Last week, folk outfit Ranagri celebrated the launch of brand new album Voices, and kickstarted their tour, with a special gig at the iconic Old Queens Head in Islington. By & large the room was filled with loved ones & long-term fans (from all across the globe), but it was also an opportunity to garner new fans – some of whom had heard about it through the support acts, others in search of a night of live music.
Singer-songwriter Alex Starling kicked off proceedings with a short acoustic set. He held the audience transfixed with his songs of love & loss – a quiet hush settling as everyone listened intently to the stories he wove with just his voice & guitar. There is a beautiful melancholic, almost ethereal, tone to his voice that fits perfectly with his style of songs. For this, and the wonderful imagery, his opening song One Shut Eye was a real highlight for me.
Next on the bill was a reprisal of John & Steve Dagleish’s ‘Blood Harmonies’ combination that had a fantastic reception at Above the Arts earlier this year. This set was a brief snapshot of February’s gigs, showcasing Steve’s writing with some covers interspersed. As well as their obvious vocal & musical talents working well together, another great thing about the Dagleishs performing together is their familial connection (John jokingly introducing Steve as his son), as it immediately creates a relaxed atmosphere where you can simply enjoy the music.
Of Steve’s own songs, their closing number Yours for Eternity stood out – as 2016 commemorates the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, a song with First World War connections is a moving choice. The traditional composition Fare Thee Well really allows the titular harmonies to shine, and New York (by the Milk Carton Kids) remains a firm favourite from when I first heard it performed at the start of this year.
Steve also provided his set list, and you can find him online via Twitter, Facebook & his website. His current album (Only Losers Write On Bridges) is available from his online shop (via CD or download).
Headlining, of course, were Ranagri. Well & truly warmed up by then, the crowd was treated to a selection of songs from their latest album – many of which were well known by pockets of the room already! The group consists of Dónal Rogers, Jean Kelly, Eliza Marshall & Joe Danks, between them playing flutes, Irish whistles, electric
harp, bodhran, guitar & bouzouki.
Though obviously not an unusual combination of instruments for their style of music, it’s not often that you see a harp (in particular) onstage in a room above a pub – and several different types of flute as well. In gathering songs to perform & record, they do a lot of their own writing but also draw on old Irish folk songs too; all performed in their signature style, reminiscent of Jethro Tull in places, but definitely their own brand of harmonic Irish folk.
The Snow It Melts The Soonest is a beautiful example of the kind of traditional Irish song Ranagri add to their songbook, an extremely atmospheric piece that had the audience rapt in wonder. In contrast, a couple of other standout performances were two of their own compositions: You Can Do Better and Sad Songs. Catchy, up tempo numbers that leave you with a spring in your step & a hope for a brighter future.
And the future certainly is bright as far as Ranagri are concerned. This was the perfect way to launch their album to the world and set them on their way around the country (& beyond) on the rest of their tour.
Ranagri continue their tour tonight in Shrewsbury – and should be visiting a town near you by the end of the year! A full list of their gigs is available online. ‘Voices’ can be bought from iTunes or via Ranagri’s online shop.