Category Archives: reviews and reports

Andy Irvine & Paul Brady at Vicar Street, 20 May 2017

“Apparently there are 102 strings on stage,” quips Paul Brady as he tunes one of the impressive array of instruments ranged behind him and Andy Irvine. Dónal Lunny has a couple of string instruments to go along with his bodhrán and keyboard. Kevin Burke seems comparatively modest with his violin’s four strings.
The more unusual instruments, like the bouzouki and the hurdy-gurdy, and the guitars in various tunings, are a testament to the restless curiosity that culminated in the 1976 album ‘Andy Irvine and Paul Brady’. Tuning between songs allows time for stories to flow, and Irvine and Brady give background to the original compositions (“from the mad brains we had back in the 70s”), and to those songs sourced from others such as Eddie Butcher, Andy Mitchell, Shirley Collins, Paddy Tunney, and Sam Henry.
The wounded soldier’s love song, Bonny Woodhall, from Sam Henry’s collection, has a beautiful accompaniment that swirls around Irvine’s clear vocal. The instrumentation builds throughout, drawing the listener into the story as it unfolds. Most of the instruments are picked up by microphones so there is a wonderful immediacy as every pluck and bow is amplified.
The two Sligo tunes that follow, Fred Finn’s Reel and Sailing Into Walpole’s Marsh, are lead by Brady and the reflective mood of the previous song is chased away by the banter between the four musicians (“drain that marsh!”). Lunny picks up the bodhrán for these, lending a very satisfying, full bass sound to the melody instruments.
Brady tells of receiving a letter while “languishing in the US in the early 70s”, from Liam O’Flynn asking him to join Planxty. The only song he had was a version of Arthur McBride and the Sergeant. Irvine recalls the first time Brady sang it for them in Donegal, and we are treated to a genuinely moving performance of this treasured favourite. The crowd burst into prolonged applause after the final “…for it being on Christmas morning”, and as the assembly settle back into their seats, Lunny confirms with a smile that “…they let him into Planxty!”
Irvine’s plaintive Autumn Gold follows, preceded by his amusing recollection of singing it in a barn to the girl he wrote it for “…just the two of us there…she never said a f**king word!”
After these two moving songs comes The Jolly Soldier, sung by Brady. His voice is in fine form, rich and strong. Andy Irvine’s excellent harmonica playing leads the charge in the jig that follows out of the song, The Blarney Pilgrim. Brady can’t resist lilting along.
It’s forty years since the album’s release. The performers and the audience are older, this music now a precious thread woven into all their lives. There is deep joy and exhilaration shared in Vicar Street tonight as it is spun out again through the hands of these four master musicians.
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This review appeared originally on GoldenPlec.com.
David Rooney‘s scraperboard picture appeared originally in Hot Press magazine. Contact him to buy the original.
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Joey Dosik at The Sugar Club, 17 April 2017

One of the reasons that The Sugar Club is such a beloved venue is its layout. The cabaret-style tables step down from the back wall bar to the front and, unlike most venues, patrons enter right by the stage.
Tonight it’s a fairly simple setup for the first of Joey Dosik’s two nights at the club. (He was first in Dublin in September, supporting Vulfpeck at Vicar Street. Later, Dosik asks how many people were at that “crazy show” and, when answered with enthusiastic cheering, remarks “I’d forgotten how loud ya’ll are!”) A microphone, a Fender Rhodes, a Fender amp, and a Korg Univox drum machine are the only things on the stage. As the room fills up, a playlist gets us in the mood: Save The Last Dance For Me, Tequila, God Is Love, Tracks Of My Tears, Say A Little Prayer, Doesn’t Really Matter (Janet Jackson), At Your Best (Aaliyah), Adorn (Miguel), and some more subtle jazz that my phone’s Shazam app can’t discern…
Dosik comes on shortly after nine dressed in a grey suit, white shirt, and reddish patterned tie. Nice shoes, too. Beaming a smile to the audience, he settles down behind the Rhodes. Opening with Van Morrison’s Into The Mystic, which he bashfully introduces as one he likes to warm up with, it’s immediately apparent that there is a lot of love in the room for this man. His soulful, sunny delivery of the song proves too irresistible a groove for us and as we joyfully match his stamping backbeat in the outro he riffs “I like the way you clap”. (“C’mon yo, clapping on the first song?!”)
The tone of the evening is set and, in all but the quietest of songs, Dosik’s fans clap along and sing harmony and generally exude warmth towards him. One song, Simply Beautiful, he does with the guitar completely off the mic. It’s difficult to pull that off in this venue because, even with the most supportive crowd, the bar is still operating at the back. His guitar playing isn’t quite on the same level as his keyboard playing, but this just lends these songs a charm of a different sort. Together with the completely acapella version of Bill Withers’ Stories, they do serve to vary the dynamics of the evening, as does the use of the drum machine. He operates the device with a foot pedal, to greatest effect on the EP title track Game Winner.
The other songs from the EP – Competitive Streak, Running Away – and the title track of his forthcoming album, Inside Voice, are particular highlights, as is his cover of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Happening Brother.
There is such a sense of style and fun and genuine love from Dosik, it’s easy to see why he inspires such enthusiasm in his crowd tonight. As we leave the empty venue there are still easily twenty people queuing to meet him and to buy merch. Hopefully he’ll be back (with a band!) to charm us again soon.
First published on GoldenPlec.com

