Music / Review

Review: Three Cane Whale + Firelight Trio, St George’s – ‘Achingly beautiful’

By Gavin McNamara, Friday Mar 17, 2023

St George’s was made for nights like this one. Where the acoustics allow the instruments to soar and the musicians are of such rare quality that nothing else matters but the sounds being made. And what sounds they are.

Two bands, six musicians and some of the most transportive music that you’ll ever hear.

Firelight Trio are made up of accordion player Phil Alexander (from Moishe’s Bagel), remarkable Scottish fiddle player Gavin Marwick and Ruth Morris on Nyckelharpa (both of Bellevue Rendezvous, amongst others).

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A Nyckelharpa is keyed fiddle, or “key harp”, and is the national musical instrument of Sweden. It also sounds absolutely amazing when paired with fiddle and accordion – you wonder why every band doesn’t use one!

From the opening seconds of their first set of tunes, eyebrows in the audience shoot upwards, a stunned silence, simply asking “How good is this?”.

There’s no need to answer as a delightfully lazy klezmer changes pace to a sprightly reel and finally charges through an Eastern European tinged march.

In three short tunes Firelight Trio have created the soundtrack to an entire film, something animated, perhaps, something foreign and arty.

This feeling of providing a soundtrack weaves its way through their whole set. Prinsen’s Polska is stately and verges on baroque classical; you can picture elegant, mirrored rooms, chandeliers rainbowing candlelight to the darkest of corners. It is achingly beautiful.

So too is The Radical Road/Roeselare. Two tunes played on the St George’s Steinway and both misty, tender and wildly Romantic (with a capital R).

These are tunes to tramp the autumnal streets of (their hometown) Edinburgh to, tunes of blasted battlefields and evocation.

There is a vital seam of Eastern European celebration throughout the Firelight Trio’s set. Balkan Polska combines a high, urgent battle between fiddle and accordion and then a lush plunge into something deeper and fuller.

Motl Reyderis Klezmer Set embraces the musical history of Ukraine and is woozy and delirious. Morris and her Nyckelharpa casting circular patterns around some astonishing fiddle playing.

It is no surprise that the Firelight Trio leave the stage bathed in the warmest of glows. No surprise, either, that Three Cane Whale takes that warmth and nurtures it.

Pete Judge, Alex Vann and Paul Bradley love St George’s – it seems to be their spiritual home and it’s certainly a place in which they are extremely comfortable.

So comfortable are they here that they take this evening as an opportunity to try out some new tunes – Judge describes them as being Bambi-like, blinking in the sunshine and a little unsure on their feet.

If some of the new ones are a tiny bit wobbly it’s only because they’re so intricate. A set of tunes that starts with Brute Angels looks especially difficult.

Pete Judge takes the unwieldy Rotary Valve Tenor Horn and tries to play it with a delicacy that, surely, it was never intended for. He emerges breathless but triumphant.

At times their slithery stringed things and bouncy brass transports us to an Oliver Postgate world, a world of childlike innocence and wonder.

Equally they are also adept at the creation of a soundtrack. Where Firelight Trio make soundtracks for imaginary films, Three Cane Whale create a soundtrack for nature itself. Frond is the sound of leaves unfurling, of dew drops on blades of grass.

Listening to the three of them almost becomes a way of recharging the batteries, a way to pump a vital life force into the veins.

If you are looking for a comparison then perhaps, the closest might be Yann Tiersen, the composer of the beautiful Amelie soundtrack.

When playing live he leaps from instrument to instrument, breathlessly infusing the world around him with magic. Three Cane Whale do the same, picking up and changing instruments at dizzying speed.

Judge tells us that we should imagine the St George’s stage as one that moves across the world, transporting us to different places. Both of these incredible bands did exactly that.

Main photo: Gavin McNamara

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