Wednesday
Mar222017

C2C Festival @ Dublin 2017

The Lonesome Highway team share some thoughts on the 2017 C2C Festival


C2C is a yearly event and getting stronger every year. It is probably the occasion that totally unites Ireland north and south under the banner of country music. I would say that 80% of the audience were from anywhere above a line drawn from Dublin to Galway. The 3 Arena was jammed from the start while the Sunday World pop up stage provided an opportunity for local talent to showcase under the watchful eye of country guru Eddie Rowley. Saturdays singer Una Healy strutted her stuff as a solo act and did a fine job of it. The one drawback was the occasional performer singing to a backing track which had an unfortunate whiff of karaoke.

Friday night Maren Morris was the opening act, a five foot nothing ball of energy who leaned closer to Taylor Swift than Tammy Wynette in her music, but the crowd were with her all the way. On the other hand the second act was Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives who ticked every box for me and even a few that I hadn’t expected. I got a buzz seeing Marty keeping the spirit of Clarence White alive with the famous B-Bender that I got to hold backstage when Marty played the Helix a few years back. Check out Steve’s accompanying review of a superlative performance.

The main act of the evening was the Zac Brown Band, an amazing unique outfit, all tattoos and assorted hats with an audience-electrifying set that had the crowd bouncing all over the hall until an ill thought out backdrop of the Union Jack to their cover of The Who’s Baba O’Riley brought boos and a slow handclap from part of the audience. I was too taken with a set that was a lot more to my taste and softer than on their last visit to be bothered by this lapse in an American grasp of European geography. No disappointments there for real Zac Brown fans and even a totally unexpected Bohemian Rhapsody cover had the crowd screaming for more.

Saturday opened with another newbie to me, Cam, a bubbly blonde in rhinestoned ripped jeans and a bright yellow top looking for all then world like a young Dolly Parton. She is a very appealing stage presence from California whose songwriting career and fine voice will ensure her place in the country-pop field for a long time. Cam was a fine opener for the next performer whom I managed to interview before the show.

Jennifer Nettles is back to her solo singing career with last year’s release of her second solo album Playing with Fire after film work and a stint on Broadway in the musical Chicago. She jumped straight in and worked the full stage, constantly interacting with the audience. Her set list that covered her full musical history so far, with songs from her magical time with Sugarland, her last two solo albums and a smattering of new stuff which kept me well pleased for her hour on stage. She is a seasoned performer who is fully confident in her good looks and musical ability and hopefully will grace our stages for many a year to come. 

Next came the songwriting powerhouse that is Chris Young. With a full band behind him, he dominated the stage and seemed genuinely pleased with the singalong performance from the crowd. Young’s songs have the ability to hit the same nerves that that any great honky tonk heartache song from Nashville ever did. I enjoyed his sincerity and melody which, like most of the experienced acts this time, was a lot more acoustic and less electric that previous visits. 

Then a white-hatted and Telecaster carrying Brad Paisley burst on stage with a set of tunes that had his now familiar guitar breaks which added to the album versions of his hits. I have seen Brad almost every time since I first saw him supporting Reba in (the then) Point Depot  back when God was a boy and he looks as young now as he did then. His performance was supported by the most engaging graphic backdrops of the weekend and boy, did he do his homework properly, right down to a Google Maps zoom in to the 3 Arena saying "We Are Here" and his joint USA/Irish Tricolour backdrop hit exactly the right note with the audience. He was joined on stage for a selfie-taking interlude by Chris Young while duetting on I’m Still a Guy. He had previously stunned the crowd by taking the guitar he had just played, signed it, added a little shamrock and then handed it to one shell shocked audience member. It’s very hard to comment on a Brad Paisley concert as he is country when he’s country and then the demon guitar slinger inside takes him off on a tangent. I’d prefer if he stuck to my style of country but that might be bloody boring and we would have nothing to crib about. Let’s just say the Brad Paisley is unique and an absolute gentleman who deserves to be allowed to tote his guitar in whatever way he like as long as he keeps coming back and blowing the crowds away.

