Just popping up to share a very short clip of music I recorded this week: La Jolla.
I was inspired when I saw a video uploaded on Instagram by my friend @zingomoon who lives in America and recently visited the West Coast. La Jolla is one minute of music I created while watching her video.
You can find it on my Instagram page or you can just listen to the music on my SoundCloud.
Just before Christmas, Dundalk was treated to a very special night of music in The Lisdoo in aid of the Louth Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The night was so lovely and enjoyable that it deserves further acknowledgement than just a handful of Instagram posts.
The bigger picture of the night was of course, raising awareness for mistreated animals and for raising funds for a worthy charity who work tirelessly to care for, treat, house, feed and rescue animals who need positive human intervention. A topic close to my own heart and indeed many hearts, as the venue was close to full. Such a positive and affirming act in itself!
Musically, the event was centred on Dundalk musicians, in particular those who are aligned with Irish traditional music- Jim Corr, Liam Monagher, Zoë Conway, John McIntyre and The Oriel Traditional Orchestra. If you were in any way interested in the music of our ancestry performed by professional, highly regarded and empathetic artists, you didn’t need a second invite to attend- for this was a once in a lifetime show.
Following a brief introduction from local broadcaster Harry Lee, The Oriel Traditional Orchestra opened the event. The orchestra performed pieces from the Oriel region which encompasses Louth, Meath, Monaghan and Armagh, arranged for orchestra. Their sound was as big as their number. They performed the sweetest melody on solo tin whistles to a hushed audience and they filled the room with the joyous sound of approximately sixty musicians in harmony. You couldn’t not be in awe of their collective passion and talent. At this point I will add that Zoë Conway and John McIntyre who played after Jim Corr and Liam Monagher, were fantastic. They’re a wonderful duo who compliment each other in a fantastic way, vocally and instrumentally. This blog is about Jim and Liam so I will not delay.
Succeeding the flurry of sixty-odd chairs getting packed away and guests’ tables getting pushed closer to the small-rise stage to fill the gap (no problem, I’m not shy! I very much would like to be closer to the artists I’m there to hear!), Jim Corr and violinist Liam Monagher sat on the edge of the stage very casually and chatted with Harry Lee. The friendship between Jim and Harry was obvious as Jim chatted about his sister Andrea’s newly published memoir and spoke about how much he enjoys the fact his son Brandon reads it to him in the evenings. Undoubtedly emotional and nostalgic for Jim, as his sister recounted stories and memories from her childhood right up until the time of publishing, many of which concerned their family while growing up. Harry turned to Liam and asked him to speak about his professional career as a violinist. Liam humbly revealed he has performed in prestigious venues including the Royal Albert Hall, London and Carneige Hall, New York. The pair have played together before, but this night was to be their debut public performance, one which Harry inquired, might be the beginning of a future project?
While Jim Corr needs little or no introduction due to the global success of The Corrs with his three sisters, he has always been a steady musician onstage, keeping an eye on each of his sisters in brotherly support and contributing to the formidable sound without drawing heaps of attention onto himself. I watched their performance in the O2 Dublin in 2016, each sister sibling cast adoring looks at their brother as they nervously returned to the Irish stage and I watched Jim acknowledge them and give a small and reassuring smile. Jim Corr is a pillar in terms of a live, performing musician and is a force of creative energy in the recording studio with an incredible wealth of knowledge concerning music production.
Liam Monagher also from Dundalk, began playing violin at the age of six and trained with the renowned violinist Ms. Patricia Treacy and also with Mr. Michael d’ Arcy at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin. As a solo violin performer, Liam has won many awards at Feis Ceol’s at Newry, Warrenpoint, Belfast and Sligo and also competed with success at Feis Ceol Dublin. As an orchestral musician, he has performed with numerous orchestra’s including the Orchestral Musicians of Northern Ireland, the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland (NYOI), the NYOI Camerata and the Cross Border Orchestra of Ireland (CBOI). Throughout the years, he has performed in many of the world’s most prestigious music venue’s including Boston Symphony Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York and Chicago Symphony Hall. Most notably, he was leader of the CBOI in performances at the World Expo Shanghai, China, the Lincoln Centre, New York and the Royal Albert Hall, London. In addition, he has played in all the major venues in Ireland including the Helix, the National Concert Hall, the RDS, Dublin, the SSE Arena and the Waterfront Hall, Belfast. Although principally a classical violinist, Liam who has been described as an “accomplished and stylish player” has won awards at Fleadh Ceol Na hÉireann at county, provincial and national level, including two gold medals, under the tutelage of respected Dundalk musician, Brendan Gaughran. Throughout his career to date, he has had the opportunity to perform for many dignitaries including President of Ireland Mary Mc Allesse, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip to name but a few. In recent times, Liam’s musical career has taken a diverse twist, seeing him record and perform with some of Ireland’s most outstanding musicians including Lisa Hannigan, Jim Corr, Miss Paula Flynn and Brian Kennedy.
