The last major festival of the season, Sligo Live is the perfect balance between tradition and innovation, its organisers constantly striving for new ways to make its presentation relevant to a global audience. It promised much, delivered even more, and for those to whom it is still a mystery, come see it next year.
I arrived in the Factory Space to hear the much touted Marianne Green Band on Thursday afternoon; Danish born and bred, she has- presumably from her dad -a Northern accent one could cut glass with, and a locally derived repertoire to match. Ethereal vocals , with a hint of jazz sensibilities, were given apposite backing from a 3 piece band of guitars, box and harmonica, and percussion. Irish language material featured alongside source songs such as Carrickmannon Lake, and this restrained performance showcased a singer of whom much more, surely, will be heard.
Later that evening, the songs of Paul Simon-25 in all-were given the local treatment by no less than 41 musicians. The ambition of the evening was more than matched by its execution, and The Source, the venue of choice, was packed to the gills to hear a set which ranged from the 60's to the modern era. Lovely music, performed with individuality and affection.
Friday's fare saw myself and the eldest child hit 4 gigs in 6 hours, beginning with Moxie, a powerhouse quintet who tore up the trad rule book in the course of a mesmerising set in Furey's Bar. The Kinnegad Slashers has never been played-by boxes, percussion, banjo and guitar -with such ferocity. We witnessed John Doyle, late of Solas , play a stonking set in the Hawkswell Theatre, where Fidil amply demonstrated the varietal possibilities of 12 strings working in unison and harmony, and not a guitar in sight.
Crossing the river, we drew up at the Garavogue Bar to witness Sharon Shannon tear up the joint. Backed by guitarists Jim Murray, on nylon strung acoustic and Jack Maher on electric and mandolin, she delivered a set that balanced power and subtlety in equal measure, until it came to the Flying Circus set near the end, when an undignified mass outbreak of dancing ensued. The culture police-had they been present-would have been scandalised.
Off then to see Wallis Bird in The Model. The Wexford born singer songwriter, now based back in Germany enthralled a capacity audience with a set drawn mostly from her last two albums. Hers is a confessional stance, making the audience a part of the performance. A new song River of Paper, about reading in bed to a loved one was -delivered solo-absolutely heartstopping. The subsequent roar of approval told her all she needed to know about the song's impact on the listeners. Any justice, and superstardom is but a whisper away.
Saturday evening in the Knocknarea Arena was the venue for Joan Armatrading's first visit to Sligo. A strong support set from Dublin songwriter Eoin Glackin paved the way for a 2 hour performance from Joan , which, in my view was even better than her set at Cambridge this summer. Similar in structure, with the same band on board, she seemed even more relaxed with the Irish audience, and took us through a set, which towards the end, was changed, by force of audience pressure. A group of ladies shouted for "Willow", which became, in the finish an exercise in community singing, and brought a fine gig to a conclusion. In truth, I could have listened to her all night.
Sources close to the festival hinted at the odd volcanic eruption from Van prior to his Sunday night set; much had been made of the fact that the set was to concentrate-with a stripped down line-up on his, Yeats' and Blake's poetry, but the appearance of a large band on stage gave us a hint that normal service would, more than likely, follow. And so it was, with 3 songs from the new album opening proceedings, revealing Mr. Morrison to be vocally on top of his game. As the set went on, things got even better, with an extensive mining of his back catalogue, breathtaking versions of Coney Island, No Guru, No Method, No Teacher underlining his individuality of approach. A very, very long intro on sax by the maestro presaged Into The Mystic, better than I've ever heard it. The magic of Morrison and his music lies in his uncompromising attitude to its making. The core is what matters. On 90 minutes, he muttered a benediction and was gone, leaving us to wonder what it is that-like Sligo Live itself-makes his music so special. Come back next year, and I'll tell you.
Oliver P. Sweeney.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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