Ye Vagabonds released their self-titled debut album in October. Carlow-raised Dublin-based brothers Diarmuid and Brían Mac Gloinn launched their album at Marrowbone Books in the Coombe and celebrated with two sell out gigs in the Cobblestone pub. I managed to miss all of that, but did go to the bookshop to get a copy of the album. This then got snowed under in the avalanche of excellent releases this autumn and I did not give the album the attention it warranted.
Last Wednesday Ye Vagabonds played a headline show at the Grand Social; their last concert of the year in the capital. I arrived early and heard people asking the bar staff for chairs. They were informed that 200 tickets had been sold and that there would be no room for sitting.
Support came from singer/songwriter and folk musician Alain McFadden. Alain is part of the extended Ye Vagabonds line up, harmonium being his main instrument there. Alain is due to release his own EP in the new year. His singing voice reminded me of Marcus Mumford. He started off solo and was later joined by Diarmuid and Brían. All were wearing headgear during the support, as if to distinguish this part of the show from the main gig. Alain’s most unusual song contained a catchy rap part - quite a rarity in a folk song.
By the time Ye Vagabonds started the venue had filled up completely and folks who had sat down on the floor were summoned to stand up and make space. I stood right near the front and noticed a setlist on a scrappy piece of notepaper, plus a watch on the floor. This was an analog set up.
What followed was a folk tour the force, with full yet crystal clear string instrumentation and beautiful harmony singing. Compliments to the sound man as it could not have sounded any better. As the show progressed it dawned on me how good the songs are and that I would have to get back to the album and listen to it properly.
The previous time I had seen Ye Vagabonds play as a four-piece my feeling was that I preferred them as a duo. A year on from that thought the band has gotten tighter, arrangements have been perfected and they now sounded superb together. Diarmuid and Brían both sing lead and play guitar. In addition Brían plays bouzouki, fiddle, mandolin and banjo. Alain McFadden adds vocals, harmonium and mandolin and finally there is Nicholas Cooper on violin and viola. Brían called Nicholas their classical music expert and in an interview the brothers described him as “a pocket orchestra”.
Highlight of the gig for me was the slow and droney ‘Song Long Forgotten’. Drone features increasingly in new Irish folk (see also Lankum and AnTara) which is an interesting development. Most of the debut album was played (though sadly not the lovely instrumental ‘For Bert’) as well as songs from the ‘Rose and Briar’ EP. It was a fun gig too, with plenty of humorous banter: “Hello Dublin! Are you ready for long slow songs about death?!” The crowd responded affirmatively.
The audience got involved too (“We have a heckler!”) and at one point the band went into a reggae tune. The first encore was a request that seemingly they had not planned on playing: “Oh well, we are not here for our own enjoyment”. This was followed by another two encores.
An excellent show from a band with a great future. The day after the concert the brothers were on TV3, talking about their recent trip to to Australia alongside Michael D Higgins, who is a fan: “You couldn’t ask for a better fan than the president of your country, unless you’re from America”. Indeed. Ye Vagabonds will start working on their second album in the new year.