Last Sunday I attended a living room concert featuring Bronagh Gallagher. I went without doing any research. All I knew about Bronagh was that she was one of the three girls in the Commitments, and I trusted that since my friend Áine had booked her, she must be okay. What a lovely surprise this was. Bronagh is a soul singer, I knew that much, but also a fantastic songwriter. I don't know why I expected that part of the show might be covers. Instead it was all original songs; excellent songs and great stories to go with them.
Bronagh explained that the songs are best performed with a big band including a brass section. For this gig however it was just herself and guitarist Conor Brady. I have since had a sneak listen on iTunes and realise what Bronagh means with the big band treatment, however these songs worked wonderfully well in the intimate living room setting, with just vocals, handclaps, guitar and some great audience participation. Standout songs for me were 'Johnny Eagle', 'Shortcut', 'Radio' and 'Fool'.
The in-between-song chat was as entertaining as the music. Bronagh is an actress as well as a singer, and a great character to boot. I do not want to ruin the stories for anyone who may go and see her in the future, but they featured amongst others a Czech metal bar, a Notting Hill apartment with Christopher Lee knocking at the window, Woody Harrelson in a Malibu kitchen, the Beauty School in San Diego, Kenny Everett impersonating Rod Stewart, the fact that the Irish have heard of Dr Dre, and legendary Dublin tattoo artist Johnny Eagle. It was evident that Bronagh is an avid music fan herself. She name-checked Amy Winehouse, Dolly Parton and Lisa O'Neill.
The taxi driver who had driven Bronagh to the gig had commented that this was like a busman's holiday for her, to which she had replied, “Ooh aye”. During the gig she confessed not knowing what that meant. Much hilarity and speculation from the audience. I have looked this up and a busman's holiday is 'a vacation during which a person engages in activity that is the same as or similar to his or her usual employment'. I don't think the show could have been classified as vacation at all, as Bronagh and Conor put on a long and varied concert, drinking only tea.
I never though of myself as a soul fan, but maybe I should reconsider. Bronagh's songs bring to mind the two Maria's of whom I am a big fan - Maria McKee and Maria Doyle Kennedy. Listening to Bronagh's three albums on iTunes I also noticed similarities to Patti Scialfa's underrated albums and during the gig my mind drifted to Laura Nyro, who's biography 'Soul Picnic' I am currently reading. I can well imagine these songs being sung on fire escapes in the Bronx, or in New York subway stations, where Laura used to busk. No mean feat for a girl from Derry.
I am definitely going to follow up on this. Bronagh plays Armagh in November, Belfast and Dublin in December and Switzerland in January.