Category Archives: reviews and reports

Listen carefully, you will hear this more than once

I experienced something of a revelation this lunchtime.  I’m reading Norman Lebrecht’s book about the history of classical music recording, Maestros, Masterpieces & Madness, and found myself very moved by his descriptions of one hundred milestone recordings.  The importance of the people performing, the time and the place.

I found myself wanting to hear music performed, to share in the absolutely unique event that each performance of a work constitutes; a communication of the performer’s feelings to the audience.  As much as I want to hear the recordings that Norman Lebrecht compellingly chronicles, they can only make sense as part of a larger picture.  It seems impossible to know a piece of music by hearing only one performance of it – one interpretation – no matter how many times.  (One thing that recording has helped reveal to us is that, even though the performance we’re listening to may be in every way precisely the same as the last time we listened to it, we have changed and it is the change in us that is revealed, the recording acting as a mirror.  This role of art would have been historically fulfilled by painting, sculpture or architecture, music and drama having to wait for the advent of recording to be scrutinised in this way.)  It also strikes me as imperative that musicians perform pieces without music in front of them.  The physical ‘text’ between performer and audience seems an insurmountable barrier to true communication, rendering the attempt as ineffectual as an actor standing on stage and reading from their copy of the script.  It is usual and acceptable for ensembles of instrumental musicians to use music, for example string quartets or orchestras.  I’d be interested to experience performances by ensembles who give concerts without any music stands.  (Choirs are not generally permitted this indulgence although choir pieces do tend to be shorter than the average chamber music movement.)

Listening to recordings and going to concerts needs to be practiced and not just reserved for special occasions.  I very much enjoy reading novels and it strikes me that I probably spend far more of my time doing that than attentively listening to music.  Culture is not just what is around us, it is the things that we spend our time doing.  Just because I did a degree in music it doesn’t automatically follow that I am ‘musically cultured’.  Something of a revelation, indeed…

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The Song Room, 16 July

The Song Room enjoyed its second outing tonight in its new home in The Globe on South Great Georges Street. The player-managers of the weekly singer/songwriter night, Brian Brody and Hamlet Sweeney, were joined on the bill by three other acts: Farrell Spence, Lisa McLaughlin and Max Greenwood.

Farrell Spence opened the evening with a beautiful set of songs that gently drew the crowd into her tales of growing up in Canada. Despite having only been in Ireland for two weeks, Farrell has obviously been busy networking and described meeting John Spillane in her chosen home of Cork: “you’re that singer from that far away land” was his suitably poetic introduction. I found this delightful animation, done by a company called 9mm film, to one of John’s songs, ‘We’re going sailing’.

Augmenting Ms Spence’s open-tuned guitar with perfectly-judged accompaniment on a second acoustic guitar was Eoin Regan. Farrell’s debut album, A Town Called Hell, has found great critical acclaim and can be bought on iTunes and CD Baby. I’m very glad of this, as she left before I could get a copy off her! If you like your music in the room and your heart in your mouth, get thee to The Cobblestone on 9 August.

She played: ‘A town called hell’; ‘I drink’ (by Mary Gauthier); ‘Boys like you and girls like me’; ‘Wayfaring stranger’; ‘You can sleep on my floor’.

Next up was Brian Brody and harp player Junshi Murakami. The pair met through the Grafton Street busking scene, surely one of the most interesting (and romanticised) in the world, and tonight may be the last time they play together. We listened with appreciation as the duo played the dynamic arrangements they’d crafted together: ‘Before I dream’, ‘Rise’, ‘Carousel’, a new song called (for the time being) ‘Forbidden love’. They finished with Brian’s amazing rendition of Tom Waits’s heart-wrenching ballad ‘Martha’. The way Brian makes the song his own really is a treat and is certainly one of my personal highlights of the Song Room series so far.

