Saturday 17 February 2018

The Gloaming’s Thomas Bartlett talks transcendence and why silence is 'absolutely necessary' for their Body and Soul set

The Gloaming
The Gloaming
Thomas Bartlett

Sasha Brady

As the sun goes down on the first day of Body and Soul festival and the magic hour sets in, what better act to take you from dusk to dark than The Gloaming?

The contemporary, trad collective will take to the main stage of the Westmeath festival on Friday night… just as nightfall settles over Ballinlough Castle.

“I've been spending some time in the back of my mind figuring out how to plan a set list for that setting,” says pianist Thomas Bartlett, aka Doveman.

“I've been pretty resistant to us as a band performing outdoors or at a festival but to me silence is absolutely necessary part of this music and I don't mean that in a precious way.

Thomas Bartlett
Thomas Bartlett

“It’s just that, in order for what we do to work, we need to be playing with silence.”

What the band creates is stunning, modern trad music, woven together with extraordinary richness, that has stunned audiences from the National Concert Hall to the Sydney Opera House and the Royal Albert Hall, into silence.

The five musicians who make up the group, sean-nos singer, Iarla O’Lionaird; mercurial fiddle virtuoso, Martin Hayes; Chicago guitarist, Dennis Cahill; hardanger innovator, Caomhinn O’Raghlaigh and pianist, Thomas Bartlett, have all enjoyed extraordinary careers outside of The Gloaming but when they come together, they shift towards the ethereal.

“It comes quite naturally,” says Bartlett, who as a pianist and producer, has worked with the likes of  David Byrne, The National, Beth Orton, Martha Wainwright, Babel Gilberto and Sharon von Etten.

“That's one of the things that's been really interesting about the band is that it doesn't take that much work on. We can come together and do this thing and it feels like it really draws on everyone's resources. very naturally.

“I don't spend that much time on the stage and in a way The Gloaming has reminded me that it is fun to play the piano and perform as a musician. That was a thing that I had left behind.”

The 34-year-old Vermont-born musician says he feels more comfortable behind-the-scenes, producing music, and describes himself as “quite introverted” but anyone who has witnessed his performance might find it hard to believe the stage isn’t his natural setting.

Bartlett plays with such raw energy, losing himself in the notes that give The Gloaming its backbone, that he sometimes stomps the stage in time to the music, as his head sways to each haunting note.

“I feel like I've become this private and introverted creature and suddenly I have to turn on some kind of outward facing energy that is not there in the rest of my life. So it can be very strange. That's why I've kind of stopped performing in any other format than The Gloaming,” he says.

“The Gloaming makes it relatively easy for me. I don't have to feel at all that I'm in the centre of attention in any way. I'm feeding off the energy off other people in that band.”

The energy that fuels him the most is the force that’s expelled from Martin Hayes. The American musician had an obsession with Martin Hayes's fiddle-playing from a very early age, as a 12-year-old he convinced his parents to take him to Ireland so that he could follow Hayes on tour.

Upon his return home, with the help of his parents who were influential in the local folk scene, Bartlett managed to book Hayes for a concert in his hometown.

He later moved to New York, where he played piano for David Byrne and Yoko Ono, among others, but he and Hayes remained in touch and Bartlett was an obvious choice for the Irish-American folk-classical hybrid that would become The Gloaming.

"I've been a fan of Martin Hayes for such a very, very long time that to be on stage with him... he gives me such energy that it feels very effortless,” says Bartlett.

“It feels like this kind of... how to say it…? It feels like he can concentrate his way into transcendence at any moment.

“So It's this astonishing feeling that at any time there exists this other plane of being where you can be elevated to this spot where you're thinking "Whoa! Holy f*ck! How am I here?" and Martin seems to be able to do that on command in a way.

“Music is my life but I'm not that easy to ‘get’ as an audience member, I can be cynical at this point in my life but all of my cynicism disappears around Martin. It's shocking to me that I get to play with him.”

The Gloaming perform at the Main Stage of Body and Soul at 10.30pm, Friday.

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