a confident start that shows their closely matched skills, with the banjo trills matched with vibrato from the button accordion and violin. The different tones of the instruments also create space as their melodic threads interlace and you suddenly become aware that the bass is following every tuneful twist while laying down a firm foundation. Clever overdubs, wah-wah guitar and all, build the atmospherics, while Jack’s voice is layered adding harmonic depth to the piece.
The song itself, with lyrics plucked from the Scottish tradition cleverly captures the feelings of winter with warm fires burning and those cosseted inside wearied by the long nights and chill in the air, looking forward to the time when the solstice is passed and the daylight starts to increase. It’s Jack’s melody, with the band sharing the arrangers credits and weaving in tunes from Ciarán and also Irish American fiddler Liz Carroll.
Given their instrumental flair, it’s probably right that tune sets have the upper hand on the CD, although if you include the bonus track, there are actually five songs in the 12 track running order. The first of the tunes, however, is The Tartar Frigate, with the main tune written by Matt Seattle, an English composer and musicologist who has lived on both sides of the border and is a renowned expert on the regions piping style. The playing is quite breath-taking and wildly syncopated, the rhythms like a helix around the tune as it morphs through one of Jani’s and then one that is simply credited as unknown.
The following song slows the pace with a traditional Transylvanian lament, mourning the loss of loved one’s to famine. The lyrics of The Chose And The True are translated into English by Ken Clarke and once more the band share the arrangement, although here the mournful tone of Jani’s fiddle takes the lead. Whilst it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Kris Drever album, Jack has a fine and distinctive voice. Ciarán swaps to fiddle to emphasise the change of pace and the sublime coda completes a song of real elegiac beauty.
The pace picks up gradually through Try Praying, a two part set of tunes from Jani that features a mid-section break from Balázs, while the second tune marks the appearance of guest Jarlath Henderson on pipes. Perhaps it’s the title that suggests a darker mood to the tune, but the way that the pipes and accordion lock into each other with the fiddle and then the counterpoint from the banjo and the rhythmic surge of guitar and bass is spectacular. By contrast Spicey Shoes is playful and with Ciarán swapping to mandolin, Balázs turning on a jazzy strut, Jani and Tomás push the limits of their instruments, before Jack hits the accelerator and the set takes off in a flurry. As the tune set heads towards its climax Jarlath once more makes his presence felt, locking horns with the banjo and accordion and creating the launch pad for more fiery fiddle work.
In truth all of the tunes showcase the extraordinary talent of Dallahan whilst each has a different flavour and maintains the constantly shifting spotlight. Jani leads in composition terms, but Ciarán also contributes to Burger Man and Maggies jigs. The former kicks off like Gypsy bluegrass, before Ciarán’s banjo leaps out of the blocks in an arpeggiated blur of fingers. He also shines in the middle on the latter, but then they all do on what sounds like the most traditional set, although the relatively straight ahead Hurley’s House could also lay that claim, before suddenly heading straight to the Balkans and back with some electrifying playing all round. Sun Dog is more whistful, almost lazy with it’s bowed bass, before taking on an almost chamber classical feel and complexity.
The remaining songs do much more than make up the numbers amongst this insatiable instrumental magic offering two sides of love’s multi-faceted gemstone. The eternal love of Cathy Ryan’s Carrick-A-Rede suggests no obstacle can get in the way of love’s truth, while the opposite applies in the unfolding tragedy of Kathy Dear. The playing on both is once again sublime and Jack’s voice is strong as he brings both stories to life. Both also feature Jarlath Henderson on Whistle adding a plaintive tone to the graceful musical mix.
(SPOILER ALERT) There is a bonus track that completely changes the mood bringing some comedy to the mix with the mix of infidelities in Shame And Scandal, a jaunty calypso that gives the boys a chance to let their hair down and have some fun.
Dallahan call on their mixed Irish, Scottish and Hungarian heritage to create a unique and seamless musical montage that is as exciting as it gets. There is so much to enjoy here and the level of the composition arrangement and playing is at times simply off the scale, but while the level of skill will have you slack-jawed, it will also likely have you bouncing round your living room with utter delight. It can only be hoped that their coming appearance at Celtic Connections is the springboard for a full calendar of gigs and festivals, where – bookers please note, they will grace any bill you put together – because rather like in Carrick-A-Rede, no obstacle should get in the way of seeing Dallahan as soon as possible.
Review by: Simon Holland
Upcoming Tour Dates
13 – London, Courtyard Theatre
14 – Sandwich, St Mary’s Arts Centre
15 – Anchor Inn, Wingham
16 – Cambridge, Portland Arms
17 – Liverpool Leaf, Liverpool
20 – Penrith, Up Front Arts Centre
02 – Edinburgh, Edinburgh Tradfest
03 – Brew at the Bog, Inverness
04 – Inverness, Brew at the Bog
22 – Stromness, Orkney Folk Festival
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