- 18 Dec 17
Presenting the Glen Hansard Soul Orchestra. Converted: Pat Carty
We were under instruction to be in our seats by 8.15. Glen’s “people” had posted that this was the aimed for start time “to give us a bit more wiggle room”. It would be half an hour later before kick off but we needn’t have worried, there was to be plenty of wiggling over the next few hours. Hot Press picked up it’s pass as per usual in the ticket office but was persuaded to donate €10 anyway, as all the proceeds from tonight’s show were going to the Inner City Helping Homeless charity. This seemed more than fair. All profits from the merchandising desk were headed in the same direction, including prints of our own David Rooney’s stunning Homeless illustration, signed by both Hansard and the artist. A good example of the man’s propensity to put his money where his mouth is.
There’s no expense spared on the stage either. Opening number, ‘Winning Streak’, features a full twenty-five odd member choir (Songs In The Key Of D) who’ll pop off and on all night, as well as a proper sting section. ‘High Hope’ will then add a further three-piece brass contingent. Hansard himself is all grin and beard, calling to mind some mountain-bound prospector who has just hit the big strike and has come down into town to celebrate. As the song’s title might suggest, he looks like one of those lost looking lads to whom a traffic light had previously been the height of voodoo magic, who finds themselves on the lotto’s TV show, doing the big spin. The stage, with its array of lamps that Hansard’s Ma probably threw out at the end of the seventies, and the decorative bass drum head which reads “Save A Soul Mission”, is almost sepia toned and resembles those evocative early photos of The Band taken by Elliott Landy, which though taken in the late sixties, could be from a hundred years earlier. I suspect this is intentional.
‘Roll On Slow’, from the forthcoming Between Two Shores, is a meaty thing, all brass and guitar solos, which could pass as a relative at a wedding of the Stones and Springsteen, who also gets a mention in the lyrics. It segues into a rockin’ take on Them’s ‘Gloria’ and they don’t seem out of place up against each other, which is high praise. ‘Wheels On Fire’, also from the new album, sounds better here then it did when released on Spotify, but it’s not his best. The pizzicato opening of ‘My Little Ruin’ is beautiful, and when the string section then bow their instruments, it catches the breath. The piano glissando at the other end of the tune goes a bit Mike Garson/Aladdin Sane, which is just as welcome. The band at full tilt for ‘When Your Mind’s Made Up’ reminds you of The Waterboys around the time of This Is The Sea, and when they come crashing back in after the crowd have sung a verse and a chorus, it’s damn impressive.
“What can you fucking do?” Hansard’s initial reaction to the homeless crisis was the same as everyone else’s, but, as he says himself, “cups of tea turned into pints turned into meetings” which lead onto his involvement in Apollo House this year - something that he’s obviously, and justifiably, proud of. ‘Shelter Me’, a song that grew out of a conversation with a young lad who had been recently made homeless, proving that we’re living in a town where you’re only “a couple of fuck ups from destitution”, is marvelously lifted by the choir and Hansard’s passionate hollering. When you see Chris Martin emoting away during the latest piece of Coldplay “heartfelt” mush, this is the kind of song he imagines he is singing.
After a lovely ‘Bird Of Sorrow’, dedicated to his mother, we get an appropriately rambling introduction to Woody Guthrie’s ‘Vigilante Man’. Fred Trump, Mr. Malaprop’s father, was once Guthrie’s landlord, and Woody wasn’t his biggest fan. Hansard, on a trip to the Woody Guthrie Centre in Tulsa, was allowed a glimpse at the original hand written lyrics, and vowed to include the unused line “What I wouldn’t do to him if I thought I could get away with it” in his version. He does just that in a verse attacking Trump, Jr. and referencing the wall, the travel ban and the Klan, to a raucous reception, the crowd reacting to the frisson of rebellion. A younger person beside me visibly sighed when Guthrie’s name was first mentioned, either in disappointment or confusion, but they were whooping at the song’s end, proving that Hansard is very good at his job. ‘Didn’t He Ramble’ is then dedicated to Guthrie as a fitting follow up.
