Live Reviews

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.




The live music experience can be very subjective. A punter's enjoyment of a gig can depend on time and place, circumstances, company, energy levels and alcohol intake. When preparing for his recent tour revisiting 'The River', Bruce Springsteen said that he was not only competing with the original River tour, but also with people's memories of the original River tour.

When a concert stands out in your memory as one of the best ever, it is asking for trouble hoping to repeat that experience. One of my own "best ever" memories was Paul Simon at Roskilde 1991. I had the opportunity to see Paul Simon again at Glastonbury 2011 and I was never so disappointed.

Another "best ever" gig was Séamus Begley & Tim Edey in 2007 at the Worldfleadh in Portlaoise. It was a midnight gig and they played for nearly three hours in a nightclub. I remember it as absolutely electrifying. I have seen both Séamus and Tim play since, but not together, and I wondered if they would be as good the second time around.

Séamus Begley is described by Mike Scott (in Adventures of a Waterboy) as “a box-playing cattle farmer with a back like a wardrobe and the most beautiful singing voice”. Tim Edey is a multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire (BBC Radio Two's Musician of the Year 2012) and he accompanies Séamus on guitar.

They were due to play one of the nicest venues in the country, the Seamus Ennis Centre in the Naul, on 24 September and so I made the trek up to North county Dublin. It was getting dark as I was going to the pub across the road to buy a pint for the gig. In the distance I saw a tall man talking into a mobile and I remember thinking he looked like Donogh Hennessy.

I did not get to test whether Séamus & Tim were still as outstanding nine years on from Portlaoise, as Tim had been struck by appendicitis and could not make the gig. Donogh Hennessy was replacing him. I have to admit I was disappointed. Over the years I have seen Séamus Begley perform with Steve Cooney, Jim Murray and Matt Griffin - all great guitarists playing in the style pioneered (so I am told; I am no expert) by the Australian Steve Cooney. Donogh Hennessy is a fabulous guitar player in his own right. I remember seeing him way back when he was part of Sharon Shannon's touring quartet; he was a founder member of Lúnasa and I have seen him play with Lumiere. He is a producer and owns a studio in Dingle. Mike Scott, again, once described Donogh, in a blog about session shenanigans post-Other Voices, as "the man who knows all the tunes".

The Naul got an excellent gig. The show was a mix of trad instrumentals (polkas, slides, reels, a waltz) and songs. Séamus' singing is unlike anything I have ever heard. There were many jokes too and they took requests. My own was a song they were most likely going to play anyway ('The early morning rain'), but there were some off the cuff requests as well, requiring the men to confer and hum for a bit.

The Seamus Ennis Centre is a music lover's dream: An intimate venue with great sound and always an attentive listening audience. 

The show had an interval, allowing us to go across the road for a fresh pint. The guys played for over two hours. It was trad at its best and I had a fantastic evening. I still do not know whether Séamus Begley & Tim Edey can match that "one-of-best-ever" gigs. I hope to have the opportunity to check that out some time in the future.


Sunday 11 September I went to see Roy Bailey at the Green Note in Camden. This was a suggestion of friends in London. I was not familiar with Roy's music, but have since learned that he is a legendary folk singer; a kind of English equivalent to Pete Seeger no less. A protest singer, a socialist, half of an award-winning duo with the late Tony Benn and an academic. And all I knew was that he was Martin Simpson's father-in-law, although I am now sure Martin would say that the other way around.

The Green Note is a lovely venue. It is so small that you can see well from anywhere inside. The place filled up early with a dedicated listening audience. I drank organic draught beer; surprisingly good. I was in London on my way back from the Netherlands, where I am from but which long ago stopped feeling like home. I had a very happy night in the Green Note, sitting in this dark, atmospheric café among like-minded music fans. Audience participation was very much encouraged, as Roy said he wanted the show to be a communal experience, rather than just him doing his thing and us listening.

Roy is 80 years of age and walks with a stick. His voice is strong though and this was not a short gig either. Roy was accompanied by Marc Block, whom he credited with enabling him to continue to do gigs, as Marc drives him around. Marc contributed guitar, harmonica, bodhrán and vocals. They were also joined by Ian Brown, who added guitar and vocals to the songs he knew, and stayed out of the ones he didn't. I liked this, as guests outstaying their welcome can sometimes mar a gig.

Highlight for me was a song called 'Everything possible', written by Fred Small, an American songwriter. The song had a lovely message, as had Sunday's show in general. Roy very much came across as a man with his heart in the right place. He is not a songwriter but a collector of songs, and a well-travelled one. Storytelling and anecdotes were an important part of the gig.

Roy has only recently released his first ever live CD 'Live at Towersey 2015', featuring the aforementioned Marc and Ian, as well as Martin Simpson and Andy Cutting.




Last Monday the Amsterdam Bos Theatre hosted an evening of acoustic music. What a great location: An open air theatre in the Amsterdam Forest, a park three times the size of Central Park on the outskirts of the city. It was a dry and warm evening with mosquitos who calmed down once it got dark.

I had been apprehensive about this gig. A mailing that had gone out from promotor warned of a token system for drinks and that payment would be by "pin" only. They even tried to flog a very un-rock'n roll €35 picnic hamper. Thankfully cash was eventually accepted and there were no hipster picnickers in evidence at all.

