- 11 Sep 20
New EP finds Hothouse Flowers man sailing for warmer musical climes, with Clare Sands as his very able First Mate.
All-round good egg Fiachna Ó Braonáin is the kind of musician it must be a dream to work with. First of all, if things aren’t going well and you’re thinking about throwing yourself out the nearest window, his is the kind of voice that could talk King Kong down off a building. He'd then, probably, switch to the mother tongue in that radio brogue that would give silk a bad name and you’d either have visions of some hitherto unremembered Celtic past/Clannad video, or you’d be six months pregnant. More importantly of course – although unplanned pregnancies are no laughing matter – there’s a generosity and subtlety to the way he plays, always serving the song rather than show boating, whether it be the remarkable work he’s done with Hothouse Flowers - and their most recent release, Let’s Do This Thing, might well be their best - or on his cruelly under appreciated solo album, Bougainvillea.
If you’re ever fortunate enough to talk with the man about music, you can feel the love of it coming off him. You can feel it too, and that generosity, on this new E.P. – do we still call them that? – Winter Sun. I first saw Ó Braonáin and fiddle player extraordinaire/mad yoke Clare Sands work together when she guested with the Flowers for an entire show in The Olympia during the Temple Bar Tradfest, back in January when we used to all go around hugging each other and smiling. Clare joined this Dave Clarke Five and staked a very reasonable claim as their new number six, adding something that fans like me didn’t even know was missing to the great tunes they played that night.
Ó Braonáin knows a good thing when he hears it – tune in any night to his RTÉ radio show to be assured of that – and features Sands on three of the songs here. The instrumental title track was written to soundtrack a short film by Niall Meehan about the “simple beauty of the sea”. I know Fiachna is a snámh farraige enthusiast because he never tires of sickening us all with social media photos of the sea near his Wicklow home, which are a constant delight to those of us in an apartment in Dublin 8. The track itself finds Ó Braonáin borrowing a few tricks from that other Irish guitar hero The Edge to form a base from which Sands’ fiddle can let fly, swooping like a gull over the breaking foam of his guitar. Then he gets the whistle out of his pocket and we’re off to the dance. To borrow a phrase from his day job, it’s a thing of beauty.
‘Bottle Of Rum’ might be my favourite song from that Bougainvillea album, utilising as it does a piratical/nautical metaphor – and who in their right mind doesn’t appreciate one of those – to navigate the vicissitudes of life’s fortunes. He re-records the tune here, dropping down the key and again he allows Sands to shine, with her majestic fiddle, her backing vocals and her sympathetic string arrangement. The mighty Martin Brunsden anchors the bottom end on his double bass, which is called Bertha, because of course it is. If Russell Crowe ever stops arsing about and finally follows up the brilliant Patrick O’Brian adaptation, Master And Commander, this is the kind of thing that should soundtrack it.
‘Take A Look Around With You’ was probably written around the same time as the solo album and it would have fitted nicely on to that collection. It’s a gentle thing about taking a walk in nature and then taking the experience away with you. It washes over you like that sea that Fiachna lives enviably close to, it’s got a beautiful middle eight, and Sands lifts it up another notch again. It’s the kind of thing you could imagine his mate Ó Maonlaí closing his eyes to sing half way through side two of a Flowers album, and I mean that as high praise.
As it’s Ó Braonáin, there has to be a bit of sean-nós, but ‘Amhrán na Trá Báine’ is different. Needless to say, I don’t know what it’s about – something to do with a white beach I suppose, for despite, or perhaps because of, the “Christian” brothers’ physical “cajoling”, our native language never took root in me, something I shall regret forever - but I do know it was recorded with two mates from South Africa, drummer/percussionist Barry Van Zyl and producer/arranger Robin Hogarth. This has a feel of both old Ireland and the vast spaces of the big continent we all came from. The inclusion of the Gugulethu Community Choir is the masterstroke, proving again that music is the true language of the human race and you can stick your mathematics in your pocket. The collective call themselves AFRIC and they promise more material in the future, which is very good news indeed.
Despite the fact that Ó Braonáin’s cheque hasn’t cleared – they never do – I still insist that this small collection is uplifting soul music of the brightest hue from a musician that we should cherish. The only problem is that there’s not enough of it, but there’s enough of it to be going on with.