Day three started with for me with Dan + Shay an act who belong on a pop, not country stage. They rapped their way through a set of unremarkable songs that left me hugely unimpressed. They were followed by Hunter Hayes, who somehow reminded me of Marty McFly in Back To The Future as he followed his guitar all across the stage like a young Chuck Berry. His undoubted instrumental skill and positive songwriting performance leaned towards Brad Paisley but without much country pedigree, but he finished his set with a heartfelt thanks to the world of country music which he said had given him the home that he had been unable to find in any other genre. This young fella is a handsome and talented lad who I think will mature into a Chris Young/Eric Church type singer songwriter as he moves ahead.

Darius Rucker is the former Hootie and the Blowfish frontman who has settled comfortably into country. He had the audience eating out of his hand from the first note as he chatted more to the audience than any previous acts. I was moving around too much as a photographer to manage to jot down the setlist but as Darius said what does it matter when a song is either good or bad? “Everybody loves a good song” he said “and this is a really good song” as he launched in Friends in Low Places to thunderous reaction from the crowd. Maybe his monitors weren’t too great but once or twice was a little off key. But the crowd just didn’t care as the standing ovation at the end showed. I reckon he can come back as often as he likes and will fill any venue in town. His set covered pop, funk, and country, and just like his most enjoyable Christmas album, he was a treat for my mature easy listening ears.

If you are a country fan in the true traditional sense of the word then to have C2C wind up with country royalty like Reba McEntire was a treat well worth waiting for. She came on stage in very tasteful boots, black leggings and a shimmery sequinned navy blue top and took us on a guided and chronological tour of her life from her earliest times with a doting cowboy dad right through to her current and very listenable twin CD set of gospel songs. Each song got a full down home intro as though she was having a one to one chat beside the fireside back home. There were plenty of visual back drops to support her performance. and the audience knew all the songs. The highlight for me was a duet with Jennifer Wrinkle, the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist on the huge hit Reba originally recorded with Linda Davis, Does He Love You, which just about tore the house down. Reba might have hit a bump in the road when she suggested a life-style change for the audience with her current single Back To God

Her set ran for well over an hour and she left the stage to an audience on its feet screaming for more. Just when it looked as if an encore was not forthcoming, the house lights dimmed and the screen lit up with the opening scene from one of her very early videos and at that stage on strode Reba as Fancy in a red mini, all rhinestones and tassels and a super look that sent most of the male hearts in the crowd heading to the cardiac critical zone. Reba certainly knows how to wow an audience and while she played as traditional as she needed to, her more recent offerings had soaring guitar breaks that were the equal of any of the earlier bands on the bill. A truly fitting finish to a strong festival. I fully enjoyed a weekend where the highs outweighed the lows; the increase in the number of acoustic instruments might signal a revival of more traditional country.

Review by Ronnie Norton

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This weekend of all things country is a very positive and progressive step in the country music calendar and has been running in Dublin since 2014. Blending the old with the new is always a worthy concept, even if it runs the risk of not pleasing everybody. Everyone will have certain favourites among artists due to play over such a weekend and the joy of it all is that over 72 hours, between London, Glasgow and Dublin each artist is given a wide exposure to big crowds and potential new fans.

Friday night in Dublin kicked off with Maren Morris, an up and coming new talent, who has been releasing music since she was barely a teenager. Her major label debut, Hero, was released last year to wide acclaim and she operates in the area of country-pop, with a nod to some hip hop/soul influence as well. She can certainly sing, as she displays in the quieter moments of a set that unfortunately drowned out much of her vocals with overly loud and booming beats and heavy bass. She plays her hits for the younger members of the audience who respond with great energy and sing along to I Could Use a Love Song, My Church (with Beyonce sample of Halo), Drunk Girls Don’t Cry, I Wish I Was, How It’s Done and Sugar which all serve to start C2C with a bang.

