Scullion at Lost Lane, 12th of May, 2019

It feels like it’s been a while. With De Danaan and Planxty, Scullion were part of a wave of historically-minded but forward-looking bands that rejuvenated the Irish folk scene in the 80s. But though they returned to music in 2012 after a hiatus of nearly 30 years, their live appearances have been rare.

The trio played a series of gigs in the Sugar Club last year, featuring like-minded musicians like Iarla O’Lionaird and Saint Sister; this year they’re upping the ante with another set of monthly sessions, this time in Lost Lane.

It’s an ideally intimate venue, and it feels a little like Other Voices has been transplanted to the city when Philip King ambles unassumingly onstage shortly after 8 to introduce the night’s opening act, Anna Mieke.

Anna Mieke supported Scullion earlier this year in Cork, and it’s easy to see why they’re playing together again: they have similar influences – John Martyn in particular – and the same omnivorous musical taste. After touring her debut album nationally, and fresh from playing the previous night at It Takes A Village, Anna Mieke’s now a markedly more confident and proficient performer than she was last year. She moves deftly from her own Parallel to a soaring version of Lagan Love, evoking Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell and Leslie Feist along the way without seeming in any way in their shadow.

When King returns with the rest of Scullion, it’s also with another guest, author Joseph O’Connor. O’Connor sets the tone for the evening with a reading of Bernard O’Donoghue’s Caedmon, a poem that reimagines the medieval monk as a boozily sessioning balladeer. It’s the perfect hymn for tonight, a humorous piece that shows that transcendence is right here in everyday life, and in particular in music.

And what music. King, Sonny Condell and Robbie Overson start with a version of No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross that raises goosebumps, embellishing Sufjan Stevens’s original with beautiful close harmonies. They poke fun at their roles as elder musical statesmen with renditions of Short Life Of Trouble and Time Has Made A Change In Me. And they do a stunning version of The National’s I Need My Girl that has Overson turning cascades of melody from his guitar.

There are a few backwards glances. After O’Connor reads an ode to Phil Chevron, they deliver an impassioned version of Condell’s Down In The City that reminds us that their strain of folk was always urban in spirit. But it also manages the difficult act of looking to their past without seeming in any way nostalgic about it. And though there’s a small misstep into sentimentality when Condell plays Wedding Bells In Spain, it’s hard to begrudge the man a chance to sing a piece he wrote for his daughter’s big day.

Anna Mieke joins the group for the last song of the night, and then King wraps things up as unpretentiously as he began. No drama, no fuss, just three amazing musicians with lifetimes of experience and generous spirits, with plenty to say but nothing to prove.

They’ll repeat the evening on June 16th, again in Lost Lane and with Ye Vagabonds in support. It’s an irresistible proposition.