Limerick Jazz Festival/Fraternal Tour
This story begins with a near 3 hour delay on the runway at Newark Airport where the blow had been softened by a pint and a snack in the terminal with fellow guitarist and good friend Phil Robson, who was also on the same flight. We arrived and I’m knackered, bollixed and grumpy and through some confusion probably generated by the flight mishaps our pickup is not there. When he does arrive, he is apologetic to a degree that shows clearly this kind of thing does’t happen and soon I am enjoying the warmth of my first exposure to Limerick hospitality. I had not yet met John Daly who organizes the Limerick Jazz Fest along with a committee of devoted jazz lovers and indeed musicians. John and I were due to perform together and I had enjoyed a few phone conversations leading up to this but oddly enough, we had never met. Many of my friends stateside know John and raved about the hospitality they received and even with that …even I was blown away. I arrived in with a gig as Artist In Residence and left having gained a friendship – more on that later.
First up I walked in on Norma Winstone rehearsing with the DCJO, didn’t realize that this was her only rehearsal due to a flight fiasco for her. After fish’n’chips with John at Luigi’s I went to the show and saw bari saxist Claire Daly performing the Gerry Mulligan charts and Norma singing the Kenton charts, all put together by Allen Smith (Jazz On The Terrace). Next it was over to Dolan’s to catch Phil and his band Partisans (along with Julian Siegal, Joey Caldorozo and the bassist whose name eludes me for now). Their demanding repertoire and tightness was amazing – the only who thought they weren’t tight were they themselves. The much used cliché of taking no prisoners was so true here. BTW Claire Daly was on her first Irish visit and lapping it up – she has been posting some amazing photos.
Nest day, the full Irish Breakfast sets me up for
#1, a live radio interview featuring John and myself.
#2, Music Generations – where I got to work with a number of youngsters – both John and bassist Peter Hanagan are very involved in this program. every kid played and I saw the fire in some of their eyes. There are some future players there!
#3 A radio interview for a jazz radio show on radio Limerick
#4 A jazz workshop for the adult musicians. Most arrived with out their instruments BUT they were treated to an impromptu performance with Paul Dunlea, Norma Winstone, Claire Daly (1) and Claire Daly (2) performing.
#5 a quick bite in Dolan’s with Claire where I can only make a dent in the meal because of a soundcheck/rehearsal due to happen for the album launch.
Launch gig where I am not feeling great until I drink about three bottles of water! Was I that dehydrated. Find out for The first time that tonight is the only night Cormac will be performing with us. Stephen O’Keeffe and Hugh Buckley sit in for a tune on guitars and meanwhile in the audience we have two Claire Dalys, Deirbhile Ní Bhrolchain who I had written to a few weeks earlier to say how much I loved her singing on her Gael Linn album. Gig and the music is very well received and then it’s off to Limerick in search of somewhere to eat. Everything seems to have shut down at 10. After I post this the next day I meet Val Dolan, Mick’s wife and true to form of amazing hospitality they are apologizing for not knowing, saying they could have sent out. I had to let these beautiful people know that this was not of their making – they are now right up there in my list of most hospitable venue owners.
Before heading out on tour I couldn’t help but be struck by the energy a very dedicated group of musicians and educators led by John Daly, are putting in to the preservation of and eduction of jazz as an art form in what appeared to me to be a city that has had to deal with the ‘give a dog a bad name’ syndrome for years. I go by the vibe and feeling I get from a place and I must say, I loved it from the start and in a strange way it reminded me of Red Hook in Brooklyn from when I lived there. I would love a riverside property in Limerick, with those amazing vistas.
Monday, and I’m hitting the road for Galway but as the days would unfold I would realize I hadn’t said goodbye to Limerick yet!
Deirbhile very kindly offered to meet me at the bus terminus in Galway where we then had lunch followed by a trip to ClareGalway where I was met by Kevin Ward, one of my longest standing friends. Kevin, Niamh and Joey are living the dream in my books. Away from it all, growing own veggies in their own poly tunnel, have their own hens and fresh eggs and made me a ‘Ruby Murray’ -that’s curry to the rest of the world that had me simply in heaven. We were so far away from any public road that the silence was deafening, as was once said to describe the silence after an equalizing goal was scored in a famous Ireland and England soccer game. I had one of the deepest nights sleep I’ve had in a long time.
