Robin Williamson at Naul
The venue was the Seamus Ennis Centre right in the centre of Naul Village, formerly Co. Dublin and now Co. Fingal as this is several miles north of Dublin.
The Seamus Ennis Centre is dedicated to the piper Seamus Ennis. The frontage is a restored thatched cottage that serves as a wonderful cafe and visitor’s centre. Behind this is like a large portacabin converted into a very pretty performance area. It is club with round tables seating 4 or 5 people around a table. There is a stage, pa and mixing desk at the rear. It only seats around 40 people, and that’s about the number that turned up for this concert. Again, as usual at a Robin Williamson concert, men were the majority of the audience. The usual paparazi of Noel etc. arrived hours before the show to bag the nearest table to set up what has become quite a professional mobile recording, video and photography studio to archive Robin’s performances.
Claire and I were quite early ourselves and had a snack in the cafe, and Robin came in hungry and cussing a bit about the long journey, probably 5 or 6 hours from Bantry and thinking how they will be doing the same to get back to Dingle the next day. He was wishing that he had knocked out Dublin this time. Anyway, he quickly got into a debate about Co. Sligo mythology and O’Carolan’s music. Claire and Robin then moved into talking shop about harps and harp playing. I think Robin missed us not hosting a storytelling tour-workshop like last year. He clearly enjoyed doing that a lot. Maybe we can host one again next year.
First, Jack Lynch …
The show commenced with Jack Lynch telling a couple of stories. Jack is quite a celebrity in Ireland as he earns his crust from acting and is in several TV series shows on Irish television, but his top passion is the storytelling tradition. He told two stories lasting about 35 minutes, one amusing story about a local who emigrated to Manhattan, New York, came back to Naul and in his mother’s cottage drew a map by marking out a roadway through the turf fire ash he spread on the floor. The other story was about rivalry between an accountant and solicitor in his home town of Cavan.
Then Robin, performing with harp …
After a break it was time for Robin, who performed a straight 90 minutes set without a break. It seemed unusual not to have a break in the middle of a Robin set, and I think this was a detrimental decision.
Robin seemed tired but was all out to give the best performance he could. He announced that as Jack has filled some time with stories that he would give an entire concert of songs and tunes.
This kicked off with a beautiful tune, a Seamus Ennis pipe tune called “Dark Woman Of The Glen”, which fed into s skipping jig, which fed into an unusual skippy version of “Political Lies” all on the harp. I enjoyed “Political Lies” performed this way.
Next was a delightful poem accompanied by harp music about Butter, and rotten butter at that.
Alas, this was the only whimsy of the evening. The rest of the set was sincere, reflective, sometimes sombre, sometimes dark. I would have liked more of the whimsy I enjoy so much from Robin.
Next was “Painting Box” which Robin now seems to have truly twisted and turned to attempt to make it his own, but at the same time seemed to be a bit fed up of performing it. Maybe a good time to drop this from his set now.
Still on harp, Robin moved on into Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”, performed beautifully, but revealed a downside of the evening, a highly retentive audience. Robin was encouraging a sing-along to this but it just did not happen. For most of it I think I was the only one singing. I think this reaction then moulded the sincerity of the set that was now to follow.
Next up was “Billy And The Scrapper”, and I just do not like this song, but it was hugely improved by performing with harp. I have only heard Robin perform this on guitar in the past.
Sadly, this was the last song on harp. I would have liked a lot more on harp as Robin was in superb playing form, some of the best i have ever heard him do on harp. However this revealed a downside, an awful sounding and bad mixed pa. There was far too much bass on the harp which made it boom a bit too much and muffled the beautiful treble bits. Then when Robin went onto guitar it made the guitar sound awful harsh and too loud. Sometimes I thought I was in a No Ruinous Feud concert. The PA also made Robin’s voice screech a bit which slightly messed up some great songs to come.
Then Robin, performing with guitar …
As I say, the rest of the evening was Robin on guitar, and he is back into performing with several different tunings so we were back to the good ol’ ISB tune up times.
Robin kicked of the guitar set with what he announced was a well known Irish song, which I had not heard and asked around and nobody else had heard of too. It was a seafaring song that sounded like a combination of lyrics from other seafaring songs. Can anyone who was at this concert title this?
Then it was off into “The Fair” with an amusing introduction about the tradition of the one legged devil ritual that is held each year, featured in the song. Robin seemed to use a different tuning than I have heard him use in this song before and the guitar playing was not as nifty. I think Robin may have gone into the wrong tuning as he strummed through this more than the usual bouncy picking.
Next was a song I did not recognise. Lyrically it was in his old metaphor style. I liked this a lot. Can anyone who was there say what it was. Sounded like something from the Myrrh era.
Next a medley, a song from the Band, a brief entry into the Syd Barrett song Robin does and into a beautiful “Love Will Remain” dedicated to Bina, but a bit messed up by the cold sounding searing pa. I would love the hear Robin perform this elsewhere.
It was then into the two new songs, “Fair Miles Never Wasted” a very nice well performed fresh song. I liked this a lot! This was followed by “I Always Followed The Music” which sounded more like a rehearsal. Robin seems to be still trying to find his way around this song. When he does I think it could end up being one of his classics.
“Jordan Is A Hard Road” followed that, but I much prefer Robin performing this with harp.
“Just Like A River” was surprisingly fumbled. I think Robin was truly tired at this point and wanted to end, and so he ended with a light country and western song, “Stoned On Your Love”.
Overall, Robin did a great job trying to serve up the best value he could, as he always does, but this was far from being the best show I have seen him do. The problem was not Robin though. To me it was a combination of retentive audience, giving nothing for Robin to bounce off and raise enthusiasm, and a harsh sounding badly mixed pa. The pa was clear, but I did come away with a pulsating headache.
Normally I come away from a Robin show chuckling at some of the whimsy and singling along some of the songs. This time I came away a little solemn and wishing I could get to Dingle and Clonmel to at least get in a show on this tour that had the spark of a Robin Williamson show I am more familiar with.
As you will read above, there were the usual high points and nice surprises so really i have not room to complain, but to applaud again :-)