There are several elements which need to come together to make a great and memorable gig; the quality of the musicians, the set list they select , the venue and the audience all contribute . Last October at the Derby Folk Festival in the cathedral, this Folk Award winning duo were the stand out performance of the weekend, so I was intrigued to see if their own brand of “....lugubrious bastards out in full lilting lachrymosity” (to quote from their own social media) would translate to a different venue . The Musician is located at the end of a street in one of the less glamorous parts of Leicester, the venue regularly puts on a great selection of live music in a single room with a low ceiling and couldn't provide a greater contrast to Derby Cathedral. Any doubts I had that Clarke & Walker wouldn't work as well here were quickly trashed.
After taking their allotted stage places, Ben seated and Josienne standing, Josienne starts with a perfect antidote to the often used “Let's Rock!”opening of some bands and a reminder of their “misery wagon ... spreading the melancholy” (see above), “Let's get miserable”. Opening with the bluesy 'The Birds' from her first album, followed by “.. and now another banging, dance floor filler” which is the beautiful 'Something Familiar' from most recent album 'Overnight', as is Gillian Welch's 'Dark Turn of Mind', which Josienne feels describes her and jokingly that on the writing of the song “..Gillian wrote it first, well I feel I would eventually have ...”.
“So we just lost a folk award”... referring to their best duo Folk Award nomination (winners 2015, nominees 2016) they play their cover of the traditional “The Banks of Sweet Primroses” as performed at the 2015 awards show.
There are a few new songs tonight, 'Seedlings All' is written about humans being the most overproduced organism on the planet and has a lovely waltz-time guitar part, another track possibly called 'Chicago' is the occasion on a US tour when they arrived at a show in that city to an audience of zero, as a reminder not to become a diva. Then in a shock move that may “.....put the final nail into our folk coffin...” they have two tracks featuring a drum machine (please no fainting now), one of which is a cover of Dolly Parton's 'Little Sparrow'... after which Josienne says “maybe we've had a couple of walk-outs, it's too dark to tell”.
The Musician is in its 'Folk club' set up tonight, chairs grouped around small round tables with a candle on each one, familiar to those who have seen the Coen Brothers 'Inside Llewyn Davis' based in 1960's Greenwich Village folk clubs, recalling this period they play covers of 'Reynardine' and 'Fotheringay' both well know from the 1960's version of Fairport Convention.
Josienne's self-deprecating sense of dark humour continues with her review of their version of Nick Drakes' 'Time Has Told Me', “...beautiful but rather pointless, much like the band playing as the Titanic sank.”. And of her own songwriting style “ I keep trying to write a euphoric, anthemic number but they eventually descend into melancholy” before playing 'Silverline' which features the line “And somehow my view is always imbued with melancholy hues” just to prove the point.
Those of you who are already aware of this duo will know that Josienne's stunning, melancholic (yes, that word again) vocals and Ben's beautiful guitar playing, which is subtle and supportive of Josienne's vocals when it needs to be and is also strong enough to drive the tracks in a variety of different styles when required, together make a perfect combination. Maybe you cannot dance to these “lugubrious bastards”, but you cannot fail to be totally engrossed by their beautiful, mesmerising performance.
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.