Reader Bernadette Lynch enjoys a knees-up at Finstock's Folk at the Hall

  • Bernard O’Donoghue, Mick Henry and Nick Hooper and The DellyWellyBoot Band
  • Finstock Hall
  • March 21

The old Village Hall at Finstock may soon be no more. A shiny new facility is set to stand its place to increase the comfort of all. Nobody was complaining of discomfort, however, when the distinctive wooden hall, decorated by corn dollies and bathed in gentle light, hosted a rare evening of music, poetry and camaraderie.

Appetites were well whet by the tantalising tapas served up by the eclectic DellyWellyBoot Band. Treats here included Susanna Starling’s self-accompaniment on double bass and the band’s own version of St James Infirmary following in the footsteps of Louis Armstrong and Van Morrison. If the night had ended then, the audience would have gone home happy.

The main course, however, proved well worth staying for in the form of the "Irish Stuff", as it was affectionately described from the stage. This was a sharing platter of delights with offerings by Mick, Nick and Bernard from the work of Yeats, Carolan - the 18th century blind Irish harpist, and Seamus Heaney - described by Bernard, as "that great poet of agricultural machinery".

Pieces flowed with ease and expertise and with the understated restraint that can only be achieved by accomplished performers in fine form. Mick’s voice, sweet and wise, soared; Bernard’s unassuming but polished readings in his gentle Cork lilt beguiled; Nick’s intricate and moving wizardry on the guitar blended perfectly. It was almost too much to bear.

The audience were stroked like an extra instrument as the mood rose and fell - from the humour of Mick’s Mullingar, which he compared to Didcot, to the raw regret of The Lament of Owen Roe O’Neill from Nick that transformed the guitar into a harp, to the aching tenderness of Bernard’s Ter Conatus which spoke of the erstwhile inability of the Irish to communicate emotion and which stunned the hall.

This rapport with the audience, which could have felt calculated, rather felt generous, always considered and considerate, never jarring or exploitative. The performers took part in this opening up by giving of themselves as with Bernard’s tender reading of Outliving, a poem about the passing of his father, and Mick’s ‘Singing Bird’ which he had learnt going to school in the West of Ireland.

These were honest performances delivered with respect for the audience and for each other, marked at the end by spontaneous handshakes of great warmth between the trio. This show needed no fancy packaging; no hype nor pretence. It was what it was; simple, authentic, loving.

One complaint though: it ended too soon.

The third encore, the painfully haunting My Lagan Love, left the audience pensive but hungry for more. It could have lasted forever. But it didn’t and, as people wandered out into the Oxfordshire night to face the amble home through the back lanes, there was a sense of blessing.

A splendid alchemy had been created in that Hall and given all present the gift of a memory in which the venue would live on regardless. Who could ask for more?