Hamlet and I played next, starting with the ballsy ‘I am a man’ – a song I’m really looking forward to working on with a band. It has a great swagger. I switched to clarinet for crowd favourites ‘The Una Molloy hangover song’ and ‘Boogie man’. Last week we debuted the dirty skank version of ‘El Capitane’ – featuring the rather nice Organ 2 sound on the P-200 – and it went down well again this week. Another one that’ll be great fun with a band. ‘Buy this song’ followed with its tongue in cheek humour and then ‘Mr Slim’. We finished the set with ‘Sunshine’, a song which is becoming more apt as this dismal summer rolls on…

A singer who I was impressed by last time she played the Song Room, Lisa McLaughlin, played next with her versatile guitarist Anthony Gibney. Lisa has a great voice and has a great collection of songs, from which she treated us to the following: ‘Fiddly song’; ‘Lucky seven’; ‘Strange but true’; ‘Hey you, I like your jumper’; ‘These days’; ‘Bubble’. Two of these in particular, ‘Lucky seven’ and ‘These days’ have really great choruses and made me wish I could hear them with a full band arrangement, especially some big harmonies!

The night was (this week and last) unfortunately plagued with gremlins in the sound system. Hopefully this can be ironed out by next week (not least for the slightly selfish reason that I’m doing a solo set!).

The thing that’s often noticeable about songwriters who accompany themselves on piano (rather than the guitar often synonymous with the title) is that the songs they write tend to have more interesting harmony. Max Greenwood reminded me of this with his virtuosic set. Variously calling to mind Bruce Hornsby, Randy Newman, Paul McCartney (especially with his final number, ‘The long goodbye’) and Aqualung, Max served up some of the tracks from his self-released debut album, ‘In The Blood’. I bought a copy from him – Brian Brody was full of praise for it – and am very impressed indeed. Again, you can buy it on iTunes or from his website. A few of the songs resonated with me in their dealing with some of the searching questions of purpose which seem to arise in the third decade of life and Max conjures some beautiful images while providing endlessly delightful piano, supplemented by a tight band that obviously understand the jazzy sound he’s after. It was apparently quite rare for him to play a gig on his own, so I count it a privilege to have heard him play the songs raw for us at The Song Room. (There’s a solo version of ‘In the blood’ and the marvellously kinetic ‘Frozen still’, recorded live on RTE radio, on Max’s MySpace site.)

If tonight is in any way indicative of the kind of roster we might expect from this Wednesday soiree, then I am looking forward with glee to what’s to follow in subsequent weeks.

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gig at Urban Soul (1jul08)

I’m just back from playing at Urban Soul, a new event for teenagers that sees them working on community projects in some of the less salubrious areas of Dublin in the daytimes and coming together to reflect and chill out in the evenings. The night ends with a kind of a talkshow/café gig and I was asked to play tonight, their first night.

I did a half-hour set, a mix of my own songs and covers:

I’ve linked to different videos of the covers there. Check out the Guillemots and Bon Iver ones – they’re from a French site called La Blogotheque which features interesting performances by bands on their ‘take-away shows’. The Coldplay one is a couple of guys I found on YouTube doing a great job of covering this, the cracking title track from the band’s latest album; it’s really lodged itself in my head. Apparently it’s the first Billboard Hot 100 #1 by a British rock band since EMF’s ‘Unbelieveable’ in 1991. Good old Wikipedia, eh?!

Guillemots at The Academy, 12 June

I first heard the Guillemots when I bought The Sunday Times ‘Best songs of 2006’ compilation on iTunes – such a good idea, it’s a shame they didn’t do it again for 2007. sepia fyfeThe single We’re here was included in the collection and it grew on me with its interesting chord changes, wistful lyrics (“…the world is our dancefloor now – remind me how to dance again…?”) and Fyfe Dangerfield’s soaring vocals.

Here’s what they played:

Made up love song #43, Clarion, Through the windowpane, Falling out of reach, Last kiss, Standing on the last star, Words, Don’t look down, If the world ends, Get over it, We’re here, Kriss kross … Trains to Brazil, Sao Paulo.

I promised myself at the beginning of the year that I’d go to more gigs and have pretty much failed to go to *any* since then! This week marks the end of the drought, I hope. While I enjoyed the gig, I did think it was just too loud. It started to go downhill sonically during Don’t look down, where the second half of the song – on the album an interesting piece of programming that nods towards the band’s shared love of Bjork – became a noise fest. I realise it must be difficult to reproduce something live that is so crafted but I felt a bit short-changed by the reliance on noise. The single, Get over it, suffered from a similar dependence on noise; drummer Greig Stewart fairly melts the drums! and the kitchen sink

The last song of the set, the epic Sao Paulo saw every member of the crew on stage at the end brandishing a percussion instrument – Fyfe bashing a bin lid!bin lid I don’t know if they do this at every gig (this was the last night of their tour, so it may have been we’re-going-home exuberance) but it was just way too much and, for me, spoiled the night.

