I watch the concert schedules to be aware of upcoming gigs. Not for the massive concerts that are advertised all over the press, and get mentioned on the news, when the dates are announced. More to keep an eye on the gigs in the smaller venues. You get to see a lot of fantastic acts this way. Amsterdam was great for these kind of shows- acts which are huge in Ireland or Britain tend to get famous later in Holland, thus their early live performances tend to be in a more intimate venue than they might play at home- the most obvious example being when I saw Coldplay in the Melkweg way back in the mists of time – it’s a theatre with less than one thousand seats.
The smaller venues also tend to attract the touring groups and singers, who while they may have passed their commercial peak they are still making a living doing shows, to a loyal fan-base which supports them.
One of these bands would be The 4 of Us, who I saw this evening in Dolans’ Upstairs.
I remember them from the late 1980s/early 1990s when I was a teenager and they were the hip new cats on the scene. Their song ‘Mary’ has become an anthem and still gets regular radio play in Ireland. They had several hits in the 1990s – ‘Drag my bad name down’; ‘She hits me’ and ‘Man Alive’ to name a few.
I saw the gig announcement some months ago on the Dolans website. It piqued my interest but I hesitated to buy a ticket. Were they really my cup of tea? It was being held the day before new year’s eve – would I still be in Limerick? Am I not being incredibly slutty in terms of the number of theatre and music shows I am attending? I don’t want to get a reputation, now do I?
My sister went to see them in The Triskel in Cork a few weeks ago, and was raving about them. On an impulse I bought a pair of tickets. A live show is never a bad idea – unless you have to turn tricks to afford a ticket of course – I am looking at you Guns and Roses.I shall be avoiding that one.
The best laid plans. I booked the tickets without checking the availability of my intended concert companion. He flew back to Germany on the morning of the show. I therefore had a spare, and no-one to go with. What to do?
In my mind I am a strong, independent man of the millennium who doesn’t need a fellow traveller with whom to go to the cinema, concert, theatre or holiday. In reality, I would much prefer one. In a crowded room no-one would notice that I am alone. And even if they do, who cares? I suppose the missing piece of the jigsaw when doing any of these activities alone is that you are sharing the experience with a room full of strangers, but lack someone to whack on the arm when a personal favourite is played and to yell ‘I love this one’.
Nothing could be done in this instance. People were busy. I was going on my own.
The venue was crowded when I arrived. Dolans’ Upstairs is an amazing place for a concert – holding an audience of probably under 200 people, it is narrow with brick walls. It feels underground and edgy, even though it is upstairs and passes all safety codes.
I ordered a drink and stood like an awkward lummox – the tables were all occupied.
I sidled towards the sound box – I could lean nonchalantly against that and people would think I was part of the crew – in spite of my smart shirt.
The woman behind me tapped me on my shoulder and told me that I was welcome to the spare stool at her table. What a relief. I could rest my sore feet – I was accidentally sporting my new Dr Martin boots which are not yet fully broken in.
The band appeared at 9. It was not a case of The 4 of Us this evening, more a case of The 2 of Them. The brothers Murphy – Declan and Brendan – are founding members of the group and are currently doing an acoustic tour of their new album ‘Sugar Island’. This was their twenty-eighth and last date of the year. I commend them on their surname – a name of giants.
The new album is about growing up in Newry, County Down. The singer Brendan is quite the raconteur, telling funny and poignant tales of family life in the 1970s. Guitarist Declan has long hair and is the strong silent type. I had some impure thoughts about him, and his guitar.
It was a wonderful show – the music was a good blend of the oldies and the newer stuff, which are both quite similar in style and theme – why fix what isn’t broken? This made for a melodically harmonious evening.
My only gripe had nothing to do with the band – more to do with the heterosexual couples at the back of the hall. Why is their sexual orientation noteworthy you may ask? Well clearly this segment of the audience were on one of their thrice yearly nights out with their pals. Babysitters had been sourced. The women were in their uniform finery (they were dressed almost identically) and the men were squeezed into too tight denims which accentuated their majestic beer guts. As they were on a rare night out they decided that having a loud chat over the music was appropriate behaviour. Childless people (and indeed many parents) tend not to be that socially inept. I wanted to roar at them to go downstairs to the pub if they wanted to discuss Little Jimmy’s diarrhoea. I decided to let it slide. They looked like they might have glassed me.
The band played ‘Mary’ as the finale (of course) but remained afterwards for an extensive encore. The cover version of ‘Sound of the underground’ by Girls Aloud was an interesting and enjoyable take on that song.
I decided not to wait for a signed CD – not having a CD player played a part in this decision. But the new music is very enjoyable and consistent with the high quality of their earlier work – particularly the title track ‘Sugar Island’.
The tour continues next year. Go see it.