Both musicians, with their incredible respective achievements, talent and musical training show no hint of pomposity, in fact they showed albeit only briefly, slight nervousness as they were playing to a home audience on home turf. They opened with the serene Irish traditional air Lough Erin Shore, more famously known as Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore (Paul Brady and Dolores Keane). Corrs fans know the air very well as two versions of the tune bookend the album Forgiven, Not Forgotten (1995), and was still part of their White Light Tour set in 2016. Of course, this wasn’t exactly a typical Corrs audience, it was an audience of friends and family which is a different level of support, and enthusiasm is expressed in more reserved ways (That means I didn’t bring my hotel pillowcase with “Jim, you’re looking well!!!!” colourfully drawn with twenty Sharpies- who let the fangirl in?!). By reserved, I mean you could have heard a pin drop in the room as Jim took to the keys and effortlessly danced over them, his right hand providing beautiful ornaments to the melody while his left hand supported with his signature rich bass notes and chords. All eyes and all ears were on the duo. Jim played one round of the tune before giving Liam the very same assuring smile he gave his sisters in Dublin as he lifted his violin bow to join him. Liam’s 1802 Perry violin sounded rich, full and warm, perhaps one might argue that’s not an overly traditional tone for an Irish performance but we’re not here to discuss authenticity, innovation or tradition. We’re here to listen to two fine musicians play the music of their heritage. And I for one quite appreciate a rounded and smooth violin tone, it’s kinder to my ears. Liam’s vibrato is graceful, measured and in my view, appropriate, as he draws a gentle sweetness out of his instrument. His execution of the pitch slide in the second part of the melody evokes the spirit of the first recording on Forgiven, Not Forgotten and he imparts his own signature by adding extra ornaments throughout. The pair arrive at the tune’s crescendo and Jim nods to Liam, taking over the melody in the upper octave, his delicate performance bringing to mind stars twinkling in the night sky with the fairies or siogs dancing beneath. One more round of the tune with Liam and with mutual smiles, signalling an silent agreement that this was to be the final phrase. Broad smiles to rapturous applause and cheers from the audience, their rendition was very much enjoyed.
Liam took the centre stage for the next tune, Brian Boru’s March. Liam led the way with Jim watching intently and adding beautifully accompaniment with occasionally jazzy chords and mirroring the melody as if the two players were one. Jim looked visibly at ease during this performance, perhaps any nerves of playing the first number dissipated and the two seemed to be feeding off each other musically. Indeed the two were so well rehearsed that they could relax, catching the briefest of staccato notes in perfect synchronisation, to snap you awake just in case you were floating off with the dancing siogs! And indeed to pre-empt what was coming next. The two started a new tune immediately, in classic Corrs style (think the unabridged version of The Carraroe Jig that was on the Love to Love You maxi-CD which pops a jaunty Trout in the Bath in unison violin and right hand piano). Certainly a joy of life of its own, the surge of energy from both musicians was lifting and playfully, Jim played the very last phrase in unison with both his left hand and his right hand for dramatic effect! Class!
At this point in their set, I’m delighting in the opportunity to listen to the keyboard musicianship of Jim Corr in such close proximately and liveliness. Yes, we get a sense of his incredible talent particularly on the Forgiven, Not Forgotten and Home albums, we know he’s a brilliant player but we don’t really get to appreciate it fully as there is so much more excellent music going on around him. United, The Corrs are genius, there’s no doubt about it, they have a synergy unique to them and they’re all fantastic (and I would argue, underrated) musicians. But here in the Lisdoo, it’s just Jim and Liam. No drums, guitars and more going on, this is very stripped back and very live. Jim is not a show off, he’s too gentle and grounded to be, but he definitely deserves celebration. The fluidity of his playing, his choice of chord arrangement, his choice of volume velocity and the perfect execution of his performance would leave you open-mouthed. He’s a totally different player, but he’s got that same midas touch Thomas Bartlett of The Gloaming has. My only wish at this point is that I could physically see his hands but I’m too shy to get up and move my chair, even for one song.
