- 13 Dec 19
The Bard Of Drimnagh
We all know the old cliché that musicians are wont to spout – “if you can’t play it on an acoustic guitar then it’s not a good song” I’m not sure how Aphex Twin might feel about that one but Thomas Walsh – the man at the centre of Pugwash and on the right in The Duckworth Lewis Method – certainly has the tunes and any chance to hear him bring them out, whether it’s on an acoustic guitar or a broken set of bagpipes, is worth showing up for.
A shame then that a lot of people seemed to have missed the memo as the crowd in Dublin’s newest venue, Bloody Mary’s, is a bit sparse. Walsh takes it in good spirits, referring to us there as his ‘trusty few’ – a name he also uses for his man parts. Charming. It has, as he says himself, been a while so, ahead of another compilation of his work due next year - “A greatest hits with no hits” – he goes from one end of his songbook to the other.
The last record with the Pugwash name on it, 2017’s Silverlake was recorded with Jason Falkner, who you may know from his work with Beck or even Noel Gallagher but you should know for his involvement in Jellyfish’s debut album and Ro Sham Bo by The Grays, an album that Thomas insisted I listen to the last time I interviewed him. Walsh gives us ‘The Perfect Summer’ – “in the middle of winter” – and ‘Better Than Nothing At All’ from that fine record. Big choruses, tricky looking augmented chords, and melodies that McCartney himself wouldn’t sniff at – the cliché holds true, when the songs are this good, ornamentation is unnecessary.
‘Be My Friend Awhile’ which follows on from Walsh throwing sweets to his audience is also built on shapes that would have any three-chord hero fearing for their digits. Thomas tells us that it’s a favourite of Jeff Lynne and you can see why. ‘Fall Down’ – also from 2011’s ‘The Olympus Sound’ - is another beaut from a man who seems to be able to knock them out with ease, but even he struggles to play kazoo and guitar at the same time so the transition from stringed instrument to wind one is far from seamless during ‘Answers On A Postcard’. It’s another hit that should have been though, so no one’s giving out.
‘Without You’ is preceded by a history lesson about Harry Nilsson and Badfinger, while ‘The Finer Things In Life’ is played for the late George Byrne, where ever he is, who was always on Pugwash’s guest list. ‘Apples’ – “one of my five a day songs” earns a good yarn about Pat Kenny and the Late, Late. It’s one of Walsh’s better songs, if that’s not a contradiction in terms when you’re talking about one of the country’s most gifted tune writers, and the acoustic setting reveals a slight debt to The Who’s ‘Pictures Of Lily’. As he’s not well at the moment, Walsh plays The High Llamas’ ‘Checking In, Checking out’ for Sean O’Hagan who had to cancel his Dublin show where Walsh was due to play support, and follows it with ‘Black Dog’ after an audience member on the wrong side of a few pints* shouts for it. The same fan gets ‘Anyone Who Asks’ later too.
There are digs at Trump and the British Election but the good thing about songs as great as The Duckworth Lewis Method’s ‘Meeting Mr Miandad’ is that you can forget all that shite, even if only for a few minutes. Walsh finishes things up with another nod to his hero Jeff Lynne, it’s ELO’s ‘Eldorado’ and it’s lovely, and then ‘It’s Nice To Be Nice’ is a good and proper ending.
When you hear all these great Pugwash songs one after another, you can’t help but wonder why Walsh doesn’t have palm branches placed in his path everywhere he goes. There should be a statue of him in the airport. They should take the word ‘hits’ out of the equation and just call that forthcoming compilation ‘The Greatest’