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)

 

Cover Me, Cover You

I was thinking a while back about how much I’ve enjoyed those few times I’ve heard other people singing songs that I wrote. That train of thought prompted me to kick off a discussion on the WeAreTheMusicMakers (WATMM) subreddit, where it became clear there would be interest in an initiative where songwriters would agree to cover each other’s songs.

I tried to get something off the ground, creating a new subreddit where songwriters could find others with whom to exchange cover versions. It didn’t take off, with only one other reddit user signing up when I posted about it in WATMM. (I still think it’s a good idea – if I were a developer I might try to create a dedicated platform that could facilitate this kind of exchange…)

The Electronic Night Before

Actually, I say it didn’t take off, but looking at it another way, CoverMeCoverYou has a 100% success rate. You see, that one other person that signed up, a Santa Cruz-based musician called Eric Taxxon, agreed to cover one of my songs, and I in turn covered one of his.

Below you can play Eric’s version of my song The Night Before. I really like it. It’s fair to say that he’s taken the song somewhere I would never have imagined.

 

I chose to cover Small Virtues, from Eric’s album The Anthill. You can hear the original version here. I recorded my version one evening last week using my Zoom H4 recorder (with a pair of stereo tracks used for the main guitar and vocal track, the lead guitar line on a single track, and some harmony vocals and tambourine on another track). It was a quick’n’dirty effort, but I think it works quite well. It’s a quirky little song and I really enjoyed the challenge of trying to pull off an acoustic version of it.

 

Those two tracks will probably be the sum total output of the CoverMeCoverYou project. Even so, I’m really pleased to have done this. There’s something amazing about amateur musicians on opposite sides of the globe covering each other’s songs without having met or spoken to each other.

Me as Bon Iver

While I’m on the subject of cover versions of my songs, I’m going to go ahead and post below a cover of my song Half-Hearted Love Affair. I’m sure my friend Richie will not be pleased with me making this available, as it wasn’t intended for public consumption. It was a project for an audio production course he was doing in Amsterdam, where he deliberately tried to replicate the style of Bon Iver. He wasn’t, as I recall, that pleased with the result. But I like it. And it’s my song!

 

(Sorry Richie. And thanks.)

John Spillane – Collège des Coudriers – 05.12.2015

John Spillane has, on the strength of this one concert, become one of my favourite songwriters. Before last Saturday I was familiar with him mostly by name and reputation, with Christy Moore’s very nice version of Magic Nights In The Lobby Bar being the only song of his that I could name. I had a quick flick around YouTube last week and liked what I saw, but seeing him in the flesh brought it to a whole other level.

He plays his well-travelled nylon-stringed guitar beautifully, picking out melodies among intricate finger-picked patterns. And while making his guitar sing, he sings on top, not always keeping to the same pace or rhythm, but somehow always getting to where he needs to be in the song. (Does that make sense?) He can also give the strings a good bashing for the upbeat songs – it’s a wonder that he doesn’t break more strings.

I liked every single song he played on Saturday. I think I could name them all from memory; I won’t do that here, but will mention just a few. The Dance of the Cherry Trees is a song full of joy and optimism:

Let me tell you ’bout the cherry trees
Every April in our town
They put on the most outrageous clothes
And they sing and they dance around
…Well done everyone, well done…

Magic Nights in the Lobby Bar becomes an even better song in the hands of its composer. Like the Cherry Trees, it’s uplifting and joyful, but with a deep seam of nostalgia. One line that passed me by in Christy Moore’s version, really hit me on Saturday:

We were children and our mothers were young
And fathers were tall and kind.

The way he sang those lines really hit me somewhere deep inside…like looking at old family photos and remembering childhood holidays. And, as my friend David observed, you’re half expecting fathers to be “tall and strong” or something like that, but in fact they are, in his memory, “kind”. It’s a very lovely line in a lovely song.

Other highlights: The Ferry Arms is a very funny song (with a funny video); hearing an audience in Geneva singing An Puc ar Buile and Séamuisín was magical; and his 19 second encore of a jingle for “Martin’s Mad About Fish“. And I need to spend a bit of time looking up the songs he wrote for the TG4 series An Fánaí, where he travelled around Ireland writing songs about the towns he visited. Saturday’s song about Fethard was really excellent.

And on top of all that he comes across as a lovely man, full of positive energy. His on-stage patter is very funny. I know that he probably uses the same lines all over the world, but that doesn’t make it any less funny, and as he settled into the gig I felt that he opened up a bit more.

This was another GLAS (Geneva Literary Aid Society) event, with Denis McLean at the helm. They raised CHF 6,000 for the Edith Wilkins Foundation for Street Children in Darjeeling. As John Spillane would say: fair play, well done everyone!

(Actually John Spillane was one of two acts on stage last Saturday. The other act was The Voice Squad, but I can’t say much about them as I barely caught two songs before having to rush down to Mulligan’s where I was playing myself that same evening. What I heard sounded great – as someone on Facebook said the following day, they were like three auld fellas standing at a bus stop who suddenly start singing in glorious harmony.)