Nathalia Milstein @ St Ann’s Church, Dublin (11 October 2016)

Last year she won the Dublin International Piano Competition, in February she gave a recital at The National Concert Hall, and tonight Nathalia Milstein (“mill-shtyne”) begins a ten-day tour of Ireland with this concert in St Ann’s Church on Dawson Street.

Her wide-ranging programme takes in Bach, Mozart, Bartók, Liszt, Ravel, and the piece commissioned from Gráinne Mulvey for the Dublin International Piano Competition. The insightful programme notes, written by classical journalist and reviewer Pat O’Kelly, supply background and context for the diverse pieces: Bach walking for ten days to hear an inspirational keyboardist, Mozart as a busy 18-year-old musician performing his latest sonatas in Munich, and of course a few hints about the composers’ love lives. It is necessary (and frequently fascinating) to have these human reference points alongside an art form that can so easily become rarified.

Milstein gives a riveting performance of Gráinne Mulvey’s Interference Patterns, drawing on the lyrical style of the Liszt that preceded it, and also the intense energy of The Chase from the Bartók suite. Mulvey’s piece is inspired by the work of 19th century Irish scientist John Tyndall on the behaviour of waves when they meet an obstacle. A most vivid expression of this is achieved towards the end of the piece. It was as if Milstein sent two shockwaves through the piano – a remarkable gesture, the sound almost visibly emanating from the instrument.

(A very effective transition is achieved between the prayerful ending of Liszt’s Sonneto and Interference Patterns. Having consistently stood up to receive applause at the end of each of the pieces in the first half, the pianist remained seated at the end of the Liszt. This meant the audience didn’t applaud, and Milstein could begin the next piece without breaking the atmosphere just created.)

Maurice Ravel’s suite, Le tombeau de Couperin, was written one hundred years ago and remains one of the most delightful pieces of solo piano writing in the canon. Beginning with her head up, her demeanour calm as the delicate machinery of the opening Prélude flutters into life, Milstein’s performance of the six movements is a joy to behold. Ravel’s extraordinary writing for the piano is brought to life in her hands and the luminous shimmer in the last bars of the Prélude is a beautiful moment. Ravel dedicates each of the movements to friends and colleagues killed in World War I. Behind the piano, the ornate rolls of honour that flank the altar in St Ann’s serve as a reminder of its congregation’s own grief at the loss of their sons during that war. The Forlane carries itself with swagger and Milstein gives an assured reading of this courtly dance, gracefully partnering with Ravel’s melancholy harmonies and finely-wrought invention. There is something personal and intimate in Ravel’s writing. It’s there, too, in Bartók’s The Night’s Music, sometimes stellar and sometimes scrabbling, and in the Bach Toccata that opened the concert. Witnessing the artistry and technique of Nathalia Milstein’s playing tonight in the hushed church is a sublime experience.

Programme:

  • Johann Sebastian Bach – Toccata in C minor BWV 911
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Piano Sonata No 3 in B flat K 281
  • Béla Bartók – Out of Doors Sz 81
  • Franz Liszt – Sonneto del Petrarca No 104 S 161
  • Gráinne Mulvey – Interference Patterns
  • Maurice Ravel – Le tombeau de Couperin
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Nathalia Milstein at St Ann’s church, Dublin / photograph by Frances Marshall

Click the photo for more of Frances Marshall’s photos from the night.

