The Barbican, London Sunday January 30th 2005 by Nick Morgan
I have to thank Frank McCamley and Mike Hayward for introducing me to Planxty in October 1973. In a moment the cliché of Irish folk music (“when I came home drunk last night, as drunk as drunk could be” etc.) was demolished.
And at the same time I began an as yet unrequited love affair with the painful, mournful, bending notes of the Uilleann Pipes (Watkin Lees notwithstanding), and with the angelic voices of Andy Irvine and Christy Moore. The album, The Well Below the Valley, barely survived the pounding of indifferent styli, spilt beer and forgotten cigarettes, along with other favourites such as 10CC and Little Feat. And the eponymous song, a morbid celebration of rustic incest, infanticide and consequent damnation, was, it was whispered, never to be recorded, and certainly never to be sung on stage. Welcome to a magical world of mystery and musical complexity.Two years later Planxty disbanded, and though briefly reformed in the 1980s this supergroup of Irish folk (their only equivalent I suppose is the Scottish/Irish The Boys of the Lough) were confined to vinyl memories and increasingly difficult to find CD reissues. Of course all pursued individual careers, none more so than Christy Moore, whose songs, soulful voice and outstanding albums and performances have blazed a trail for the poor, the oppressed, and the victims on injustice for many years.
But last year these four older, greyer and fatter men (Editor’s note – enough of this!) came together for a handful of performances in Ireland. And on Sunday we sat transfixed amongst the Willie Johns, the black haired darlings, the raggle taggle gypsies and the forlorn anglicised gentry of the Barbican as Planxty played their first gigs in London for 25 years.When you see a band like this, who you never thought you would, whose timeless respect for (and reinterpretation of) tradition provides constant twists and surprises, whose musical complexity (guitar, mandolin, voice, pipe, bodhran, bazouki, flute) is both beguiling and almost bewildering; well its almost enough to bring tears to your eyes. And great news – no need to write a set list – you can just buy the Live 2004 CD and you’ll get the bulk of it in the comfort of your own living room.
Highpoints? Liam O’Flynn’s pipes on ‘The dark slender boy’. Christy Moore’s pronunciation of “taarrtarsch” in ‘The good ship Kangaroo’; St Brendan’s circumnavigation of the world, which sounded a lot more fun than Ellen Macarthur’s, and Christy Moore again singing on ‘Little Musgrave’ (or ‘Matty Groves’ to Fairporters). Donal Lunny’s astonishing and rhythmical guitar, mandolin and bazouki (he counted in every song with his plectrum on the strings as if he was about to play ‘Voodoo chile’), and Andy Irvine’s voice. “Jeez, I’d cry for the sound of himself singing the menu at Kavanagh’s”, whispered my raven-haired companion.
Euro moment: Irvine singing Angus McBride – “The Queen wouldn’t scruple to send us to France where we would be shot in the morning”. And song of the night, forget tradition, was Irvine’s ‘The west coast of Clare’. It’s not quite as magical as Skye or Islay, but the tears, like the smoke and the strong whisky, are just as salty.
– Nick Morgan, photos Kate Akers, X.
Robin Denselow January 31, 2005
Only the lifestyle has changed. The once-wild members of Planxty didn’t allow alcohol in the hall, but their playing and singing were as thrilling and varied as ever. Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, Liam O’Flynn and Christy Moore have broken up and re-formed twice since the early days. They have seen later Planxty members come and go, have all enjoyed success outside the band, and yet they ambled on like a bunch of elderly friends.
With enormous enthusiasm, they set out to “revive music from the players who came before us”, mixing tunes that were dominated by O’Flynn’s stirring uillean pipes with ballads that were matched against the delicate inter-play of Lunny’s bouzouki and Irvine’s mandolin, with Moore adding guitar, sparse keyboards and the bodhran hand-drum. Moore is the Planxty superstar, thanks to his international solo career, but he never dominated here. A burly figure in a black T-shirt, he was in fine soulful voice on old favourites like the murder ballad Little Musgrave, and the glorious, stirring Cliffs of Dooneen, but only allowed himself one of his own songs, the witty St Brendan’s Voyage. He constantly swapped vocals with Andy Irvine, who in turn switched from traditional songs to his own poignant West Coast of Clare or a demonstration of eastern European influences.
Planxty could still delight and surprise. They well deserve their three nights of standing ovations at a packed-out Barbican.
· At the Barbican tonight. Box office: 020-7638 8891.
Carol McDaid February 6, 2005
Taking up the same stage positions they have occupied, on and off, since archive footage shot around the time they supported Donovan, Planxty, the fab four of Irish music, have re-formed for a few nights only, because they can. From left: Donal Lunny bobbing around on bouzouki, the dynamic time-keeper; Andy Irvine bent over decorous mandolin and mandola; Liam O’Flynn, modern master of the uilleann pipes, the only one in an ironed shirt; and the Buddha-like Christy Moore, one of Ireland’s best-loved singers, adding rhythm guitar and occasional keyboard.
This is an evening of highlights, not least the evident pleasure these fastidiously dedicated fiftysomethings take in working with each other again on Planxty’s quasi-baroque arrangements of traditional material gleaned over years. The way Moore leans forward listening to O’Flynn, his favourite piper, on the searing ‘Dark and Slender Boy’ (there is something at once prim and profane about the uilleann pipes; whenever they start up, the audience whoops); the quiet relish with which O’Flynn introduces Moore’s definitive rendition of ‘Little Musgrave’, an epic song of ‘love, lust, infidelity, jealousy… and murder’.
Then there’s the eternal melancholy of Irvine singing, slightly crumpled, his own heartbreaker, ‘As I Roved Out’; the 16-string perfection of his courtly mandolin trickling through the astonishing drive of Lunny’s left-handed bouzouki. The way it works every time – on a rollicking rake of Balkan-inflected polkas; a set of jigs honed to the basics (O’Flynn on whistle, Irvine’s delicate tracery and a double heartbeat of bodhrán from the bookending figures of old schoolfriends Moore and Lunny); unfolding organically on the elegant ‘Si Bheag, Si Mhor’ – the first tune ever written by the great 17th-century piper O’Carolan, and as O’Flynn says, ‘a hell of an effort’.