Speaking of The Joy of Life, Liam introduces the next tune as it. Jim starts the tune slightly slower than he normally would with The Corrs (it’s better to be too slow than too fast) and Liam picks up on this and pushes ahead, encouraging Jim to pick up the pace. The best tunes sound easy to play but are actually quite the handful (I’ve tried this particular favourite myself but alas, it’s definitely best left to the professionals). The Trout in the Bath rushes in, and some super-enthusiastic soul in the back of the room screams his lungs out in appreciation. Jim stomps on an endearing piece of wood with a boundary microphone attached to it, placed on the ground underneath his keyboard, emulating a kick drum or perhaps, emulating the stomping of the ground at a session in full swing (at this point in my own sessions, I’m rolling off as much low-end as possible on the mixer and have already requested the players to kindly remove their shoes!). But you can’t beat Jim’s energy, the audience are clapping in time with his stomping. We get a momentary rest with Jim’s jazzy sustained chords underneath Liam’s energetic playing and then in classic Corrs style, Jim yells “one two three four!” with support from the audience. They’re elated. Another few rounds of the tune before a flashy finish of violin tremolo’s and a sweep of all the keys, finalised by a synchronised final home note.
Jim takes the microphone to introduce the next piece of music, the theme song from the 1988 film Cinema Paradiso. I had forgotten all about that film, we watched it in school during our Leaving Cert year. According to Andrea Corr in her memoir, Jim has perfect pitch and I well believe her, but Jim admitted difficulty in learning this particular piece of music solely by ear and said he only recently obtained the sheet music for it. Talented and humble. He had no sheet music in front of him that night and he grinned “I hope I play it ok now, I’m under pressure!”. The piece is distinctly classical, a far cry from his fusion/Irish sound he is known for. But let’s remember that Jim Corr has been playing piano since he could reach the keys. His father Gerry, taught him (and all the girls) and Jim studied at the Royal Irish Academy too. He could have pursued a career in classical music if he chose so. And evidently from this performance, Jim didn’t let the piano fade in the dust after his commercial zenith with The Corrs, nor did he stop playing classical altogether. His performance was flawless. Liam joined him with an equally flawless rendition of the melody, sliding effortlessly between left hand positions- one of the many hallmarks of an accomplished classically-trained player. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end at the beauty of their sound. Truly it was a sound to behold. And I’m not into classical music at all, bizarre I know (call myself a music lover?).
Return to Fingall was performed next. Another one from The Corrs’ repertoire, Return to Fingall featured as a bonus track on the Japanese release of their fifth album, Home (2005). Why it wasn’t included on the Irish/UK releases baffles me as it’s a stunning tune. Originally a piping tune made famous by the great Séamus Ennis, it translates onto violin, tin whistle and piano beautifully. Delicate ornaments from Liam decorated the tune, putting his own stamp on it, he also emulated well through his choice of expression, how the tune might be played on the uilleann pipes. “Is that it?!” Jim yelled as Liam raised an eyebrow and shook his head mid-bow, “Oh yeah!” Jim grinned and seemed to remember by muscle memory the delicate piano solo that’s next. It was different to what we hear on Home, in fact there was a touch of Enya in Jim’s choice of harmony, perhaps a tip of the hat to the Donegal musical family that inspired his own. He ended the tune with another sweep of the keyboard but this time in key and with his foot on his sustain pedal. The audience were too polite to clap over the extended decay which made a beautiful and poignant chord, until it fully diminished.
The last tune to be performed was of course, Toss the Feathers. The Corrs’ staple. A big “aw” from the audience and an apology from Jim for “only” giving the crowd six songs (six perfect songs!). “Not too fast” said Jim as he launched in a mock high speed tempo, which made Liam laugh out loud and tease Jim. After a moment of inner contemplation, Jim decided on a tempo and Liam launched the reel with bells and whistles. Not wanting to slow down, Liam carried on and impressively executed the melody perfectly at that pace. Jim started stomping on the stomp box again and “yeeeeeow”s interspersed the audience clapping along. We’re used to hearing a massive production on this tune (drums, bass, tin whistle, guitars, the whole sheh-bang) but the momentum was carried by the two musicians. Jim varied up the accompaniment with his jazzy syncopated chords (I say “jazzy” but I don’t really mean stylistic jazz, I mean chords you might typically find in jazz), he showed groove is possible in Irish fusion with just two instruments. He smiled broadly as he executed his offbeats along with his constant floor stomping, music and groove just flows through him. And Liam kept up the whole way, never relenting or missing a note. The duo finished with a flamboyant ending, complete with a leg thrown up on the keyboard (!) and more rapid violin tremolos. Pure class. Sure I only lost my mind there and then.
Myself and my mother highly enjoyed this wonderful night in the Lisdoo. We had such great craic, heard some truly stunning music and got to contribute to a wonderful local cause. If Jim and Liam were to perform again, we would be there in a heartbeat and we’d probably bring an army of fans with us too. The world could definitely do with a little more of Jim and Liam. Hup the lads! Love to love you both!
