Damien O’Kane live at Chapel Arts Centre, Bath. Friday 23rd February 2017

Damien O'Kane
Photograph by Martyn Plant

On taking to the stage at Bath’s Chapel Arts Centre Damien O’Kane immediately established himself as a genial and engaging presence. The Northern Irish singer and musician spoke warmly of the venerable Roman city while diplomatically avoiding any suggestion that he was less enamoured of Basingstoke, where he had appeared with his accomplished band the previous evening.

Somewhat boldy perhaps, O’Kane opted to commence proceedings with an instrumental, the traditional Irish melody ‘Castle Kelly’s’, drawn from recently released third album Avenging And Bright. This introductory number served as musical scene-setting since it amply showcased the lush and enveloping sound the band conjures, while O’Kane’s dexterous banjo playing occupied centre-stage. Guitarists, Steve Byrnes and Steven Iveson played impeccably throughout the night, while the keyboards of Anthony Davis added a contemporary tonal palette that sets O’Kane’s music apart from that of many of his contemporaries.

A strain of dry and eccentric humour surfaced (not for the last time) when the singer informed us that though he sits to play the banjo he will be on his feet for the guitar; the banjo being an exceptionally heavy instrument we were assured. Much of the music Damien O’Kane played tonight was evocative of a reflective, perhaps pensive frame of mind and steadily absorbed the keenly attentive audience. One striking moment was O’Kane’s sensitive rendition of ‘The Banks Of The Bann’, its traditional lyrics set to a tune of the artist’s own devising. This beguiling love song set on the fringes of Northern Ireland’s longest river was a particularly apt choice given that the fabled watercourse snakes through O’Kane’s hometown of Coleraine. Before the interval was reached O’Kane managed to rouse the initially reticent audience to sing the chorus of a song taught to him by his grandfather: ‘P Stands For Paddy I Suppose’. It was however, necessary for the singer to halt proceedings mid-song to playfully lambast the audience for their timid vocals before the lines were sung back to O’Kane with heightened gusto.

Taking to the stage for the second half the show, O’Kane informed the audience that his fellow band-mates had advised him during the interval to curtail his between-song banter and concentrate on the songs. Indeed, the relaxed and gently humorous mood of the show’s first hour seemed largely supplanted during what followed by a greater sense of urgency and intent. The second set opened with a full-throttle rendering of the superb ‘Boston City’, the opening track of Avenging And Bright. Other melodious gems from the album abounded during the second set providing many examples of the tremendous musicianship of O’Kane and his band. Instrumental interludes occasionally provided instances of the impish humour evident in O’Kane’s earlier comments and observations. At one point the group detoured without warning from traditional tunes into the Muppet Show theme, complete with stonily earnest expressions worthy of Statler and Waldorf themselves. Elsewhere we were treated to a po-faced excerpt from Mungo Jerry’s, ‘In The Summertime’; a mightily incongruous inclusion in a set list of traditional music at any time but particularly so on this perishingly cold February night in Bath.

After the extended and warmly received encore it was clear that Damien O’Kane had found many supporters for his expansive vision of traditional music. Equally evident was the considerable instrumental prowess of his unassuming band. For those folk enthusiasts of the opinion that traditional music can thrive in a contemporary settings Damien Kane is most assuredly your man.

Tim Carter

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Artist’s website: http://damienokane.co.uk/

The Damien O’Kane Band: ‘P Stands For Paddy’ – live:

Tim Carter presents ‘Off the Beaten Track’ on Somer Valley FM (www.somervalleyfm.co.uk) on Monday evenings at 6pm.

Mànran’s Gary Innes announces new solo album and single

Gary Innes

Highland born accordionist and one of the founding members of Scottish award-winning celtic  supergroup,  Mànran, Gary Innes, is about to release his much-anticipated second solo album entitled Era.

Gary released his first solo album How’s The Craic back in 2005 and has since released multiple collaborative albums with Ewan Robertson (of Breabach fame), all-accordion band Box Club and also has three albums with his current band Mànran. However, after 12 years of working on other projects, he is now back with a full album of self-composed tunes and even some self-penned songs, performed by some of the very best musicians and singers in the Scottish music scene.  Having been a professional musician for over 15 years, Innes is no stranger to the world of traditional music and as the newly appointed BBC Radio Scotland presenter for the iconic music show, Take The Floor, Innes is becoming further integrated into the Scottish music scene.

When asked about the album title, Innes said, “I have called the album Era as I feel it’s the end of a substantial chapter, or indeed era in my life. Due to my  increasing musical commitments, I retired from my beloved sport of shinty in 2014 and for the same reason finished up with the Scottish Fire and Rescue service after 15 and a half years, in 2015. Last year saw the beginning of the new era with the birth of my first little niece Zara and now my second niece is on the way. I am also getting married this year so it feels like life is very much starting to move me in a different, very significant, direction and I wanted to not only recognise this but also to celebrate it”.

Era has Hamish Napier on Keys, Duncan Lyall on bass, Jarlath Henderson on Uilleann Pipes, Steve Byrnes on kit and fellow Mànran bandmate, Ewen Henderson on fiddle. Innes co-produced the album with guitar and piping sensation, Ali Hutton who also performed on the album.

The album weaves in and out of melodies and titles that clearly resonate with Innes and his highland home village of Spean Bridge. Era includes three self-penned songs which all carry very different stories, sung by Robert Robertson, Alec Dalglish and Siobhan Miller.

The first single ‘The Caman Man’ will be available to download from January 27th, 2017 and it is a song all about Scotland’s most indigenous sport, Shinty and Innes’ journey from the start to the end of his sporting career which involved him captaining the national team on many occasions and his local club, Fort William to Camanachd Cup success.

Artist’s website: http://www.garyinnes.com/

Gary Innes interview – warning: Gaelic is involved: