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Friday, June 30, 2006

Frances' singing strikes a chord at The Quays

The Lowry
Salford Quays
Thursday 29th June 2006

All the Frances Black concerts that I’ve attended to date have started with Stranger On The Shore and finished with You’ve Got A Friend. After all this time, the penny dropped. We meet as strangers and depart as friends.
A simple approach really, but it works because that was what this particular evening was - a meeting of friends.

A new album was on release to accompany her tour. This Love Will Carry is a double album containing many favourites from the past 12 years or so.

And as we’re not strangers any more, then there’s no need for Strangers on the Shore for openers, Instead we called up our old friends from the days of Arcady in the form of a brilliant delivery of I’d Cross The Wild Atlantic. Bass guitarist, Eoghan Scott, flexed his versatility muscles with a haunting keyboard intro and Gerry O’Connor weaving mystic violin patterns throughout.

And just as I was thinking how Frances takes to the ‘Trad Arr’ songs like a duck takes to water, we were back with the familiar setlist. Again, I wish I had made notes, but this was the Lowry, proper stage lighting and darkened auditorium meant that I couldn’t see even if I brought my pen..

As for stage lighting, red uplights against a big blue curtain at the back of the stage for most of the time, except for Rathlin Island. It was about the third song in and it is dedicated to the memory of her father, who she said had lovely icy blue eyes. He used to take the family back to Rathlin , his birthplace, for holidays. Upon return to Dublin , Frances was convinced there was a certain sadness in those eyes – and there’s a line in the song ”Cast a blue eye, back to Rathlin”. You can guess the colour of the lighting.

Time was also put aside for the memory of her dear mum, Patti. Although on this occasion, instead of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Frances sang an unaccompanied music hall song which her mum used to sing – title escapes me – but it’s about a girl who brought her boyfriend home and he left her for her mother !

Frances encourages the audience to sing along as the show progresses and we closed the first half by joining in with the chorus of This Love Will Carry . The interval left us mulling over a request to join her on stage for that Ronan Keating number in the second half.

First song of part two started with another ‘Trad Arr’. Another Black family musical link with The Corrs. (Her sister Mary sang No Frontiers in Liverpool last month). This time it was Foggy Dew, which leaves the The Corrs version off their Home album for dead.

When You Say Nothing At All saw seven volunteers on stage to assist Frances. I’ll just say that harmony prevailed, although not necessarily in a musical sense.

Overall it was a really well balanced set. As well as the ‘Trad Arrs’ mixed in with the standard Frances set there were a couple of pop classics in the form of Gabrielle’s Rise and Bill Withers’ Lean On Me and even some jigs and reels seeing Frances on the bodhran.
There was even a "Happy Birthday to You" sang by everyone present for Jimmy Smyth. I think he was 22.

Yours truly got a mention in the encore. I don’t remember telling her that we were going to the concert, but she knew somehow…….I just thought to myself , "Ain’t it good to know , you’ve got a friend"

Frances Black - Vocals
Gerry O'Connor - Violin /Mandolin
Eoghan Scott - Bass Guitar / occasional keyboards
Peter McKinney - Drums
Jimmy Smyth - Accoustic Guitar

Friday, June 23, 2006

Will the Farmers spread it around for Andy ?

(Andy Whitaker & Tiny Scientist)
Farmers Arms
Friday 23rd June 2006

A popular local pub was holding an engagement party and obligatory disco, so this was hardly the ideal venue for focussing upon the live act. The clientelle were more interested in the buffet, the World Cup, the next pint and maybe a bit of a bop to Dexy's Midnight Runners and the end of the night slowy than the talents of a singer/songwriter and his mate who travelled the best part of 40 miles to perform.

I encountered Andy courtesy of a fleeting friend request on and I accepted his invitation after discovering that he was due to play at this venue which was on my doorstep. I was recognised virtually on arrival and stayed for his opening half hour set.

First song (check his website) was 'An Individual Mind' - dedicated to yours truly - and it was duly appreciated by its recipient. Apart from the dedicated half dozen the rest of the pub were enveloped in their own discussions rather than the talented duo. Undeterred and all credit to their professionalism, they persevered. A few Beatles covers, plus others from the Monkees , Byrds (Mr. Tambourine Man), Pink Floyd (See Emily Play) and a finale (Shadows - Apache) saw them starting to win the people round.

If you do meet Andy at a disco-type gig , and if he does play Apache then just close your eyes and imagine he's playing the Fender Strat because it's hard to believe that such sounds can come out of an acoustic guitar.

We left at the end of the first set but I have now doubt that an entertaining evening was about to develop and that quite a few of the party will start to spread the word about the talents of Mr. Andy Whitaker.

