CrossRoads at The Harp, Tempe, Sydney

The Celtic gig of the year? Thus far anyway

Reviewed by John Shand, Sydney Morning Herald April 16 2001

Beyond its customary effects and purposes, music can be a cheap way of travelling and a useful tool for anthropologists.

In the course of this concert, CrossRoads delved into music from Ireland, Scotland, England, Brittany, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Turkey and Australia, and made it all seem linked, or even one. The band's name tells its own story. It represents the convergence of three members of the Australian-based Mara! - Mara Kiek, Llew Kiek and Steve Elphick - and two musicians from Brittany: Padrig Sicard and Yann Cariou.

Mara! primarily plays Eastern European music, though the Kieks enjoyed a past life in the Celtic tradition, which is the hub of Breton Folk music, with its close affinity to Scotland.

Scotland means bagpipes, and they were prominent here. Played by Cariou, they combined in wild abandon with Sicard's bombarde, a double reed instrument that looks like a shorn off clarinet with a flared bell.

Together their braying catapulted one back to some ancient pagan festival, when straw men were burnt, babies bled and virgins obliterated.

It was a thrilling, barbarous sound, making the hair stand on end, even as it drilled you to the chair.

Add Llew Kiek's jangling yet crisp bozouki, Elphick's thrumming bass and Mara Kiek's heart-beat tapan drum and it became a tempest, driving all before it on such pieces as An Hili Dilezet/Sadila Jana, which links traditional Breton and Macedonian tunes.

In utter contrast was Mara Kiek's excruciatingly sad Banks of the Somme, inspired by a visit to the grave of her grandfather who died in the Great War holocaust.

She delivered this with an intensity as though singing it for the first time, gently accompanied by Llew's guitar and Cariou's flute, while Elphick offered moving melodic commentary on the bass.

Textures kept changing, with Sicard playing the violin and whistle in addition to the bombarde, and sharing the lead singing with Mara on the Breton M'en Allant sur la Lande.

The insistent triplets of the sung melody in the Scottish Bonnie Birdy had a marvellous child-like quality, emphasising the versatility of both Mara Kiek and the band as a whole.

The Celtic gig of the year? Thus far anyway.

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