Next up is the wonderful Marty Stuart and his band, the Fabulous Superlatives comprised of top notch players Chris Scruggs on bass, Harry Stinson on drums and Kenny Vaughn on guitar. They proceed to tear up the venue with a set of tunes that display real premiership quality and musicianship of the highest order - a real band in other words! No gimmicks and no flash, just honest playing and talent. 

Miss Me When I’m Gone and The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’ Anymore kick off with the virtuoso guitar licks of Vaughan, a real highlight as he lifts the performance levels ever higher. I’m Tempted is followed by the old standard El Paso and Woody Guthrie’s Pretty Boy Floyd gets a special airing with the excellent vocals of drummer Harry Stinson. The Special, by Irvine T Rouse, is played on solo mandolin by Marty before he gives a terrific rendition of the Johnny Cash written 40 Shades of Green. Hillbilly Rock and Time Don’t Wait For Nobody close the set in real driving style with plenty of twanging Telecasters  mixed with a rhythm that calls to mind a mixture of Tom Petty meeting the Beatles. Marty Stuart has been around since the 1970s and has played with Johnny Cash as well as others in a long career that includes playing traditional country, bluegrass and rockabilly. He is country music royalty and worthy of greater attention.

Friday night finished with the Zac Brown Band who played an impressive 20-song set that includes a number of cover versions such as Baba O’Reilly and Bohemian Rhapsody. Both are performed with great confidence and are proof of the excellent musicianship among the band members. Whether these songs were included to highlight the wide scale of the band’s influences is not known, but they do take away from the focus on the band’s own songs and only served to disrupt the set.

Brown sings with a clear and strong voice that impresses the cheering crowd, who just can’t get enough. Chicken Fried, Homegrown, Free (which includes a tribute to Van Morrison with a section of Into The Mystic), Sweet Annie and Colder Weather are highlights of a long set as well as two new songs My Old Man and Real Thing. Zac Brown straddles a number of musical styles and includes some reggae-tinged tunes that add to the celebratory atmosphere of the night.

Sunday night Dan + Shay kicked off proceedings with a set that included plenty of energy and full-on country-pop. The two lead vocalists are easy to like with their boundless enthusiasm and smiling demeanours as they brought the Dublin crowd with them through a number of songs the younger audience members are happy to sing along with. 19 You & Me and Obsessed are two of the bigger hits and were received warmly. Shay is a strong singer with a soulful delivery and the singers also incorporated an element of rap into some songs. They were high energy, approaching lift off, as all band members bounded around the stage.

They are followed by music virtuoso Hunter Hayes who plays multiple instruments and has been on something of a fast-track for a number of years now. His band is very loud and the initial songs were drowned out by the distorted sound. On some of the quieter numbers he gets the chance to show that he really can hold a tune and is impressive with the quiet confidence of a  musician who knows what he is doing and where his career is going. I Want Crazy, Amen, Light Me Up and Yesterday’s Song are all well received and this set goes down very well.

Darius Rucker took to the stage with a quiet confidence born of years as a headliner and within minutes he has the crowd completely behind him as he glides across the stage, working his performance and urging his superb 6-piece band to perform at increasingly high levels. Multi-talented and playing a range of instruments, the band members all impress with their playing and dynamic support for what are excellent songs. The setlist of 17 songs is taken from his four solo releases, together with a few selections from a new release due later this year; plus some old Hootie & the Blowfish material, mixed with a couple of cover versions. Friends in Low Places and No Diggity are included plus a fine version of Purple Rain in tribute to all the music artists who died in 2016. It is old favourites such as Only Wanna Be With You, It Won’t Be Like This For Long, Lighter Up and True Believers that receive most attention as this talented performer brings home a show that had something to please just about everyone.

