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Review: Irish Sea Sessions/Philharmonic Hall

History was made on a frenzied Friday night. Lew Baxter was among the witnesses

Published on November 9th 2010.

Review: Irish Sea Sessions/Philharmonic Hall
WE’D been treated to about 20 minutes of scorching traditional Irish music and a couple of heartfelt songs, including the Gaelic ‘Fear a Bhata’ by Dublin’s Niamh Parsons, which were already turning the evening feral.

Then, as the ten players and four singers launched into the chorus of that shanty favourite, Yaller Girls, my mate muttered that it was about time they’d got stuck into the maritime stuff.

I swear people were shedding tears of joy in that audience - while the hollers and whoops accompanied ferociously played traditional tunes that triggered both legs to jiggle uncontrollably, and forced hundreds of feet to tap like a flock of manic woodpeckers

Later he confessed that he misjudged the emphasis of the title “Irish Sea Sessions”, thinking ships and saucy, swaggering sailors, as opposed to melodious links across the water to the Emerald Isle, which was the inaugural thrash for a spectacular gathering of singers, storytellers and musicians.

Those who packed the Philharmonic Hall for this truly trail-blazing gig will preen for years to come that they were at the first of the “Sessions”, which will surely become a regular feature of the Liverpool Irish Festival, and maybe elsewhere.

The collaboration was the vision of the Phil’s Simon Glinn, the mainstay of Liverpool’s celebration of the city’s Irish heritage, now in its eighth year. In truth, it is not a new concept with Glasgow’s Celtic Connections featuring such line-ups; and the ceilidh mood could have been lifted from raucous nights in Dublin’s Brazen Head pub or Liverpool’s once equally anarchic Atlantic on the Dock Road.

But it was still a stonker of an idea. It was, I mused, rather opportune that the Liverpool Confidential editor had come upon this gig at the last minute, as the publicity for the festival itself was like a leprechaun - fanciful and mostly hidden.

In a concert hall setting - perhaps a risky option for such a riotous assembly - we had the emotional delivery of balladeers like Liverpool’s Lizzie Nunnery - an award-winning playwright who can also pen songs of raw energy such as England Loves A Poor Boy With A Gun – and Ian Prowse, front man for Amsterdam, whose Does This Train Stop on Merseyside? kicked off this grand tribute to Liverpool Irish bonds.

The link between the singers and solo instrumentalists, who individually can set the seat of your pants on fire, was the bassist Bernard O’Neill whose musical pedigree includes a role as musical director for Rolf Harris.

Singer Damien Dempsey’s compositions are incandescent with social polemic as befits a man from Dublin’s Northside, while Alan Burke has a repertoire of Gaelic and contemporary songs that almost ranks alongside those of Niamh Parsons, rightly hailed as one of the inspirational singers of Irish music.

Later - and while clutches of bewitched punters were still howling for more inside - we spied her bowling along to an after show party at the Hope Street Hotel and exchanged a few pleasantries in the street, ending in a sycophantic senior moment with me revealing that I had several of her records. With a cheery wave and a hearty chuckle, she said that she didn’t mind; I could keep them, she had plenty.

The show was a melange of similar banter, rattling roaring jigs and reels and songs such as Bootle born Stan Kelly’s I Wish I Was Back in Liverpool - which, years back, used to lift the ceilings in the back room of Ye Cracke - along with the tongue tripping Rocky Road to Dublin.

I swear people were shedding tears of joy in that audience - while the hollers and whoops accompanied ferociously played traditional tunes that triggered both legs to jiggle uncontrollably, and forced hundreds of feet to tap like a flock of manic woodpeckers.

There were quieter moments that embraced sheer pleasure as Northern Ireland flautist Eimear McGeown hushed the furies and then lifted our spirits once again by dueting with Liverpool’s very own ‘pied piper’, Terry Coyne, who, as a former member of Garva and along with his family, is the essence of the city’s Irish traditional music scene.

And even the bodhran playing of Gino Lupari had a soothing effect, although he can shift up four or five gears like the rest of them when required.

They were complemented by four other musicians in whose wake comets might trail: the astonishing Uilleann piper Becky Taylor - one of a handful of women exponents of the Irish pipes that historically lulled sheep to slumber - fired the blood to fever pitch as she joined with pianist and button accordion genius David Munnelly, forging a remarkable alliance with the fiery accordion of Kerry’s Collette O’Leary, while Carlene Anglim’s fiddle danced fine skittering tunes with them all.

Frankly, the pace and power was exhausting for the audience, never mind the performers and the penultimate number was a relentless instrumental that drove the audience to its feet on a journey that picked up a speed and frenzy that was literally breathtaking.

It was just as well - for those with weak tickers - that the evening calmed down and ended with the traditional sailors’ lament, The Leaving of Liverpool, although some folk were again awash with tears. It was actually a session and a half. Fair play to ye all.

15/10 (honest).

* The Liverpool Irish Festival continues until Sunday October 31st.

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9 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousOctober 25th 2010.

I thought Graham Dunne did a very fine job on guitar too - but thanks for mentioning thirteen of the fourteen people who were on that stage.

EDITORIAL: We forgot to mention in all the excitement that "Niamh Parsons brought along to the session the young Dublin guitarist Graham Dunne. who is in her band and is known for his sensitivity of touch as an accompanist and has flying fingers as a soloist."

Apologies. That do you?

Steve WaterhouseOctober 25th 2010.

Awesome, Brlliant Gig.

AnonymousOctober 25th 2010.

Lot of thought put into that one eh?

Kerry GoldOctober 25th 2010.

What a great review of a stunning performance. I was in the audience and too felt that I was at something really special. Well done to all involved and can't wait for next year!!

Niamh ParsonsOctober 25th 2010.

Actually I didn't 'bring along' Graham Dunne - he was invited as an excellent solid guitarist who would be the 'glue' for the sessions, with both songs and tunes - he's not 'in' my band - he is the only band member. Such a shame he did not get a mention but I suspect it's because he is obscured in the photograph and there for he was forgotten.

Angie - the EdOctober 25th 2010.

Hello, I think the difficulty with all big gigs like these is that come the review there are so many people involved that it can become less of an entertaining appraisal of the overall event, and more of a list of namechecks, which the reader can get bogged down in. But it is clear from the review that the critic enjoyed every aspect of the performance.

Ironically, Mr Dunne has now had more of a mention than anybody else!

If any of the other 13 performers wish take issue with that fact, please be advised we are all now having a a lie down in a locked room.

AnonymousOctober 25th 2010.

Confidential, I would love to have seen what the reaction would have been like if you'd slagged this event off! Get over yourself people

Girder wrote Faust and Joist wrote UlyssesOctober 25th 2010.

Sounds a lot better than the "Celebration" of Irish culture I was taken to see some years ago at the Phil. Dana was top of the bill singing All Kinds Of Everything. That was enough but and they had an Irish Comic from TVs The Comedians as compere, who churned out all the usual Paddy Gags,and although many laughed, it also caused some people to walk out or complain afterwards. Totally wrong. Thank goodness we have moved on from those days. (Although I have never forgiven that Michael Flately bloke for nicking my idea for a North West of England Dancing show, Ribbledance)

The Real AnonymousOctober 25th 2010.

'Anonymous' said "Get over yourself people".

What's that supposed to mean?

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