This review was done for GoldenPlec.com

Dublin Brass Week concert (29 June @ TCD chapel)

I was invited along to this concert by my violin-playing friend, Feilimidh (pronounced FELL-uh-mee). I’ve just come on board with GoldenPlec.com as a classical reviewer, so I was happy to have a reason to write something before I get my first assignment from them!

Dublin Brass Week is now in its fourth year and, despite not receiving any public funding, is going from strength to strength. The calibre of guest players in evidence at this concert, the palpable enthusiasm from the attendees, and the remarkable energy and capability of its organisers will hopefully mean that funding can be secured for next year and beyond.

The concert was in the beautiful chapel in Trinity College. It’s an odd venue in some ways, with its rows of stepped pews facing each other across the central aisle. As the night went on, the various performers processed down the aisle, providing lovely moments of interaction for the audience. I sat up near the front, on Feilimidh’s advice, since the acoustic was rather reverberant for some of the crisper, rhythmic music in the programme. Best seat in the house!

The concert opened with one piece that was perfectly suited to the chapel’s acoustic – a sonata by Gabrieli, performed by eight players from the choir balcony. Four players stood on each side, forming two distinct groups that showed off the composer’s echoing and overlapping musical ideas.

Of all the amazing musicians performing at the concert, trumpeter Reinhold Friedrich stood out for me, utterly connected with the music and his fellow musicians. In the bars when he wasn’t playing he couldn’t help but ‘conduct’ with his free hand. Music of this period – the Baroque era – is usually not conducted in the modern sense, but is rather led by a communal language of gestures. This makes it wonderful to watch. I do think Baroque music represents a pinnacle in music as a beautiful artform. Music of later periods seems to move away from the togetherness of the Baroque (necessitating a conductor) and also into a celebration of a hero pitted against an orchestra. A generalisation, to be sure, but there is truth to it. Reinhold Friedrich’s ‘conducting’ was a reminder of just how enjoyable this music is.

Listen to him playing the Telemann concerto in D major that he played that night – tracks 6-9 on this 1996 album (link to Spotify).

If the trumpet sounds high it’s because it’s a clarino trumpet – a teeny tiny trumpet that Herr Friedrich made sing more beautifully than I’ve ever heard before. My friend Pat Morris, who was sitting beside me, turned to me after the first movement and whispered “I could listen to him all day!”

The backbone of Baroque chamber music is the continuo – usually a harpsichord and a cello. Both instruments play the bass line and the harpsichordist improvises an accompaniment, following the ‘figured bass’ notation on their part. David Adams is a master of the keyboard and it was a real pleasure to hear the sparkling flourishes of his playing underpinning the excellent ensemble. Yseult Cooper Stockdale, the cellist, almost stole the show with her sublime playing in the middle movement of the Vivaldi double horn concerto. The two soloists in this piece, the world-class French horn player Richard Watkins and (making her professional solo debut) Hannah Miller, stood on either side of the group, a choice that again gave an interesting manifestation to the musical interplay.

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Reinhold Friedrich and his fellow musicians after a triumphant rendition of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F

Review | Flecks – Girl

What a thoughtful review! It’s so exciting to see this EP making its way into the world. Can’t wait to play the songs live again soon, can’t wait to write more (we’re aiming for another few singles over the summer).

Have a listen. We’d really appreciate a ‘follow’ on Spotify — click the three dots beside any of the song titles and click ‘Go to Artist’, then click the ‘follow’ button.

We’re also on iTunes (your purchase would help pay for the mastering and uploading).

You can find us — @weareflecks — on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SoundCloud, YouTube…

Drop us a comment and say hi 🙂

The Last Mixed Tape

FlecksThe Last Mixed Tape reviews Girl, the debut extended play from Dublin based synth-pop act Flecks.

Atmosphere is a word I often use in reviews, and the thing about atmosphere is that it’s incredibly difficult to build one and even more difficult for it to be believable. Such is the case with a the dramatic synth atmosphere of Flecks’ Girl.

“Nothing’s every gonna feel like it was when you were that stupid girl at the back of youth hall crying” sings vocalist Freya Monks during the E.P’s opener and title track. I’d like to take a moment to point out exactly how important this lyric is the rest of the record’s success. In the space of one line, we get a sense of where we are, where we were and where we don’t want to be. This made all the more relatable by the inclusion of “girl at…

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David Rooney, whose album I’ve been recording piano and vocals for, and his striking portraits of 1916

Arminta Wallace interviewed David the other week and her article appeared in this weekend’s edition of The Irish Times — this weekend was the actual anniversary of the 1916 rising. 