‘Way Back In The Way Back When’ spotlights an Italian mate beating, I’m not kidding, two clothes brushes against a waistcoat he appears to have fashioned from an old washboard, on which he even takes a solo, before ‘Falling Slowly’ raises the roof. I suspect people waiting for the Luas up at St. James are wondering what that noise is. From the ridiculousness of a bloke banging on a board to the sublimity of the poetry of Michael Hartnett, as Hansard reads Death Of An Irishwoman aloud. The poem, written for the grandmother that raised him, sees Hartnett juxtapose her connections with the Gaelic past against her presence in the modern world. There is more than a little of Hansard’s musical attitude in this. ‘Wedding Ring’, with its trombone solo, veers from Salvation Army Band to New Orleans Second Line, and if it still could be mistaken for The Waterboys’ ‘Strange Boat’ if you heard a snatch of it from the next room at a party, then Mike Scott’s couplet, “Turning flesh and body into soul”, is as appropriate to Hansard’s work as Hartnett’s verse.
Hansard is obviously generous to a fault, giving the stage over to guitarist Rob Bochnik for his ‘Love Evolve’ - it’s not the greatest thing I’ve ever heard, but, you know, good luck to him. The late Mic Christoper’s ‘Hey Day’ takes on a suitably heavenly air when the choir leads a verse on their own, followed by a run at ‘Song of Good Hope’, before a marvelous ‘McCormack’s Wall’, complete with stories of Currachs in Spain, love, and sweet, sweet pints.
‘Grace Beneath The Pines’ goes into the Otis-Redding–Sings-Bird-On-A-Wire ‘Her Mercy’ which finds time to include bits of ‘Star Star’, ‘Pure Imagination’ – yes, the Willy Wonka one - and even Belgian headers Deus’ toe-tapper, ‘Hotellounge (Be The Death Of Me)’. After the Songs In The Key Of D choir dash through ‘Rocky Road To Dublin’, it’s guest spot time. The Pale give it a bit of space mandolin on the great ‘Butterfly’ and a bit of gypsy wedding on ‘Dog With No Tail’, and then the mighty Mark Geary throws out ‘Christmas Biscuits’, the charity single from himself and Hansard, and ‘It Beats me’, complete with Clarence Clemons style sax break. The Colm Mac Con Iomaire lead ‘Fitzcarraldo’ is a wonder altogether, building to a swirling maelstrom, pulling the ship over the mountain, towards the respite of the following ‘Friends and Foe’. ‘Wreckless Heart’, again from the new record, “rides the river to the sea” offering a balm against the vagaries of love.
We’re into celebratory territory – ‘This Gift’ is sung with Hansard’s niece Amy, and his grin is now so wide, it threatens to swallow his whole head. ‘Gold’, the beautiful Interference song included on the Once soundtrack, is performed unamplified by the band at the lip of the stage, and when it goes all Led Zep III in the break, it does no harm at all. If the closing version of ‘The Auld Triangle’, where everyone including the road crew takes a verse, goes on too long, sure what harm at this stage, the last bus is long gone. Three and a quarter-hours since they stared, the band finally walk off to a genuinely rapturous noise.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m only a recent convert to Hansard’s charms, having unfairly disdained him, although he was hardly losing sleep, for years – look at the Jaysus brown rice and lentils head on him for a start, and turning up at the Oscars in a suit that the Eager Beaver probably rejected? Come on man! - but a chance encounter with him this year, as well as reviewing his support slot with Eddie Vedder, were enough to change my much mistaken mind. One could argue, if, like me, you spent most of Saturday listening to his complete solo catalogue in preparation, that it can all get ever so slightly samey, but there’s no sign of that during tonight’s triumph. The incredible band he has assembled around him could probably inject soul into K-pop if they felt the need. It may go against cool, but he’s peddling songs of hope, and his all-round good eggness suggests that he is “the good heart that will find us again”. A class act.