Reba McEntire has been releasing quality country music records since the 1970s and her status as the queen of country music can only be challenged by the likes of Dolly Parton. At this stage of her career she has more than justified her reputation as a performer of great confidence and her back-catalogue of work stands the test of time. She delves into her past decades of recording across a set of some 20 songs that include many fan favourites such as The Greatest Man I Never Knew, Whoever’s In New England, Little Rock, Is There Life Out There and many more.

Being a traditionalist Reba keeps the performance simple as she moves easily around the stage engaging with her 7-piece band and bringing fine performances from all. Her duet with band member and fiddle/mandolin/guitar player Jennifer Wrinkle on Does He Love You is a real moment where things soar; as is the cover version of the Kelly Clarkson song Because Of You. Her voice is still sweetly strong and full of powerful restraint as she glides through a medley of old songs like You’re No Good/ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter/ Walk On/ I’d Rather Ride Around With You.

Her encore is the Bobbie Gentry penned Fancy and Reba re-appears in a resplendent red dress which has the crowd cheering for more, long after the stage has been vacated by this legendary artist. The weekend has been another success for the organisers and the artists involved have no doubt all made new friends as well as reacquainting themselves with many old ones too. The feast of music is something to just dive into as normal lives and routines are put on hold over 72 hours. The old mixed with the new; the tried and tested wrestled with the fresh and a look into the future of where country music might just be going. 

Like one of those old, legendary trains of past country songs, the carriages are full and the route is there for all to enjoy. Time can be a speeding bullet train or a slow ride to a familiar destination. Either way, the journey lies ahead and we all benefit from the experience. 

Review by Paul McGee

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Marty Stuart C2C Friday 

The undoubted highlight for me looking at the 2107 C2C bill was the inclusion of Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives. This year’s line-up was again slanted towards the big names and upcoming chart chasers from the major labels. This makes a lot of sense in commercial terms, but it could also mean a lost opportunity if there is no move to introduce both broader and more traditional aspects of the music.

Stuart and his band - Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson and Chris Scruggs - were both superlative and indeed fabulous. Dressed to impress in tailored black Manuel for Marty and pale blue rhinestone suits for the band, they cut fine figures on stage. “Good evening good people of Dublin” was Stuart’s introduction to a set that included old favourites, songs and instrumentals from their new Way Out West album and some essential covers.

What was immediately apparent from the get-go was the tightness and ease with which this quartet played. The musicianship and harmonies were a delight and the sound was crystal clear, thanks to long time sound person Mick Conley manning the desk. Conley not only does the band’s live sound but also records, mixes and masters their studio recordings, and here he gave the audience the best sound of the weekend.

Aside from the songs there were Marty’s stories, which range from playing with Johnny Cash and (separately) Lester Flatt to meeting Ervin T Rouse, the man who wrote Orange Blossom Special, a song Rouse just called “The Special,” Stuart then gave a solo mandolin masterclass on his rendition of the song. All of the Fabulous Superlatives are steeped in the tradition and history of country music, but they also take it to new and exciting places. The 12 string Rickenbacker Vaughan used on the final song, Time Don’t Wait, proved that they could as easily reference the Byrds as they could the sounds of Bakersfield or Nashville. Stuart told us that Dublin was the surf music capital of the world - not so sure about that - but at that moment their guitar instrumental Mojave made it true. 

“I’ve come here to have some fun” Stuart told us, adding ruefully as he took a swig from a bottle, he was only “drinking water.” Fun was indeed had by all, including all three members of the band who got individual showcases; “Cousin Kenny” Vaughan played and sang Country Music Got A Hold On Me and Hot Like That, while “Handsome Harry” Stinson’s version of Woodie Guthrie’s Pretty Boy Floyd - with an amazingly long held note on the word Oklahoma - brought him a round of applause and “Professor of Cool” Chris Scruggs sang Dark Bird

The songs that immediately hit home for long-time fans were Hillbilly Rock, The Whiskey Ain’t Working and Tempted, all given a fresh lease of life by the new line-up and sounding as good as ever. The covers included El Paso which Stuart said they’d agreed to do as a tribute when session hero Grady Martin, who played on the original, was being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, before realising that it was not such an easy song to perform with 468 words and myriad chord changes. Nothing to worry about here as they did indeed do the song justice. 