Paul picks me up at a town Kevin and he figured was a good meeting point enroute to Sligo. This gig will be just me, Paul and Dave Redmond – a very different sound from the recording but it turns out it has an attraction all of it’s own, with a different level of intimacy given the tunes. Dave Redmond shines in the way he holds it all down on bass – rock solid. Kevin and Niamh came to the gig and finally, for the first time join a few years I meet Jim Meehan in the flesh. Brendan Doyle also came to the show as he was working nearby for a few days.
Paul has to get back to Cork that night and John Daly agrees to come get me near Limerick so I can stay wth him prior to the Belfast leg of the trip.
First stop on this road trip is to meet Paul at Port Laoise service center. The lads point out Moneygall’s Barack Obama Plaza to me. I smile as I realize how reluctant so many are in his own country to give him any credit and hear he has huge gas station and rest center named for him.
We arrive at McHugh’s to play the gig. Restaurant closes at 9, we finish at 9:30 so I already know food will be a problem. We have yet again another change of sound as the piano is gone and now we have Linley Hamilton playing trumpet. His very soulful style along with his versatility gives a very fresh perspective to the materiel and makes me wonder how different the album might have been had Jeremy Pelt been available when we were recording (he was out on tour at the time). I managed to find a dodgy kebab after the gig ate enough to take with my HBP meds – later a very kind drummer from Belfast Conor McCauley took us to a late night Chinese joint for take out. Back to the guest house where I passed out.
Headed to Dublin to play JJs and know I’m going to see a lot of friends at the gig, but nothing prepared me for the huge amount of reconnections I ended up having. Prior to that I meet Tony Stewart, Louis’s son for a lunch that extended well in to the afternoon. I have so many memories of Tony as a young boy, and like his two sisters were the cutest kids I knew (I know, I sound so American there) and here before me is this young man and I see for myself, why his parents were so proud of him. I can’t put in to words the closeness I felt upon seeing him but I’ll say this, I look forward very much, to my boys and his hanging together over there in Ireland and here when they come to these neck of the woods.
I catch up on emails and scheduling for the youth orchestra auditions asI take advantage of the wifi before heading out to walk around a bit. Walking across George’s Street I think I’m seeing things when India Mullen, one of the young stars of the only soup I watch (TV3’s Red Rock) is walking towards. I think about whether I leave her alone or say something. As she stalls in the Island in the middle of the street I say to her “I watch you on TV in America” and we both laugh. I found out later she’s quitting the show to try other parts – a brave young lady who knows what she wants and is willing to give up the security of steady acting work.
I meet Ronan Guilfoyle for a bite before the soundcheck at JJs. I first met Ronan on the queue for the Louis gigs at the Baggot Inn, where he and I would get there early to make sure we got a seat right up front. We play catch up before I head to JJs.
One tune in and they’re already letting people in. When the audience are all in and it’s time to hit – Paul Dunlea jokes that the audience look like my friend’s page on Facebook! I was delighted to catch up with so many people at this gig – school friends, childhood friends, more recent friends. At one point I looked up and see Deirdre Brady, one of the best flute players Ireland has ever produced and then realize Olga Barry, another friend who talked me through many a bout of homesickness over the years. Her words “sometimes to have to check in” really resonated with me and made me approach my need to set foot in Ireland regularly with acceptance rather than questioning it. Deirdre had brought me a bottle of a whisky liqueur called the Old Dubliner and while I don’t drink, that bottle is going to play a role in upcoming rehearsals for Cassandra’s gig at the Irish Arts Center. Mark my words, a day will come where we will all be on the same gig together Cassandra, Deirdre and yours truly. Why? Because that’s how these things seem to play out. I really feel I’m in my hometown that night – back in a month again 🙂
A highlight for me was my sister in law Rita and my niece Kerri, making it in to the gig even though I wasn’t even in Dublin for an overnight this time.
At this point John Daly and I are joined at the hip. I was having a blast just going from place to place in the car with him. He even drove me to John Conway, a guitar maker where I ordered a bouzouki (I’ve wanted one forever, and playing on the one he made for Batty sealed it for me)
I can’t get past thinking of fortunate we all are that people like John Daly, Paul Dunlea and Linley put dos much effort in making sure that the music happens, and happens live. I feel the memory of George Mesterhazy and how he would die hours for a gig, some of which didn’t cover the cost of getting there! But…it was about making music and that’s what drives us all. Thank you to everyone for a great trip – back atchiz in a few weeks 🙂