Review // European folk quintet Sheelanagig’s infectious energy spreads through The Lantern like wildfire

The Bristol-based five-piece showcase their Balkan-infused, rhythmically complex folk compositions

Bristol based Sheelanagig raised the roof at the Lantern, Coslton Hall last weekend, kicking off their autumn tour with a bang. Describing their sound as ‘original, jumping European folk music’, they’re something of a south west institution and it’s easy to see why.

Formed in 2005, Sheelanagig are made up charismatic frontman Aaron Catlow on fiddle, new member Luke Phillips-Griffiths on flute, Kit Hawes on guitar, Jon Short on double bass and John Blakely on drums. The down-to-earth quintet quickly gained recognition for their Balkan-infused and rhythmically complex traditional and original folk compositions.

The down-to-earth quintet quickly gained recognition for their Balkan-infused and rhythmically complex traditional and original folk compositions

They were supported at The Lantern by the relatively new and talented Young Waters who played a captivating set that warmed the crowd up perfectly.

Sheelanagig started their set with one of their older tracks, the Balkan-infused All over the Floor from their Baba Yaga’s Ball album. Instantly, they demonstrated their virtuoso expertise on their respective instruments, particularly Phillips-Griffiths with an impressive solo proving he deserves his place in the band.

Next came Salterella – a waltz with the crowd swaying gleefully from left to right during the intro, before the song burst into the frenetic playing that Sheelanagig are notorious for.

a waltz with the crowd swaying gleefully from left to right during the intro, before the song burst into the frenetic playing that Sheelanagig are notorious for

Moving onto songs from their latest album Beard Town, we heard the comically-named, high-octane Bad Ken with Catlow and Phillips-Griffths leaping around the stage like fire crackers. We also heard The Manc Monk, a medieval blues song introduced by the cheeky Catlow, who told us that the song’s inspiration came from the discovery that Blakely and Phillips-Griffith’s dads both used to be monks. True or not, it fed into a trademark humorous and wildly entertaining performance from Sheelanagig.

a beautifully lilting, soaring Celtic ballad with the fiddle and flute playing off of one another, exalting the song into the heavenly spheres

Shetlag followed, a beautifully lilting, soaring Celtic ballad with the fiddle and flute playing off of one another, exalting the song into the heavenly spheres. Introduced by Catlow, he explained the song’s inspiration: the hangover that followed after drinking and jamming with other musicians at the Shetland Folk Festival for five days straight.

The medieval Hassid – a song about witch burning – began with just the double bass and fiddle before the other instruments burst in, with the sheer joy these guys have when playing together gleaming through.

They kept up the energy with 14th century medieval dance, Lamento Di Tristano from their Cirque D’Insomnia album. Beginning with just Catlow’s impeccable, mesmerising fiddle playing before the rest of the band joined in, ending in an exuberant crescendo that kept the dancefloor in motion.

I would challenge anyone to resist dancing during a Sheelanagig set

For the encore, they decided to end on the epic Skotchne, described by the band as ‘five songs rolled into one’. The crowd were encouraged to crouch down low and jump up at the same time as the song peaked into pure folk mayhem. I would challenge anyone to resist dancing during a Sheelanagig set, with their infectious energy spreading throughout the crowd like wildfire.

Words by Charise Clarke

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