Seamus Fogarty @ The Harbour Bar, Bray - 23rd January 2019

On his first visit to Bray, Seamus Fogarty accompanied by Emma Smith on violin, kick started The Harbour Bar Annual Banjo & Bovril Festival in fine style. Admitting that ‘he was too tight’ to bring his banjo across from London together with his guitar and Emma’s violin’, he carried on regardless, entertaining the enthusiastic audience for the next eighty minutes. Followers of Fogarty will be quite aware that no two shows from the Mayo man are ever alike, even if much of the setlist is similar. Performing as a duo with Emma Smith on violin, the set features the customary chat, delightful deliveries both vocally and instrumentally, audience participation and just to add a bit of spice, some broken strings. You may be forgiven for assuming that musicians travel with spare strings in their first aid kit, in a similar manner that motorist seldom leave home without a spare tyre. Not always the case, as Smith explains at the onset, panic stations were setting in when she broke a string during sound check, only to be rescued by a local who was dispatched to an outlet nearby to procure a replacement and save the day. Not to be outdone, Fogarty manages to suffer a similar fate closing the set and gallantly performs the evenings encore minus a string.

Drawing in the main from his critically acclaimed 2017 release, The Curious Hand, we hear of an unspectacular ‘phone in’ interview on the Joe Duffy Show – his highlight of 2018 we’re told, tongue in cheek – where the presenter was more interested in Fogarty’s research of 250 year old giant Irishman Charles Byrne than he was of his song Short Ballad For A Long Man, inspired by Fogarty’s visit to The Hunterian Museum in London and his opening song in tonight’s show.

A resident in London nowadays, his worldly travels feature in much of his song writing, none more than Mexico, performed this evening with Fogarty explaining the songs origin. While working for an unappreciative building contractor in Boston while living in The States, he finally threw his shovel out of the pram when promised bonuses failed to materialise, telling his boss he was jacking in the job and fecking off to Mexico. The intended journey only reached San Francisco, where rather than continue his travels, he wrote the song instead! The tale is typical of the evenings light hearted banter, combined with some beautiful ballads, elegantly delivered both vocally and musically by Fogarty and Smith. Carlow Town has become his party piece and his yarn of waking up during mass at Carlow Cathedral after a night out on the town is hilarious, regardless of how often you’ve heard it. It’s also invariably accompanied by a dance routine which Fogarty consistently manages to mistime, tonight is no exception, with Smith’s immaculate rendition at least five seconds ahead of her less than co-ordinated partner. 

A further tale follows of a spectacular night in Kerry, trading songs with John Martyn, only for a worst for wear Martyn having no recollection of the encounter the following day!  Fogarty seeks assistance from the audience to perform ‘the talking part’ on his albums title song The Curious Hand. An attendee named Dominic, duly obliges, recounting his tale of a Carlow evening stopover to add the required atmosphere to the song. Included in the set also are Tommy The Cat, Heels Over Head, Van Gogh’s Ear and a new song introduced as ‘new, because we were to lazy to rehearse it!’.

A Seamus Fogarty show guarantees a smile from ear to ear from start to finish, together with stellar tales delivered by an artist quite unique in the alternative folk world.  I’m reminded of the old adage that ‘there’s no show like a (Joe) Dolan show’, which in the modern folk music world should read ‘there’s no show like a Foggy Show!

Review and photograph by Declan Culliton