One thing I do like about seeing bands live is that it adds a visual element to your subsequent listening, for example there’s a great guitar riff in Clarion that really stood out when guitarist MC Lord Magrao played it in the gig – I hadn’t really noticed it on the recording but now I love that song because of my enjoying it so much at the gig. Thankfully it takes a lot more for a band to put us off a recording by doing a bad performance…

Another visual highlight was When the world ends, which was lovely. Magrao played some atmospheric bird/dolphin type sounds high up on the guitar as the others laid down a rolling 6/8 groove; shafts of light shifted on the stage giving it an undersea appearance which set the tone for more wistful lyricism.

we\'re here

We’re here was performed in a stripped down, slower solo version by Fyfe, playing a lovely big guitar with f-holes. good night

Radiohead at Malahide (6 June)

I travelled to the gig by DART, arriving a bit late due to faffing and dozing in the afternoon. As I sat in solitary silence on Dublin’s coastal train, practising my commuter nonchalance, I had a nagging feeling that I recognised the lady sitting diagonally opposite me. She was with her teenage daughter – who sported some coolly functional wellies – and a tall American guy with model good looks. The three of them chatted away: the girl voicing her concerns about how next year in school the pressure would be on to decide what she wanted to do and she wasn’t sure; the guy had been on some photo shoot that day; the girl was surprised at how far Malahide was…I caught a few more moments of shut-eye as we made our way to the end of the line. I lost them when we arrived in Malahide – greeted by a shower of rain – but, somewhere between the station and the arena it dawned on me that the lady was none other than Ali Hewson, wife of Bono, and the girl who I’d been sitting beside for the past half an hour was her eldest, Jordan. I did catch up to them just as we came within earshot of the arena.

All I need. This opened the set; I really like the piano clusters. A rainbow had appeared in the sky and, when I noticed the tall American guy noticing it, I remarked “that’s quite a trick to pull off: actually doing the concert *in* a *rainbow*!”. He looked a little taken aback at the weirdness of the stranger he’d awkwardly shared knee space with suddenly reappearing with lame witticism at his side. Jordan laughed, though, and I walked on ahead.

Anyway, the concert. I got to the arena, having compliantly handed over my plastic bottle top to the security people, as Radiohead struck up the next number.

There there. I’d arrived in my spot – to the right of the sound desk – by the end of the song.

The stage was flanked by huge screens, there was a long screen on the wall behind the band, and
the whole stage was hung with long light tubes.


“Hi, we’re Radiohead, pleased to meet you. Did anyone see the rainbow? That’s happening every night, you know.”

Bangers and mash. Thom played a second drum kit on this song that I haven’t got but recognised. Maybe they played it on the Scotch Mist film they released at the new year? I don’t remember.

15 step. This is an absolute cracker of a song, my favourite from the new album. I bought a t-shirt (made from between 3-6 recycled plastic bottles, apparently) with one of the lines from this song on it: You used to be alright. What happened?

Nude. Beautiful. The climbing vocal lines at the end of this song and the way the music just disappears like a vapour trail in a blue sky…

…a metaphor that the band might not appreciate, given their commitment to green issues on this tour. It made all the more poignant the steady flow of aeroplanes taking off from the airport that sailed by in the left of my vision all night.

Pyramid song. Thom took to the piano and Jonny Greenwood played his guitar with a bow for this song that delights the musician in me with its easily flowing rhythm that floats between the beats of the bar like a spirit.

“Cool beans. Thanks very much everyone. How’s it going? This is one we’ve got back into for a number of reasons…can’t remember what they are…”


“Right, let’s see what happens now.”

Weird fishes / Arpeggi. A great example of Radiohead’s being at the top of their game as a band – the interplay of the various parts, the solid, logical, interesting harmonic movement, the effortless melody and the spot-on harmonies of Ed O’Brien. The lights were beautiful in this song – little beads hovering in the middle of each of the tubes, creating a gentle, oceanic swell.

