Spike: Dublin Alternative Cello Festival at The Workman’s Club, 10th – 12th February 2017
This weekend sees The Workman’s Club become playground to an eclectic range of performers for the inaugural Spike: Dublin Alternative Cello Festival. Featuring a three day programme, the festival showcases a variety of Irish and international talent, and presents such unique events as Cello-Yoga. With events on during both day and night, Spike promises to place the cello at the forefront of its performances, and highlight the instrument’s versatility.
Saturday night sees the collaboration of Hugh Buckley and Cello Ireland, combining Buckley’s guitar-fronted jazz with a series of cello arrangements by Fiachra Trench. Although there seems at first to be some tentativeness within the group, the performance of Buckley’s Miro, Miro on the wall sees the musicians relax into an evocative tango. In the piece, Cello Ireland provides a dramatically lurching accompaniment to Buckley’s blues style, segueing into ‘jazz ballad’ The Kindred Spirit. While Buckley’s guitar-playing is the centerpiece, Trench’s cello arrangements exploit the dramatic capabilities of the instrument as accompaniment. The closing piece, Urban Sprawl, veers towards the experimental, seeing reverberant guitar playing and spiccato cello bowing combined to create the atmosphere of ambient inner-city noise—quite fitting for the quayside location of the festival—before morphing into a repeated jazz riff.
Following a short intermission, the next performer is introduced as hailing from “a planet at the far end of the galaxy”. Rushad Eggleston defies even this otherworldly announcement. Arriving onstage in firework-patterned shorts, striped kneesocks, and wielding a cello draped in fairylights, Eggleston’s claims that his aesthetic is “not too slick” are quickly dismissed as he swaggers about the stage with the panache of a seasoned rock-star. His performance is as refreshing as it is bewildering: his improvisations range from scat singing and jazz basslines, to eerily accurate Enya impressions, to odes to Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps—who was, of course, “swimming through a sea of milk”. The experience is one that is difficult to describe, but the terms ‘surreal’ and ‘hallucinatory’ spring to mind.
Eggleston’s charms are irresistible, his asides and spontaneous bursts of philosophy in no way obscuring the brilliance of his technique. Cello lines are looped and overlaid, country-music rhythms are interspersed with baroque-toned improvisations for a truly unique aural experience—and that’s without taking the gloriously psychedelic lyrics into account. A seemingly spontaneous performance of the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 adds an unexpected element of the classical to the mix, here brought bang-up-to-date (and possibly into the far-future) by Eggleston’s addition of the kazoo. Despite his fears of having “sinned against music and good taste”, the performance is a highlight of the festival, and is received with uproarious laughter and adoration by the audience.
Sunday night sees the Alec Brown Trio take the stage, performing a unique brand of trad/cello fusion. The trio features Brown, a barefoot cellist from Arkansas, accordionist Finn Harper and fiddler Sean O’Dailigh. Stylistically, the trio exploit pre-existing features of trad fusion, seeing the cello take the place of guitar accompaniment, or providing R&B-influenced basslines. The juxtaposition of the timbres of the cello with those of the fiddle and accordion is appealing, with Brown exploiting the instrument’s ability to fluctuate between jazzy pizzicato lines, haunting sustained harmonics, and expressive renditions of adapted vocal lines. A highlight of the trio’s performance is a divergence from the traditional, as they ‘cover a cover’ of Tom Waits’ Chocolate Jesus.
Kevin Murphy of Slow Moving Clouds follows with a selection of instrumental and vocal works. Murphy’s compositional style is hypnotic, utilizing harmonic drones and generous reverb to create an atmosphere of calm within the venue. His vocal style is light yet striking, lending an ethereal feel to pieces Birdsong and Burning Water. The performance dispels the notion of the cello as exclusive to classical music, with Bad Translation and Nobody Loves Me making stylistic allusions to indie rock and alternative music. Murphy also showcases his work for film and stage, joined by fellow Slow Moving Clouds member AKI to provide percussive vocals on Swansong, and Mary Barnecutt for cello duets.
The final act of festival is an intense and intimate set from Neil Martin. Returning to the theme of the cello within traditional Irish music, Martin’s performance exploits the similarities between the expressive capabilities of the cello and that of the human voice, playing touching adaptations of aisling Úirchill an Chreagáin and ballad Seán Ó Duibhir a’Ghleanna.
The weekend also features performances from Kate Ellis, Vyvienne Long, Mary & The Pigeons, Lioba Petrie, and a workshop with Yocella, combining classical cello with Yin Yoga. Spike succeeds not only in putting the cello centre-stage; in this innovative festival, it is in the audience, in your face, and very much in the hearts of performers and audience members alike.