Their Johnny Cash song choice for Ireland was an appropriate 40 Shades Of Green, a song that can sound cheesy in cabaret hands but here they got the spirit of the song just right. On different numbers they switched between acoustic instruments and twin Telecasters. Stuart played the legendary Clarence White’s guitar, illustrating that it couldn’t be in better hands. It is eight years since Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives played the Helix in Dublin and it can only be hoped that there will be less of a gap between this and their next visit, and that the audience, who responded enthusiastically to the music, will be there in force. 

Review by Stephen Rapid

C2C Live photography by Ronnie Norton

Lonesome Highway would like to thank PR James Cunningham who made everything easy, MCD’s front of house staff who were both accommodating and helpful and record labels Hump Head, Sony and Universal Music who facilitated us all with interviews.

Tuesday
Mar142017

Hamell On Trial @ Whelan’s - 9th March 2017.

The legendary Woody Guthrie performed with the slogan "This machine kills fascists" displayed on his guitar and he was a major influence on many songwriters over the years.

Will there will ever be an artist like him in today’s world; one that follows their muse in breaking through the accepted norms? England produced Billy Bragg who has been a very politically charged musician over his career and has fought against social injustice. He often spoke of his passion for the principles that Woody Guthrie stood for.

However, there is also an American equivalent, someone who is hiding in plain sight and has been delivering important messages for the last 20 years…

Tonight, I am reacquainted with the performance phenomenon that is Hamell On Trial.

It has been quite a few years since I last encountered this force of nature in a live setting and I was blown away by his passion and energy and his razor sharp wit. He also displays a verbal dexterity that is quite something to witness when he is riffing on a theme and his laser precision intelligence is aimed at many deserving targets.

He is a wordsmith, street-poet, a rebel with a cause who questions the basis upon which society works and the values that are held dear within the ranks of conventional thinking and Government spin. Nothing is safe from this punk poet. He is a country-rap artist and an urban guerrilla who stands tall against all that is hypocritical in the world.

Drawing from his twelve previous releases and debuting songs from an upcoming release, Tackle Box, we are given a 2-hour set that is full-on, with unrelting energy and a commitment to lift the audience into a new space, despite suffering from severe back pain; something he returns to at regular intervals and jokes around. Indeed, his penchant for joke telling is an integral part of the performance and his stories and observations from a life spent in the trenches are often hilarious. We get songs about divorce (his own), drugs, parenting, gun violence, the passage of youth, the media, hate crimes, religion, dead-end day jobs, old age, whores and Politics - with plenty of Trump references throughout.

Finishing with the iconic Johnny Cash song Folsom Prison Blues, Ed Hamell plays with rapid and powerful strumming on his heavily amplified Gibson acoustic guitar, while bringing all the pieces together into a statement of being your own man and living life to the max.

He has a tattoo that reads ‘The Chord is Mightier Than the Sword’ which encapsulates the Woody Guthrie stance and although the performance on guitar is impressive, dare I suggest that it is his poetic bullets that truly hit the mark.

Also on the bill, as support, was the ever-impressive Clive Barnes who joked about his 18 years of remaining anonymous in the music industry despite playing close on 200 gigs a year. The five song set displays his great talent on slide and acoustic guitar and he is a player with some serious licks who also sings like an old bluesman from the deep South. Always a joy to hear and one of our premier Irish musicians. He has a new CD, his sixth, to be released soon and is well worth tracking down.

