YES IT’S THE HARP, BUT NOT AS WE KNOW ITkathleen laoise molloys

Do musicians well used to fulsome praise get used to it I wonder? Such a flickering thought passed through my mind as I took my seat in the famous Matt Molloy’s in Westport on a balmy Irish evening in late summer.  I was glad I had arrived early as the place filled up quickly, with folk keen to get a good seat and very soon a mood of warm anticipation pervaded the space.

Mayo harpist Laoise Kelly is well used to praise, her many reviews speak glowingly of her sheer talent and technical ability, her deep musical understanding, her innovation, the complexity of her playing and her wonderful individual style. Sharing the stage with Laoise that evening was Hebridean singer Kathleen MacInnes and were I to grab phrases randomly from Kathleen’s reviews then I could choose from “a voice like peat smoke” and “good whisky, sassy soulful, haunting with the occasional bluesy tug”.

Very early into the evening performance it is immediately clear that the two women on the stage merit the praise heaped upon them and more. For there is more, yes the talent is obvious, but a certain kind of magic sparks between the two on stage.  Whether it comes from the friendship between them – they have been sharing the stage together for some years now – or the easy warm charm that seems to throw a glittering gossamer veil over me drawing me into the their warm glow, taking me onto the stage with them.  They have made the music so seemingly effortless that I feel I could easily jump up on the stage, take the microphone and I too would be praised for my “peat smoke voice.”  My aching beautiful haunting vocals would soar across the room.   Yes I could go and take the harp and my tinkling fingers would soon enthral, holding the audience spellbound in my grasp.  And instinctively as I look around me I know the rest of the audience has the very same feeling.  Yes it’s mad but for now we believe it.  And it’s wonderful.  We are all in this together, they have made us feel we are part of it.  That’s where the magic is, that is what makes it so special. That’s why we did not want the evening to end, why we did not want Kathleen and Laoise to leave the stage.  “It’s not just her voice,” a woman beside me said of Kathleen, as she struggled to find words to fully explain and then plumped for the simple “It’s her!”  I nodded, knowing exactly what she was trying to convey. Charisma, I thought later on, that’s the word she was looking for.

As I finally left Matt Molloy’s that evening the power of music having dispensed it’s feel good factor that still flowed around us like warm honey, apart from one disgruntled young lady whose own musical shortcomings has obviously been pulled sharply into focus that evening “That’s it,”  I overheard her say as she walked into the night “I’m going home and I’m going to burn my harp.

Seonag Monk  (Presenter Caithream Ciuil ) BBC RADIO