Máire Ní Chathasaigh & Chris Newman live reviews


The West Australian
Máire and Chris play a breathtakingly stirring blend of traditional Irish and Scottish music and hot jazz. In the year or so since I saw them last I think they’ve got faster - something I didn’t think was possible. They sizzled along at a frightening pace, without losing any clarity or separation of the instruments, swapping the melodic line effortlessly... Stand-out instrumentals were the brilliant ‘A Sore Point’, a lovely Scott Skinner set of strathspeys & reels, the spectacular ‘Turkey in the Straw’ - and the achingly beautiful ‘Carolan’s Farewell to Music’: Máire’s mastery of the courtly works of 17th century harper Turlough O’Carolan is undiminished. In the faster tunes her technique, keeping crystal sharp melody and rhythmic & harmonic devices all up in the air, is unique. How she gets to change the semitone levers in the middle of fast flowing tunes, without a third hand, is beyond me. All this is leavened by Newman’s subversively witty introductions delivered in a deadpan torrent of words that almost matches the notes from his guitar. He has the great gift of being informative and hilarious simultaneously. 
Irish Times
Turlough O’Carolan, that gifted renegade from the Old Irish Order, made some heart-wrenchingly beautiful music. He survived as a harpist-composer until the early part of the 18th century by blending his traditional Irish heritage with the popular baroque music of the day. 

So it is that every year for the past 19 years, a select horde has sought out the village of Keadue in a forgotten corner of north Roscommon for the O’Carolan International Harp Festival, inaugurated in memory of the blind harpist who learned his craft there at the behest of the local grandees, the McDermott Roes.

On Saturday night two of the most distinguished of today’s O’Carolan interpreters, Máire Ní Chathasaigh (harp) and Chris Newman (guitar), performed in Keadue Parish Church. Although on their CD The Carolan Albums, they stick to playing O’Carolan classics straight, in performance they choose from among the most poignant and irregular of his tunes, "Eleanor Plunkett", beautiful either in the icy perfection of Ní Chathasaigh’s harp, falling like shards of glass through the stillness of the church, or in duet with Newman’s jazzy guitar towards the end.

Their virtuosity leads them on. Ní Chathasaigh chomps on the bit of the harp’s respectability, and plays storming jigs like The Rambling Pitchfork, and reels like "Seán Dwyer’s" and "The Spike Island Lasses". Her technique is fascinating, the furious picking of the melody with the right, and the judicious layering of counterpoint with the left, finishing with a dramatic embrace of the strings to stop the resonance.

Newman glories in the possibilities of his guitar, for percussion, for accompaniment, for melody; pushing a James Scott Skinner Scottish reel for all it’s worth, it begins to sound like bluegrass, with the harp like an outsize mandolin.

All I wanted was a nice, sugary version of O’Carolan’s Concerto, but in pushing their instruments to sing all the ways they can, Newman and Ní Chathasaigh are without doubt remembering O’Carolan as he deserves.      Victoria White

Glasgow Herald
Harp and guitar duo Máire Ní Chathasaigh and Chris Newman opened their set with a supposed warm-up which sounded like they'd been limbering up all night, tossing the melody between them with percussive brio. The results they achieved from The Turkey in the Straw also were remarkable.

Turlough O'Carolan's lovely Eleanor Plunkett and a song or two from Ní Chathasaigh gave them breathing space between some death-defying sprints through the Scott Skinner book. If the Mathematician, with its dazzling single-string patterns, seemed as much a feat of memory as a musical exercise for Newman, the Ní Chathasaigh's role in the Acrobat, in which she retuned every second note with a series of levers, must constitute a Mensa qualification test. 

The Scotsman
...the celebrated harp and guitar duo Máire Ní Chathasaigh and Chris Newman have already established their credentials through the range of music they encompass, and their mastery of all of it. 

The harpist is a highly accomplished player on the Irish harp, and also sings, while Newman has few peers on guitar. They dispatched material ranging from Irish airs and jigs to dazzling bluegrass, jazz swing and finger-busting Scott Skinner fiddle tunes with consummate assurance.


