Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham 30th Anniversary Tour, Eden Court, Empire Theatre, Inverness 27/8/16. A Review.
Phil and Aly are the duo of Phil Cunningham, accordionist from Edinburgh and Aly Bain, fiddler from Shetland. Both performers are steeped in the international folk tradition and have also made vast contributions to this themselves. The pair have performed solo and also in groups – Phil was with Silly Wizard and Aly with the Boys of the Lough.
The pair have been performing together for 30 years now and this concert was part of their 30th Anniversary tour. The pair have played Eden Court for 28 of these years – missing out only two events – due to the renovation of the Theatre.
For the concert the Empire Theatre was packed with an appreciative audience. The theatre looked a bit bare with only two chairs an accordion and a couple of fiddles on a stand, however as soon as the pair took the stage, the vastness of the auditorium dissipated and the informal lighting and excellence of the sound production meant that we were in a sitting room with the boys. Both instruments were extremely clear and well balanced.
This sitting room tone continued throughout the concert. Between each set of tunes the two men delivered up a delightful set of hilarious stories of their life on the road – Aly being the straight guy to Phil. Stories ranged from Aly complaining about an uncomfortable stool (seat) only to be told by Phil that this was common at his age (Aly turned 70 this year), to Phil being asked for his autograph – being mistaken for the legendary Moray Firth radio DJ Tich McCooey, through to the Queen, taught by Phil, presenting her Christmas broadcast as an accordion player, and the Carnegie Hall in Clashmore being a better venue than the Carnegie Hall in New York. The boys should know – they have played both.
The boys played two sets of music with a short interlude in between. In between the humorous banter the history of each song was introduced. This showed the breadth of contributions both musicians have made and also showed how they have themselves received from the past – the late Tom Anderson and Donald Riddle. Along the way they hailed local musicians just starting their careers. A wide range of styles were covered in the concert including: jigs, reels, slow airs and waltzes. Material came from Europe (particularly Scandinavia), North America, Ireland and Scotland.
We should be extremely grateful to musicians like Phil and Aly. As well as keeping the folk traditions alive they both also still actively contribute to contemporary development. The music is extremely serious and is played with great respect, but the seriousness ends between the songs. That is not to say the show did not contain some poignant moments. The vagaries of getting old were addressed, and Phil gave a very touching tribute to his brother Johnny – who died tragically early in 2003. Had he lived Johnny would have been celebrating his 59th birthday on the day of the concert.
The concert ended with a short encore, the audience letting both musicians away early as both having to be long distances away (Edinburgh/Shrewsbury) for the following day.
A truly magical evening by a pair of musical wizards.
You still have a chance to experience the concerts. Locally the tour continues at Aberdeen (Beach Ballroom) 1st September, Elgin Town Hall 2nd, Old Meldrum (Academy) 3rd, Gairloch Village Hall on the 5th, Portree Aros Centre 6th and the Village Hall Ballachulish on the 7th. Get out and see them if you can.
Thanks to Eden Court for assistance and hosting the reviewer.