Red branches in Kings Heath

Martin Longley was still feeling the Saint Patrick’s Day emanations two days after the event, with a stirring gig from Belfast’s Craobh Rua.

Craobh Rua
Kitchen Garden Café
March 19th

Embarking on a Saint Patrick’s Day tour, Belfast’s Craobh Rua quartet arrived in Birmingham two days after that frothing date, welcomed by a capacity gathering in the cosy Kitchen Café.

Artists always enjoy playing here, a close bonding with their audience guaranteed. The translation of the band’s name is Red Branch, after the Red Branch Knights Of Ulster, from Irish mythology. A hardcore folk sound was preferred, with a line-up featuring fiddle, banjo/mandolin, guitar and uilleann pipes/whistles, the players huddled in a tight group, heads down for a stirring sequence of reels, jigs, hornpipes and songs.

The latter had a ballad tendency, and it was here that the material was at its lightest. They shared out the jokes, anecdotes, explanations and introductions between all four members, though it was guitarist Jim Rainey who dominated, radiating the jumpy qualities of his scatterbrained wit.

For some mysterious reason there was a large cluster of womenfolk towards the rear bar-side, intent on gabbling throughout much of the performance, even during the band’s between-tune announcements, often obscuring the subtleties of both music and words. It’s hard to achieve the right balance during a gig which had a celebratory atmosphere, but also featured abundant stretches of a fairly quiet nature.

Towards the second set’s climax, there was a tendency for flighty song and audience singalongs, so this became less of a problem eventually. One last fragile passage came with Turlough O’Carolan’s Squire Wood’s Lamentation On The Refusal Of His Ha’penny, easily the best title of the session, opening with just whistle and guitar, then Desy McCabe switching to pipes, and the whole band entering the chase. The flighty evening ended with a racy rendition of The Battering Ram, followed by a pair of west coast favourites.