There is a pub halfway up the Rathmines Road that has changed name many times over the years. It has now become a live music venue. I first became aware of this when I noticed that none other than Lee Scratch Perry was due to play a stone's throw from my flat. The Upsetter proved to be too popular and his show was moved to a bigger venue, but on Thursday I got to check the venue out.
On the bill were Liam O Maonlaí, musical genius best known as the singer of the Hothouse Flowers, and Rónán Ó Snodaigh, founder member of Kíla. These descriptions do not at all do them full justice. Both men also work as solo artists and collaborators in numerous musical projects. Rónán teaches the bodhran and has recently started a Tuesday night trad session with Eoin Dillon at Whelans (see 'Call The Dancers'). I first became aware of Liam when the wonderful video for 'Don't Go' was shown at the 1988 Eurovision, and I have recently seen him play churches, either solo on a church organ or with his other band Ré.
Both men were active in the Grafton Street busking scene in the 80's alongside Glen Hansard and Mic Christopher amongst others. They are Gaeilgeoirs (Irish speakers) and the advert for the show described them as musical shamans, druids even! I did not know what to expect of the collaboration but was sure it would be fascinating.
The show took place on Holy Thursday and the venue was packed and lively. On Good Friday the pubs would stay closed, so folks seemed bent on living it up. Support came from David Keenan, a young singer/songwriter from Dundalk. I was struck by his confidence. David has a strong voice, not unlike Liam, sometimes sounding like Damien Dempsey. The songs he sang were all his own and I particularly liked one about James Dean. Though he was unknown to me he had a fan base in attendance that was seated near me.
Liam O Maonlaí is a multi-instrumentalist, but for this show he concentrated on the piano, besides a short stint on the bodhran and some frantic African-style dancing (impressive for a man the far side of 50). Rónán stuck to the bodhran, of which he is a master, plus one song on a tiny guitar. The varied set included some Hothouse Flowers songs ('Movies', 'Feel Like Living') and some Kíla ones ('Dúisigí' and 'Cathain'). Both men have recorded 'Cathain' and they sang this together in breakneck speed Irish, which sounds very exotic to my ears.
An early highlight was a highly original cover version of Talking Heads' 'Once In A Lifetime'. Many of the songs turned into long jams, with tribal percussion and improvised singing. There were some traditionals too – 'Carrickfergus' and 'Bean Pháidín'. Rónán sang a song in English for a fallen friend. I very much like his unique voice, but I do somehow think he sounds better singing in Irish, perhaps because I am more used to hearing him sing that way.
The atmosphere in the packed pub was fantastic, as the beer kept flowing and the crowd kept calling for more. The show ended with Liam leading the crowd; something he is so good at and which I have seen him do on a number of very different occasions (at the Festival of World Cultures, at Glen Hansard's traditional Christmas Eve busk in Grafton Street). He manages to get everyone on board, not just the trad cognoscenti. And it was not an easy song we sang either. He got the entire pub to sing several verses of the 'Lakes Of Pontchartrain'. It was a truly magical moment.
If you ever get the chance to see these druids collaborate, do not miss it!
The projection screen above the stage glowing with images similar to the opening shots from an episode of Twin Peaks illuminates tonight's audience: check shirts = plenty; beards= of course; audience members under the age of 30 years = not many ; bald/ balding heads some covered by baseball caps = inevitably. After a hiatus of 10 years Ladies and Gentleman welcome back, Grandaddy.
The past seventeen years vanish during the intro to the first track tonight which is 'Hewlett's Daughter' from their breakthrough album 'The Sophtware Slump', frontman Jason Lytle's characteristic vocals and the tinkling piano riff wiping the years away. The projection screen changes to shots of huge expanses of deserts a perfect fit for the epic opening, power chords of ' “Yeah” Is What We Had' from 'Sumday', the chorus of “In this life, will I ever see you again?” being a question many of the audience had presumably asked of the band.
At the end of the song Jason proves that he's done some research into the local dialect “ Ay Up Mi Ducks, is that how it goes?”, (I can provide a satisfactory translation of “Hello Everyone” for those of you not from the East Midlands).
A sound similar to a fanfare from a child's trumpet and Aaron Burtch's (supporting fine Billy Gibbons style facial hair) metronomic drumming start the first track from this year's superb new album ' Last Place', with it's lovely melody over the lyric “Damned if we do. Dumb if we don't”. Single 'Evermore' pulls a very similar trick and proves that this new set of songs is as strong as anything from their back catalogue.
