Hard to believe that a teacher, an air traffic controller, a physiotherapist and other colleagues could create the ethereal-like vocal intricacy that Brame di Corsica produced this week at Clonard Monastery during Belfast’s annual Féile an Phobail (Festival of the People).
Amateur yet highly skilled practitioners of the polyphonic choral tradition of Corsica, the seven-member group roused its capacity audience to a standing ovation after completing an uplifting, hour-long concert of folk and popular tunes.
With soloist, Petru Santu Guelfucci (pictured below), particularly outstanding, reminding one of Freddie Mercury at his Olympian best, the Mediterranean islanders effortlessly interweaved their voices into a rich, multi-faceted harmony that raised listeners’ spirits to a higher realm. Such was the effect, even the alabaster statue of Mary on the altar seemed to raise its serene face to see what all the fuss was about.
As second act, Irish singer-musician Barry Kerr, said upon entering the stage “That’s going to be hard to follow,” yet he did an admirable job. Versatility is Kerr’s second name as evidenced by his mastery of several instruments including mandolin, uilleann pipes, flute and guitar during a performance that ranged from soft ballads such as “Aisling,’ a song he wrote about Irish emigrants dreaming of home, the enduring classic ‘Spancil Hill’ to lively, toe-tapping reels and hornpipes.
Continuing the emigration theme, in ‘Illegal,’ he also highlighted the difficulties faced by Irish people who enter the US, manage to stay illegally but then cannot come home. Kerr, who is also a fine painter, revisits his own home along the shores of Lough Neagh in his nostalgic ‘Return To Castor Bay.’
Reflecting diversity of his subject matter, in honor of Cú Chulainn, an ancient Gaelic hero warrior, the Lurgan-based musician, supported by several musicians and backing singer, Pauline Scanlon, also performed a haunting version of ‘Setanta,’ a name by which the mythic figure was known.
Born into a family who ran a music pub, Kerr was encouraged to attend seisiúin and fleadhs from an early age and in tribute to such strong familial influences he played the gentle-flowing ‘California To You’ on his late father’s mandolin. Kerr’s 10-track album, from which many of the songs from the Féile an Phobail concert were drawn, is entitled ‘Boy In A Boat.’
Féile an Phobail continues until this Sunday evening (August 9th) with highlights including the comedy drama ‘The Holy, Holy Bus’ at the Roddy McCorley Social Club until this weekend; the literary event ‘Scribes at the Rock’ at the Rock Bar on Thursday; and reggae band, UB40, this Sunday night.