It’s that time of the year. The time where everyone is posting their Top Nines on Instagram, reflecting on another orbit around the Sun and the ending of another decade.
This time ten years ago I wasn’t blogging, it was the weird interim between Myspace blogging and WordPress blogging. Are the MySpace blogs still out there? Cue tumbleweed.
In Christmas 2009 I had just completed my first ever semester in college (Music Production in Ballyfermot). Black Daisy was long in the history book as the last gig was in December 2008, in Dolan’s Warehouse, Limerick. I didn’t know that then! While I did involve myself in other music performance projects for a little while (the two-piece acoustic Shock Sorrow 2009-14, the rock band Aztaria 2010-11, the rockabilly covers band the Full Moon Boogie Band 2012-13 and the gospel choir 2013-16), I haven’t played onstage during the latter half of the decade.
Do I miss it? No.
I noticed towards the end of Black Daisy, in fact I can remember the very gig, where I started feeling anxiety onstage. It was during our You’re a Star bootcamp shenanigen, when we played in the wee bar in Knockanstocken (I’m 99% sure it was part of the You’re a Star bootcamp, maybe I’m wrong, but definitely late 2007). I remember being up there thinking to myself “What the hell am I doing up here?” and feeling completely out of place. That feeling continued for every gig since. I didn’t realise it then either, that what I (and everyone else) thought was just “oddballness” was my anxiety manifesting itself in a different way.
So instead of the full blown rock n roll antics of the 00s, the 10s saw me going to college and edu-macating myself in music production. I excelled in Ballyfermot 09-11, academically and personally, as I felt embraced my classmates and lecturers. I definitely belonged there at that time. Then DkIT straight after that 11-15 where I definitely improved my skills and academics but also reclused back into myself. I didn’t experience the warm feeling of Ballyfermot there but I did make friends, some of which I still see from time to time.
Then there was the 2 weird years in between the degree and the masters. I was too burned out to jump straight into a masters as I put my heart into my work and got the grade I longed for but the absence of routine and like-minded people affected me. I stopped playing music but The Corrs came back and that took my mind off most matters as I went to as many concerts as possible and made friends along the way. That was fun.
I came back to DkIT to start my masters as a rattling shaking mess of nerves. I found postgraduate life very difficult and to be honest, there isn’t enough talk going on about postgraduate stress as I didn’t know about it until it hit me. The funny thing is, it doesn’t come from school, it comes from yourself. I wanted to ace postgraduate life like I did during my undergraduate years but then, I put massive pressure on myself to excel. I stopped believing in myself and my dissertation topic. I had months were I stopped altogether. Sitting around, feeling guilty for doing nothing yet throwing up when I thought about sitting at my computer or opening a book. Wouldn’t you think an award-winning graduate student who once volunteered to ease in First Year undergrads would know about who to approach for mental counselling? I didn’t. The professional I did talk to (and ultimately helped me) ended up fighting with me for some of it (I’m frightfully stubborn). I came to understand a good bit during this period and I think I’m getting better. Some kind hearts helped me along the way and made sure to check in on me, most days of every week. I know who they are. Thank you especially R and C!
What was most noticeable about the 10s was the swap from the stage to the sound desk. I found myself setting up mics for high-profile sound engineers, gulping back nerves as I set up for acclaimed Irish traditional and folk musicians. Then I found myself behind the desk, making sure the shows ran smoothly. The first few were absolutely bonkers as my nerves were rattling like billy-oh “I don’t belong here, this is not my scene” but lo and behold, I settled in. The same familiar faces were pouring in the doors, sitting in their favourite seats, “Hiya Stephanie!” smiling at me, and oh my goodness did that make me feel nice. I still get nerves before every show, still get sick most mornings of gigs but once I get the gear set up and running, the rest is a doddle.
Now I’m fast approaching the end of my masters, with only weeks of heavy thesis writing left before the shower of corrections and re-drafts before submission and hopefully, graduation. 2020 will be the year I dance out of DkIT feeling finally accomplished. 2020 will be the year I get more traction on my music production life, be it as a sound engineer or otherwise. 2020 will be the year people stop thinking about me as a performer and more as sound engineer. 2020 will be the year I will go on a holiday. And will be the year I will not feel guilty about doing nothing.
I realise all that anxiety/mental health stuff sounds very “first world problems hun”. I’m entirely grateful for my good health, my families’ health, my nice house, my fluffy kitties, the opportunity to study, the opportunity to work in music, and for my lovely circle of friends.
Below is a collection of my favourite moments from 2019:
The rainy Sunday we spent at Barmeath, the old castle we could see peeping through the trees from the basketball court of primary school and wondered what it was like. Now I know. More magical than expected.
