Dervish: The
Midsummer's Night Session

(GaelMedia/Whirling Discs, 1999)

The Midsummer's Night Session is not your typical concert video. There is no big concert hall or amphitheater providing a backdrop for musicians plugged-in, spotlighted or dwarfed by towering speakers. There's no massive, screaming crowd. There's not even a stage.

Instead, you get the members of Dervish packed in tightly around a small table (loaded, I must note, with pints of Guinness and Harp). Sound equipment is unobtrusive. And the audience is just as many people as could crowd into Síbín, a pub in Spiddal, Co. Galway.

The members of the band, who spend time between international tours jamming in informal sessions in their native Sligo, obviously retain a deep-rooted passion for the high spirits and good society common in these settings. Their session performance -- both instrumental sets and songs featuring vocalist Cathy Jordan -- are studio-perfect, with all the freshness and zest of every Dervish concern I've ever seen.

Jordan, who plays bodhran and bones when she's not singing, leads the circle with her infectious energy, rocking to the beat and swaying gracefully to the flow of music. Around her sits one of Ireland's finest bands ever assembled: Shane Mitchell on accordion, Brian McDonagh on mandola, Michael Holmes on bouzouki, Liam Kelly on flute and whistles, Tom Morrow on fiddle, and Seamus O'Dowd on guitar, fiddle, harmonica and backing vocals.

Joining them also are a few musical guests: sean nos singer Mairtín Tom Sheáinín, flute player Seamus Tansey, singer Con Greaney and loose-limbed stepdancer Mairtín MacDonnacha. Each has his moment in the spotlight, adding to the variety and the spontaneous feel of the tape.

Throughout the 54-minute video, musicians and patrons alike soak in the grand craic of a mighty session. The first time you watch it, you'll surely be entranced by the fine music emanating from your TV screen. The second time, try to focus instead on the faces and postures of the people in the pub, all obviously into the experience as much as if they were playing along.

If you want a real challenge, try to count the pints of lager and stout being tipped during that too-brief hour.

If you've any love for Irish music and genuine pub atmosphere, The Midsummer's Night Session is a video you'll treasure and watch repeatedly. Invite in a few friends and a case of Guinness and you'll feel like a part of the party.

[ by Tom Knapp ]