Sam Baker @ The Seamus Ennis Arts Centre. The Naul - Sat 3rd Feb 2018.

The Seamus Ennis Arts Centre (SEAC) is located at the Naul in North County Dublin and serves the local community well in providing an eclectic mix of live performances, cultural events, exhibitions, sessions, workshops and classes weekly. The room for tonight’s gig has an intimate feel and the small capacity sees few empty seats as Sam Baker makes a welcome return to the Centre.

It has been 5 years since his last visit but the warmth and genuine affection with which he is greeted is testament to his enduring popularity on these shores. His road travelled has been littered with challenges and obstacles to be overcome and in truth many would not have made it through with the same sense of perspective and thoughtful reflection.

His back story has long been the subject of media attention and the manner in which he survived a terrorist bomb in Peru while touring the country. The injuries he suffered would have stopped many in their tracks but his enduring will to move beyond and make something of his life drove Baker to re-learn much of the coping skills of life, plus the ability to play guitar and write songs of beautiful, heart-breakingly honest treatises on life, love and our human condition. His story songs are sharp dissections of everyman and the daily struggles we all face in our lives. Many of his observations are ground in personal experience but his empathy with people and his kindness always shine through to point the way on our spiritual journeys into tomorrow.

Playing electric guitar and with the sensitive and sublime drumming skills of Mike Meadows for accompaniment, we are given two separate sets in which Sam Baker visits all five of his releases to give a very engaging performance across the 20 songs chosen on the night. He has an endearing charm onstage and his funny quips and ramblings on various subjects are greeted with much laughter and smiles among the audience. He even takes a moment to stop the gig in order to sing Happy Birthday to his good friend and colleague Mike Meadows, who we learn is a producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, classically trained and much sought after as a session player by a large number of artists.

A couple of cover versions are included by John Stewart (Some Kind Of Love) and Paul Simon (Duncan) in addition to firm favourites like Waves, Broken Fingers, Boxes, Iron, Slots, Isn’t Love Great and Odessa. His latest release is well received and the title track, Land Of Doubt is a poignant look at the state of affairs in America currently.

However, the abiding theme throughout the night is one of forgiveness and no little grace as Sam Baker and Mike Meadows weave around each other with an ease and freedom that brings these poignant tales to real life.  There is a lasting aura of emotion in the room when the gig concludes with the sweet optimism of Go In Peace. 

Go in peace, go in kindness

Go in love, go in faith

Leave the day, the day behind us

Day is done, go in grace

We leave with a sense of having witnessed something fragile and beautiful in the magic created by such sensitive playing and heartfelt performance. 

Review by Paul McGee   Photography by Kaethe Burt-O'Dea