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Guitar World

Venue: Hawk's Well Theatre
Town: Sligo
Date: 24/2/16

In a week where our expectations had already been exceeded, the idea of bringing a trio of tasty guitarists together to purvey their various brands of magic was too strong a pull to resist, which is how myself and the first lady came to rest a few rows from the front of this homely theatre. Gerry Grennan is not only a much sought after guitar teacher and sideman in his hometown, but a revered performer in his own right also. He wears his talent lightly, his friendly disposition settling everyone down. Chosing to open with the late John Martyn's "May You Never", his thumbpicking was matched by the warmth of his vocal delivery, taking in one or two melodic liberties-good ones, mind you, along the way. The old blues standard "Mean World", a real footstomper, was next on the roll call, followed up by a gorgeous reading of "She Moved Through The Fair", which segued seamlessly into "Planxty Irwin". Gerry has the knack of making the familiar sound exceptional, which is what happened with his closing number "Daisy, Daisy", which took in other well known melodies along the way, before he yielded the stage to the evening's second performer.

Luke Mercer is a member of rising roots outfit Old Hannah, who themselves combine local sensibilities with Americana in quite a unique fusion. As with Gerry, his vocal tones are suffused by warmth, the perfect setting for his opening piece, Doc Watson's Big River Blues, prefixed by a story of how his dad met Doc at his home in the U. S. some years ago. To hear someone tackling Jackson C. Frank's material anew is always gratifying. Performed in the key of Fmajor, there is a new, darker import to Blues Run The Game. Elsewhere, too, his song choices were impeccable-Grateful Dead, and more, and when Gerry Grennan joined him for Old Hannah's Boats on resonator guitar, things went up yet another notch.

Following a short break, Tony McManus, whom I hadn't seen for twenty years, came on saying "An hour and a half from Limerick, he said. If I could get my hands on him…. . ". What followed was one of the most intense, absorbing performances we've seen in many a long time. A heady admixture of jigs, reels, and airs, with the odd gnossienne from Erik Satie thrown in for variety- "Satie, nah, we were a Rachmaninov house-and The Clancy Brothers", he said. A gritty version of Bob Franke's Hard Love was a standout, and when he tackled a Greek Kopanitza in 11/16 time, the extent of his technical mastery on bouzouki, as well as guitar, was obvious to all. The chuggy rhythms of Desert House, written by his friend Isaac Guillory took his performance in yet another direction, and when he sang I Will Set My House In Order, a version of the night visit genre, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. At the end, he invited Gerry and Luke back on stage for a 2-song encore, beginning with St. Anne's Reel, to which all three brought their peculiar genius, before finishing with Green Grow The Rashes, O, with Mr. Grennan playing some lovely, sparse harmonies on the resonator. When all is said and done, this gig will be talked about around town for quite some time to come. A very special night indeed.

Oliver P. Sweeney.

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