- 09 Jul 19
The Great And The Good And The Rest Of The Irish Rock N' Roll Tribe Give Joe Nicholson A Rousing Send Off
It was as inevitable as winter that there’d be some class of in-house tribute night to the late Joe Nicholson in Whelan’s of Wexford Street. How could this great venue, the venue through which all Irish acts must pass, not nod to the man, a fixture here for so long? The word legend has lost all meaning in this day and age, applied to any fool who manages to stay upright while a phone is pointed at them, but what other term befits the man who manned the booth? He heard some awful excuses from me at least over the years as I tried to gain ingress past this Cerberus at the gate – “You’re a mate of who?” – and I can’t have been the only one who mistakenly said “Howya, Joe?” after a few too many to the statue of the stone man at the bar, wearing that familiar coat and hat. It would take an awfully hard-hearted bastard to even offer criticism, so naturally I got the phone call at about 8.30 asking me to head in. I’d already had an after-dinner Martini or seven so this might get a bit “impressionistic”.
As the call was last minute, I barely caught the opening acts. Fiach Moriarty offered a delicate ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’ – a song the stretches all the way back to 1924 – and then Brian Gallagher gave it a bit of Lou for ‘Pale Blue Eyes’. It’s a testament to the late, great man that the room is already well full when Gavin Glass takes to the stage, dressed in Johnny Cash’s wardrobe, with his familiar radio show greeting - “Good evening, you beautiful dreamers” – and goes into a couple of songs from last year’s Opus Pocus album. “Great chorus”, says the man beside me during ‘Thirty Somethings’. He’s not wrong.
Nicholson used to roadie for them back in their pomp so it’s no surprise to see In Tua Nua have togged out. Leslie Dowdall remembers, after their opening ‘All I Wanted’, how one of Joe’s great dreams was to travel America’s Route 66 and the band are still proud that they got to do that together. ‘Seven Into The Sea’ which breaks down into a clap-along hooley, proves that Paul Byrne still knows his way around a sixteen beat, and after ‘Somebody To Love’ they finish out with a heartfelt ‘Wonderful Thing’, played as special request from Joe’s wife, Theresa. If that wasn’t heartstring-tugging enough, the photo-montage played out over Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’ didn’t leave a lot of dry eyes about the place.
Michael Brunnock – perhaps best known for his work with David Byrne and Will Oldham that featured in the Sean Penn “movie” This Must Be The Place – and then Alice Jago both gave good accounts of themselves. Jago remembered how Joe always had the wisdom she needed when she needed it – “there’s nothing you can do” being his usual Zen response. She brings on Dave Murphy – no stranger to Hot Press scribes from his stint running the acoustic night at the International Bar back in the before times - and Declan O’Rourke for Dylan’s ‘Oh, Sister’ (from his best record, Desire. Don’t argue.). The great Dave McGuinness follows, with a simple “miss you, Joe” before a gorgeous go at John Martyn’s ‘Don’t Want To Know’, one of the evening’s musical highlights.
A condensed HamsandwicH, including Meath’s answer to Edie Sedgwich, the very hard to dislike Niamh Farrell, follow ‘Ant’ and ‘All Worthwhile’ with a sing-along version of The Stone’s ‘Wild Horses’, Farrell going for it in such a manner that pint glasses were clutched lest they shatter. “I have a little model of Whelan’s in my heart, and inside of that is Joe” is a lovely tribute and, while I know I’m not allowed to comment on a lady’s appearance, Farrell’s crimson frock brought some welcome colour to the stage. The woman is a star.
Steve Wall wasn’t too impressed with the rising level of chat from the crowd as himself and his brother Joe soldiered on, but they shut them down with Dylan’s ‘She Belongs To Me’ and then Canned Heat’s ‘On The Road Again’, with Duncan Maitland’s impressive organ (Madam!) joining this temporary (Hole In The) Wall Gang. Paddy Casey’s appeal has always been a bit lost on me, but his elfin charm carries him through Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ and prompts an unlikely shout along to The Jungle Book rock of ‘King Of The Swingers’, so fair play to him.
It’s safe to say that Glen Hansard was the night’s most famous face and he must have picked up a few hints from Pete Townshend over the weekend judging by the lashing he gives his acoustic guitar for ‘This Gift’. The seasoned pro knows what he’s doing and has the crowd in his hand for ‘Lay Me Down’. Before a brilliant ‘Revelate’ – Gavin Glass shines on stinging guitar – Hansard tells the story of how he went to Whelan’s looking for an advance/loan that The Frames wouldn’t have been able to make Fitzcaraldo without. Inspired by this, I try to cadge taxi fare off Dave Allen later. This proves unsuccessful. Hansard’s not done yet either, bringing out Rollerskate Skinny’s Ken Griffin for a nineties Irish indie rock showdown.
Mick Pyro gets some Ooh, Ooh’s out of the crowd for Republic Of Loose’s ‘Comeback Girl’ and gives a good account of himself with some auld blues stomp about a “real mean lover”, joined by Steve ‘Gatemouth’ Wall on harmonica. Declan O’Rourke had his work cut out for him following that with his worthy acoustic ramblings but won out with the always welcome ‘Galileo’, and Mundy got them all la, la, la-ing for ‘Mexico’ and there’s more Dylan – Joe was a big fan – in the form of ‘Tangled Up In Blue’. The bard of Birr also read out a heartfelt poem he composed about Joe in a Tesco’s car park – “goodnight rock n’ roll daddy” indeed.
My notes were getting a bit scrambled at this point for I had justifiably and enthusiastically “entered into the spirit of things” but I sang along as Niamh Farrell and Jess Kav did Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ – Gavin Glass is Lindsey Buckingham – which sounded better than it did at a lifeless RDS show a few weeks back, and I do-de-doed with Pete Pamf for ‘Walk On The Wild Side’. There was a big finish with ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’, the stage heaving with bodies, and then a lovely coda from Duncan Maitland as we all sang goodbye with ‘Always Look On The Bright Side of Life’.
It was at least two in the morning but the night wasn’t finished with me yet. Stories were swapped over pints but sense finally dawned on Hot Press after massacring Jeff Buckley’s ‘So Real’ beside the indefatigable Miss Farrell over an acoustic guitar. I made my excuses and bowed out. Hats off and good luck to you, Joe. All rockers should be lucky enough to get a send off like this.