Fostering Jimi kitten, the 6-week old tabby who was rescued from behind the billboards on George’s St. He came into my care on my birthday (808 day also International Cat Day). He didn’t want to go back to the rescue centre for adoption and shacked up with us. He’s brilliant.
Meeting Jim Corr (for a third time in my life), taking my Mum and hearing him play in an intimate venue with the lushious violin playing of Liam Monagher. I could have listened to them both forever. Stunning.
A big congratulations to my father Eddie Caffrey on his 40th year of broadcasting his Greenscene radio show on LMFM! He was presented with an award last night at the TLT Theatre in Drogheda by LMFM CEO, Michael Crawley.
My Dad has been involved in local radio his whole adult life, and is still presenting The Drive Monday-Fridays and The Greenscene on Saturday mornings on LMFM. I also remember the days when Dad hosted the popular Breakfast Show.
The Greenscene show started in 1978 on Radio Dundalk when Gavin Duffy (Gavin was breakfast show presenter) wanted to air a program on Saturday mornings dedicated to Irish music for bands of the time such as Thin Lizzy, The Boomtown Rats etc.
Later that year Boyneside Radio opened in Drogheda and Eddie and Gavin joined it at Donaghy’s Mill.
In 1979 Boyneside Radio decided to revive the idea and ‘borrowed’ the name “The Greenscene” from a Manx Radio show in the Isle of Man which played new releases of Irish music every Wednesday afternoon. It was decided to play a mix of ballads such as the Wolftones and the Dubliners with céilí country and old time songs. Ken Murray was the first presenter and Eddie Caffrey produced the show until Ken moved to even ‘greener’ pastures in 1982.
Eddie continues to present it to this very day and it remains ‘The North Easts Favourite Radio Show’!
I couldn’t be prouder of my Dad.
Listen on line lmfm.ie or between 95.5 and 96.5fm.
On Friday night, traditional-folk group Kern launched their second album The Left & The Leaving. Their debut album, False Deceiver was critically acclaimed when released in 2016 (see Tradconnect.com, Irish Music magazine, The Irish Echo, thebestofmusicandfilm.com and others) and Kern spent the better part of the next three years gigging their socks off. They’ve played many stages in Ireland and Europe: the Spirit Store in Dundalk, Temple Bar Tradfest, both recent Fleadh Cheoils in Drogheda, Milwaukee Irish Fest, Whelan’s, The Cobblestone, Vantastival, Culture Connections, Dingle, Germany to name but a few. Not only this but they kept their finger on the recording studio in the interim and released a “winter mix” of the single Short Term Thing and Till The Docklands Drown. I’ve attended a bunch of their Dublin/Louth gigs and have always been impressed by their thrilling live performances. Also, their sound translates excellently from studio to stage and back again. As a music producer, sound engineer and follower, I find both arenas equally enjoyable to listen to Kern in.
The Left & The Leaving was produced by Trevor Hutchinson, the founder member of Lúnasa. Mr Hutchinson also produced False Deceiver and performed double bass on both albums. The album artwork is a beautiful painting by Louth artist and illustrator Caoimhe McCarthy and inside there’s a handsome photograph of the band with their respective instruments, taken by Meath photographer, John Wilde. In keeping with False Deceiver, the comprehensive and interesting inner sleeve-notes are attractively presented.
Young Louth traditional-folk group Alfi opened for Kern in the DC Music Club, Dublin. The trio consists of Fiachra Meek (uilleann pipes/vocal/low whistle), Alannah Thornburgh (harp/vocal) and Ryan McAuley (banjo/vocal). They played a charming set from their debut EP Wolves in the Woods which combines American old-time and traditional Irish music. They displayed fine musicianship with stellar performances on each instrument respectively, a fantastic vocal blend- particularly the male harmony on The Drink Song, well-researched notes on their tune and song sources and engaging banter between tunes. I worked with Fiachra during the final year of my undergraduate degree, pestering him to join me in the studio as I tried out various microphones and combinations on his uilleann pipes, quizzing him on how to the pipes make sound and dropping in on pre-production sessions with his then-band Na Tonnta, for our 3-track studio production. The last time I saw him was at a post-studio session dinner in the student apartment block, where he and a fellow band member tried to open a coconut with the tiniest hammer you ever saw. One hour, a scratched floor and a marvellous vegetarian curry later, the band collapsed in hearty laughs and I actually can’t remember if they did crack that coconut or not. Fiachra carries forward his witty humour into Alfi and I’m very interested to follow this promising young band’s career.
