Guitar Summit! Cian Nugent and Joe Hollick

Alan Dearling witnesses two guitar maestros in formidable action

Cian Nugent informed the crowd that, “Joe has never played these songs before.” Indeed, I was at the gig early and witnessed Cian and Joe heading off to a room to ‘rehearse’ as the audience trooped in.  A new musical alliance. Joe told me that Cian’s name is pronounced ‘Kee-Ann’, which I didn’t know!

It proved to be something of an intimate, international Guitar Summit upstairs at the Golden Lion in Todmorden. The evening opened with Joe Hollick (from Wolf People) caressing his acoustic guitar into some sublime sonic moments. Joe presented 30 minutes of gentle, even at times whimsical instrumental guitar sounds, full of under-tows of bass notes and unusual guitar tunings. His recent solo album, ‘Restless Ness’ rapidly sold out. Its eclectic sounds are a mix of ‘60s folk-styles from the likes of Davey Graham/John Renbourn, Mali blues from Ali Farka Touré and Ry Cooder, and later with Cian, evocations of the improvisational jamming of Jerry Garcia and the eternal, Grateful Dead.

Of Joe’s recordings with Dave Cambridge (Cardinal Fuzz):  “…each of the meticulous notes Joe plays has a feeling of wide open space and exploration – like the flow of a gentle stream as it makes its way up to a waterflow whereupon the echoing growl and twang brings forth a sublime dissonance.”

And, I can’t add much to the review in ‘The Ominous Drone’: “Excellent acoustic guitar playing… I’m not sure how the labels let this one get out with such a limited pressing because it needs to be in more hands. It’s that good. This record will take you to other places.”

‘Madrigal Wagon’ (2022):

I have previously really enjoyed the cosmic psychedelia of Wolf People. Joe’s solo excursions are different, but equally innovative. Circular, repetitive riffing. Light, tinklings in the stratosphere…

Then, after a short interval, Joe returned to the stage to play with Cian Nugent from Ireland. A formidable guitar ensemble – electric and acoustic full of soaring raga-like harmonics. The set included long improvisations around Cian’s songs: ‘High up airplane’ and ‘Pass the Time Away’. A bit special, methinks.

From Wikipedia:

“Cian is an Irish guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and producer. He has played both as a solo artist and with the backing band The Cosmos as Cian Nugent & The Cosmos. He has also collaborated with musicians Steven Gunn, Conor O’Brien and Aoife Nessa Frances. He has released albums on the labels Woodsist, Matador, and VHF. His music has been described by Kitty Empire in The Observer as ‘…pushing at the seam where psychedelia, country and the Takoma school of folk ragas meet.’ ”

Whether one calls the guitar wrangling interplay between Cain and Joe, ‘improvisations’, ‘extemporisations’ – it was ‘jamming’ and ‘jamming good’. With an added measure of magic Irish Blarney dust wafting through the air. Complementing each other, challenging each other, Cian’s songs developed an entirely different personality from solo versions.

Here’s my friend, Paul Thorpe’s camera video from Cian and Joe inter-playing together on ‘High up airplane’:

In 2020, Cian released the live album ‘Live from Cafe Oto’ in London. It was distributed  through Rough Trade Publishing. And a collaboration with Conor O’Brien (from The Villagers), ‘Do I Care’ is featured on the compilation album ‘In The Echo: Field Recordings from Earlsfort Terrace’, released in September 2021 by Ergodos Records.

‘High up airplane’ (2023):

Cian, as represented on-line, comes over as melodic, vaguely Byrdsy. Live with Joe it was altogether a more explosive, incendiary mix! A real dynamic, musical experience.

Cian Nugent ‘Pass The Time Away’/ ‘How The Time Passes’:

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