Here, from David’s forthcoming album, and with me on piano, is ‘The Rising’:

1916 as you’ve never seen it before

Arminta Wallace, The Irish Times — Saturday, 23 April, 2016

By his own account David Rooney was an unlikely person to be asked to illustrate a book about the men and women of 1916. “For me growing up, everything associated with 1916 was coloured by the Troubles,” he says.

“My dad grew up near Enniskillen, and came down here to join the guards, getting away from the poisoned land, as he saw it, of sectarianism in the North. And I wouldn’t be alone in this: many people of my generation would have a real repugnance about the continuation of violence.”

But when Rooney got into the nitty-gritty of his research for the project he was fascinated by what he discovered.

“I’ve been reading the 1916 stories for more than a year, and there are so many instances where everything changed in people’s lives – and the lives of everyone around them. They fragmented, altered, spun off in all sorts of directions. Maybe the anvil of an event like this produces really extraordinary arcs of story – or maybe the stories always happen, and we just don’t register it. But when war happens, when conflict happens, the natural trajectory of things is altered. Like the refugee situation now. And we’re still living in the broken mirror of 1916.”

Rooney’s 42 thoughtful black-and-white drawings give the book 1916 Portraits and Lives, a collection of biographical essays published by the Royal Irish Academy and based on the academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography, a visual – and, indeed, emotional – heft that helps it stand out from this year’s 1916 publications.

Originally the plan was to use photographs of the characters concerned, but in some cases the available imagery was of poor quality or simply nonexistent. So the academy’s graphic designer, Fidelma Slattery, had the idea of using original artwork. Its managing editor, Ruth Hegarty, ran with the idea, and Jackie Moore of the Office of Public Works – “the third part of that triumvirate of powerful women”, as Rooney puts it – came on board to support the project by buying the originals for the State.

How did Rooney get so up close and personal with his subjects?

“A friend of mine told me to read James Stephens’s The Insurrection in Dublin. That had a huge impact on the colour of it, because Stephens’s account is really what a journalist would do now. “It’s moment by moment. ‘Here I am on the corner of Abbey Street . . .’ It’s amazing – and an amazingly neglected document.”

The 1916 Portraits and Lives project has taken off to such an extent that it now has a life of its own. The book won a design award and was shortlisted for the 2015 Bord Gáis Energy Book of the Year. The ebook was made available for free download, and such was the uptake – more than 65,000 copies downloaded worldwide – that the offer has been extended until the end of April.

Limited-edition prints of the portraits are available to buy from the Royal Irish Academy’s website, and the originals will be on display at an exhibition in Kilmainham Gaol from May 12th.

As for Rooney himself, after 30 years as a visual artist, the illustrator with the highly distinctive visual “voice” is now developing another voice – as a singer-songwriter.

“There have always been guitars around, and I liked the idea of writing songs but didn’t know where to go to find them.”

A chance meeting with Glen Hansard changed all that. “I went over to his house, and I saw him working on the songs that became his Grammy-nominated album [Didn’t He Ramble]. To see them as pencil sketches – well, I recognised something in that. I thought, I know where to find my songs. They’re in the same well as the drawings, but much further down – and much harder to get at.”

Hansard has become a close friend and a constant source of musical inspiration. And with Declan O’Rourke producing and a band that includes the jazz drummer Conor Guilfoyle and the pianist Jay Wilson, who plays with James Vincent McMorrow, Rooney has now recorded 10 songs for an album due to be released this autumn. “It has been an absolutely incredible journey. With the drawings the best ones come if I get out of the way and let it flow. With music I have to be totally present at all stages of it.”

As for recording and performing, that’s a collaborative process that is a shock to a perfectionist who is used to working at home alone. “I’m in total control of the images. With the music I have to let go. Take that de Valera image. If that was music, okay, I get to do de Valera, but I’ve to get you to do the swan, because you’re the person who can do swans. While we’re rehearsing, the swan is exactly like it’s going to be here. And then comes the day of recording, and you’re thinking more of a goose. ‘Why does it have to be a swan,’ you say. ‘Can’t it be a cormorant or . . . a shag, maybe’?” He laughs. “Yeah. And you have just to say, ‘Okay. Let’s try that’.”