Growing up in ’80s Ireland was shite. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying, wasn’t there or is suffering from rose-tinted, selective amnesia.
Mass emigration, the brain-drain, never ending dole queues for those left behind. The gubu political shenanigans of Charlie Haughey and his ilk. Home owners were crippled with double digit interest rates; negative equity was something you could only aspire to when you didn’t hold any equity at all.
We had dancing statues busting moves to the delight of the faithful in the grottos of rural Ireland, while Anne Lovett’s tragedy unfolded in another Marian shrine in Granard. ‘84 gave us another equally tragic case as the nation, got caught up in the saga of the Kerry Babies case. The capital wasn’t spared the barbarism of the ’80s either, as a young man called Declan Flynn was brutally beaten to death in a homophobic attack in Fairview Park.
Up North, we had euphemistically named Troubles with its violence, bombs, Hunger Strikes and No Surrender but lets not open that can of worms.
And it wasn’t just Dr Paisley shouting “No”, with the Catholic Church, still with its strangle hold on the quasi-peasant population, pontificating and preaching “No” to divorce, contraception, homosexuality. Yet, at the same time, keeping remarkably schtum about the paedophilia and abuse that was rife amongst its ranks.
Jaysus wept, it’s no wonder anyone with a lick of sense or the wherewithal to get their shit together got out.
But even in the depths of recession and depression there are pinpoints of light, rays of hope that pierce the prevailing darkness, flickers of the light and brightness that hint at a brighter alternative future.
Moving Hearts’ 1985 instrumental opus ‘The Storm’ was one such illuminating moment. A smorgasbord of styles, a seemingly disparate hodgepodge mix of trad, folk, pop, rock, jazz with a hint of world music. Whilst the country around us seemed to be going to hell in a hand-basket this album offered relief from the relentless doom – shelter from the storm.
Ultimately, it was Irish. It was of us, for us and in us. It was something indigenous to be proud of but above all else it was a joyous celebration of music and therefore, by extension life itself. It was to become both the blueprint and benchmark for those that came in its wake.
Fast forward to 2016 and tonight finds us in a deservedly sold-out and giddy with anticipation Olympia Theatre. It’s the band’s first Dublin gig since 2007’s Vicar Street show, a concert that was captured on the Live In Dublin album. And like that night in the noughties, ‘The Storm’ provides the core of material for tonight’s performance.
Bang on the advertised 9 o’clock start, the band unceremoniously take to the stage as the last of the stragglers, those who didn’t heed the curtain call, stumble though the darkening theatre in search of their seats as Davy Spillane’s haunting low whistle calls to us like the plaintive cry of the curlew across the bog as he summons us with the opening notes of ‘May Mountain dew’. As evocative as ever, the otherworldly melody flexes and fleshes itself out as it fills the auditorium. Goose bumps on goose bumps, as we steady ourselves for the off.
The initial nine piece are joined later on in proceedings by Galway’s finest, Mártin O’Connor on accordion. During the ‘Kesh Set’, they let Mártin off the leash and by Jesus can that greyhound run. His fingers blur, flying over the rows of buttons as he pumps and squeezes the bejesus out of the box. Temple Bar’s Music Centre isn’t the only Button Factory pumping out the dance tunes tonight.
Fans of their earlier work are rewarded tonight with a few of the bands sung songs courtesy of Mick Hanley, who joins the band thrice throughout the gig. His first appearance brings us a reworded ‘Dark End of the Street’ to include a reference to 2015’s ‘Yes’ vote and rightly highlighting how far we’ve come since 1982 when the song was originally recorded. He pops back later for ‘After the Deluge’ and a fairly rocking ‘Hiroshima Nagasaki, Russian Roulette’ in the encore.
‘After The Deluge’ threatens to veer from the middle of the road and into ditch before Keith Donald’s alto sax outro rescues the day and raises the song to a different level. His solo during ‘Titanic’ is equally sublime as it engages with and then rises above Spillane’s low whistle as it spirals towards the gods in the upper balcony of the Olympia in another pulsating moment. Lovely, wristy hurling as they say.
The lilting, bouncy, joyous pop intro of ‘The Lark’ heralds the seven piece jig set, as the triple attack of O’Connor’s accordion, Donald’s sax and Spillane’s pipes pick up the pace, we move from trot, to cantor, to gallop as the gig proper climaxes. Yes there is an encore to come but every thing after ‘The Lark’ is superfluous, mere gilding of the lily.
If there’s a finer sight or sound in all of this great creation than Moving Hearts in full flow I’ve yet to experience it. Spillane is laying some serious pipe tonight and the interplay between himself and Donald’s sax is quite simply, breathtakingly, jaw-droppingly stunning. By the time the set climaxes with ‘Langstrom’s Pony’ the denizens of The Olympia are on their feet a whooping and hollering in delirium.
There’s an embarrassment of riches on display here tonight with the quality of musicianship and at the heart of it all, in the wings, out of the spotlight, Donal Lunny unassumingly stands. Willing for his arrangements to sing for themselves.
Without this man, Irish music as we know it today wouldn’t exist. He is to trad what Bowie was to pop. Innovative, trailblazing, mercurial, omnipresent. As I said at the top, ’80s Ireland wasn’t a great place to be but Mr Lunny made it a little bit more bearable and, as we’re literally reeling in the years tonight, with a few jigs thrown in for good measure this is one ’80s memory I don’t mind reliving.