Barrowland, Glasgow, Sat 16th April 2011… (I am writing this in Manchester having travelled here after last nights gig in Barrowland, Glasgow.)
We returned to Scotland and kicked off with 2 nights at The Queens Hall Edinburgh and then Westwards to The Clyde where we played the Glasgow Concert Hall before heading to The East End one more time.
When we arrived there for rehearsal and soundcheck the barrows were in full swing. The shoppers thronged the streets moving between dealers, vendors and the fruit and veg stalls while all the pubs were hoppin.
Up the stairs into a dark interior, it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the way it will look in 4 hours time…
Paddy, Michael, Dickon, Davey, Johnny and Geoff are swinging gear into position with the local crew. The promoter, Mark Mackey is on hand with his staff, there is a strong brew in the pot and the security team are being briefed.
Declan always soundchecks first; Spanish, Martin D28, Fender Strat and Dobro, he finalises his set-ups and checks his mikes and monitors. I follow him and check my 3 guitars, (all 25-35 year old Taks ), they are set up the same but with different capo positions, then I do my Bowrawn and vocals. Declan comes back out and we check our various monitor levels for the different combinations of guitars. That done we have a full-on play until David Meade is satisfied with the sound around the hall, then back into the dressing room as the doors are opened.
The early birds get in in time to nab their pitches at the front of the stage, a good few 4711ers are in early and also many faces I (later) recognise from previous nights and from the Barrowland DVD. Back in the dressing room it’s quiet. The crew are in having tea and grub. I have a brief meet with Pat Ryan over from Wicklow and Johnny Hoban over from Mayo, both on pilgrimage to The Clyde. I then gather up some notes and prompts and Declan and I start a warm up. We run through “The Blantyre Explosion”, “Metropolitan Avenue”, “Duffy’s Cut” and a few others. Mick Devine gives us the 15 minute call and I get togged out while Declan files a nail.
The Hall is starting to really vibe up but it’s very quiet and still in the dressing room. Mick gives us the 5 minute call and we are both in the zone. As we make our way towards the stage we decide to open with “Allende”. We pause side stage and then out we go before the heaving mass of hot, anticipating, beautiful Saturday-night gaggle of listeners, all gathered in this very special place.
The first few numbers are very difficult. No matter how long you sound check, everything changes when the crowd comes in. During the first 3 or 4 songs Dickon is feverishly trying to get the monitor sound right as Declan and I try to get into swing.
The crowd are singing magnificently and by the end of song 3 we are gaining control of the space. “Only our Rivers” appears before me and the room goes still, the monitors are suddenly perfect. Over the next 2 hours and 25 minutes we play;
City of Chicago
Smoke and Strong Whiskey
Only our Rivers
North and South
Where is our James Connolly
Back Home in Derry
The Time has Come
After The Deluge
Black is The Colour
Companeros (Fidel and Che) aka The Good Ship Granma
Come all you Dreamers
Does this train stop on Merseyside?
A Pair of Brown Eyes
The Galtee Mountain Boy
Sacco and Vanzetti
Viva Le Quinte Brigada
Minds Locked Shut
The Blantyre Explosion
Crowd Chant (with our accompaniment)
Irish ways Irish Laws
Cliffs of Dooneen
Back into the dressing room, high on adrenalin and music, my head reverberating as I go to a quiet place and sit and give thanks for the wonderful gifts bestowed upon me; these songs and tunes, this voice to sing, these hands to play, this brother who wraps it all up with his sounds, the great crew who take such care of it all and, not least, the thousands who come to listen, to share, to encourage, to laugh and sing.
Two fish suppers arrive in but they were dreadful: shite chips and shitier batter. Paddy makes a few rounds of good sandwiches and there is strong hot tea…
The crowd are singing outside as they exit, the crews are pulling it all down, boxing it up and loading it in. We pack our bags and notes, our phones, Macs, jox, sox and keks and think about leaving Glasgow one more time…
I’ve been doing this thing now for 45 years and I still savour this feeling… it’s a feeling that descends after a glorious gig. All the crowd have gone, the hall is being swept as we exit out into the night air. We climb into the van as Michael sets the sat nav for Manchester. I feel sated and satisfied, happy to be alive.
I watch Martin Scorsese’s History of American Cinema on the Mac til about Carlisle…then Mick announces that City have beaten United. soon we spot The Reebok as we pass Bolton on the M61… on into Manchester as the exhausted revellers make their way home to the suburbs, past Coronation St. and Fag Ash Lil, there’s George Best and Dennis Law, past many old pubs that used to host Folk Clubs, past where Eamon Clinch and Gerry Brady out shaped The Gallagher’s 45 years ago, a whole new set of memories come floating up from The Old Canal…
See you soon,