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Returning to the Wheelhouse almost exactly one year on from their first appearance at the House Concert venue near Barnsley, the four-piece Celtic folk quartet Ranagri were greeted like old friends as they stepped out onto the small stage, a stage that appeared to be purpose built specifically for them. For twelve months, the Wheelhouse has been standing silent and still, with each of the myriad of smiling faces of artists who have played at the venue previously staring down from the posters on the surrounding walls, just waiting for the music to return. Whilst Mr and Mrs Jones enjoyed a year-long sabbatical, the regulars, me included, began to show definite signs of withdrawal over the last few months and it's great to see the place alive with music once again. Not only does the venue provide first rate house concerts, the Wheelhouse also serves as a meeting place for friends, supplemented with a well-stocked bar and great food and it has to be said, that friendly atmosphere was very much evident and tangible tonight.
The standard of musicianship tonight was second to none as the band delivered two excellent sets, each starting with an instrumental, including Idris, one of the band's highly inventive pieces. Ranagri seem to have got it right; there's the driving sound of an acoustic guitar and an occasional bouzouki, together with the beat of a bodhran, each keeping the rhythm fluid throughout, provided by Donal Rogers and Tad Sargent respectively. The two musicians are flanked by Jean Kelly, an Irish electric harp player whose arpeggio flurries further drive the songs and instrumentals along, topped by Eliza Marshall's virtuoso playing on an array of wind instruments such as flute, bass flute (giant paper clip!), bamboo flute and a variety of smaller members of the whistle family. It's these instruments that pop a cherry right on top of each performance. Then, there's Donal's voice, the focus for each of the songs and possibly the heart of what Ranagri is all about..
Tonight some of the band's musical magic was evident in some of the most flawless playing the Wheelhouse has been witness to over the last 77 shows the venue has staged. With a repertoire that covers original material such as Rhythm Takes You Back, The Bogeyman and Tremors, together with their own highly inventive arrangements of such traditional songs as P Stands for Paddy I Suppose, The Snows They Melt the Soonest and High Germany, the band has a wide palette to base their set upon. Delicate, tender and poignant in places, Voices for instance, the band are also equipped with suitable credentials for delivering beautiful power ballads such as Underdiscovered as well as highly engaging singalong choruses.
Towards the end of the house concert tonight, there was a distinct feeling that everything was delivered and nothing was thrown away, with two sets of expertly played music, all of which hit all the right buttons and I guess there's nothing more you can expect from a group of musicians than that. In the end, it also proved difficult for the band to leave the stage, with the audience demanding not one but two well deserved encores after the band's final song Sad Songs, which despite the title, has an uplifting, joyous and highly infectious chorus. Returning one final time, the band tackled a song that they don't normally play without their recent collaborator Tony Christie (yes of Is This the Way to Amarillo fame, cheekily played as an intro at the beginning of the concert by Hedley Jones), for a performance of Star of the County Down, which Donal had a brave stab at to conclude what turned out to be a superb show.
Listen to an interview with Ranagri here: