at Catherine McAuley High School,
Portland, Maine
(15 February 2007)

Lay me down in a fiddler's cloud and float me out to sea...

"Irish love songs," said Seamus Egan, "come in two varieties: those that end in disaster, and those that never get off the ground." So started the post-Valentine's Day, post-blizzard blast of music from Solas -- with an Irish-language ballad about a boy, a girl and farm animals, a tale ending in disaster. Unfortunately, the energy felt low and the vocals sounded muddled in the concrete box of the Catherine McAuley High School auditorium, but things perked up with the lively "Wiggly Jigs," and while Seamus switched instruments with each tune in the set (guitar, flute, banjo) the crowd and band appeared to relax into each other and the sound was adjusted.

The Stillson School dancers made the first of several appearances during the "Wiggly Jigs" and lent energy to the performance. By the end of Dolly Parton's "Silver Dagger," a haunting love song of the second variety accented by low whistles, the set began to gel and things got wild. Winifred Horan's rapid and ornamental fiddling was showcased in her own composition, "The Highlands of Holland." A fiery fiddle-laden set of reels and the lovely "Nightingale" had the crowd roaring before everyone caught their breath as Mick McAuley sang "Bury Me Not in the Deep, Deep Sea." The first set ended with "Fleur de Lis," sung by Deirde Scanlon, now in her seventh year with Solas, and "Bobby Casey's Reels," during which the dancers returned in hard shoes and left the audience on its feet for the break.

Seamus and Winnie explained that Seamus's banjo had recently been destroyed by an airline and he was playing a loaner; he described playing the substitute banjo like "driving a car with different sized tyres, in the snow." Apparently the long drive from Philadelphia on icy roads had left the musicians knackered and hungry; a few plates of sandwiches disappeared backstage during the break.

The second set commenced with Horan's gorgeous and sensitive composition, "A Daisy in December," played on piano, button accordion and fiddle. It was breathtaking to watch as she shifted gears into ferocious fiddling as the entire band came on stage for "The Ballerina Jig," written by Egan while Solas toured Austria with piper Carlos Nunez.

Solas has had a great influence on the career of Boston folk artist Antje Duvekot, and the band honoured her tonight with a cover of "Reasonland." Seamus again displayed his multi-instrument talent by playing the whistle while balancing his guitar on a knee, then kicked the guitar into high gear for "The Coconut Dog," a lively set of tunes with Spanish accents.

In fact, every member of Solas plays a variety of instruments, and most sing as well. Guitarist Eamon McElholm treated us to his fascinating song, "Someday You Will See," written about "the characters he's met over the years."

Throughout the evening, bandleader Seamus Egan was both humble and radiant as he introduced his bandmates and the songs. During "Bird in the Tree" he was glowing as musicians each had a turn playing their finest, after which the band came together for an escalating finale.

The audience demanded an encore and, in keeping with the general upbeat and high-energy nature of the evening, were treated to "The Flowing Bowl" reels with the Stillson dancers in their finest dresses, until all were finally bid "safe home" and reluctantly made their way out into the cold. Portland is thirsty for fine music and Solas merely whet the appetite.

by Michelle Doyle
31 March 2007