Take a bunch of musicians outside the headlight glare of the media and put them together on a small stage in intimate surroundings; well, you just might stand a chance of some magic happening ... Such was the case on this night of great musicianship, storytelling, variety and just plain ole’ craic.
Bouncing increasingly off each other’s talents as they settled into the pace of things, the writing styles and the lyrical perspective of each song-writer comes to the fore and gives a balance to the overall tone of the evening, which sees 2 hours of swapping songs fly by in what seems like half that time.
Buddy Mondlock is a frequent visitor to these shores and has played many venues across our fair land over the years; tonight, he is joined by the excellent Mike Lindauer on 5-string fretless bass, an instrument that really sings in the hands of this very accomplished musician.
On the Irish side of the stage are Nick Kelly, talented songwriter and filmmaker, not seen in public very much these days but giving a timely reminder of the enduring talent that gave him success in the Fat Lady Sings and subsequently as a solo artist.
Sean Millar is the final songwriter on display tonight and his friendship with Nick over the years has seen him also develop as a singer-songwriter, playwright and poet. Sean was known by the name of Doctor Millar, and both he and Nick were media darlings in the 1980’s who wrote individual, idiosyncratic songs from a finely-honed creative perspective. Sean is joined by his daughter Faith on harmony vocals for the evening and her pure vocal is a sweet counter-balance to the four male voices that differ in delivery and tone.
I counted somewhere in the region of 25 songs shared across the guitars and microphones, including a solo debut for Faith when she delivered a lovely version of Through the Morning, Through the Night (Alison Krauss) -a very appropriate choice!
Buddy is such a strong storyteller and his popular body of work endures over the years. Tonight, we are given some new songs to whet the appetite for a new release and both Filament and Come Back First sit nicely into his set of songs which also include fine renditions of Let Me Go, Break the Cup, The Ugly One, The Dark (co-written with Guy Clark), No Choice and a final sing-along encore of I Count You My Friend. His high pitch vocal delivery gels comfortably with his quietly impressive rhythmic guitar playing and the superb touches added by Mike Lindauer really help to elevate the songs to a higher plane.
Nick Kelly is very personable onstage and smiles easily. His stories are always told with due respect to other creative sources and his joy at being in a live environment is plain for all to see. We are given a taste of Baby, a song from the film, The Drummer And The Keeper, due for release in 2017. He talks about placing objects into songs instead of the usual subject-matter around our emotions and then proceeds to deliver a very clever discourse on washing machines with the song Small Loads. Tennis legend Arthur Ashe is celebrated in a song of the same name while Infrastructure is also included from his recording days as Alien Envoy.
Holy Show revisits his second solo release, Running Dog. Sam And Andre is particularly poignant as it reflects on the friendship between Samuel Beckett and Andre the Giant, a most unlikely topic but one that is steeped in gentle understanding of fragility and love. Republic is a really strong song from the 1997 release Between Trapezes and performed with real passion. World Exploding Touch from the Fat Lady Sings release Jonhson (1993) also sounds fresh and born-again.
Sean Millar has released six solo records over the last twenty years but his influence in Irish music circles runs much deeper than this output. He describes himself as a theatre-maker and as a composer he has gained international acclaim for his theatre show Silver Stars and his work on BrokenTalkers The Blue Boy which have both toured the world.
Tonight we are treated to songs with titles that challenge the graphic designers of the music business, such as I’ve Never Loved Somebody This Much Before In My Life, Hard Years In The Big City, All I Want Is Your Love Girl, Tarzan’s Ambition and Unnatural Bleeder (not just a boxing metaphor) … One song is a particular highlight, Happy Can Be, and has the attentive audience, along with his fellow musicians giggling away to the clever lyric and up-tempo arrangement.
As an experiment, musicians in the round does not always work but when the chemistry is right then the song-swapping and story-telling are a joy to witness. Everyone certainly left the venue smiling broadly and hoping for similar nights of celebrating the creative process.
Review by Paul McGee
Photograph by Vincent Lennon