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DERVISH From Stage to Stage

From Stage to Stage
Whirling Discs WHRL014

Celebrating 21 years of this excellent Sligo band with a live CD and a high-quality bonus DVD, this release shows why Dervish enjoy such enduring popularity. From festival stage to studio floor, Eurovision exposure to webcast innovation, Dervish have covered the world in their two decades of music. The line-up has been pretty steady throughout: Michael Holmes and Brian McDonagh on fretted strings, Shane Mitchell on button box, Tom Morrow on fiddle, Liam Kelly on flute, and the indescribable Cathy Jordan playing a triple role as singer, percussionist and raconteuse extraordinaire. One of the things I most admire about Dervish is that they have not become a backing band for Cathy's vocals: there are eight sets of great tunes on this album, and only six songs. That makes fourteen tracks, plus eight amusing and informative introductions to some of these selections. The bonus DVD is more biased towards songs, more focused on Cathy as an iconic performer, but there are still plenty of good tunes.

The first half of From Stage to Stage was recorded in Sebastopol, California: not perhaps the first place you'd think of, but the crowd certainly seems to appreciate Irish music. Dervish treat them to a rattling good set featuring The Swallow's Tail, Lord Levett, some lovely slip jigs in The Bealtine Set, and another batch of reels before they are joined by Swedish supergroup Våsen for three showstopping numbers. Våsen were featured on Dervish's Live in Palma recording, and Roger Tallroth's composition Josefins Waltz has been a firm favourite ever since. Here it is again, sandwiched between the Irish ballad I Courted a Wee Girl and a lively Swedish polka.

The second half sees Dervish on home ground at the Sligo Live festival, joined by Seamie O'Dowd for a selection which includes more modern songs: Dylan's Boots of Spanish Leather, Sonny Condell's The Cat, and Ron Sexsmith's Gold in Them Hills. Cathy gets plenty of help on the vocals, but her sweet and salty tones still come through strong. The first of several finales is the wonderful song Red Haired Mary which grows more theatrical every time I hear it. The boys are in fine form for The Coolea Jigs, John Blessing's Reels and the final Apples in Winter medley, with Cathy shaking the bones for all she's worth. I'm not totally sold on the singer-songwriter material, but Dervish's performance here is magical as ever. Even after 21 years, they haven't lost their spark. Dervish are at their best as a live act, and if you can't get to see them this recording is probably the next best thing - plus you can watch Cathy shaking her old bones on the bonus DVD!

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 85 of The Living Tradition magazine.