Planxty – One Night in Bremen
M.i.G. – 23 March 2018
This hour-long live album treat, recorded on 24th April 1979 at Bremen University (Germany) by Radio Bremen, captures the “original Planxty” lineup (i.e. Andy Irvine, Christy Moore, Liam O’Flynn & Dónal Lunny), reunited (effectively “re-created”) for a monster (58-date) spring-1979 tour (in other words, pre-dating – by just a week! – studio sessions for the After The Break album, for which much of the material performed on the tour – eight out of the twelve selections on this live set, in fact – was re-recorded). The foursome was augmented on this tour by the Bothy Band’s master flautist Matt Molloy (he was to join The Chieftains shortly after recording After The Break). If the set encapsulated here is anything to go by, it was a stunning tour, and there’s no escaping the chemistry of a great band in full flight at the top of their game, where the music’s so good you just don’t want it ever to end.
Every track’s a winner. Vocal highlights include Christy’s take on The Pursuit Of Farmer Michael Hayes (a storming choice for opening number!), Andy’s magnificently delicate account of You Rambling Boys Of Pleasure, and an ably harmonised Bonny Light Horseman. Returning to the days of the eponymous second Planxty album, Andy revisits Raggle Taggle Gypsy (complete with its lilting Tabhair Dom Do Lámh playout), while Christy brings to this stage the Barney Rush song Nancy Spain from his own repertoire (and 1976 solo record), which receives a deft new small-scale band arrangement.
The various instrumental sets come off brilliantly too, with plenty of individual spotlight moments and tight, vigorous and generous ensemble work at all times. Two of the tune-sets (the East Of Glendart double-jig medley and the Blackberry Blossom reel-set finale) were to crop up again on After The Break, as was the by-then-customary (but still crowd-pleasingly welcome!) tricky (9/16)- metred Balkan dance tune (the Bulgarian Smeceno Horo). The two remaining instrumental items, however – the First Slip set of slip-jigs and The Humours Of Carrigaholt reel-medley – are (as far as I can tell) unique to the set-list for this tour. But none of them can fail to get the feet tapping, and the lively sense of true craic runs through these performances for sure.
As to the recording of this concert, I feel that (aside from a slight trace of distance in some of the vocal entries), it gets well inside the intimacy of the performance, as well as the difficult band dynamic. It helps to remind us of the acuteness of interplay between these expert musicians – enabling us to marvel again at features such as Liam’s stirring uilleann pipes work, the jaw-dropping intricacies of the Irvine/Lunny bouzouki and mandolin working in consort, the eagerly driven rhythmic verve of the bodhrán behind the pipes, as well as many other felicitous and naturally managed details of balance.
One small point: although the running order of the items on this disc is for the most part perfectly credible and contrasts are preserved, it’s not clear whether the correct actual sequence of the concert has been reproduced. The audience’s presence (and healthy appreciation) are heard after each item but fairly quickly faded out (there must’ve been plenty of between-song banter), so it’s hard to tell. But the fire and fury and commitment of Planxty as a hell of a performing unit is there in full force. Live sets are by their nature usually best aimed at the converted, but for someone outside of the established Planxty fan-base One Night In Bremen certainly steers closer into the “worth acquiring” category than the majority of live releases.
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