As those who follow my blog, or keep up with me on Facebook, would know I go out to listen to or play Irish music every night. I have missed a couple of nights in the past 18 months. To some that might sound dull and one dimensional but so be it. I have my regulars and favourite haunts and musicians I just love playing with and I try and get there every week. Why, you ask? Surely it would just be the same and get boring. Well I’m here to tell you that that is what is so wonderful about sessions in Ireland. Same musicians, same venue yes but totally different night each time. The tunes are never the same, the session dynamics are different with different visiting musicians, and the ambience is different with a different crowd.
An example. Last night at the Cornerstone in Lahinch. The session was led by Yvonne Casey and Brid O’Gorman two local Clare musicians. That is normally enough for me as I love the combination of fiddle and flute. Eoin O’Neill on bouzouki was missing so immediately it was different. Tonight there was no backing the tunes had to stand on their own. On a personal note these kinds of sessions bring out the best in my playing. There’s nowhere to hide. No offence meant Eoin!. Brid’s sister (fiddle) and her son (concertina) joined us for a while and that was great. Unfortunately another regular Severin had jammed her fingers and couldn’t play. The boy sung a lovely song about a set of leaky bagpipes which brought the house down. I sung a few songs to an attentive and appreciative audience. It was just a lovely session and normally that would have been enough. But you just never know what is around the corner in an Irish pub.
Sitting across from us and riveted all night were two couples. After initially refusing an invitation from Yvonne to sing, during a pause in the proceedings, two of them suddenly burst into song in a strangely familiar language. The man had a gorgeous trained baritone voice and the song was full of life and humour even though we didn’t understand a word, It was fantastic.
We got chatting. It was in Hungarian.
I should say here that I am of Hungarian descent! Judit and Gyula have been living in Dublin for seven years and were taking Hungarian friends Aliz and Tamas on a quick visit to the Cliffs of Moher. We got on like a house on fire. It was like meeting family. Maybe we were. Long distant cousins, who knows? I’m sure I will meet them again.
Anyway that’s what Irish music does. I see it all the time. It brings the most unlikely people together.
Can’t wait for tomorrow night.
Categories: Real Ireland, Sessions, Trad Irish Music
Tags: Brid O'Gorman, Clare, Cliffs of Moher, Eoin O'Neill, Hungarians, Hungary, Ireland, Irish music, Lahinch, music, photography, Sessions, Yvonne Casey
What a lucky man I am.
Last week it was Christy Moore. This week Luka Bloom and his new band O’Sahara.
The venue was Kenny’s Bar in Lahinch and this was the postponed concert from a few weeks back. It was well worth the wait, especially as we got some new songs that he had written since. It was an informal, relaxed gig though Luka confided at one stage he was more nervous than the previous week in Belgium playing with 80 musicians and a 20 person choir.
O’Sahara is Luka supported by Quentin Cooper and Jon O’Connell. Both are local musicians rooted deep in trad but known also for their catholic musical tastes which encompass rock, reggae, blues and various ‘world’ music. Both are highly skilled musicians and accomplished on a variety of string instruments but for this gig, Quentin stuck to his Gibson electric and Jon was on the double bass.
Luka was very much in his element. He was playing in front of his adopted home crowd. Indeed it wouldn’t surprise if he knew everyone there. They all certainly knew him and they were here to hear him. Jon and Quentin provided great support. Most of the songs had Luka playing his nylon string acoustic so having an electric guitar in the mix was risky. But in the hands of Quentin Cooper it worked brilliantly. Sometimes there was distortion and even a little feedback but it never dominated. Sometimes there was bottleneck slide and at other times delicate finger picking. But occasionally the inner rock star was unleashed and we caught glimpses of what Quentin was capable of. Jon O’Connell’s bass playing, as with his singing, is spot on. Smooth and relaxed and well and truly in the groove and his bass really added depth to the sound the boys were able to achieve.
From the first song Luka threw himself into the performance and by the end of the night the sweat was rolling down. At times Luka’s guitar playing reached such intensity that even the sound man had words with him. Much of the material was new. But there were still plenty familiar from his huge body of work. In fact the selection highlighted what a good songwriter Luka is. We heard City of Chicago, I’m a Bogman, and Don’t Be Afraid Of The Light That Shines Within You along with some wonderful new songs including an heartfelt song to a lost love from Fremantle in Western Australia, a very clever song about the population explosion on the Burren (Reels and Jig-Jig-Jig?) a song called Frugalisto about stuff and when ‘enough is enough’, a song he wrote 44 years ago and had not performed in public before O’Sahara and a song (autobiographical?) about a musical journey through Hamburg, Athens and Morocco from which the name of the band ‘O’Sahara’ seems to have come.
Luka is a consummate performer and gave a polished and rousing show in the intimate venue that is Kenny’s and was rapturously received. We are so lucky to have him living here in Clare and this concert is a reminder that we should not take him for granted. And a great way for Jon to celebrate his birthday.
Categories: Concerts, Trad Irish Music
Tags: Barry Moore, Clare, concert, Ireland, Irish music, Kenny's Bar, Lahinch, Luka Bloom, O'Sahara, photography, traditional music, travel
Soda Bread is made in a few countries other than Ireland but it remains quintessentially Irish. So I decided to learn how to make it. Never refuse an invitation is one of my rules here in Ireland so when Trish from Lahinch offered to show me I jumped at the opportunity. What is Soda Bread? It is a simple quick bread that uses sodium bicarbonate (what the Irish call ’bread soda’) as the leavening agent instead of yeast. It relies on mixing buttermilk (weak acid) with the soda (alkaline) to produce tiny carbon dioxide bubbles which cause the bread to rise. It does not need kneading or time to stand. It has an Australian equivalent in Damper widely made in rural Australia and popular with indigenous Australians.
Trish’s Soda Bred – the final product
Here is Trish’s Recipe which she got from her mother and who knows how far back it goes beyond that. Trish’s recipe uses half and half white flour and wholemeal flour but it can be mixed in any proportion depending on taste. It’s very simple – here goes. Take 20 ounces of mixed wholemeal and plain flour and add one heaped teaspoon of bread soda. Crush it between the fingers to break up the lumps. Mix. Add buttermilk, a little at a time, and lightly mix until consistent slightly sticky dough is attained. Salt is optional. Make into a ball with a little flour on the bench and flatten into the desired shape and place on a floured baking tray. Make fairly deep cuts into quarters and place into a preheated oven at 200˚C for about 30-35 minutes. Check regularly in last five minutes. Tap bottom – a hollow sound means it is cooked! That’s it. The proof is in the pudding and it was delicious with Kerry butter and Irish Cheddar or spread with Clare jam (Strawberry and Baileys!). I had a go and mine was made with just white flour and with raisins (about 3-4 oz). Pretty proud of it – check the final photo. It’s in the freezer so yet to taste it. Thanks Trish for taking the time to open another window for me on the real Ireland. Give me half an hour’s notice if you’re coming to visit and I’ll have a hot loaf ready for you!
1. Add 10 oz wholemeal flour
2. Add 10 oz plain flour
3. Add heaped teaspoon baking soda
4. Add buttermilk
5. Mix to make dough
6. Round and flatten to shape
8. Place in oven at 200 deg
9. Tap bottom to check if cooked
10. Ready to serve
11. Portions can be frozen and eaten later
12. Sliced soda bread delicious with butter and jam
13. My version of Trish’s soda bread with white flour and raisins
Categories: Sessions, Trad Irish Music
Tags: Boxing Day, Clare, Danny Macs, Irish music, Lahinch, photography, Sessions, St Stephen, St Stephen's Day, traditional music, travel, Wren boys