Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham
Posted: 14 Apr 2014
Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham, The Sage Gateshead
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
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
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.