Monday, August 29, 2011

Elbow, Belsonic Festival, Belfast, Wednesday August 24th

The question is - how to improve a year during which you've seen both Prince and Elbow?

Given that the purple Minneapolitan has re-ascended to Planet Funk, it's unlikely we'll see him again too soon. But, just in case he's reading, he's always welcome. Loads of room, Mr.Nelson, come on in. Nice threads, by the way.

So, right now, there can only be one answer to that question -

Go see Elbow. Again.

This year's Belsonic festival saw Belfast's Custom House Square play host to Tinie Tempah, Tiesto, Plan B and Beady Eye. On Friday 19th August Primal Scream, as they have been doing all summer,  asked 'just what is it that you want to do?'  Oh, and Jared Leto and his band played too. They have lovely hair.

But a rainy Wednesday in August heralded the arrival of Elbow to Belfast. It was lashing down during Foy Vance's set, which could be heard from under the awning of McHugh's. Adam Hoy (who said he'd read the blog if I mentioned him - so, here you go!) reckoned he might wait until the main act came on. If I was a fan of bad puns, I would've said 'Hoy, you! Don't miss Villagers.' But I hold myself to impeccable standards. Impeccable.

Which is a word that befits Villagers. Conor O'Brien played some new tunes, which are of the same standard as the older ones. Roll on album number two.

Now, at the risk of repeating what I said in April, let me briefly take you through the Elbow show. They kicked off with The Birds and stayed airborne thereafter. Guy Garvey chose a different member of the band to name-check after every song, referring to all of them (affectionately!) as 'lovely fuckers.' He sang a Gene Kelly/Frank Sinatra number, a cappella. Quite simply, he's an effortless front man - or at least, he makes it look easy.

Which, of course, it isn't. From their lyrics to their arrangements, Elbow put a lot of thought, and no small amount of heart, into what they do. They're the type of band you have to see once, and as many times more as you can manage. Carla and Barry from Bray had seen them back in March, and a few times previous. As this is written, they're en route to see Elbow in New York. Bon voyage, keep me posted!

Great Expecations and a euphoric  Station Approach are aired, as well as newer material like Neat Little Rows and the quietly beautiful Lippy Kids. But it's the Seldom Seen Kid that points the way home. Elbow finish with the sublime double whammy of Starlings and One Day Like This. Ah, stop - pure magic!

What makes you stand in a square and run the risk of getting drenched? Why would you cross the Atlantic to see a band you've seen several times before?

I can only think it must be love.
Well, anyway.....

Friday, August 19, 2011

Flash fiction, folks!

Hi folks,

I have a  story in the latest edition of Wordlegs. Have a look at it here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Little John Nee & The Highly Strung Orchestra

Tuam: a small town in North Galway - not the kind of place that always brings magic to mind yet, at a certain time every August, there seems to be a glut of it. This year's Earwig Arts Festival (12th to 21st) began with a cracking street show, followed the next day by a visual arts trail around the town.  There are also performances by local actors, musicians and writers.

Last Sunday in The Mall theatre, Little John Nee aired his latest piece The Mother's Arms. The show began with John and The Highly Strung Orchestra entering at the back of the room and walking to the stage. They were making a shuffling din that sounded like the start of a Tom Waits song - but the comparisons end there.

Welcome to Planet Nee.

Our host pointed to two miniature chairs at the front of the stage, and lamented the tension created by waiting for these two punters. The audience were invited to shake their limbs and relax, and soon found themselves in in The Mother's Arms, a pub in a forlorn, rainy corner of Donegal. 

A bluebell, bereaving the loss of his beloved, perishes in a pool of beer slops. A hippy with a history extols the virtues of love and organic vegetables. Taxi Mc Dermott, behind the wheel of a '59 Ford Zodiac that also carries the members of his band, parks outside the pub. He wants a gig, bed, board - and perhaps more.

The Mother's Arms is a show littered with wonderful moments. There's a 70 year old woman who describes the details of her recently acquired tatoos. Then there's Rose, the pub's landlady who managed to escape a Deliverance like fate in Florida. At one stage, two headlights were raised over our host's head as he took on the persona of a boy racer. Little John, a man that can sing, write, act - and rap. Like a demon!

Praise has to be given to Nee's collaborators on this show. Jeremy Howard, Andrew Galvin and Orlaith Gilcreest form the Highly Strung Orchestra and are given typically colourful new names - somewhere in the world, I really hope there's a man called Hayzeus O'Donnell. The trio play piano, sax, clarinet, guitar, bazoukis, petrol cans and more throughout the performance. And cluck like chickens. It would be great to hear this music on an album - there are some serious hooks in here. Also, 'do the Mahatma Gandhi / and let in the light' is a contender for lyric of the year.

But The Mother's Arms has to be seen in the flesh. When Taxi McDermott and his band come around again, don't miss them. I could yammer away quite happily about this show - but sometimes you just run out of adjectives. So, indulge me dear reader as I paraphrase a little known American artist.

'You could've seen Tom Waits for €120 in The Phoenix Park
You could've seen Little John in The Mall for a tenner

And though it's my opinion
I may be right or wrong
You'll find them both
In the Grand Canyon
At sundown.'

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Checking back in

Dear Blog,

I have loved thee wrong. You've been sitting here in some forlorn corner of the internet, neglected, while I've been scurrying around festivals, weddings and Barcelona.

But I'm back!

The Galway Arts Festival was a real blast this year. I didn't see any of the theatre I wanted to due to the amount of sell-outs. But there was buzz around Galway city; it's my favourite time of year here and, for a while at least, we'd something to talk about besides the fookin' economy.

Willy Vlautin's reading kicked off a savage night out. It was a co-headliner with Roddy Doyle. The two writers are fans of each other's work - Vlautin described the Dubliner as a 'national treasure.' The pair both read from their work and then did a Q & A - surprisingly, given Doyle's profile, the first three were for Willy, though the American thoroughly deserves the fans and acclaim coming his way. Roddy Doyle read a story called Animals from Bullifighting his latest collection of short. It's a deft piece of writing, imbued with humanity. A national treasure, indeed.

Vlautin then went on to play a show in Róisín Dubh with his Richmond Fontaine bandmate Dan Eccles. The room was wedged as Vlautin sang songs that echo the themes of his books, among them heartbreak, hard-living and humour.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble were on top form when they opened for De La Soul in the Big Top - and arguably stole the show from the Long Island pioneers. One gripe I'd have with live hip-hop is the tendency to shave a verse or two off hit songs. If you wrote something as impeccable as All Good why cut it short?

Anyhoo, some dancing-like-a-maggot was done and it escalated into a night out that ended at bright o'clock. July in Galway, happy days.

The following weekend I made the pilgrimage to Malahide Castle to see Prince tear through his hits. It was amazing, and as much as I'd like to get into the specifics of the show, I'll keep it brief and say it was a night of giddiness and great tunes.The man is some performer, a true legend. Here's hoping he doesn't leave it another 9 years to come back again.

OK, I'll leave it at that for now. But before clicking 'publish' I'll bring your attention to more County Galway deadliness.Mephistio's The Honey Spike is running in the Town Hall Theatre until Saturday night, and is well worth going to see.

Meanwhile, in Tuam, the Earwig Arts Festival kicks off on Friday night at 8pm, with an outdoor street show in the Square. More to come about arty shenanigans in my hometown.

The West's Awake!