Following Alfi, Kern arrived onstage to a rapturous applause with very special guest- Mr Dónal Lunny. Dónal launched The Left and The Leaving with light-hearted commentary and much praise, citing his favourite as Drowsyman’s Hornpipe/Martin Young’s Polka. SJ McArdle (guitar/vocal), Brendan McCreanor (uilleann pipes/low whistle/vocal) and Barry Kieran (fiddle) along with Mr Lunny (bouzouki) played a joyous set of tunes. Off the bat, the amount of practice and thought that went into the set was obvious- tight performance, intricate and unexpected pauses, superb energy and purest passion and joy. The four beamed at each other constantly throughout.
Kern continued their set after Dónal took a polite bow and settled into the audience for a deserved drink. It was immediately apparent that the fans Kern worked so hard to attract would not be disappointed with their new material. Their new songs clearly excellently crafted, sounded like a perfect continuation from those on FalseDeceiver: Powerful, energetic strumming and expert dexterous fingerpicking from SJ which at times was so gentle, he hardly seemed to be touching his guitar strings at all, yet each note rang through clear as a bell. More husky vocals telling stories of Irish days past, joked by SJ as mostly having maritime themes. Despite the giddy laughter concerning extra-fancy shirts that magically blag you communion faster in Mass, tales of high-speed ship chases and what not, SJ sings beautiful songs of a serious nature- Irish emigration, the Famine, the wars and hard-working class Irish heroes. Kern’s way of combining Irish tunes into their songs is certainly distinctive and works very well. Brendan and Barry each weave gorgeous melodies around SJ’s vocal, adding an extra layer of emotional essence. If you’re too enthralled by the music to listen to the lyrics, you’ll not be in left in the dark of the subject matter. Barry’s light-handed vibrato will tug at your heartstrings while Brendan’s lilting chanter can convey a graceful joy.
Kern’s new tunes are equally impressive. Clearly innovators who have a deep respect for the tradition and players, the lads unleashed new compositions of their own. Barry’s Somers March/Daragh Patrick’s is quite frankly a masterpiece. I was blown away. His march, named after the group’s stay in Germany, is delicate and sweet while the jig, named after his godson, is a bundle of joy. Both tunes, separately or combined could easily feature in a movie soundtrack, they’re that cinematic. Brendan’s Martin Young’s polka, part of the Drowsyman’s Hornpipe/Martin Young’s Polka set is such a cheerful tune and instant toe tapper also. Brendan dedicated the tune to the memory of fellow piper Martin Young. Staying within the locality, Bonny Light Horseman, heralded as “Drogheda’s National Anthem” roused a chorus of voices, filling the venue. And speaking of innovation within the tradition, I couldn’t help but be impressed by Kern’s magnificent stops and starts within Russian Reels and The New Jigs. Tasteful, dramatic and intelligent, the lads kept the audience on their toes.
All in all, the old Louth tunes and songs, and the new regional-inspired material are clearly safe in the hands of Kern. The album launch was a visible and audible success and several early listens of The Left & The Leaving indicate that this album too will be a staple in my playlist of Louth coastal beach walks.
Hup the lads! Well done and many congrats to you! Onwards to this new season in Kern’s career, we can only listen in delight.
As this blog title suggests, Sharon Corr (fiddle and keyboard player, songwriter and backing vocalist of Dundalk’s pride and joy, The Corrs) played a one-off Irish date in the O’Reilly theatre Dublin, as part of her co-headline mini tour with singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard.
I’m a Hard-Corr fan since the 90s so there was no way I was going to miss this show despite not knowing anything about Vonda Shepard, apart from the fact that she’s married to one of The Corrs’ producers Mitchell Froom. Froom produced their 1999 live MTV Unplugged album and their 2004 album Home. Home famously signalled the 10 year hiatus of The Corrs but left their audience with the assurance that Irish music was at the centre of their hearts, with its beautiful recordings of Irish songs selected from their late mother’s songbook. Froom went on to produce Sharon’s second solo album The Same Sun, released in 2013.
Vonda Shepard stepped onto the stage in Dublin with Sharon Corr to an uproarius applause. Backed by Vonda’s long-term backing band of notable American musicians (her guitarist James Ralston was also Tina Turner’s axe-man of choice), the duet pumped out an upbeat number, followed by a giddy and almost school-girl like explanation of how their unlikely friendship came to be. It was clear to all that the two were musical besties and Vonda’s extroverted big laugh filled the room and put everyone at ease. Sharon gracefully left the stage and let Vonda warm us up- a tough job considering she was playing to a Corr majority audience on home turf- the guy next me was wearing a rare 1999 In Blue album t-shirt! I thought she did a remarkable job and her talent left the room spellbound. Her soaring voice and dexterous piano skills were a joy to behold.