<recorded> “I think the point Scarrie(?) is trying to make there is that this is euro time, and that goes for me…” (sounded like Colin Farrell to me, was it off the radio?)

The national anthem. The song they opened with when I first saw them back in Belfast in September 2001 – I still remember the feeling! Thom sang the horn parts.

<recorded> “…heart of darkness…Italians…” (didn’t catch it all)



House of cards.

Everything in its right place. The Tibetan flag-draped electric piano was brought to the front of the stage for this one.

Faust arp. Just Thom and Jonny on acoustics for this one.


Videotape. During the intro for this – Thom on piano – some people in the front must’ve tried to quiet chattering fans, because Thom said “Yeah, shush, this is serious business”. A song in the same kind of vein as Pyramid Song, I think, with the poignantly sad visions of heaven in both.


The gloaming. I was at the merchandise stand for this song, being skipped in the queue by a skinny Northern girl who was asking the merchandiser if they did extra small t-shirts.

You and whose army. Thom sang this into the close-up camera, to great effect.

Myxomatosis. Powerful, all-over-the-road riff; “…my thoughts are misguided, I’m a little naive, I twitch and I salivate like with myxomatosis…”. Great song live.

My iron lung.

How to disappear completely. They kind of have to sing this in Ireland, what with the “…I float down the Liffey…” line. It did get a huge cheer and is, after all, apt to finish a gig with.


Super collider. Thom played this new song, which had an interesting, shifting piano part, by himself.

Just. Brilliant – I love the climbing tension towards the chorus with its sheer release and the excellent guitar parts (which sounded a *little* bit as if the guys had played them every night for the last generation…but who am I to judge!).

Paranoid android. This is a tough vocal line that, after an entire evening’s belting, Thom didn’t quite nail. The vocals for the entire night sat clearly on top of the mix, which is one of the best I’ve heard.

“Nighty night”.

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two gigs in three days with Hamlet

On Monday I played at The Song Room with Hamlet (which is sadly having its last session next week – hopefully an appreciative venue can be found soon). For the first time we had Barry playing double bass with us, which is a great addition to the tunes. I brought my beast of a keyboard along and played that, the piano in the pub being unplayably out of tune, unfortunately; I also played cajon and clarinet and added some harmony vocals.

I’m really enjoying this multi-instrumenting at the moment. We played:

  • Sunshine
  • Mr Slim
  • El Capitane
  • Street lights
  • I am a man
  • The Una Molloy hangover song
  • Hey girl
  • Boogie man
  • Perfect day

‘El Capitane’, ‘I am a man’ and ‘Hey girl’ are all new since the last gig. ‘El Capitane’ reminds me of the Gorillaz a bit with its lazy groove, semi-chanted confrontational lyrics, and “…da, da, da dada dadaaa…” refrain. ‘I am a man’ is a down and dirty bluesy slice of masculine proclamation that is great fun to play: I switched to the electric piano 2 sound on the P200 for the punchy, descending chords of the riff. ‘Hey girl’ is an out-and-out pop song with Hamlet’s characteristically charming lyrical style painting a delightful, carefree picture of a ‘Before Sunrise‘-type relationship. This one we played totally stripped down, Hamlet playing and singing and me singing, humming and clapping.

Hamlet kindly let me do a couple of my own songs and I did ‘Make it home’ on the piano and ‘Face in a frame’ on the guitar. Franzi got some good shots and I got a warm round of applause and some nice compliments. These are my two best songs, I reckon, and it’s been great to play them a good bit over the last few weeks. Next thing is to record them…

I was impressed by the band on after us – Lisa McLaughlin and a couple of talented chaps on guitars and assorted other instruments: flute, melodeon, glockenspiel. They created a variety of really effective accompanying textures for Lisa’s vocals using an impressively portable setup. I envied them somewhat with my gargantuan keyboard.

Wednesday night was Hamlet’s gig in Whelans Upstairs. Barry joined us again and we played a good set – more able to settle in and enjoy the music now we were more familiar with playing the songs together.

