December 2019: Folk Club review
Talisk (with support from Calum Gilligan). Friday November 15th, 2019, Downend School.
Just watch his fingers. Just. Watch. His. Fingers. As long as the head banging and foot stomping doesn’t distract you first, just watch his fingers. They are a blur.
There is no way that anyone other than Mohsen Amini can play a concertina like that. He is Talisk's not-so-secret weapon. The greatest musician that has ever played on this stage; a raconteur, a rabble rouser, an electric, restless, pounding presence at the heart of a massive tune generating machine. He won Folk Musician of the Year in 2018 and, if there's any sense in the world, the BBC may as well retire the award and give it to him forever.
Just watch his fingers.
Way back when (let’s call it the 1990s) Pixies and Nirvana did that loud-quiet-loud thing for American indie. Talisk are doing something similar for folk music. It's some sort of slow-quicker-much quicker-really flippin' quick-slow thing. As a consequence there's dancing before the end of the first tune. Crazy legged step-dance, immodest bouncing, improvised swing-your-partner-about, stomping and wheeling. There's whooping. There's hollering. There’s absurd amounts of clapping. Not always in time. However fast the dancers dance or the clappers clap there is no way of keeping up. Talisk are way, way ahead of this packed room.
Tunes race by – no, really, they race, they zoom, they cascade – none of them have words, titles don't matter. Everyone is having too much fun. What do you mean, you need titles? Are you some sort of a folk nerd? Literally no one cares. Folk art, let's dance. And smile. And dance some more.
If Bellowhead were the high water mark of “amazing folk bands that you have to see live" then Talisk are your next favourite live folk band. There hasn't been anything as exciting as this lot for years and, unlike the Bellowhead juggernaut, there are only three of them. If you can drag yourself away from Mohsen’s fingers then the other two are equally amazing. Graeme Armstrong’s guitar has a propulsion all of its own, it’s almost percussive, and Hayley Keenan's fiddle keeps the tunes in check when the concertina is flying about all over the place. In lots of ways she is the star of this band. Without her sense of timing and musicianly discipline the wheels would be off when the stomping starts.
If you really need highlights and titles then The Hills starts with a slow, beautiful fiddle air before ramping through the gears and ending in absolute delirious, smile inducing mayhem. Crooked Water Valley does the same. And so does Dystopia. There's a bit more crazy legged dancing for that one, the fiddle intro is a bit shorter and the mayhem a bit more fevered. Both of their full length albums, Abyss and Beyond, are mined for treats and the pace is never allowed to drop below frenzied. It should all be a bit exhausting but it never is. This is music that is thrilling and so full of joy that it’s almost impossible not to move; it is properly heart-warming.
Calum Gilligan has lovely voice with a few gloriously pop-edged tunes. There was a hint of Kris Drever about him.
Fingers flying, smiles beaming, couples whirling, a roof raised. Talisk felt like the most fun you can have on a November evening.
Words: Gavin McNamara
Photo: Chris Dobson