We Irish are famous for our rich literary tradition, evocative storytelling is in the blood. An Irish person wouldn’t dream of simply relaying the facts of a story. A yarn can’t be fully spun without gesticulating wildly, punctuating with profanity and embellishing accordingly for emphasis.
The same applies to music and song writing in particular. From Phil Lynott to U2, Shane MacGowan to Damien Dempsey, Van Morrisson to Glen Hansard a dark blue vein runs through our lineage of tunesmiths.
“We Irish prefer embroideries to plain cloth…we always decorate our essence,” said Frank Delaney.
It’s in this spirit that State will be camped in one of Dublin’s most credible live venues, Sin E on Ormond Quay, for the next six weeks. Monday is open-mic night, and we’ll be there trying to unearth a few gems. Hopefully we can prick up your ears to some sounds you may have otherwise missed. Ears and mouths welcome every Monday at 8.30.
Any truly open-mic night is always imbued with an exciting sense of danger. All performers are welcome, irrespective of any perceived talent or experience. The wheels could come off at any moment. On the other hand there’s the possibility of hearing something that really blows your hair back. Sin E’s layout is perfect, stage dipped down at the back of the building giving performers a little shelter from cacophonous revellers at the bar.
Half eight is the scheduled start time. Russell, the event’s organiser, says the line up may be a bit thin with not many acts signed up. Then the flood gates open, name after name is scrawled onto Russell’s line-up. The night is rammed. A couple of unfortunate late comers are turned away, soothed with the promise of a slot at a later date.
First up is Adrian Matthews with a couple of acoustic instrumental compositions, there’s a pace to proceedings early doors. Martin O’Mahoney displays delicate Oberst-esque finger picking techniques throughout his short set. His song ‘When Will the Rain Come?’ catches the ear, a lamentable tale of punching above your weight in the realm of digital dating.
Instruments are set aside as beatboxer Magic takes to the stage. Spitting industrial techno from…well I’m not sure where it’s coming from but it sounds like one of those underground raves you really shouldn’t be at. First time comedian Sean Hill keeps the guitars on ice while he generates some belly laughs with his abrasive style, observing “yeah, the internet…it’s everywhere, isn’t it?’.
I can think of countless reasons for loving music, Megaray, Lynchy and the Blast are the latest. Boasting the talents of Radiators from Space bassist Mark Megaray, in their own inimitable style they storm through three originals taking in blues, reggae and country before leaving the stage, middle finger aloft at any preconceived notions of what a band should be.
The night’s featured artist Barry Jay Hughes marries excellent guitar chops with an impressive vocal range reminiscent of the late Mic Christopher, ‘Medieval City’ a particular highlight. Equal measures of frailty and strength characterise the Irish chanteuse, evident here in Elaine O’Dea’s performance. Her song ‘Under the Bush’ perfectly captures the innocence of childhood while her unaccompanied cover of Lynched’s ‘Old Man from Over the Sea’ hints at an undercurrent of menace.
A night like this has a completely different dynamic to a regular gig. Some people come to see a friend perform, some just to have a drink. On this occasion one lady attended just to shout ‘Your Ma’s a brasser!!’ during a lull in proceedings. There’s a vulnerability and rawness from most of the performers that brings something intangible. Just by attending the listener gambles, so there’s a real sense of communal victory when someone hits the jackpot.
Maurice Burns casts a wide-eyed hush around the room with the harsh, destructive, tremolo vocal and trippy uplifting guitar lines of ‘Zodiac’. Burns uses harmonics to beautiful effect in his second song, imagine Tim Buckley and Nick Drake leading the sing-a-long in the Wicker Man’s Green Man pub. A unique talent, his songs hold your attention captive, all swirling guitar and mythical imagery.
Open-mic veteran Ruth Egan’s delicate ‘Sweet to Me’ brings to mind Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick. Martin O’Mahoney returns to the stage to play lead for Darron Timony whose song ‘Can’t Breath’ shows off his song writing skills while covering Warren Zevon and the Stones allowed the pair to trade licks. Next on stage is Sarah Jane whose ‘Lotus Blossom’ shifted tempo as her powerful vocal is propelled along by Terry McGuinness’ guitar. The pair play off each other so well the songs float around breezily without them ever losing control.
By all accounts it’s been a bumper night at Sin E’s weekly open mic with a really high standard of performer on the night. It may not be like this every week but we’ll be here for the next six regardless. We’ll be including some of the best tracks we’ve heard each week in no particular order.
This week’s featured tracks are:
Maurice Burns – ‘Zodiac’
Elaine O’Dea – ‘Under the Bush/Old Man from Over the Sea’
Sarah Jane – ‘Lotus Blossom’