- 01 Feb 19
Niall Toner & Pals Strand, And Deliver.
The bitter, freezing rain batters the face on the struggle up Leeson Street, career choices are cursed and rued, and home comforts are longed after. The reason I’ve broken cover on this far-from-dry January night is Strand, the brainchild of long-time campaigner Niall Toner (Hank Halfhead, The Dixons, The Lofires), with a lot of help from both Les Keye and Duncan Maitland. Their album, Can’t Trust The Rain, which arrived late last year, successfully takes Toner’s lifelong obsessions with The Byrds, Teenage Fanclub, that hoary old hybrid of country and rock, and a load of others, and distils them down to a rich blend, flecked with sunshine.
The Debra Wallace Band, who offer support tonight after making the long trip up from Cork, put in some good work. There’s sinewy blues, hints of Sandy Denny in the vocals, and some nice Tom Verlaine style playing. There was a lot of Jefferson Airplane going on too, especially in the closing song. Look up from the floor though, lads. I know the poxy weather isn’t doing anyone any favours, but the people who did make it to the venerable Leeson Lounge are enthusiastic, so work on engaging them. Nice sound though, fair play.
It’s brave enough to open with your best song – even on an album of such uniformly high quality, ‘No Underground’ still stands out – but then they’re all pretty good, so what harm? It jingles and jangles in all the right places, the organ swirls, the backing vocals go “ooh” and “ahh” behind a perfect guitar solo where no note is wasted or outstays its welcome, and it contains the following lyrical couplet, which is worth quoting in its entirety.
“There’s a country sound, with just a hint of Motown, ‘cause that’s what gets you through
Just let the needle in the groove do all the work for you”
It’s Toner’s mission statement, and as good a set of words as any to live by. I could have happily supped up and headed off into the night after that, but then I would have missed the “melodies going round and round” of ‘Ghosts’ as it drops to waltz time before Toner gives it a bit of twang. The album’s title track starts off like some distant relative of The Who’s ‘Naked Eye’ before progressing through more movements than a patient after a dose of Dulcolax – from country rock to Rick Wakeman-style freak out to gentle shuffle. Kevin Malone comes to life behind the drums as if some unseen hand has jolted him with a cattle prod, and we can almost forgive – almost – Darragh O’Kelly (Republic Of Loose) his man bun (my pal Mr. Hogan opines that such a hairstyle is only excusable on a bloke carrying a sword which, once unsheathed, must draw blood lest honour be irreparably tainted) because his keyboard playing is so good – subtle and sympathetic.
The rest of the band get a few minutes off – pints are quickly secured – so Toner can sit at the keyboards and poke out the descending chords behind the yearning ‘Country That You Came From’ – not making the song’s gorgeous coda about twenty minutes long on the album was an opportunity wasted - which is followed by the equally pleasing ‘Ingenue’, a gentle ballad that Gram Parsons would have been happy with. Malone is now using an extra-long drum stick, which I’m reliably informed is known as a blast stick, in his right hand, for whatever reason. It’s making a nice job of those hi-hats though.
‘Best Laid Plans’ and ‘Stole A Train’ both get a welcome airing – there’s a cryptic mention in my notes of a story about trains and 1963, but I was having far too good a time then to remember now what that was about – before the band feign leaving the stage so they can go straight into the encore, which we were calling for anyway.
Toner goes back to The Lofire’s album he made with Johnny Rowen, and Les, in 2012 for the second time tonight – they had a go at ‘The Only Game In Town’ earlier on – to give out about his “outrageous in-laws” in the lovely ‘How To Make Money’. The band finish up by having a good time with a rough n’ tumble run at Neil Young’s ‘Over And Over’, Les Keye in particular is nodding like a pumpjack. It’s all smiles, both onstage and off.
In his wisdom, young Niall has decided to keep the album off the streaming services as he feels, quite rightly, that it amounts to giving the thing away, but I heartily recommend you seek it out, either here, or in your local record emporium if you’re still lucky enough to be within distance of such a thing. Strand haven’t much in the way of gigs lined up – they’re supporting Intermission in Whelan’s in a month or so, but that’s about it – which, going on tonight’s sport, is a shame, really. They’re a fine band pushing a genuinely great recording. They should be roundly encouraged to get the finger out. Write them a strongly worded letter.