Just home from The Liffey Banks sessions at the Grand social – The Máirtín O’Connor Band featuring Maírtín O’ Connor on Accordion, Cathal Hayden on fiddle and banjo, Seamie O’Dowd on guitars and vocals and Jim Higgins on percussion. It was my first time in The Grand Social and it was a great treat. It’s a funky room with a great vibe and sound system. It brought back memories of The Meeting Place in the 70s and Mother Redcaps in the 80s. The Tuesday Night Liffey Bank Sessions are run by Conor Byrne (my nephew). The Gig itself was stunning. Máirtín O Connor fronts the band with great presence and personality. His music continues to evolve, he heads out into the left field frequently but he holds his right foot resolutely in the tradition. Right through the set himself and Cathal Hayden were locked together – tight as ” a bull’s arse going up a hill”. It was gorgeous as they varied unison with beautiful harmony. Seamie O’Dowd has really nailed his guitar playing. His contribution to the band is enormous and goes from subtle intros and solos to full-on driving rhythms that betimes had me up out of my seat. He sang four songs and his take on “As I Roved Out” ( Andy Irvine’s version) stilled the room and brought us all away with him. On the opposite wing Jim Higgins was perfection on Snare Drum and Bodhrán. I toured with Jim many years back when he was in Eleanor Shanley’s Band. His playing last night was as good as I have ever heard in a traditional ensemble. Not one but two solos and both of them riveting. The variety of beats and tones he got from the old drum was remarkable. Both Jim and Seamie showed understanding and familiarity with the music they were ‘rhythming’.This would not always be the case with Trad. Ensembles (my own rhythm included betimes). At the end of it all it was fitting that Mairtín payed tribute to the late Joe Cooley, a man whose music still resounds around the world anywhere where Irish Music is played.
I heartily recommend The Liffey Bank Session at The Grand Social. It is situated at the The Halfpenny Bridge. There are some great some great gigs pending. Check it out: The Grand Social
Friday, 28th October.
Michael D. Higgins is elected President of our Island. It was a close call. McGuinness saved the day. Michael D. is well equipped to honour The Presidency and will not bring further shame and embarrassment down upon us. I last met him at Féile na Laoch in Coolea where he stood amongst poets, warriors, artists and bards. He read his poems eloquently until the clouds cleared and the moon came out. This too is the day that Folk Tale was released. We appeared on The Late Late Show and performed “Morecambe Bay” and “Michael Hayes”. So far the album is being well received. Releasing an album is an intriguing process. It is a year now since we began to record. After three months we abandoned the original project and commenced recording what has become “Folk Tale”. There was no theme nor specific vibe or thrust, we just played and sang one song at a time. As is the way, the work itself indicated when the job was done. Declan and Tim Martin got down to mixing tracks while I worked on the running order, sleeve notes and began to collaborate on the Artwork with Oran Day and my son Pádraic. I had to make a stand in certain quarters on the sleeve artwork. However I had deep conviction as to its relevance and suitability. This laddie was not for turning.
Saturday, 29th October.
Reflecting upon last night’s television programme… It went well for us. We got to sing 2 songs to nigh on half a million listeners (viewers). It is such a privileged position to have access to the airwaves when releasing new work. It is always a dilemma for it can be a double edged sword. It can be nerve wrecking too for there is so much that can go wrong. However we did get all possible assistance last night from both the RTE crew and our own team. Ryan Tubridy,who hosts the programme, was warm and welcoming but, when the show went up, he did appear to be ill at ease. That said, I marvel at the dexterity of those who host such a compendium of guests. Sword swallowers, taxidermists, fading stars, up and coming brats, right wing bigots, left wing midgets, the breast enhanced, the bewildered, we are all there queuing up to flog our wares to an exhausted, traumatised public. Poor old Ryan gets blempt on it all. However he is a very able young man who seems well able for the brickbats. Him being related to Herself, I felt he was pleased when I sang “Michael Hayes” for his ( distant) cousin, The Queen.
Saturday, 5th of November.
It is now 7 days since Folk Tale was released. A week is a long time in song. Declan and I gave it everything we had for 6 months. We arrived at the end of the process satisfied with our efforts but then twas time to put it out for public consideration. There is no way of knowing what way that will go. Seven days on and we are well satisfied by the response to date. The songs are sitting up well in the set, we played six of them last night in Waterford and we’ll maybe try the rest of them tonight.
Monday, 7th of November.
After all the brouhaha of MTV in mBéal Feirste I went looking for some healing balm. I ended up on YouTube at Luke Kelly and The Dubliners. I went back again to Luke’s “Night Visiting Song” (aka “I Must Away Now”) .I believe this was Luke’s final performance before he passed away. It is simply stunning and most beautiful. The rest of the band are mindful of what is going down. Barney is hurting, Ronnie is concerned, Sean is nervous and John is playing so soulfully. Luke is giving it everything he’s got just like he always did. I have often commented before on the solid Rhythm created by the Tenor and 5 String Banjos. It is unique to The Dubs and is a huge part of their original sound…here Ronnie’s finger picking on The Spanish Guitar locks in tight and the 3 instruments create bedrock for Luke to travail. I recommend these 4 minutes to all listeners: Luke & The Dubliners on YouTube
I also dropped in on Luke’s “Unquiet Grave”. I used to sing this in the 60’s.(A version I learnt from Frank Lunny Jnr in Rynne’s cellar 50 years ago)… must give it a burl.
I’ve just read that the Brother, Luka Bloom, is to play at The Black Box, Belfast on Sunday Jan 15th 2012 at 3pm. It should be a lovely afternoon under The Black Mountain. (www.blackboxbelfast.com ) I have recorded 4 of his songs; City of Chicago, Wave up to The Shore, Section 31 and Remember The Brave Ones. Last time I heard him play was at Ryston Social Club in Newbridge earlier in the year when he delivered a stunning set. We book-end the family, I am the eldest he is the youngest and we have 3 sisters Eilish, Anne, Terry and Brother Andy in the middle. Luka began his career as Barry Moore and recorded a number of fine albums before moving to America where he became Luka Bloom and continued with his singing and recording career. Aged 17 he played support to Planxty and at the ripe age of 14 he travelled England with me in the summer of 1969. I can recall him singing in Folk Clubs in Redcar, Windermere and Manchester. I was as proud of him then as I am now. Great Singer, Great Brother.
Monday, 21st of November.
I paid a visit to Dame St and had an hour with the Occupants. Spoke with Emily, a young Wicklow artist. She dropped in for an hour 45 days ago and has been there ever since. I also met Kevin who sang me a very good song and Sandra who gave me soup. This small group of peaceful activists are like a candle in the dark cloud of fear confusion that hovers above The Island. Like the rest of us they are fearful and concerned about where we have been landed by those whom we entrusted to mind the shop. Unlike most of us, the young ones at Dame St are making a stand. They deserve our support. I hope to visit again soon and sing some songs. That’s the best that I can do.
Here in Belfast this morning after a great gig last night in The Waterfront. Perhaps the best gig in Belfast since The Green Briar in 1982, maybe even better then The Pound Loney in 1978. We both sat down in the dressing room afterwards and acknowledged that it had been special. The first time I ever opened with McIlhatton and from there the set just flowed almost seamlessly. Declan was finding lovely notes, the audience were singing beautifully, the requests were appropriate and timely (sorry I could not find Joxer). Afterwards I felt like we had entered a new phase of the journey, can’t explain that… it’s just what I felt.