Live at St Luke’s
Alrighty, back on November 24th I added another wonderful venue to my gig-attending portfolio. The place – St Luke’s Church in Cork, once a place of worship and now a venue that hosts many a talented musician and band under it’s monumental roof. Boasting a spot among the finest venues in Ireland for it’s acoustic sound and special atmosphere, it was only a matter of time before I would be drawn to it’s doors. The reason – Ye Vagabonds, consisting of brothers Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn. For those that have read my blog covering the Sounds From a Safe Harbour weekend in Cork (You can find that here), I first saw Brían Mac Gloinn when he played a set there with Anna-Mieke, with both musicians immediately capturing my full attention. Just to follow up on that, I wrote at the time of an instrument that Brían played that I couldn’t identify, calling it “a table-top instrument akin to an Accordion”, I have since been informed by the Mac Gloinn brothers that it is a Harmonium, the more you know! Now, if for some reason Ye Vagabonds had not been enough alone to draw me to go to the gig, they only went and announced their support would be none other than David Keenan. David is another of the artists I encountered through SFASH, and I have been eyes peeled like a hawk ever since for an opportunity to catch the man play again, such was the nature of his impact.
Let’s rewind a month or two back from November 24th, I had been following David Keenan’s Facebook page and found out that he was selling a booklet containing the lyrics for a few of his songs, titled ‘A Collection of Words’. Now, again if you have read my SFASH blog post, you’ll probably realize that I rate David’s word-craftsmanship to be of an exceptionally high level. The man has an incredible mind for poetic song-writing and could stand toe to toe with literary greats past and present, in my humble opinion. So naturally I bought that book and received my signed copy in the post shortly after. Accompanying the booklet was a small notebook page with some lovely handwritten words from David. In particular I found great pleasure in this part he wrote that resonated deeply with me and my hobbyist ambitions I’ve been chasing this year “Find your avenue of expression and spill your soul into it!”. The note itself now comfortably resides on my board behind my computer screen where I sit to write these blogs and is a great source of motivation. The booklet divides it’s pages between lyrics to a number of his works, and professional photographs of himself interspersed.
Back to the day of the gig we go, and I made my way to the church – Via the scenic route as I got slightly lost on the way and overshot the distance up the hill to the venue. The venue recommends a cushion and warm clothing due to the nature of the seating and temperature in the building. I didn’t particularly equip myself for either, and thus suffered the conditions of a very cold evening in the venue, but I was unfazed by this. As it happens, I befriended the stranger in attendance next to me at the front pew, and they kindly offered me one of those pre-mix cans of Captain Morgan and Coke, which I sparingly drank from to warm myself. Soon enough, David Keenan made his appearance on the stage. I had high hopes, as I imagined stylistically the sound in the venue would be a perfect accompaniment to his acoustic guitar and story-telling vocals. I was indeed correct to hope, as from the first note and syllable of his set I was once again captivated by David’s sheer grasp of language and lyrical prowess, all the more potent when cast around the open space of St Luke’s church. I consider myself a bit of an English language enthusiast, but faced with the command over the language that David has, it’s hard personally not to feel something in between a mix of inferiority and sheer awe. Pluck at random if you will any line from his music or his writings, and chances are his expression will make you think or lead your mind astray on a journey. One such line of many that catches my attention as he sings: “They swap anorexic lyrics for pyrotechnic rhymes”. All in all, it was a great experience to catch David Keenan live again, I await already my next opportunity to revel in his craft.
And so onwards we go to the Mac Gloinn brothers, accompanied by the rest of their band – Alain Mc Fadden on Harmonium and Mandolin, and Nicholas Cooper on Violin. With such a diverse compendium of string-based instruments at their disposal, such as the Bouzouki, Banjo and Mandolin to name but a few, it’s no surprise that this eclectic mix thrives in the wonderful acoustics of St Luke’s. Couple this with the deep waves of the Harmonium and the rich harmonies across all four members of the band, and one could be forgiven for assuming the church was purpose-built for these musicians to one day stand on it’s stage and perform their artistry. This does come at a minor but worthwhile cost: With many string instruments, naturally comes much tuning. Nonetheless, they play for us a lovely selection of music. As one would expect, they bring to life before us much of the material from their debut self-titled album ‘Ye Vagabonds’, opening aptly with ‘Wake Up’, a song of a mere two lyrics weaved into a harmonious string arrangement. Besides their original material, they also provide their take on a bunch of Traditional Irish Folk numbers, the deep roots from which their own sound is derived and an oft breathtaking tribute to Folk music as a whole. Although performing mostly as a four-piece, for a song or two Alain and Nicholas sink away from the stage, leaving just Brían and Diarmuid with their stripped back sound to play beautifully for us.
After they have completed their show, I find myself at the Merch table – Where else, of course – picking up their album on CD and a large print from their single ‘Half Blind’. I manage to catch Diarmuid and Brían briefly, taking the opportunity to get the CD signed by the pair, and have Diarmuid at last crack the code of the mysterious ‘Harmonium’ instrument for me. From there I found myself on a scurrying trip down the big hill with my loot, traipsing into the Bru Bar to The Elation lads to show off my latest catch and round out the evening of music previously alluded to in this blog post. That’s about it for this post, happy nearly New Year. My next blog post will be an aside from the usual events to do a wrap-up of 2017. And remember folks, keep on Merchin’.