Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham

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Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham

Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham

Posted: 14 Apr 2014

Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham, The Sage Gateshead

Sunday April13


Shetland-born virtuoso fiddle player Aly Bain and piano accordion maestro Phil Cunningham have been leading lights in Scottish traditional music for a lifetime.

 

The duo have toured and recorded together since 1988 and Phil has worked with musical luminaries such as James Taylor and our own North East local hero Mark Knopfler.

 

So it seemed somehow fitting as they played the last night of their current tour to an appreciative full-house at the Sage Gateshead for Phil to tell the audience: “We can’t think of a nicer place to be to end this tour.”

 

Not that they needed to endear themselves to this crowd. The quality of the music spoke for itself. Two stand-out pieces from the first half of their 90-minute set were Cunningham compositions Irish Beauty and Sheena’s Air.

 

Although consummate musicians, the patter in between is every bit as entertaining as the stream of enchanting airs, marches and waltzes. Indeed the stories behind pieces like Castle Dangerous and Tam the Gun would make hilarious folk songs in their own right.

 

The pair have both picked up MBEs for their contribution to Scottish music and have also earned a string of accolades including best duo at the BBC Radio Two folk awards.  Indeed, such is their contribution to Celtic music they now have two “Best of” collections out. Although as Phil confessed the slick marketing men at the record company advised them against naming the Best of Aly & Phil volume two “Second best.” With their self-deprecating humour and a down-to-earth approach to their craft this North East audience readily warmed to them.

 

The second half kicked off with more stand-up quality humour as the comic pair introduced a sprightly Shetland tune Dr. Donaldson, while Bonaparte’s Retreat showcased Aly’s virtuosity on the fiddle. And not to be outdone Phil – dubbed the fastest fingers in the west – matched him note for note. Meanwhile Phil’s moving slow air to the memory of his brother John who died in 2003 (they both played together in the band Silly Wizard) brought a tear to the eye. They encored with two lively dance tunes Frank McConnell’s Three Step and The Faery Queen – ironically dedicated to the English rugby team. Fast and funny to the end.

Michael Hamilton

 

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