Folk spreads a little dray of sunshine 
Author: Ken Ferguson 
Date: 1993-4-2  
Source: The West Australian 
E-mail:  
Website:  

The link between the Irish national beverage and the amazing renaissance of Irish traditionally based music of the past two decades was celebrated perfectly by this concert.

If Guinness can be represented by a brewer's dray, between the shafts we might find Tir Na nOg, the magnificent white horse from the currently successful Irish film Into The West, representing the rich musical traditions of Celtic Ireland.

Many of the musicians who in part created and exemplify that renaissance were in the Concert Hall to demonstrate its achievements.

Chief among them were Christy Moore and Donal Lunny who formed the groundbreaking group Planxty in 1971 and later collaborated in the superb Moving Hearts along with the innovative young piper Davy Spillane.

But first we had Brisbane's Barleycorn whose skilful playing and the amazing tenor voice of Maurice McCarthy lifted them well above the relative mediocrity of their standard soft-Irish material.

Then came Stockton's Wing, the big improvers of this show. In the last Guinness spectacular they were a weak link in the concert, relying too much on rather bland, soft-rock songs.

This time they concentrated on what they do best; blistering sets of tunes and stunning musicianship.

Their arrangements had much more effective dynamics and tonal variety so that when they really did let go they took the roof off.

This also applied to the songs which incorporated dance tune figures. They sounded for all the world like an Irish version of the Scottish Battlefield Band. No small compliment.

A change of pace in the second half saw the made-in-heaven teaming of Mary Black's sister Francis with sing-er-songwriter Kieran Goss.

Frances has a softer voice and less wordly manner than her sister but knows how to sell a song.

The diminutive Goss, on the other hand, showed a dry wit that won the audience for being less contrived than that of the show's compere, Brendan Grace.

Goss and Black together were a highlight of the show, particularly their version of Mick Hanly's My Love Is In America, a perfect balance of guitar, harmony and emotion.

There was emotion, too, in Frances' unaccompanied version of Ewan MacColl's fierce tirade against those in power who exploit and cheat the weak and trusting. It drew a resounding response from an audience familiar with the business-political excesses of WA in the 80s.

The combination of Davy Spillane on pipes and whistle, Nollaig Casey on fiddle and Donal Lunny on Irish bouzouki explored the spectrum from ethereal to frenetic in the melodies of Irish dance.

Finally Christy Moore; legend, hero and, as Brendan Grace quipped "storm in a T-shirt". There is no one like Christy. His head shaved dressed in black, he looked like a cross between Mussolini and Oliver Reed (about to be torched in The Devils).

The lighting conspired to heighten this sinister impression as he set off on some of the impassioned songs for which he is famous.

His performance is like an electric charge, going from whisper quiet to guitar-thrashing frenzy in the space of a verse.

Alternating between apparent trance and sharp-witted communication he keeps his audience on full alert and rewards them with heartfelt emotion.

His singing of the traditional song The Well Below the Valley, with its hints of incest, accompanied only on bodhran, was another unforgettable moment of force.

He was joined by the rest of the company for some ringing tunes recalling the great Planxty.

He brought back those early 70s with Raggle Taggle Gypsy and its breathtaking key change gear shift into Tabhair Dom Do Lamh. After the ensemble Mild Mountain Thyme (a Scottish song) the encores were a joyful formality.

It was indeed the wonderful showcase it promised to be. A great night for Guinness and for the best of Irish music ... if that's not putting the cart before the horse.