A Celebratory Night Of Songs And Stories from David Keenan, Harry Hoban and the Brothers Kane, Junior Brother, and Stephen Murphy. Hiding In The Corner: Pat Carty
Point of information: a couple of weeks before the show, I was approached and asked to act as MC for the night. Because of this I wasn’t in my usual mode of intense note taking concentration - I was running around in the background, trying desperately to think of something to say for the next introduction. Hence, this review may have some holes in it.
Tonight’s show, billed very much as a celebration, had sold out weeks in advance, which is a fair achievement for an artist at this level, without any real “product” to speak of. Let me put it this way, if you haven’t already heard of David Keenan, you will shortly, and you’ll be glad you did, but more of him later. There are three support acts, all chosen by David, and all working in a similar artistic space. Up first is poet Stephen Murphy, who managed to take the stage despite having to negotiate the back stairs in Whelan’s with the cast iron wheelbarrow he must have been employing to transport his massive, brass balls. How else can you explain his ability to hold an already full room – there had been a queue around the block before the doors opened – rapt with only his couplets as weapons? This spoken word stuff isn’t really my bag, but one can only admire the power inherent in work like ‘What Truth Is Peace?’ and ‘Ériu', during which Stephen is joined by Claire Maguire for a striking vocal. He finishes with ‘Before You Push The Chair’, the effect of which is emphasised by a slight tremor in his voice. It could be nerves in the face of this large crowd, or passionate self belief- either way, it works.
Hailing from Kerry originally, but now in Dublin, Junior Brother – one man, a battered guitar and his tambourine – has certainly not lost his accent. He sings in a voice that makes no concession to the conventional approach of knocking off corners to gain acceptance, and he is all the better for it. Parts of his set are marred by too much chat from the bar, but songs like ‘Castlebridge’ and ‘Names Of Things’ cut through. Seek out the video clip for ‘Hungover At Mass’, if only to see what Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ would have looked like on a budget of €1.50.
A band I’ve unfortunately missed until now are Harry Hoban and The Brothers Kane, although Keenan fans will be familiar with Harry himself as well as guitarist David Bellew, as they both play in David’s band. I’m not much luckier tonight, but I do catch their opening number, ‘To Attack Somebody Else’, which reminds me a bit of Mercury Rev, and their final song, the beautiful ‘Tyrannosaur’, which is their forthcoming single. They promise to work the festival season in the coming year, so I look forward to getting a proper look at them.
An aside here, a bit of history. Early enough last year, David’s manager Aidan got in touch, looking for publicity for a single release from his new charge, a name that I hadn’t heard before. I took one look at a picture of David Keenan, and swore silently. Not another young lad with an acoustic guitar, has Irish music not had enough of this messing? The curse of Glen and the Damiens – although just as we can’t blame Led Zep for hair metal, we can hardly lay all the blame at their doors. I, therefore, did my best to ignore it, but when I finally did hear ‘Cobwebs’, I was genuinely taken aback. There was something happening here – bits of Luke Kelly, the two Buckleys (Jeff & Tim), sean-nós, and Nick Cave. When I saw him support The Strypes some time later, it was a further revelation. But what really won me over was his performance at last year’s Electric Picnic. He was due to go on at about seven on Saturday evening on The Jerry Fish, one of the slightly smaller tented stages. It was absolutely pissing rain so the place was full, and one would have to presume that a fair proportion of the people were there to get out of the elements and may not have known who he was. He took the stage, alone at first, and won them all over almost instantly. I was hiding out at the side and could see the impression he was making on hardened industry types as well as the sheltering throng.
To an outbreak of adoration he opens with ‘Lawrence of Arcadia’, the lyrics of which identify him as “the last of the barstool philosophers”, locating that previously unknown common ground between Brendan Behan and Tim Buckley. He’s told me before that his grandmother used to read Behan to him, and it might even be true, but that hardly matters. If there’s some Dylan style reinvention going on then what harm? From the image he presents – a cross between a young Charlie Chaplin and a Peaky Blinders extra - to the music, to his mannered speech in interviews, Keenan, like most musicians that matter, is busy creating his own world, and it is this which separates him from the vast sea of strumming wannabes.
Strypes guitar hero and Jägerbomb enthusiast Josh McClorey, who tells me back stage of how close he and Keenan have become and how jealous he is of his friend’s talent, joins in for ‘Hotel Eden’ and ‘Lightning Brown’ before Kennan essays a beautiful ‘Nazareth House’ and then takes a turn on the piano for ‘Tonight I Want to Lie’.
At this point he’s joined by his full band, including both Graham Hopkins (The Frames, Therapy?) and Joey Hot Sprocket, which, alongside well known endorsements from the likes of Damien Dempsey, Jerry Fish, and Hothouse Flowers amongst others, shows how high is the esteem in which Keenan is held. Glen Hansard is in the room somewhere too, nodding away, as he was for the Electric Picnic show.
I’m down in the crowd for this section. I get an unexpected hug from behind, it turns out to be Keenan’s Dad, beaming with pride. I’m stopped coming out of the bathroom by Keenan’s Dundalk-based barber, he gives me his card and offers me a free do if I’m ever in “the town”. A young couple in front of me embrace and sing Keenan’s lyrics to each other between kisses. They know every word, as do most others here, which is remarkable in and of itself, as Keenan is still working on his debut album. He steps down from the stage into the parting crowd for ‘A Beggar to A Beggar Cried’, a song that finishes with blasts of confetti, his celebratory victory secured.
As the crowd howl for one more song, I seize the chance to make my way back stage, and when the band take their places for the final ‘Rip Your Eye From Your Phone’, I sneak on stage with them and plant myself in the corner. I can therefore attest first hand to the waves of adoration coming from the house towards the singer. In my introduction to him on the night, I recommended that those in the crowd buy a souvenir from the concession stand so that when, in the very near future, they are fighting to secure tickets for his shows in the 3Arena, they can prove that they were here, on this night. Many a true word is spoken in jest, such a turn out would not surprise me at all.