His name is Luka

Luka Bloom performed for GLAS at the Collège des Coudriers in Geneva last Saturday and I had the honour of being his opening act. To sing my own songs for a crowd of around 250 – including many, many friends – while a musician of Luka Bloom’s stature waited in the wings was an exhilarating experience. My set went well, in spite of nerves and the fact that I was almost overcome with emotion on a few occasions.

And then it was all over and Luka himself came out to deliver a masterclass in storytelling and song.

In the minute or so we spent together in the wings between my set and his, he congratulated me warmly. He told me my voice reminded him of Neil Finn, which to me was high praise indeed. He repeated the same compliment when he went on stage and – at least according to George Leitenberger, who kindly took the photo below – called me “an incredibly talented young man”. Whatever about my talent, I think he was stretching things a bit with “young”, but I’ll take it nevertheless!

Eoghan O'Sullivan at Collège de Coudriers, Geneva, 1 April 2017. Photo by George Leitenberger

I had put the idea of being his support act to my friend Denis McClean, the brains behind GLAS, back in February; he in turn passed the request on to Luka, who, happily, said yes. And so, just like that, I was preparing for one of the most important performances of my musical life.

I put a lot of thought into the set. I’ve been writing songs for more than 15 years now and although I’m not very prolific these days, I have a bunch to choose from. Naturally I wanted to play what I felt were some of my best songs, but also to have a set that would hang together well.

I opened with Half-Hearted Love Affair, a quiet and bittersweet song that I hoped would draw the listeners in from the start. Then it was on to Have No Regrets, a more upbeat song that always gets a good response. I followed that with the two songs I’ve written for my sons, Declan’s My Silver Son and Robert’s First In My Eyes. (The boys were in the audience, which made it extra-special for me. I got the crowd to sing Happy Birthday to Declan ahead of his 3rd birthday the following day.) I rounded the set off with an “old reliable”, the Crowded House-ish I’ll Be Around.

Luka Bloom’s older brother Christy Moore was a musical hero of mine when I was growing up. (Indeed, my university thesis was about him.) But Luka himself was also an influence. My cover of his brilliant song You Couldn’t Have Come At A Better Time helped me to get gigs in Paris back in 2002, and of course City of Chicago has been a part of my repertoire since the beginning.

From the moment I walked into the venue on Saturday afternoon, when he greeted me with an enquiry about whether we shared a mutual friend (we did!), Luka Bloom made me feel very welcome. It was a privilege to spend an afternoon in his company, watching him soundcheck and chatting with him about this and that. He is a brilliant guitarist and a fine singer, whether of his own songs or of covers. His Swiss tour managers, Katha and Martina, and sound engineer Reto, were also most welcoming.

Thank you Denis; thank you Luka.

Luka Bloom, Denis McClean, Eoghan O'Sullivan, 1 April 2017, Geneva. Photo by Lars SolbergLuka Bloom, Denis McClean and me. (Photo by Lars Solberg)

 

2012: good reads and listens

With Robert’s arrival late last year I’ve had less time for reading, but we’ve still been listening to lots of music. So, in no particular order, these were the five books and albums that I enjoyed most during 2012 (all bought during the year, but not necessarily published/released this year):

Books

  1. Little Gods by Anna Richards – freakishly tall girl tries to find her niche in the post-WWII world.
  2. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell – fastidious trader tries to stay on the straight and narrow when posted to a Dutch trading post in 19th century Japan.
  3. The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa – the story of an Angolan who sells personal histories, as narrated by a gecko.
  4. Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín – Wexford lass finds out it’s not all that easy to escape small town Ireland in the 1950s.
  5. Deaf Sentence by David Lodge – onset of deafness makes tricky situations even trickier for a middle-aged college professor.

Music

  1. There’s No Leaving Now by The Tallest Man on Earth –  if Bob Dylan were a Swedish hipster
  2. Passenger by Lisa Hannigan – equally catchy follow-up to Sea Sew
  3. Wounded Rhymes by Lykke Li – Florence and the Machine with a bit more character
  4. My Head is an Animal by Of Monsters And Men – very silly lyrics, very hummable tunes… Mumford & Sons meets Arcade Fire.
  5. What we saw from the cheap seats by Regina Spektor – a quirky lady sings quirky songs.

Didn’t see a whole lot of live music this year, but really enjoyed all that I did get along to: Lisa Hannigan, Of Monsters and Men, Suzanne Vega, Luka Bloom and Moya Brennan.

And, finally, when I told Nadine I was writing this post she said I should also mention that her favourite album was Ben Howard’s Every Kingdom.

Luka Bloom – Collège des Coudriers – 16.10.2012

It’s not all that often that we have the chance to see top Irish entertainers live in Geneva. When we do it’s usually thanks to the efforts of Denis McClean and the Geneva Literary Aid Society. Last night’s Luka Bloom gig raised more than 6,000 CHF for the Edith Wilkins Foundation, a charity that cares for homeless children in India. GLAS events invariably attract a big Irish contingent, so aside from whatever performance is taking place, it’s also a chance to catch up with friends and acquaintances.

Turning to the gig itself, I’m pretty sure that everyone went home happy. It was my first time to see Luka Bloom live, and to see him in such an intimate setting was a treat. He plays the guitar wonderfully, has a singing voice that can be both passionate and delicate, and is a storyteller par excellence. He was warm and engaging with the stories he told before each song, striking a perfect balance between humour and seriousness.

I love some of his songs and was so happy to hear them live. You Couldn’t Have Come At A Better Time was great even without the fiddle accompaniment that’s so central to the recording; and to hear him sing and play City Of Chicago, a song of his that was really made famous by his big brother Christy Moore, was a genuine privilege. Beautiful!

Of the songs I hadn’t heard before there were some that I really liked: a song about how he was (reluctantly) so moved by the Queen of England’s visit to the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin last year; the story of an Algerian who ended up making his home in Galway; and a deceptively simple song inspired by Paul Hill (of the Guildford Four) telling him about a walk on a Co. Clare beach with his 9-year old daughter.

I recorded You Couldn’t Have Come At A Better Time myself in 2002, as part of a little demo CD I put together before setting off on my travels with my guitar on my back. Aodán Ó Dubhghaill played fiddle.
You Couldn t Have Come At A Better Time (Luka Bloom) with Aodan O Dubhghaill by eoghan