Sharon rejoined her onstage after a short interval, and soon after, started her own set. Opening with (my personal favourite) from The Same Sun “We Could Be Lovers”, the palm-muted clean electric guitar riff reminding us that Sharon is not a one trick Irish pony and loves to rock out. Her sultry voice rang clear in the quiet verses and soared through the dynamic chorus, perfectly executed by Corrs’ long-term FOH sound engineer Max Bisgrove. When the crowd settled, Sharon gave vivid context of her next song “The Same Sun” and explained how it came to be. It was lovely to hear such anecdotes, it’s something you just don’t get if you buy the album 3 years after its release (guilty as charged!). She continued her opening set with another track from the album “Take A Minute”.
Returning to her roots, “Cooley’s Reel” (recorded for her first solo album Dream of You 2009) snapped us out of our content dreamy reviere. Vonda’s backing band simply kicked butt backing up Sharon, watching her intently for cues. They looked like they were seriously enjoying themselves and her drummer looked particularly enthused, reminding me of the passion and groove of Irish drummer Jason Duffy.
With excitement running high, Sharon brought us back to The Same Sun with the lushious “Upon an Ocean”, followed by Seán Ó Riada’s “Mná na hEireann” (masterfully recorded for her first album with a raptorous guitar solo by Jeff Beck). I have to say the live version was exquisite, Sharon simply wowed us with her grace and emotion expressed through her violin.
Sharon Corr live at the O’Reilly Theatre, own photo used.
Sharon Corr live at the O’Reilly Theatre, own photo used.
Vonda returned to the stage and the two ripped through a bundle of covers “Woodstock” (Joni Mitchell), “Dreams” (Fleetwood Mac, though famously covered by The Corrs), “Weather With You” (Crowded House) and “Son of a Preacher Man” (Dusty Springfield). Sharon shared the stage with Vonda for Corrs’ numbers “Radio” (written by Sharon), their version sounding a lot closer to the Unplugged acoustic version rather than the electronic-y poppier In Blue cut. I personally found their version to be particularly special. The acoustic guitar is just so good and I was glad to see James Ralston stay true to it. “Full Circle” and “So Young” closed her set, and the audience politely rose from their seats for a little dance and clap- The Corrs always had a super polite audience and everyone in the O’Reilly theatre was careful not to obscure the view of the person behind them, how nice is that?!
Sharon gave us an insight into her own personality and voice as a songwriter, one that tends to shy away from the Corrs mic. While I always prefer The Corrs united and rate Sharon’s first album higher than her second, I feel I understand her artistry a little better now. She’s clearly a modern woman with opinions, views and feelings and isn’t afraid to share them through her music and you can’t disrespect that. It was lovely to see her enjoying herself and she clearly gravitated towards Vonda’s witty banter and wide smile- the unlikely pair made for a heartwarming friendship and reminded me that friendships made through music are simply the best ones.
Good luck recording your third album Sharon! Hopefully see you with The Corrs soon.
Feeling entirely grateful for the 2nd half of 2018 which was much better than the first!
I’m super grateful for the live sound gigs I got this year (especially with The Piper’s Club who are most kind to me and have invested so much faith in me. With them I’ve really gotten the chance to be a sound engineer and learn about the job.) I’m not the most technically minded person and my nerves still get me, but I am a visionary and an extremely hard worker.
Without these gigs, I’d more than likely have chucked it all in by now- some people are utterly false and have no problem making me feel small in a crowded room. It’s entirely hard for me not to allow myself to feel that way.
It’s very easy to stay put in my music room and live in my bitter circle of loneliness and intermittent creativity. I felt so useless, alone and pointless. I despaired. Often. I literally needed someone to say “We want you to do this!”, and even though I brick it, it always goes well and people shower me with praise.
The gigs mean so much to me.
I’m grateful for the friends who reach out to me and check in on me and make me laugh. I’m grateful for the new friendly faces too. Thank you for being there.
And thank you to the false ones for f*cking off, out of my face.
And most of all thanks to my fiance for understanding me and still loving me. Thanks to my family for financial support this year (my worst year for money since 2008). I’m doing my best to kick anxieties in the arse, I’m starting to think my overthinking is utterly stupid and needless.
I’m grateful for my good health and my friends + families good health, the roof over my head, good food to eat, enough cash flowing to see me comfortable, my kitties and my freedom.
May 2019 be a fantastic year for you all. Thanks.
Thanks Rachel for the affirmation cards, this one is my favourite.
2018 has been a rockin year for new music. In no particular order, here’s a few of my absolute favourites- be warned, it’s an eclectic mix! 😉
Sarasvati- Released To Aion
Sarasvati is the solo project from Canadian bass playing legend, Chela Rhea Harper. Inspired by esoterica, Sarasvati is a fusion of folk metal, melodic doom metal and progressive rock. A highly creative and intelligent individual, Chela has been crafting her own material in tandem with studying creative coaching. Released To Aion, a collaboration with metal vocalist/guitarist Joe Waller, was released at the beginning of the year. The forth-coming album has experienced setbacks despite completion, but undoubtedly, Sarasvati will be back in full force when the timing is right.