Review and photograph by Paul McGee

Monday
Mar062017

Darrell Scott @ Civic Theatre Tallaght - March 4th 2017

Making his return to Dublin as a solo artist for the first time in awhile Darrell Scott takes to the stage at 8pm before an attentive and appreciative audience. Other than a quick “thank you very much” Scott played a opening selection of songs that display his guitar playing skills as well as his distinctive voice and well-written songs. However after the first three songs he moves to the piano and delivers the first of several stories about the songs or life in general. One such antidote was that quite often that songs come from a place for many writers feel is “beyond our tool set.” Looking Glass is a song that deals with that magical process “Feels like someone’s looking over my shoulder, I turn around and no one’s there.” He also tells us of his love for traditional country music, something he heard to the exclusion of any other music growing up. His father played this music in the cab of his truck and was a Hank Williams and Johnny Cash man, while his mother’s preference was for Marty Robbins and Tammy Wynette. They met however in a shared love for Merle Haggard.

Scott didn’t move to Nashville himself for quite some time “until I got my shite together.” Country music was about dark cheating and drinking songs; something he mused had almost disappeared from today’s mainstream country music. Those older songs were not Margaritaville, red cup or tail gate party songs but hard living hard drinking tales. One of his own songs Too Close For Comfort dealt with the topic and he felt that another country themed song was Waiting For The Clothes To Get Clean. The latter comes from his most recent album Couchville Sessions. A collection of songs from which he also included Down To The River. A song that was the first track on the album.

Given the way people listen music these days he felt he needed to put one of the strongest songs first. Statistics show how each song on an album in order of track placing gets less and less play. Scott had envisioned using Guy Clark for the final coda of this song when he recorded the song he had left space at the end of the song for this recitation. He told us how he had gone out to Clark’s home to record his voice and after couple of hours saw Clark hit a place where they both knew he had found his moment. That was the piece he used.

Scott hasn’t used a set list for a long time preferring to gauge the audience on the night and play the songs he feels fit best. Tonight he had a number of requests and a couple of these he played such as Rod McKuen’s Jean at the piano with a set of hand-written lyrics before him. He also played the traditional Wayfaring Pilgrim on the piano - a song he'd featured to great effect on his Live In NC album.

Another couple of highlights in an engaging set were his versions of Johnny Cash’s I Still Miss Someone and Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes oft-covered but still resonant Satisfied Mind. A song he informed us that he had chosen as his spotlight song in the live set with Robert Plant’s Band of Joy as it seem to fit better than any of his own songs. Scott clear appreciates the songs of others as his set is peppered with such choices. Another was his version of Townes Van Zandt’s Loretta; also a song taken from his Couchville Sessions collection. 

The audience was largely silent throughout the set other than to applaud the songs at their finish. The sound was crystal clear for which Scott thanked the sound engineer as he also did the audience for coming out. There was humour inherent in the patter too with Scott apologising for the recent election as well as for the green beer and hats that are often associated with St. Patrick’s Day in America. He was going to be in Ireland for our festive day he explained as after his series of Irish dates he would be involved with a song writing masterclass.

From my personal perspective I preferred the second set to the first as he seemed to get into his stride and I simply prefered the song choices. Everybody there, familiar with his albums and songs, would have had a favourite and given his catalogue it is likely that some personal favourites were not played. This didn’t detract though from the obvious enjoyment that both sides of the stage got from the evening. He told us that following the last song there would be no encore as the final song would say it all. If we liked the show, he quipped, we should tell friends and if we didn’t we should keep it to ourselves. The word is out.

Review by Stephen Rapid  Photogrph by Ronnie Norton

Thursday
Mar022017

Drive By Truckers @ Vicar Street - February 28th 2017.

Vicar Street sees the welcome return to Ireland of this much-loved band who have been visiting these shores on a regular basis over their career. Formed in 1996 and with 12 studio releases to their name, Drive By Truckers deliver a show that is as rousing and vibrant as any since they first formed. Despite a number of rotating musicians and personnel changes over the years, the creative axis of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley has remained firmly front and centre when it comes to driving this uncompromising collective ever-forward.

Tonight, we are treated to over 2-hours of energetic and passionate performance from Hood and Cooley, together with the superb playing talents of Jay Gonzalez (Keys/Guitar), Brad Morgan (Drums) and Matt Patton (Bass). The band members are perfectly in tune with each and every direction that the 24-song set list takes throughout the evening.