Call It Off opened the show. They describe themselves as a pop punk quartet and hail from Eindhoven. For this concert band members Maurice and Adrian performed as a duo. The hallmark of a good song is that it should work with just guitar and vocals and that was indeed the case here. The guys have strong voices, they harmonize nicely and they got some crowd participation going, even if it did take them until their last song to realize that there were a lot of travelling fans at the show who had not understood any of their introductions in Dutch.

Tim Vantol is a Dutch singer/songwriter who is actually better known in Germany than at home. I was not familiar with his music, but I knew that he came highly recommended. I was won over quickly: A huge voice, warm personality and anthemic songs about life and its ups and downs. Tim is a hardworking touring machine and a seasoned live act. He had the audience on his side from the start. He asked where people were from and effortlessly switched to Spanish in mid-song for a girl in the audience.

It was unfortunate that Tim's merch guy did not have sufficient change and was not prepared to accept 1 and 2 cent coins. I resigned myself to the fact that I was not meant to have Tim's CD. For the record, Tim has released two full-length albums and they are out on vinyl as well.

Frank Turner's gig was a rare duo performance with his friend and Sleeping Soul member Matt Nasir on mandolin, mandola and backing vocals. With a bottle of wine on a table between them they put on a laid-back, humorous show. The set differed significantly from Frank's previous concert in the Netherlands (Utrecht, January), which pleases multiple gig goers. The songs from Frank's most recent album 'Positive Songs For Negative People' translated particularly well to the guitar and mandolin treatment. 'Glorious You' and 'The Opening Act Of Spring' were the standouts for me.

'A Love Worth Keeping' was played especially for a fan for whom this was her 50th show. Frank inpires this kind of loyalty among his listeners, most of whom will be able to tell you their gig count. A check on revealed ten previous live renditions of the song 'A Love Worth Keeping'. In comparison, the site lists Frank's most successful song 'Photosynthesis' 787 times, though given that this was Frank's 1958th show as a solo artist (he does keep count) the actual figure is probably double that.

Other rarities performed at the Bos Theatre were the Million Dead song 'Smiling At Strangers On Trains' and a new song entitled 'Eye Of The Day'. This song is about Mata Hari and is part of a kind of concept album that Frank may be working on. It is a beautiful quiet song and the audience gave it the reverence it deserved.

The encore included a guitar and mandolin classic rock extravaganza with covers of Wings' 'Live And Let Die' and Queen's 'Somebody To Love'. 'Get Better' closed the concert. The 'Get Better' Tour of the UK featuring Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls plus two support acts kicks off on 18 November.


Mutefish are an instrumental six piece, best know for their street gigs. Dublin has a great tradition of buskers who have gone on to bigger things. This was particularly the case in the 80s, with the scene that spawned the Hothouse Flowers, Kíla and that included the late Mic Christopher and, most successful of all, Glen Hansard.

Mutefish have released a full length album and an EP to date. They are a festival band and they tour internationally as well (they were in Belgium and Switzerland earlier this year), but they opt to continue busking alongside this. They used to play in Grafton Street. When Mike Scott of the Waterboys posted regular - and amusing - busker reports from Grafton Street on Twitter and he mentioned Mutefish favourably more than once. Nowadays the band can be found on the main square in Temple Bar. My guess is that busking in this touristy area enables them to reach new listeners all the time, in a way that playing in venues simply cannot.

I caught them at a headline gig in Whelans, two days after they supported the Damned at the Academy and prior to their three appearances, they inform us, at the Electric Picnic next weekend.

They drew a seizable crowd, some of which were wearing Mutefish T-shirts. Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese were the dominant languages in the audience, although I overheard an American as well, who was saying to his friend: “This is Whelans, this is where it all happens”.

The current Mutefish line up consists of musicians from Ireland, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Portugal. I was not aware that there had been a line up change and I have to admit that I was disappointed to discover that flute player extraordinaire Daithi O'Cearuill is no longer with the band. He featured prominently on the band's first CD, 'On Draught', and since I am quite a flute aficionado I missed his input.

According to the info on the band's website fiddler Pedro Martinho plays flute, whistle and pipes as well, but he did not do so at Sunday's show (except for one very brief part). The line up changes have resulted in a much heavier sound. Mutefish describe their music as progressive techno folk, and on Sunday at least the emphasis was more on prog than on folk.

Once I put my disappointment about the absence of flute aside, I realised that their newer music is actually good. The fiddle is the main provider of the melody and the Portuguese fiddler is also the spokesman for the band. Bo Stelmach (Polish) switched between guitar and mandolin and the mandolin lightened the mood nicely whenever it made an appearance. The rhythm section is made up of Tomas Pupalaigis (from Lithuania) and drummer Philip Staunton (Irish). Ukrainian Peter Karabasoff is another multi-instrumentalist, though he stuck mostly to percussion for this gig and, the sound is rounded out by Marka Lovkil on electric guitar.

At times their music is reminiscent of the Levellers, minus vocals, or of instrumental acts such as And So I Watch You From Afar and Redneck Manifesto. Due to the international make up of the band there is a Manu Chao vibe about them as well.

Their encore was played especially for all the Brazilians in the audience. Apparently it was a cover of a song by a Brazilian band, with a death metal vocal 'sung' by the drummer Philip. It went down a storm and it was a fun end the show.

Mutefish's current EP '360 Hangovers' is available at their busking sessions and via the band's website.


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