Three Is The Magic Number

It had been a while since my friend John and I had been to a gig in Limerick, but we made that right last Wednesday night. John’s a big fan of British and Irish folk music and I quite like singer-songwriters. Both categories were catered for at the Belltable on October 5th as three talented musicians from the British Isles came to town. James Yorkston, Adrian Crowley and Alasdair Roberts were the trio and Limerick was their first stop on a four-night tour that would take in Cork, Dublin and Kildare on the subsequent nights. It was my first visit to the Belltable since its refurbishment earlier this year and I must say I was impressed with what they’ve done to the foyer and the theatre area. Fife native James Yorkston was first up and he tried out a load of new songs on us. I’ve been a fan of his music ever since I heard his song Woozy with Cider and it was a pleasure to finally hear his wonderful voice in person. I’m afraid I can’t recall any of the titles of the new songs, but his quiet delivery and plucked guitar on one was reminiscent of Thom Yorke. He’s no Jimi Hendrix on guitar and spent some time tuning it between tunes, but also engaged in a bit of banter with the audience while fiddling with his strings. Yorkston was joined by Alasdair Roberts at the end of his set as the two paid tribute to a folk legend. Bert Jansch had passed away that morning and Yorkston revealed that his very first paid gig was supporting the Glasgow-born musician. He last met him when he supported him in Paris a few years ago. He admitted that he didn’t know him that well, but you could tell that Jansch’s music meant a lot to him. He and Roberts delivered an emotional version of a traditional ballad about a sailor who takes advantage of a servant girl that brought the first half of the show to an end

Adrian Crowley opened the second half and was the only musician on the night to play electric guitar. He informed us that it was a new one, but he was far more comfortable on it than Yorkston had been on his acoustic. Crowley was born in Malta, grew up in Galway and now lives in Dublin. His previous two albums were nominated for the Irish equivalent of the Mercury Prize, the Choice Music Prize, and he won at the second attempt in 2009 for his Season of the Sparks record. He also played some new songs and the combination of his baritone voice and melancholy guitar reminded me of Leonard Cohen. I quite liked the imagery of his songs and the one that stood out for me was the wonderfully-titled From Champions Avenue to Misery Hill. Perhaps it will soon become the new anthem for my favourite North London football club. Despite being the only (if you will) native present, he seemed to be less comfortable on stage than the other two. Crowley passed the baton over to Alasdair Roberts for the lengthier of his two visits to the stage. He was born in Swabia and his father was a folk musician who became an importer of German beer into Scotland in the ’80s. I had been least familiar with Roberts’ music prior to the gig, but he was the one who impressed me the most. He was a better guitarist than Crowley and more rooted in the folk world than Yorkston. His set featured both new and traditional compositions and he showed an encyclopedic knowledge of the older ones as he revealed both their year of release and the name of the record label when introducing them. Funnily enough, the new ones didn’t sound contemporary and could easily have been mistaken for traditional songs due to Roberts’ delivery and use of idiomatic language. He finished on a three-part tune that combined English, Scottish and Irish influences and included some brilliant guitar picking in the middle

We met the lads in the foyer after the show and thanked them as we exchanged a few words. Yorkston is also a published author and had treated us to a fine reading from his book in the middle of his set. It’s called It’s Lovely to Be Here: The Touring Diaries of a Scottish Gent and recounts the adventures of one man and his guitar on the road. I had enjoyed what I heard, so I bought a copy after the gig. He even offered to sign it for me, but I quickly changed the subject as I don’t even write in my own books. It was an enjoyable night out and nicely sets up Billy Bragg’s upcoming visit to Limerick. The evening made me want to check out more music from the three boys and I started off with a 2009 mini-album from Yorkston and Crowley. The Invaders Salute Captain America contains eight tracks written by the cult American indie-folk singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston. So far, I really like their version of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances. Ivor Cutler is an equally cult Scottish musician and poet who was one of the many performers championed by John Peel. Alasdair Roberts transforms Cutler’s I Had a Little Boat into a powerful and evocative folk song. It’s taken from a 25th anniversary tribute to Rough Trade records called Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before. The final song below is Bert Jansch’s version of Rosemary Lane, the song that Yorkston and Roberts sang in Limerick for their fellow Scotsman

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances (Daniel Johnston cover) – James Yorkston & Adrian Crowley

I Had a Little Boat (Ivor Cutler cover) – Alasdair Roberts

Rosemary Lane – Bert Jansch

The picture above was taken by the author of this post while James (left) and Alasdair (right) weren’t looking

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