The projection screen of vast Mid-Western American landscapes of deserts, railroads and trucks which rolls along throughout the set is so bright we mostly see the band in shadow and silhouette so that it almost feels as if we are listening to the soundtrack to a road movie. Jason breaks out of the soundtrack mood during 'Lost on Yer Merry Way' by laughing at himself as he stumbles over the words.
One of the most instantly recognisable song intros of the past 20 years has to be the wonky keyboard of 'A.M. 180', so it deservedly gets the warm reaction of instant recognition when it kicks in, as does 'The Crystal Lake' a single from 2000.
The main set finishes with an extended version of ' He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot' which is a perfect choice , it's simple harpsichord /vocals start which then builds with layers of swelling keyboards through “Are you giving in 2000 man? ( Did you love this world and did this world not love you ?)” for an appropriate finish to tonight's show.
A two track encore follows “ We got one new one, and one old one”; the new one being 'The Boat Is In Barn', which is the best track from the new album and the old one is a complete mood change with the guitar- heavy dash through 'Summer Here Kids', with an added “ Thank you for coming, Good Night” as the final chords fade away.
A tremendous evening highlighting the best moments of their career; Grandaddy welcome back, a worthwhile return.
A sold out Junction 1 and everyone is seated for this gig. A strange set up for what is traditionally a standing venue, not sure if this was the choice of the artist or the venue?
Being seated there was a healthy queue outside the venue an hour before the doors opened. Amusing to see (much like myself) so many grey haired people in line for a gig. Fabulous!
Very much a Cambridge Folk festival crowd saw the support Jordan Mackampa play a sweet set. Just solo with acoustic guitar, an upcoming singer/songwriter to look out for.
This tour is about promoting Rhiannon’s solo album ‘Freedom Highway’ which was co-produced with multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell in his Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, studio. Dirk is also part of an impressive band that takes the stage at 9pm.
90 minutes later we are left in awe I think it’s safe to say, Rhiannon has the most amazing voice, gentle and powerful enough to shatter a crystal chandelier ., indeed a voice that is sharp, clear and envelops the listener that you are just concentrated on the music (perhaps being seated is just perfect after all, no one chatting, heading for the bar or toilets).
Not only is Rhiannon’s voice amazing she is a mean banjo and fiddle player. A wonderful personality keeps everyone engaged whatever the style of music in front of you.
The songs from ‘Freedom Highway” look back at pre civil war America and Rhiannon sings songs about and through the eyes of those souls alive at the time.
‘At The Purchasers Option’ a song about the sale of a woman and her child. ‘The Angels laid him away”, ‘Julie” (as the army approach the plantation mistress begs the slaves to protect the family gold, to which she is told the gold “is what you got from my children’s soul").
‘Birmingham Sunday’ is perhaps the poignant and heartbreaking part of the set. A song that describes what occurred at the African-American 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on Sunday, September 15, 1963, As Rhiannon pointed out before singing, it’s so sad that the topic of the song still has so much relevance today.
The album songs are sprinkled throughout the set which includes, magnificent covers of, Patsy Cline, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Odetta and more; jigs, waltzes, jazz and soul. (no chance to dance though because we are seated ha ha)
The band is exceptional and there seems a real kinship amongst those on stage. More UK dates are expected in the autumn, don’t miss out!
I have been with them from the beginning. In the summer of 2011 I was at a gathering at a friend's house on the outskirts of Dublin. I felt out of place and was not enjoying myself. Suddenly it dawned on me that I could jump on my bike, cycle very fast across the city and be at the National Concert Hall in time to try and see the Gloaming. I had seen the listing; I was a fan of Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill and I knew Iarla Ó Lionáird from the Afro Celt Sound System. My plan worked out. Although the concert was officially sold out, the box office were able to sell me a single seat near the back of the stalls.
The Gloaming were a new supergroup and that show at the National Concert Hall in 2011 was their live debut. It was great, but over the years they have only gotten better. I saw them once more at the Concert Hall, on one of the nights when their fan Michael D Higgins was in attendance, and once at Womad, probably my favourite time I have seen them.
The quintet have released two albums on Real World and they have been returning annually to the Concert Hall in Dublin, which they call their spiritual home. This year they sold out an unprecedented seven shows. I was at night six.
