18th March 2007
Reviewed by Kevin Cowan
I had been looking forward to my first Wally Page and Johnny Mulhern gig for almost two months now since I bought the tickets. I knew many of their songs through Christy Moore’s singing and I was keen to see Wally Page, who Christy in the past has described as his main ‘collaborator’. I had recently bought all their CD’s from Wally’s website and I have been enjoying listening to them. When my brother Rory and I arrived at The John Hewitt bar in Belfast, Wally, Johnny and the band were doing their sound check. There was a relaxed atmosphere and an empty table directly in front of the stage which we soon filled. We also met Baz McSherry, a fellow 4711er, and his friend Martin. We immediately hit it off as they joined us at our table. Baz gave me a copy of his EP ‘Screenplay’ and we chatted about all things musical until the gig started.
Wally opened with ‘Biko Drum’ and with his pure, clear voice he effortlessly belted out the lyrics while Johnny weaved a blanket of music with his lead guitar and backing vocals. I have always loved this song ever since I heard Christy sing it on ‘Unfinished Revolution’. The line ‘Transvaal kids on a Transvaal day’ is so simple yet so powerful and was just one example of the musical genius we were going to witness over the next few hours. After a few songs Wally said he needed his ‘sweatband’ and put on his hat. It was evident that they were all settling in to this post St. Patrick’s Day gig. In the first half, amongst others, Wally also gave us a solemn version of ‘The Two Conneeleys’, continued the nautical theme with ‘Sixteen Jolly Ravers’ and told us who ‘Mercy’ was about before singing a beautiful version. After every few Wally songs Johnny would sing one and gave us the wonderful ‘Mattie’ and ‘The Black Crow’ among others. ‘Mattie’ has always been a favorite of mine. Everyone knows of a ‘Mattie’ which could be one reason why the song is so popular. Johnny’s voice is very different to Wally’s but together they produce a very ear-catching sound. A man standing at the bar requested ‘Raglan Road’ a few times and Wally told him if he could sing it all then they would play it. This seemed to curb him for a while but he was enjoying himself. After about an hour of playing Wally announced that they would be taking a break and he would see us in the second half.
On my way to the toilet I met Wally who was looking for an exit to have a smoke. I introduced myself and we had a nice chat during which Johnny also appeared and we chatted for another few minutes. They were both very friendly and easy to talk to. I asked Wally would he sing ‘All For The Roses’ if he didn’t mind. He said he was only too happy to take any requests. I was conscious that by taking up too much of an artist’s time you could cross the line from being a well-meaning fan to a pest so I wished them luck and let them continue in their hunt for an exit and a ‘Woodbine’. To my great joy when Wally returned he pulled up a seat at our table and chatted with us for the rest of the interval while nursing a pint of Guinness.
Wally opened the second half by saying he was going to play my request and sang ‘All For The Roses’ which made my day! This is one of my favorite songs of all time. He told us who the song was about but I won’t say here in case I ruin other people’s picture of this song. This was followed by ‘So Do I’ which had been requested by a Wally fan who is still young at heart and was enjoying her Mother’s day outing. During ‘So Do I’ the bar seemed very still and I think everyone was drifting away to his or her peaceful place. ‘Smoke And Strong Whiskey’ soon followed this. Wally wanted everyone to sing the chorus and we did our best. He said this was about ‘The Troubles’ which have now happily eased. Johnny added ‘but we’ll sing this anyway just in case’ which caused much laughter and was fitting with the spirit of the gig. Other songs sang by Wally were ‘Country Boy’, the rousing ‘Body Gunners’, ‘Moon In A Taxi Car’ and a foot-stomping ‘Hey Paddy’. During this half Johnny also gave us ‘Demolition Dan’ and ‘Blue Green Bangle’ which had everyone clapping along. The way Wally and Johnny bounce off each other with their vocals and guitar playing is a joy to watch and they seemed to be really enjoying this gig. I don’t think they would have been any more at home in their own kitchens and it is a real pleasure to see people who enjoy their music. At this stage I should also mention the rest of the band who were excellent and really add to the songs. I didn’t catch all their names but Tom provided great backing vocals and percussion while the bass player and drummer also gave each and every song a fantastic lift.
When Wally thanked us for listening and announced they had finished we screamed for an encore and they duly obliged. After two more songs I could sense the end was coming soon so I chanced my arm again with a request for ‘St. Theresa Of The Roses’. Baz requested ‘Raglan Road’ in honour of the now departed audient – Wally and Johnny found this very amusing but happily continued with my request. A blistering rendition of ‘St. Theresa’ was a fitting ending to the gig. Following the show, Baz and Wally exchanged CD’s. Wally and Johnny visited our table again. We thanked them for the show and Johnny sat with us for about half an hour which was great craic. He shared song-writing tips with the amateur songwriters at the table and told us who ‘Mattie’ really was. Wally was buzzing around talking to other people and getting the instruments packed away but stuck his head in each time he walked past. The lady who had requested ‘So Do I’ appeared at our table and told Wally and Johnny they sang ‘St. Theresa’ too fast. They promised to slow it down for her the next time. After much banter we said our final goodbyes to Wally and Johnny as they headed off into the Belfast night and the blizzard for an interview with a local radio station.
This was a most enjoyable night and I would thoroughly recommend a Wally and Johnny gig to anyone.