Originally published on Boom Bang a Blog, Nov 2009.
Every Eurovision entry stands on the shoulders of giants, the artists and myths that have built up over time. Portugal’s inability to get any higher than sixth place, the almost pathological gallic need to sing in French, the ability to avoid doing a Jemini…
But representing Ireland comes with enough baggage to fill Terminal 5 at Heathrow. This is the most successful country in the contest; the western country that people can vote for without having any political qualms; this is the country that managed to contribute to the greatest Father Ted episode of all time.
So here come Dervish, traditional Irish folk band from County Sligo formed in 1989. They weren’t the product of a talent show search conducted on Twitter, they’d put in the graft – like bands are meant to – put on international concerts, and were a known quantity when selected to represent Ireland in 2007. RTE must have been convinced that they’d overcome the mis-step of Donna and Joe in 2005 (forcing Brian Kennedy to navigate the semi-finals with a Logan-esque ballad in 2006).
Even now, listening to "They Can’t Stop The Spring" you’d think it would do well at Eurovision. A great song, wonderful composition, powerful lyrics, a showcase of all the best of Irish music. Why were we not back in Dublin for 2008?
Let’s just say that the performance on the night is lacking that certain something. It’s not a Jemini but this was a case of the performance letting down a potential winner. lead singer Cathy Jordan takes too long to get into the spirit of the song on stage, and by then it’s too late. Especially running fourth on the night.
Has Eurovision dampened Dervish? Not a bit. Their most recent album, "Travelling Show" is a delightful mix of traditional style music with modern flair and showcases the whole band’s versatility.
Opening with a cover of "Gypsies, Tramps and Queens" is a masterstroke. For their countless dedicated fans it’s Dervish working their Irish magic on a familiar tune, and for those new to their sound it gives them something they already know, and then they stand up and say "musically "this is Dervish, get ready to enjoy the rest of the album." Which I have done on countless occasions!
"The Coolea Jig" reinforces their traditional folk roots with this toe-tapping instrumental – unlike ‘modern’ music the vocals are treated like any other instruments and if it doesn’t fit the sound of the track, then it gets put aside next to the penny whistle, ready for when it is required.
Which would be the next track, a slow lament called "My Bride and I" which showcases Jordan’s haunting voice perfectly, before up pops a playful number in "The Cat She Went a Hunting." Four tracks in, four different strands of music yet Dervish continue to soar.
It’s difficult to step through each track on an album review, especially when Dervish has such a classic sound that just shows the talents of every band member at different opportunities. Fusing a huge range of influences and inspiration, it’s a fast album and one that can stand up to repeated plays both as background music while working or just wanting to take yourself away on a journey.
And Eurovision fans will spot a certain track is missing. Dervish have put their experience in Finland behind them by simply doing what they do best. There’s no doubt that "Travelling Show" is one of their best albums full stop. It shows you why RTE chose Dervish to represent Ireland and it leaves you wondering just how it all went so wrong on that night in Helsinki.
Travelling Show, by Dervish, is published by Whirling Discs and is available from Amazon.