The Gloaming are Martin Hayes on fiddle, his longtime accompanist Dennis Cahill on guitar, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh on hardanger fiddle, Iarla Ó Lionáird on vocals and pump organ and Thomas Bartlett on piano. All musicians except Thomas come from a trad background, but the music they produce together is much bigger than trad. It is hard to describe. There are trad parts, particularly played by Martin, but they are woven into larges pieces of music, sometimes jazzy, sometimes classical, often up to ten minutes long.
The tunes start off softly and slowly, but gradually gather pace until all musicians are in full flow. The result is hypnotic and spellbinding. I read some reviews online and Jim Carroll said it best in the Irish Times: “Breathtaking, groundbreaking, grandstanding and any other accolade you want to apply from your big bag of superlatives.”
The band members take turns addressing the audience in between songs. Larla gives us background on the songs, Caoimhín mentions that Philip King is in the house, Martin makes us laugh with his droll sense of humour. Thomas mentions that he is nervous as his best friend Joanie is at the show. Only later does it become clear that this is none other than Joan As Police Woman, who will play Dublin two days later. Dennis is the quiet man, but then he is their backbone musically.
They play for over an hour and a half in a set that includes all the best pieces from their two albums. The audience is totally quiet while they play, but erupt in loud and elongated applause when the songs end. The sound is perfect; sometimes barely more than a scratchy whisper (Caoimhín's fiddle), at other times thunderously loud (Thomas' piano). The lighting is pretty and underlines what a beautiful place the Concert Hall is for witnessing live music. At the same time the music makes you forget where you are. We are in a large room in the city centre, yet the sounds are such that you feel yourself out in nature, confronted by rolling waves, noisy waterfalls, moon and stars above. I found myself wishing that the night would not end.
The band members are incredibly talented and involved in many individual projects. I can only hope that they will continue reconvening as a group periodically and treat us to such magical performances.
For those unfamiliar with the Gloaming we have some recommendations:
Documentary about Martin Hayes, 'Natural Grace' (2012), directed by Art Ó Briain - Trailer
'The Gloaming – Moment to Moment' (2016), documentary directed by Philip King, available on the RTE Player.
The Workman's Club is an atmospheric small venue on the Southside of the Liffey on Dublin's Quays. The building, next door to the U2-owned Clarence Hotel, is over 160 years old and was home to an actual working mens club from 1888 to 2003. It has been a live music venue since 2010 and has won the Hot Press/IMRO Live Music Venue of the Year Award.
It was the opportunity to see Tonstartssbandht live that had me heading into the place and I found myself thinking how nice it was and that I should go there more often. Storm Doris had been causing havoc and the start of the show had been pushed back by an hour as the band had been delayed on the ferry coming over.
Support was by Elliott Vincent Jones, who sang along to a laptop and danced with flailing arms. He sounded vaguely like Talking Heads and some girls were dancing enthusiastically. He performed his own music, but it was nonetheless too karaoke for me.
What little I knew about Tonstartssbandht I had found online. They are a duo consisting of brothers Edwin Mathis White and Andy White, originally from Florida, now based in Brooklyn. They started in 2007 and have released an unusual large volume of music since then. They are also members of Mac Demarco's band Their curious name is pronounced tahn-starts-bandit and was the result of Edwin randomly stringing letters and words together. I cringe at band names with deliberate misspellings, so the strange name did not endear them to me. After the support act it was a relief however to see a drum kit and a guitar set up on stage: Proper instruments, always a plus.
It is difficult to describe the music and that seems to be the guys' intention. At times the vibe was 60-ish, a bit reminiscent of the Doors. The songs were very long, built up out of very different sounding parts. There was no verse/chorus structure. The guitar was sometimes nice and jangly; the drums were powerful, with plenty of echo. It all sounded like long jams rather than actual songs. The brothers sang in falsetto voices at times; the vocals were on the thin side, buried in the otherwise fairly heavy music. For only two musicians they produced a big sound.
The band said that it was their first time playing in Ireland and they were appreciative of the turnout. Edwin told us about his ferry experience and his bout of seasickness. He had been staggering around like a drunk and once he sat down he saw the horizon go up and down through a window for the remainder of the journey (tip from an experienced ferry traveller: Go outside next time).
As a live act Tonstartssbandht are entertaining. It would not be the kind of music I would listen to at home. I do not really see the point of constructing pieces of music out of many disjointed parts. There is no accounting for taste of course.
Tonstartssbandht. 'Sorcerer' comes out on 24th March 2017 via Mexican Summer.