Even the sleepiest amongst us have probably noticed that quite a lot has happened over the last five years. Not quite pestilence, famine and flood but pretty close. Basically, it’s been a pretty depressing time since 2018; too many idiots and too much idiocy. Listening to the latest Ímar album, Awakening, it’s blindingly obvious what’s been missing. We’ve just needed to have some fun.
Awakening is the third album from this supercharged Folk supergroup, the first for five years, and it reminds everyone to put the blues to one side and revel in the simple power of fantastic tunes played really fast.
Chief in prodding the collective consciousness awake is concertina hooligan Mohsen Amini, reckless driver of the Talisk juggernaut, although he is ably joined by Ryan Murphy, of Manran, and his uillean pipes. Between the two of them they whisk so many of these tunes to a demented fever pitch; they are toe-tapping, eye-popping, wide-awakeners.
Any album that starts with a set of tunes called Bangers is laying out the stall from very early on. Bangers they undoubtedly are. Revving up the set with Amini’s Only Room for Mash, bodhran, acoustic guitar and fiddle strain at the leash before the concertina and pipes lean hard on the accelerator and the album is off, racing to the pub. The next two tunes in the set are both in praise of Glaswegian hostelries and it’s absolutely no surprise that Amini wants this to be an album that feels like an “unforgettable night in the pub, the Guinness is just right and the tunes are flying”. These tunes are not so much flying as utterly screaming along.
As much as Ímar are Glasgow based, and hail from the Isle of Man, Suffolk and Scotland, it is the lure of the Guinness that this album is soaked in. There’s Irishness right down to its roots. The Stringer set starts with traditional Irish reel Paddy Kelly’s before the whole band gallop off over the horizon. Likewise, Neachtain’s Wing closes with the Irish reel Riverton Road. The whole set is blistering, Amini and Murphy charging along but Tomas Callister on fiddle, Adam Rhodes on bouzouki and Adam Brown’s (from Rura) guitar easily keeping pace. Neachtain’s is a Galway bar and, almost certainly, a mighty place for a night out.
It would be wrong, though, to think of the whole of Awakening as some sort of booze drenched orgy of lightning-fast Folk tunes. There are times when the touch is a little lighter, a little more gentle. Waterhouse, written by Callister, is deceptively delicate and built around Murphy’s flute and pipes. It’s stuffed with summer sunshine, the hazy sunburn of a festival evening, when there’s a pause in the day but there’s still dancing to be done. Multi-instrumentalist Callister brings his fiddle to Imagine a World and, again, shows a sublime touch. The fiddle and pipes drift lazily across one another creating a world of Highland streams and peat smoke.
If Bangers is the perfect start to this album, the perfect way to awaken from a five-year slumber, then Tree of Life is the perfect end point. A way to leave listeners bolt upright, desperate for more, the triple espresso lurking at the end of the night. Amini and Murphy, once again, try to outpace one another but, this time it’s Callister’s fiddle, driven by the bodhran, that causes the palpitations. There’s no sleeping now.
Ímar have plenty on their collective plate. Not only are they about to embark on a tour, their normal bands are calling and, now, it’s their duty to keep the world wide awake. They are the Wide Awake(ning) Club.