Greg Brown @ Whelan's - Thurs 5th Feb 2015.

It is not very often that the term "Living Legend' is used in the true sense. Many have been tagged with such a label in the past and few have either deserved the title, or indeed lived up to the billing. However, if there was ever a musician, singer, songwriter who was worthy of the crown then it would have to be Greg Brown.

A veteran of the music scene since 1974, when his fledgling first release saw light, this raconteur and troubadour has been responsible for some of the most insightful writing over the last five decades of independent music.

Call him folk, call him country, call him a blues musician - call him what you will. This artist has endured at the cutting edge of an industry that is not big on longevity, producing close to 30 releases across 40 years of active service.

Playing his first gig in Ireland after all this time is both a frustration and a joy. Frustration that for so many years we have been deprived of seeing Greg Brown perform here in a live setting and joy at the fact that he finally showed up, with guitar and fishing hat, to play two sets of wonderful songs.

He revisits his extensive back catalogue without much prompting and this goes a long way to satisfying the most strident of fans who have come to hear a personal favourite.

We are taken back to 1981 with Out in the Country while In the Dark With You dates to 1985. The Cheapest Kind (1988) is introduced with memories and stories of family and Band of Gold (1990), Spring Wind (1992), The Poet Game (1994) and Brand New 64 Dodge (1994) are all given an airing.

His guitar playing is both effortless and loose, with a seamless style that has always placed Greg Brown above the majority of performers and song-writers. The audience are hushed and display a reverential awe as he reflects on aspects of his life and the world in which we find our place.

In the Dark With You (1985) and Hey Baby Hey (1996) are played plus a stirring version of Down at the Mill also gets a rare outing. His most recent  release Hymns to What is Left is on sale at the gig and he gives us four songs from it that sit comfortably alongside the previous body of work with one song, Fatboy Blues, highlighting a wicked sense of humour and an insight into the human condition. Bones Bones, Besham's Bokerie and I Could Just Cry all show that the true poet continues to beat in a heart that displays both a humanity and humility in all that is communicated.

We are treated to cover versions of Vigilante Man (Woody Guthrie) and Not Dark Yet (Bob Dylan) - a vibrant version of Like a Dog, complete with howling, and an encore of Jesus & Elvis, a clever song that was originally released back in 1994.

Greg Brown sings during the song Why Do You Even Say That?  "I ain't some fish you caught, can't keep me on a string..."  This just about sums up the true nature of the man; an old wisdom, much insight and a grizzly bear voice that makes you believe every word he sings.

During the gig Greg Brown states that he was never really a fan of the sensitive songwriter folk. However, his career and his releases have displayed the essence of sensitivity in his writing. What an absolute pleasure to be there.

Review and photograph by Paul McGee