Robin Williamson: Glendalough
As you may well know, every Robin Williamson performance is unique,
and I am writing this after yet another unique show.
For those of you who wonder who Robin Williamson is, he was a founder of the Incredible String Band who enjoyed worldwide success during the late 60s and early 70s. Hit albums included 5000 Spirits, Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, Wee Tam, Big Huge and Liquid Acrobat As Regards The Air.
Since the mid 70s Robin learned to play the harp which has since become his main instrument. Robin has developed an exceptional repertoire of bardic stories, musical poems and whimsical songs and he still performs some of the old Incredible String Band “hits” along with some surprise covers of songs by other writers.
The venue this time was Glendalough Visitor's Centre, a modern, custom built building to present the Celtic Christianity heritage of the area. The “theatre” has great acoustics so no PA is needed at all.
Glendalough itself is in a beautiful valley, and though the most visited place in Ireland is always worth spending some time in.
Biggest surprise of this gig was the zero publicity.
Nobody in Glendalough village knew of the concert and the venue itself did not have a single mention of the event.
Robin’s performance It kicked off with about 30 folks, all from the Incredible String Band fan list and Yahoo and my own Celtic Ways mailing list plus their friends.
It was almost like the Robin Williamson paparrazi with just about everyone there having video cameras and audio recorders running. An incredible amount of bootleg material from those fans. However, all of the bootleggers also religiously buy every official release by Robin, so no harm done. These people are collectors, and almost all men!
Word got around the village and about 20 locals straddled in during the show. We also found out in the pub later that many had tried to get into the nearby Brockagh Community Centre Hall where events usually take place and did not think to try the Visitor’s Centre because functions are very rare there.
Compared to performances at his Ireland tour of last year I thought Robin's musicianship hit a new peak. His harp playing was stunning, very fluid and his guitar sounded great too. There was an exceptional improvement on his Hardanger fiddle, so good to hear, as Robin is known as a superb fiddler. His voice had a bit of a gruffier edge, though.
Robin performed two very different sets with a break in between.
First set was very humourous, very entertaining. Some of the material I had heard before but he has really worked on the humour parts of the stories. Many comedians would have been envious of the response to his stories. He could easily convert that material and similar into a very successful TV comedy show.
Second set was very bluesy, jazzy and even boogie woogie at times, which is very different for Robin
I wonder if this is a rub off from his recent ECM band tour? For those of you who wonder what this is, Robin Williamson has released three cds during the last few years on the ECM jazz music label. The session musicians on these albums went on a successful European tour.
First set started with
A story about St. Kevin and a goose
then a long medley of stuff on the harp.
Young Girl Milking (tune)
A story of King Baun and God Manannan
Wheel Of Fortune ( an award winning song recorded by Robin and John Renbourn)
Then came a hilarious unaccompanied song
about his old shoes and old coat
completed with a jaws harp solo.
An unaccompanied story about the king and a healer
with a lot more fun and humour, great stuff!
and this set finished with the sing along song
Ivy, Ivy on guitar.
Overall, a very very funny and entertaining set.
It was more serious for set two, though
The Sun Is Going To Shine After All (harp)
Painting Box (very bluesy on harp)
a cowboy song I haven't a clue about
........ anyone know this ??? - but on harp
Prodigal Son (not sure of this - but on guitar)
Loan Of A Glass Of Beer (still on guitar)
then a story about the McCoombs
Hughie Graham (guitar)
Cocaine Is Going To Kill My Honey Dead (harp)
a hilarious story about taking his harp to Memphis
Going Down Slow (extremely bluesy on harp, incredibly performed)
Encore was a few tunes on the Hardanger fiddle.
Overall, not an ISB music night
and not really a Robin solo album night
and not even an ECM songs night
just something completely different
....... but it still made me want to come back for more another day.
After the first set, someone who had never seen Robin before said
"He's just like Billy Connelly"
"I would like to see Billy Connelly try to do what he does on the harp"
Some folks who had been to the Dublin concert, the night before, told me they thought that show was better because Robin did perform popular songs from his solo albums including songs from his first solo album, Myrrh.
Personally, I was thrilled to catch Robin perform a set that was almost totally different.