The Music Network @ the Sugar Club - January 15th 2015

Maura O’Connell, Karan Casey, Martin Tourish & Ed Boyd kick off a series of 11 dates at a packed Sugar Club, where an enthusiastic audience come to celebrate the essence of the Music Network in Ireland – Making Live Music Happen.

With performers of this quality we are guaranteed an evening of deeply rich music and singing and we are not disappointed with the results.

Maura O’Connell is a frequent visitor to her native Ireland but it has been some time since she took to the stage and performed. Sharing the spotlight with the richly talented Karan Casey, they make for a compelling duo and are ably assisted by both Ed Boyd (guitars) and Martin Tourish (Accordion).

Martin is currently a member of Altan in addition to being a composer and producer. Ed plays in Lúnasa and is in great demand on the European Folk circuit. Together, the two musicians provide the perfect backdrop for both Karan and Maura, who blend their voices in beautiful harmony.

All the more impressive when we learn that the four artists have not performed together live before and with only limited rehearsal time; they deliver a two hour performance filled with charm and warmth.

The Sugar Club is the ideal venue for nights like this with the intimate atmosphere perfectly in unison with the individual performers, whether performing a number solo or interacting as a group.

We are treated to Summer Fly and Shades of Gloria as the music warms up the audience on a cold and windy evening. Karen sings Lovely Annie with all the subtle grace that her voice delivers and we are then given a couple of instrumental tunes featuring a piece from Martin’s recent solo release Under a Red Sky Night.

Maura has a lovely tone to her vocals and is the focal point of the performance with her great charm and witty comments. She puts everyone at ease with her between song observations and stories and whether voices are raised in celebration, on the terrific Mick Milligan’s Ball, or in reflection, the superb Patty Griffin song Mary, a potent mix is present as these artists deliver a performance of the highest quality throughout.

The musical talents of both Ed Boyd on guitars and Martin Tourish on accordion are the perfect complement in filling the song spaces with much colour and gentle melody. They are joined for a few songs by Ciaran Tourish of Altan who adds fiddle and some of the interplay is simply breath-taking.

Maura sings a new Janis Ian song I’m Still Sanding, which is a fine way to end the first half of the show and after a short break we are back for more treats in the shape of Wayfaring Stranger, where Ed gets to channel his inner Johnny Cash. The Nanci Griffith classic Trouble in the Fields is sung with great insight and passion by Maura who speaks of our emigrants and the price to be paid as a Nation in building a future. Maura also sings from her Naked With Friends release, a solo voice raised in sympathy with the disappeared in various countries around the globe, Hay Una Mujer Desapercida.

Karen sings a duo of Irish songs, Aililiú Na Gamhna, proving to be a particular favourite. The Curra Road by Ger Wolfe gets an airing as does a Frank Hart song. Maura sings W.B.Yeats, Down By the Sally Gardens, in her own unique style and channels a wistful longing in her delivery.

It is indeed a true gift to be in the presence of sublime artists who become lost in the moment and the essence of the song. Never more so than the closing song by Jonell Mosser, The Blessing and the encore of As I Leave Behind Nédín with audience sing-along. Enriching and Inspiring.

Review by Paul McGee  Photography by Ronnie Norton