Starting with the new record and Ever South, which mentions Irish emigration to America, the band could do no wrong as they spun the enthusiastic crowd into something of a frenzy. Old favourites were interlaced across the newer songs in order to keep the momentum building and the sonic attack of three guitars was quite something to witness.

It can sometimes be just a bit too much in terms of the sound quality and the vocals certainly suffered on certain songs as a result. However, take nothing away from the overall energy in the room and the cathartic quality of songs such as Puttin’ People On The Moon, Zip City, Sinkhole, The Living Bubba and Women Without Whiskey kept the crowd singing in unison and punching the air.

The latest release, American Band, gets plenty of attention with the inclusion of Ramon Casiano, Surrender Under Protest, Darkened Flags On The Cusp Of Dawn and others. In fact, the band revisit seven of their previous albums across the evening and the performance of all five musicians is a real treat to experience; players at the very top of their collective game.

No doubt there were fan favourites that were not given an airing but with the body of work this band has produced, that seems to be inevitable. The pace was unrelenting and the excellent song-writing talents of Cooley and Hood really stand strong against any of their peers.

Finishing with a rousing version of Neil Young’s Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World, the Drive By Truckers leave the stage to prolonged applause and the hope that they return again soon – perhaps to one of our Summer Festivals (here’s hoping).   

Also worthy of a mention are opening act Eyelids. Considered to be one of the finest recent bands to come out of Portland Oregon, they are fronted by John Meon (Decemberists) and Chris Slusarenko (Guided By Voices) and their energetic forty five minute power pop set is the perfect warm up for what is to follow.

Review by Paul McGee  Photograph by Declan Culliton

Sunday
Feb122017

Tom Robinson/Gerry Diver/Raphael Doyle/Louis Doyle @ Whelan’s 30th January 2017

Raphael Doyle has been a musician since the early 70’s and a friend of Tom Robinson. They initially played together in a band called Café Society but their paths took different directions over subsequent years.

In 2016, Raphael was diagnosed with motor neuron disease and his son Louis, also a musician, convinced his Dad to write and record a selection of songs that have just been released on Never Closer. Father and Son teamed up with Tom Robinson and award winning producer Gerry Diver to finish and record the CD, which forms the main body of the performance tonight.

This joint project has produced an album they should all be justifiably proud of and the live performance in Whelan’s, while poignant, Is also very uplifting and full of happy moments.

Gerry Diver plays fiddle, mandolin and flute with superb craft as he fills out the song arrangements in both a subtle and understated fashion. Tom Robinson adds guitar and vocal and brings great colour to the performance with his confident stage presence and larger-than-life persona.  

Louis is a very good guitar player and has a fine voice, something that is highlighted later in the evening when he delivers a solo performance of one of his own compositions.

Having opened the evening with an acoustic set of audience favourites [including Glad To Be Gay, War Baby and Up Against the Wall], Tom Robinson played a couple of songs from his excellent new album, Only the Now, before joining Raphael, Gerry and Louis to play songs from Never Closer.

The performance of songs like The Touch of Our Hands; Feet on the Floor; Live the Game and We’ll All Get Together Again point to the excellent song-writing talent and flair for observation that Raphael has brought to the project.

There are 2 covers with Robbie Robertson’s The Shape I’m In and Bob Dylan’s Dream but it is the dedication to his wife that takes centre spot as Raphael sings Rose with a tenderness and true love that is quite moving.

The 8-minute poem I Come From Ireland is uncomfortably honest in reminiscing on a life lived and of chances missed; “nobody’s fault but mine” is how Raphael summarises at various points during the delivery.

A heart-felt night of poetry and song delivered with real bravery and honesty. Raphael Doyle is going forward with all the courage he can muster and it is memories like tonight that will give him the strength to do so. 

Review by Paul McGee  Photigraph by Donna McGee