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Gig review: The John McSherry Trio @ The Rodewald Suite (Liverpool Philharmonic Hall)
Tuesday 18th October 2011
John McSherry started playing pipes when he was eleven, mostly self taught except for occasional visits to the late great piper and pipe maker Sean McAloon. He tells me he learnt mainly from records and tapes by ear and from his very musical family. He formed the band Tamalin and when he was just fifteen started touring Ireland and Europe. They released their debut album Rhythm & Rhyme in 1997. John also frequented many of the great and lively sessions for which Belfast is still famous for.
By fifteen he had won the All Ireland championship twice and at the age of eighteen he became the youngest ever winner of the prestigious and much coveted ‘Oireachtas’ piping competition. He has been at the forefront of Irish traditional music and was a founding member of the band Lúnasa and a lead instrumentalist with Donal Lunny’s super group Coolfin. He has played with many of the greats from Clannad, Nancy Griffiths, the Corrs to name just a few. He is a performer of world renown and a composer, producer and arranger, with several highly acclaimed solo and collaborative albums to his credit. His latest award winning solo album ‘Soma’ was released last year. Called “A timeless masterpiece” by the Ireland Journal.
The first album he bought was “The well below the valley” by ‘Planxty’. They were a great inspiration to him as were ‘The Bothy Band’ and believe or not ‘Led Zeppelin’. He listens to a wide range of music from Nick Drake and Miles Davis to Breton and Bulgarian music. He gains inspiration from the people around him including family, friends and his beautiful daughter Aille. When asked about where he likes to compose “It’s usually in my bedroom where I have a small studio, it’s a great place to be creative.”
The concert on 18th October 2011 was held in the Rodewald Suite as part of the Liverpool Irish Festival. This is his second visit to the Philharmonic. Last time was twelve years ago with Donal Lunny and Coolfin and guests like Paul Brady along with them.
I approached the back of the Philharmonic not sure what I would find but was very pleasantly surprised. The venue is best described as intimate. You feel so close to the artists that you feel you could touch them, you can certainly feel every note played.
The John McSherry Trio is made up of the man himself (uilleann pipes and whistle). McSherry is joined by Donal O’Conner ( fiddle ), whose playing was described as “Electrifying” and “Born out of naked talent and consummate professionalism” – (The Irish Times.) and Michael McCague (guitar bouzouki), a member of The Strides Set and plays with Mike McGoldrick in the Tribute to The Bothy Band tour. Donal, Michael and John also play together with fellow band members Francis McIlduff, Ciara McCrickard and Ruben Bada in the band ‘At First Light.’ who have just released their new album ‘Idir’ (Gaelic for between and among).
They opened the set with ‘Rose In The Gap’ (from Tripswitch), followed by a multitude of tunes from John’s career, many of them self penned. One such was Aille’s Arabesque which he wrote for his daughter Aille (which means beauty). Michael Coleman’s tune ‘Tell Her I Am’ came next along with the story of how Michael was asked by a lady “was he taken”, his reply was with the tune tell her I am. All the tunes were introduced by the trio along with a story or insight into the history of them so there were no awkward pauses as instruments where retuned etc.
A slow air from Brittany accompanied by Donal on keyboards and hauntingly played by John, led us into ‘Slide From Grace’ which John played on the long whistle. To finish the first half we had a set of reels the last of which was ‘The First Months Of Summer’ but first we had some negotiation between John and Niamh Parsons and Mary McGuiggan (sean-nós dancer) to get up and dance. John promised to buy them a pint if they did, which they with did with great gusto!
After the brief interval glasses replenished we heard a march which Donal was commissioned to write for a housing estate called Mórshiúl na Mara (The Sea Procession). The estate was being built nearby where the story of the cattle raid of Cooley took place. John took us back to his Lúnasa days with ‘Thunderhead’. Tunes from John’s solo album ‘Soma’ came next then back to Brittany for some slower pieces a sad one which translates to ‘Air That Makes The Bride Cry’. The way these three play together be it Michael’s amazing rhythms, the sure strains from Donal’s fiddle or the all encompassing playing from John, as a whole they make some of the most moving music I have heard in an age. The excellent guitar playing from Michael then turned to swing as they played three reels from their album ‘Six Days In Down’ which they recorded with renowned slide guitarist Bob Brozman. We were treated to two more jigs for the encore ‘Rolling Waves’ and ‘Arthoir an Donn’ and to the news that Michael is to be a dad!
The concert came to a close with more dancing from Niamh and Mary. The question that Niamh asked me at the half time interval “ was I excited yet “ being answered with a resounding yes !! cant wait for Friday’s concert to roll around when I can hear John and friends in the Irish Sea Sessions, a treat not to be missed.
© 2011 Allan Cairns
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