The Stage
Máire Ní Chathasaigh & Chris Newman Trinity Arts Centre, Tunbridge Wells

Harpist Máire Ní Chathasaigh is thoroughly steeped in the Celtic tradition. Guitarist Chris Newman has English roots and his varied musical career was clearly evident in their choice of material. A Swedish polska, a tune heard in the French alps, and a lively square dance all found their way into the performance, while a smattering of jazz showed Ní Chathasaigh's Irish harp in an altogether new light.

But, that said, it was nevertheless the Celtic influence which predominated, with an abundance of tunes from both Scotland and Ireland - jigs, reels, the occasional hornpipe and slow air, plus a handful of songs sung by Ní Chathasaigh, mainly in the Irish language.

The work of the legendary blind Irish harpist Turlough O'Carolan was especially well represented. But Ní Chathasaigh's virtuosity ensured that each composition was given her own unique stamp. Not for nothing was she repeatedly named All-Ireland and Pan-Celtic Champion. Add Newman's distinctive and highly accomplished guitar work and you have a truly electrifying combination. The kind that has even the most hardened folk-phobe admitting that maybe traditional music does, after all, still have a lot to offer.

Isle of Wight County Press























Máire Ní Chathasaigh & Chris Newman Victoria Hall, Osborne House, East Cowes, I.of W.

An eager audience of more than 100 music lovers packed the Victoria Hall and its terrace at Osborne House, East Cowes, on Saturday evening to hear the Irish harpist Máire Ní Chathasaigh and acoustic guitarist Chris Newman in a unique concert of distinctive music and songs.

From the moment the concert began with the lively jig 'Gander in the Pratie Hole' the audience was captivated by the subtle fusion of harp and guitar, a combination which often seduced the ear into believing it was hearing one instrument instead of two. This delightful seduction continued with the tinkling 'Turkey in the Straw' and the three adapted James Scott Skinner tunes for the Scottish fiddle. The beautiful 'Eleanor Plunkett' seemed gently to bounce the melody alternately from harp to guitar and back again; and in the song 'Cill Mhuire' the listeners were transported by magic to the tiny Southern Ireland village of that name "where flowers grow in profusion and where the people are polite, talented and generous". From the album 'Out of Court' the audience was taken almost by surprise by lively melodies with a swinging jazz overlay reminiscent of the 1930s, notes sent leaping and echoing by the virtuoso techniques of the soloists. From a new album came further examples of James Scott Skinner, 'The Acrobat', 'Bonnie Banchory' and 'Millbrae', all chromatic tunes to challenge the harp.

Continually enlivened by Chris Newman's pithy anecdotes and commentary, the concert continued into its second half. 'Maurice O'Connor' and 'The Crooked Road' again showed the effortless blend of the two instruments. A cheeky polska from Sweden in compound time mirrored the folk fiddle; and the song 'Fare Thee Well Lovely Mary' in minor mode told the ageless story of the sailor and the young maiden so beloved of lyricists down the years. A hornpipe and two reels evoked a journey from Sligo to New York. The following harp solo, 'Táimse im' Chodladh', from the new album was expressed in tender very slow tempo as a vision of the poet in love, contrasted by a foot-tapping four-part running jig for harp and guitar.

A highlight showing amazing technique and virtuosity was 'Salt Creek' - sometimes known as 'Forked Deer'. Based upon old time American bluegrass originally for fiddle and banjo, it displayed an almost frenzied non-stop pacing rhythm, the intricate fretting and finger work also giving colour to controlled dynamics and phrasing.

'A Sore Point', a scintillating jig with infinite semi-quavers was intended as the finale piece, but the deafening applause that followed ensured an encore.

'Stroll On' was a totally brilliant and demanding ragtime number composed by Chris Newman and a fitting end to an unforgettable evening of music.

The two soloists were presented with a commemorative book of Isle of Wight photographs signed with comments by each member of the audience.

Tickets for the 80 seats inside the Victoria Hall - restricted by fire regulations - had been quickly snapped up. To avoid disappointing 30 other applicants the double doors of the hall were opened to the terrace, where an outside audience claimed that the acoustics there were even better.

The organiser of the concert, Dr. Peter Mai of Newtown, who met the musicians in Ireland last year, said, "I'm pleased that the evening was so enjoyable for everyone; perhaps something like this can be repeated at a bigger venue. Some of the audience said they had not had such an experience for years"

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