Lily Neill 25.5.18

Harp-playing bards were once so influential in Ireland that Elizabeth I notoriously ordered the island’s governor: “Hang the harpers wherever found and destroy their instruments.” It was a command quoted with glee by brilliant harpist Lily Neill when she wowed Mycenae House with a miscellany of tunes from Tudor times and the five centuries since. A solo harp concert may at first sound of limited interest. But in this hands of a virtuoso the instrument becomes an orchestra in miniature – and it won Neill a rapturous reception from the packed auditorium. She began the gig with a gorgeous self-penned epithalamium written for a friend’s marriage, then let the lilting melody segue into the traditional Irish jig The Rolling Waves. She followed it up with Loftus Jones by blind 17th century Irish bard Turlough O’Carolan – a tune she once played as a 14-year-old with legendary Chieftains’ harpist Derek Bell. Neill peppered the rest of the concert with her own compositions such as Life On Wheels, a whimsical tribute to the case she uses to carry her harp to gigs around the world, and the wonderful Bedford Row which was the highlight of the first half of the evening. The second half was truly cosmopolitan, with a succession of tunes from Scandinavia, including an amazing Finnish tango, the 19th century American gospel classic The Wayfaring Stranger, the jazzy Black And White Rag – used as the theme tune for TV snooker show Pot Black – and the music hall favourite If You Were The Only Girl In The World. Neill and her 30-string harp were joined for the final section of the show by genius guitarist Clive Carroll who harmonised with a fabulous selection of Finnish, Swedish and American songs – and, of course, some foot-stomping Irish jigs and reels. I can’t remember the last time I saw a concert with a playlist featuring such a wide range of eras and genres. It was a treat for all of us who were lucky enough to be there.

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