If he appears at a venue nearby again and if he gets the chance to sell his own wares then meet me in the queue for tickets.

Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you MR ANDY WHITAKER

Monday, June 12, 2006

Caroline ruled the waves on 199 - now she touches the Sky on 199

As from Monday 12th June 2006 The legendary Radio Caroline is now available on SKY Channel 0199. No other channel would be appropriate because this lady once ruled the waves on 199 Medium Wave.
The commercial radio stations should take note that you probably wouldn't have existed if it wasn't for Caroline.
Over forty years on, Caroline is still here - Britain's first and only album station.
It's brilliant - all that nostalgia along with plenty of quality new stuff as well without the shackles of a controlled playlist and script driven presenters.
But don't take my word for it - tune in and support free spirited radio.
The Legend Lives On!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Mary Black brings a Full Tide to fill the Phil

Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Wednesday 31st May 2006

Thanks to this commitment of mine towards supporting all the founder members of the 'Woman’s Heart' phenomenon, I’ve managed to collect one or two albums from Mary Black.
I’ve been so focussed on one or two of the others that I took Mary’s albums for granted and ignored them somewhat.

A couple of months ago I received a listing from the Liverpool Philharmonic and Mary was due to appear at the end of May. There was an autograph missing on my AWH album sleeve so the tickets had to be bought.

The early start (7:30) meant there wasn’t much time to dash home from work and get back into city centre Liverpool in good time for the show. That prospect removed any pre-gig excitement, so as we found our seats the frame of mind was to just take in whatever comes.

In no time at all the auditorium lights dimmed and the midnight blue stage lighting was all that prevented a full house from experiencing a total blackout. The four members of her backing band took their positions before Mary entered the stage to generous, yet polite, applause.

Singer Mary’s first musical contribution was the harmonica bars that open ‘Land of Love’, the first track on her latest album, Full Tide.
The ascent from my pre-gig lethargy towards euphoria hit vertical as the first note was struck, such is the magic behind a live act.
Her second song followed straight away. It was an old favourite - (printed on the setlist as 'Adam')

Then came the spoken word.
She explained that was how things would pan out for the evening. A few songs from her latest album filtered in with the old favourites. It was while she was talking that I drew immediate comparisons with her sister Frances. Mary's band had a drummer, but the rest of the band were placed in the same positions.
Keyboard player on her left, then the bass player, back left, drummer behind and lead guitarist on her right.

Mary confidently throws in a good story between songs albeit more aimed towards the songwriter. There were mentions about the family. Indeed, her son Danny was listed as accompaniment on this tour but he wasn’t available on this particular evening as he was representing Dublin playing in a sporting fixture against Wexford.

The disappointment over his absence soon evaporated when her daughter Roisin joined in for a couple of songs. If Roisin follows in Mum’s footsteps she won’t go short of money that’s for sure.

The first half ended on a couple of personal favourites, 'No Frontiers' and 'Stand Up'. No Frontiers was penned by Jimmy McCarthy and it was recently covered by The Corrs on their Unplugged album. 'Stand Up' is from her latest album.
Towards the end of the second half 'Real You' (from Full Tide) drifted into a jam by the band where each member was spotlighted for a solo stint closing with Bill Shanley giving a guitar solo that would have left Carlos Santana gasping for breath.

The main body of the show consisted of two halves of about 9 songs each and two returns for encores. It would be difficult for anyone to find fault in around two hours of top-class entertainment.

I consider myself lucky to have witnessed a legend in action and I spent the rest of the night wondering why I’d let Mary Black just pass me by.

The Band
Pat Crowley - Keyboards / Accordian
James Blennerhassett - Bass / Occasional Keyboards
Martin Ditcham - Percussion
Bill Shanley - Lead Acoustic Guitar
Mary Black - Vocals/ Occasional Harmonica/Tambourine/Shaker/Bodhran
Roisin O'Reilly - Guest Vocals

Setlist (as per printed list nicked off the stage)
1. Land of Love
2. Adam
3. Siul A Run
4. St. Kilda
5. Columbus
6. Your Love
7. Saw You Running
8. No Frontiers
9. Stand Up

1. Bright Blue Rose
2. By The Time It Gets Dark
3. Make You Feel My Love
4. Carolina Rua
5. Don't Let Me Come Home A Stranger
6. Katie
7. Summer Sent You
8. Real You
9. Flesh & Blood

Lay Down/Just Once in a Very Blue Moon/Past the Point of Rescue

2nd Encore featured Ellis Island
and she definiteley sang Moon River somewhere in the set.