As I travelled the last few miles towards tonight’s venue I noticed in the distance an electric storm where the lightning for a split second brightened the ominous black clouds with a scattering of vibrant green and in that fleeting moment of light the iconic structure that is the Scunthorpe Steel Works could be seen nestled on the horizon. The stormy skies that hung above seemed to perfectly reflect the uncertain future that beholds both the industry and the town but I couldn’t help feeling that the shaft of green was a positive sign. After all, it was St Patrick’s Day. As I parked the car I spotted, fluttering in the prevailing breeze, the green, white and gold of the Irish flag that hung from the local hostelry in respect and celebration of this historic date, though just as possibly there to mark the current prowess of their sporting heroes. By the end of the evening the local congregation would come to realise that it’s not only in the sporting arena that the Irish can leave an audience in awe of the talent on show, such was the impact that Cua had on the regulars at Lincolnshire’s premier Americana venue, The Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey.
Cua are a three piece band consisting of John Dawson, Shane Booth and Ron O’meara that collectively create a sound that defies any of the usual musical pigeon holes produced by nothing more than the traditional accompaniment of guitar, fiddle, bouzouki and percussion, played with an astonishing level of dexterity supported with some sublime three part harmonies. The band’s most recent album ‘Oh Sun Shine Down’ that came out during the peak of last year’s heatwave received high praise from all critical quarters and it was from this album that they chose to open the night’s proceedings with ‘Sunrise’ immediately impressing with an a cappella intro before a burst of fiddle playing led the band into a playful jig that continually surprised with its melodic intricacies. This theme was continued on the following instrumental, ‘The Guisers Fancy’, also from the most recent album that swirled around the room with its complex rhythmic time structures blending traditional Irish music with that of Eastern Europe, creating an intoxicating sound that crackles with life. A large part of the night’s first set is made up of track from the band’s debut album ‘Songs Of The Hollow’ that was released back in 2017 including ‘She Has Me’ and ‘The Other Man’, both emphasising the diversity within their musical canon while the instrumental ‘Black Dog’ wonderfully demonstrated the intensity and dexterity of the three musicians. The final number of the first set ‘Where Is The Sound Gone’ which first appeared on the band’s second album ‘In Flight Off The Island’ slows the pace but never the potency that holds the audience right to the final note, and with the best part of an hour having passed in what felt like just a blink of the eye it was time for the interval.
Now it would be remiss of me if at some point I didn’t draw attention to a key factor concerning the evening’s performance that, if nothing else, marked it out as slightly different from the normal procedure. Due to a bereavement in the family of the band’s guitarist the remainder of the tour had unfortunately been cancelled and immediately after this evening’s show they would have to hightail it across the country back to Holyhead to catch the ferry home to Ireland. To make sure of arriving in time for the ferry crossing Cua decided they would play before the support act this evening, thus allowing them to perform their usual full set.
After much activity and discussion at the merchandise table the second set got underway with a continued mix of material from the band’s three albums. Again the debut album was well represented with tracks such as ‘Hot Blooded’, and ‘Atlantic Cross’ highlighting their diversity as they gently tip their hat to a myriad of musical genres from Traditional Folk to Jazz Fusion and from Blues Roots to Gospel, placing them firmly at the forefront of the current contemporary cutting-edge folk with the likes of Lau, and Lankum. Two further tracks from the latest album threw the focus on the band’s sublime vocal harmonies, especially the album’s opener ‘Oh Sun Shine Down’, while on ‘Sail Home With Me’ Booth takes the lead vocals and delivers a heartfelt rendition that fully captured the poignancy and sobriety of his recent family loss. The tempo quickly shifts through the gears as on the instrumental ‘Hardslacks’ with its mercurial arrangement continually confounding and amazing in equal measures before ‘The Gimpt and The Anvil’ again draws attention to the band’s vast musical spectrum and its subtle nod towards world music. Second set complete, there is still time for an encore where the audience is treated to two cover version that again bear witness to the band’s contrasting range and inspiration. Firstly there is an a capella rendition of a rare Ewan McColl number ‘Tunnel Tigers’ which the Salford Bard first released back in 1972 on his album ‘Solo Flight’, followed by a trip to the movies as the band treat us to energetic version of ‘Cindy’ a song that was sung by Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Walter Brennan during the 1959 Cowboy film ‘Rio Bravo’. And with that the performance was over and long before the vociferous appreciation from the audience had dissipated to a mere faint echo the band had left the building into the night.
One can assume that it would be seen as quite an honour to be asked to open for Cua; still, having to follow them is a completely different kettle of fish that would surely fill the most confident of acts full of trepidation. However, despite admitting to a certain level of nerves, or words to that effect, the evening’s support act is none other than Danny Bradley who only six months ago had headlined this venue himself thus suggesting that the gig is more like a doubleheader than headline and support, an observation that is borne out by the enthusiastic response from the congregation as he takes to the stage. True, Bradley’s set was of a length more fitting of a support act, drawing most of his material from his debut album ‘Small Talk Songs’ that came out in 2021, neatly sprinkled with a couple of new numbers such as ‘Timothy Carlisle‘. Bradley’s finger style guitar accompaniment is a masterclass in itself covering the fretboard with an effortless lyrical ease adding a myriad of colours to the narrative of both his original compositions and intriguing choice of covers such as ‘Shady Grove’ and ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ which both appeared on his aforementioned debut album. This shortened set burst full of highlights of which ‘The Myrtle Tree’ and ‘Flash Company’ were among many that demonstrated the range and dexterity of Bradley’s craft and so it came as no surprise that the evenings ‘so called’ support act was deservedly called back for an encore.