The atmospheric introduction is to die for. I love Chela’s ethereal vocals on this. Think of Enya but with dreadlocks to die for. But Canadian. And with a heavy song, heavier than heavy itself. Plus a doom metal band behind her. So not Enya really but you get the idea! Play it louder than loud. It’s a masterpiece. Then go buy it. Support independent music. Here: Released to Aion | Sarasvati
RSO is super songwriting, rock power-couple Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi) and Orianthi (Michael Jackson, Alice Cooper). Both are incredible guitarists with highly recognisable styles and both have stellar vocal chords. Recognised as an artist in her own right, Orianthi hails from Australia. Their debut album, Radio Free America was recorded in their L.A home over 2 years and produced by the legendary Bob Rock (Metallica, Bon Jovi).
Masterpiece was originally released as a single last year but seeing as the album only came out in May, I’m counting it as so. I love this song on so many levels- it’s the perfect love song. I love the way Richie and Ori’s vocals weave around each other and when they unite, they compliment each other perfectly. His gritty/edgy voice contrasts nicely with her smooth, warm and sweet vocals. The lyrics are incredibly beautiful, makes me wish I wrote them myself! It’s actually so delightful to hear a love song written by two people in love-without any cheddar! Kudos to the production on this, I love the effected drums and looping vocals. Solid songwriting. This rocks so much. Purchase: Radio Free America by RSO on Apple Music.
RSO- Blues Won’t Leave Me Alone
This is the song that brought Orianthi back to my consciousness. I think the production is simply phenomenal and incredibly brave. It’s so different to her back-catalogue. There’s something utterly perfect about this track. Perhaps it’s the way she entwines blues, gospel, soul and rock in the most perfect way. Her lyrics are exceptional, my favourite line has got to be: At least it feels like all that I’ve got is me and my guitar. Such a lyric makes me yearn for my guitar right now and wish I would make more time for it.
For me, this song indicates Orianthi is growing as a songwriter and artist. Her previous albums are great but this knocks right out of the park. Enjoy.
Emigrate- A Million Degrees
My man, Richard Zven Kruspe needs no introduction (especially if you follow my Instagram of this blog!). But hey, if you landed here not knowing who he is, i’ll fill you fast: Kruspe is the lead guitarist of industrial-metal rockers, Rammstein and Emigrate is his solo pursuit. After a 4-year wait since his last, his 3rd album A Million Degrees was released at the end of November.
The title track is stellar. This is probably his finest song to date (though he has some epic numbers!), it’s catchy, anthemic and heavy. It ticks all the boxes for me. His signature German/American accented vocals, great guitar riff, synth riff, vocal layering, solid drumming, combined with the fantastic song and perfect production make for his finest come back. I’ve been crushing on this man since Mutter (2001, Rammstein) and I’m so pleased to see him evolve into an artist in his own right. Now if 2019 brings any Emigrate gigs I’ll be a happy bunny (tickets for Rammstein are gold dust!). Purchase: Emigrate on Apple Music.
If you’re in the humour to dance/rock out then listen to 1234. The more I hear it, the more I like it myself.
Avril Lavigne- Head Above Water
When I first heard Avril in 2002, I couldn’t help but be a tad annoyed at her. She was quite the brat wasn’t she?! And everyone kept calling me Avril too which didn’t help! However she progressed (and occasionally lapsed) and has some fantastic tunes in her catalogue. She often powers my long distance runs. But don’t tell her that ;)Her last album (2013) was mighty good with an eclectic mix of pop, rock, dance and acoustic numbers. I especially loved the track she did with (then) husband (the equally annoying), Chad Kroeger.
Unfortunately in 2015, she was diagnosed with Lyme disease, putting a halt on her career. Spending a long time healing and looking after herself, promising her sixth album (due next year) but in September this year, she released the title and debut track, Head Above Water, a song which is frighteningly close to the bone. Avril puts all of her emotions of being ill and the experience of being at death’s door into this wonderfully crafted production. She’s taken a huge leap forward with this song, notching up yet another level. Well done Avril. Looking forward to your album, hope to go running with you soon. Purchase: Head Above Water – Single by Avril Lavigne on Apple Music
Bangin’ dance/house number I couldn’t get out of my head all year.
Beoga feat. Ryan McMullan- We Don’t Have to Run
This video is the RTE Special that aired last year but this song was finally released in May this year. I just love this on so many levels, I wish I produced it myself!