  • Is she real
  • El Capitane
  • Sunshine
  • Mr Slim
  • Street lights
  • Canary in a coalmine
  • I am a man
  • Buy this song
  • The Una Molloy hangover song
  • Perfect day
  • The boogie man
  • Why must love die
  • Hey girl (ooh la la)

The new songs went down well, and the crowd enjoyed the night. Great fun!

Sigur Rós for Impact Romania concert

St Andrew’s church on Westland Row was a splendid venue for this concert of some of the music of Icelandic band Sigur Rós. The huge interior of the church and its beautiful resonant acoustic meant that the string quintet (3 vln, vla, c.), piano, electric bass and percussion could support Aisling Dexter’s impressive vocals with little or no amplification; the building suited the expansive, minmalist music very well, lending a quiet austerity. A highlight was a song from another Icelandic phenomenon, Björk’s Joga from her Homogenic album, Miss Dexter obviously relishing the more expressive vocal line.

Pianist, Brian Denvir, had done an excellent job of transcribing and arranging the parts for the group, all of whom are members of the Dublin University Orchestral Society.

Sigur Rós concert by DU Orchestral Society

gig with James McMorrow last night

James did another show in Whelan’s new upstairs room last night with me on piano, Peter Ryan on bass and Cion O’Callaghan coming in for the gig on drums. Support was provided by the wonderful Stace Gill (currently putting the finishing touches to her first EP) and, new to me, Rhob Cunningham. I was really taken with Rhob’s songs and easy-going demeanour. Here’s one of the songs he played last night, ‘A good or bad thing’, recorded for Channel 6’s ‘The Airfield Sessions’ last year…

The set with James was similar to the last night we played there. James opened with a couple of tunes on his own (including the hypnotic ‘Down the burning road’) and then we joined him.

  • Fairytales – good opener; I get to play out a good bit on this one with a solo and everything!
  • Breaking hearts – Peter and I stepped up the mics and supplied some backing vocals to the ‘itchy feet’ chorus of this song.
  • Jacob
  • I watched the world
  • Please tell me there’s a spark
  • If my heart should somehow stop – I love the eruption into the middle eight of this song.
  • We don’t eat until your father’s at the table – this is such a fun song to play: it’s got a lovely, lazy gospel feel.
  • I’m free – we fairly ripped through this one. Exhilarating song, even at the right tempo!
  • I am hopeful

This last song is a new one and James wanted to try something a bit different so he sang while I played. We agreed that this was one of the highlights of the night and the crowd certainly enjoyed it and bayed for an encore, James obliging with a cover version of Sam Sparro’s ‘Black and Gold’, which he combined with the haunting, sparse accompaniment for ‘Down the burning road’ to great effect. This is a real ‘you-had-to-be-there’ story, because it’s impossible to make the leap from the club anthem portrayed in Sparro’s video to the hushed room that hung on James’s every word last night. Magic.

Scoil Angela

The 5th class girls from Scoil Angela, Thurles

Here are my fellow songwriters and rappers, who we worked with last week in Thurles. The final performance – for their parents and the rest of the school – went really well. Aingeala conducted the half-hour concert which began with all the girls simulating the rhythm of a heart beat and moved through different sections. They did some improvisation over some grooves that we’d been working on during the week. Each girl had a percussion instrument and another instrument – between them they had tin whistles, flutes, violins, a guitar, a harp and three keyboards. The rap and the song went really well and the audience gave them a huge, well-deserved ovation at the end.

In June, they’ll come to Dublin and perform some of their pieces with the other schools that have had projects this year. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a recording of them singing the song but here’s a version I recorded in my hotel room last week to give you an idea:

The Song Room

I played at The Song Room on Monday night, a new singer/songwriter night at O’Sullivan’s on Westmoreland Street hosted by Hamlet Sweeney and Brian Brody. Brian opened the night with some of his songs accompanied by a harp augmenting his guitar. Ria followed with a band and had us grooving. Hamlet and I did a set next and then I finished the night:

  • ‘Raise your glasses’
  • ‘My belly’s empty and my heart is sore’
  • ‘I love you madly’
  • ‘Face in a frame’
  • ‘Make it home’

The last two went down really well, which I was pleased about. I played ‘Make it home’ on the piano that’s a feature of the pub – nice to play on a real instrument.

You can join the Facebook page for The Song Room or visit the MySpace page.