THOROUGHLY MODERN MAN: Liam O’Connor, Ronnie Scott’s

If before Wednesday afternoon you had asked me whether an accordion player could ever be a rock star, I wouldn’t even have dignified such a ridiculous question with an answer. This week I was made to reassess that position, by none other than Liam O’Connor, a supremely talented multi-instrumentalist from County Cork. Not only has Liam performed alongside the biggest name in Irish music, as one of the original lead musicians in Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, but he also holds the impressive Guinness Record for the “fastest fingers in the world”, which we would soon experience, from a safe distance – “Jimi Hendrix of the accordion” is not a title given out lightly.

I have been to Ronnie Scott’s many times before, but never at midday, and never to see an accordion performance. After a brief delay for sound checks, Liam O’Connor took to the stage. Ably supported by his band, and his own children on a variety of traditional Irish instruments, Liam proceeded to deliver an hour of infectious toe-tapping, whirling, dazzling musicianship. Quickly discarding his signature leather jacket, he threw himself into the performance, covering every inch of the stage, caught up in his own music. More frequently than I, and anybody for that matter, could imagine, Liam found himself lying on the floor, eyes firmly shut as his record-breaking fingers dashed up an down the keys of the accordion. After feeling briefly uncomfortable as only the British can at such a show, I settled back and succumbed to the foot tapping and hand clapping.

Liam stuck mainly to the accordion, showing how gracefully one can manoeuvre such a cumbersome box around, often swinging precariously in one hand as he flew round the stage in a frenzied trance. Highlights of the hour long set were Local Hero and Tico Tico (the track he performed for his world record) which both feature on the album, as does Harmonium. For Lark, Liam took up the “low whistle”, which aside from being a compliment in some neighbourhoods around Ronnie Scott’s, is also a classical Irish instrument. I have to admit, while impressive and catchy, it was a little too close to Ron Burgundy’s jazz flute routine for my taste.

Only one moment could perhaps have taken away from what was a wholly enjoyable afternoon, and that centred on the Rasta Reel, Liam’s unique take on Bob Marley’s iconic No Woman No Cry. It was a wonderful performance, and if it had taken place in the evening, to a packed house, I’m sure we would have had no qualms about being asked to head to the stage and sing and dance along. But this was midday on a Wednesday, Ronnie’s was half full, not enough wine had been consumed, and we were all extremely middle class about it all. As Liam bravely gestured to the assembled shufflers to sing along, the band’s volume lulled, and we were treated to the reedy, shifting choir of whispering voices, half-heartedly advising some mythical woman not to cry. I felt like Hugh Grant in About a Boy, when they sing with their eyes closed.

This aside, it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, and I would recommend anyone with an interest in good music, or accordions, or both, to head over to the Killarney Avenue Hotel this summer, where Liam is performing throughout the summer months (more information here). If that’s too far for you to go, however, there’s always his cd.

www.liamoconnormusic.com

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, James Bomford.

 

Ben Howard and Roller Trio, Mercury Prize Concert, St Luke’s

Ben Howard is not an artist I have ever been crazy about but I was very excited about visiting the impressive St Luke’s venue, which didn’t disappoint. Steeped in vibrant blue light, this huge building in East London has the ideal acoustics for musical performance. I didn’t know what to expect at the Barclaycard Mercury Prize concert of Ben Howard and Roller Trio but it turned out to be a very enjoyable night.

We began the evening downstairs indulging in endless salty nibbles and glasses of champagne. The ticket marked a 7pm start time, but in fact the music didn’t kick off until 8 which gave us a whole hour to polish off the wasabi peanuts, cheese straws and mixed nuts. Bellies heavy, we followed the crowd up to the stage where we managed to find a good viewing position. The room is grand, tall and spacious, ideal for loud resonating bands and hordes of people.

The Roller Trio are a purely instrumental outfit. I would describe them as experimental jazz funk although I’m not sure that’s how they would define themselves. The sound is bold and powerful, impressive for such a small group. Aside from the erratic compositions, I immediately noticed the talent of these three young men, and in particular saxophonist, James Mainwairing. They bear little relation to Ben Howard’s music but the Mercury shortlist is known for its eclecticism.

At 8.30 ish Ben Howard casually strode onto the platform, band in tow. The group seemed more mature in the flesh and strummed through the first few numbers thoughtfully. Ben soon relaxed and became rather less tame, bouncing around, head dropped and hands strumming furiously. Suddenly there was passion. The male band members seemed less bothered going through the motions of each song (let’s be honest they are all quite similar) and at times looked a little bored. The lone female was the most enthusiastic of the bunch and played with intense concentration and dedication at all times. The music produced was balanced and together with some beautiful playing of Ben’s varied melodies. The set came to an abrupt end after only four or five songs, unfortunate as they seemed to really be on the up.

If I’m honest Ben Howard still wouldn’t win my vote for the prize but after witnessing his passionate set I may put a few of his songs on my iPod. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and excitement at the Mercury Awards gig and loved being involved in the run up to this prestigious award. Congratulations to winners Alt-J who took home the prize a few nights ago.

http://www.mercuryprize.com/

 

Latitude Festival 2012

After a treacherous and frustrating journey and an unnecessary mission to collect tickets, we arrived inside the gates of Latitude Festival… all slightly frazzled from the time-consuming organisational fiasco. The weather was bleak but dry and we wandered across the grass in search of food and musical inspiration.

This was my third year at Latitude Festival, but my first time as a day guest… no camping to endure but inevitably a lot of good music missed. 2012’s line-up was, in my eyes, the best yet, with a score of ace acts up performing each and every day. Friday was the must see bill for me, with Janelle Monae strutting her stuff on the main stage and Bon Iver headlining, not forgetting a little set from new icon Lana del Rey.

The venue was teeming with people – in its seven years of existence the crowd of Latitudees has increased from 4,000 to 35,000 and nowadays it certainly feels like a squeeze. My festival advice to you: decide on a few acts you want to see get there 20 minutes early for a good spot and prepare to be squashed.

The day had its highs and lows. I had a particularly unpleasant experience at the female urinals: it just doesn’t seem fair to queue for half an hour for such an ordeal… after attempting and failing to use the designated funnel I had to rejoin the queue, this time for normal toilets. That’s the last time I make that mistake.

Starving from the journey we wolfed down stone-baked made to order, and rather delicious, pepperoni pizzas and set off for the main stage. Amadou and Mariam triumphed with a soulful and charismatic set, colourful in costume and jubilant in mood, the crowd danced joyfully in the mud.

Before returning to the Word tent for a nostalgic set from Dexys, I thought I should see what else was on offer. Don Paterson’s poetry was particularly touching though the Literary tent’s offerings were less inspiring. I had a great chat with the Emerald City girls… we bonded over our specially designed Tatty Devine necklaces and talked about fabulous Stylist magazine.

Thankfully Janelle Monae’s magnificent showcase made the tiring journey to Latitude entirely worth the hassle… the stage and band were dressed in elegant black and white and after a grand introduction from her teammates Janelle entered concealed beneath a black cloak. Aside from her obvious talent as a singer and dancer, this young performer certainly knows how to work the crowd. Her set consisted of popular tracks from her own repertoire, of which ‘Tightrope’ was my highlight, but also a few exemplary covers… including Jackson Five’s ‘I want you back’. She exhibited endless energy and a personality that you can’t help but fall in love with. Towards the end of the set she managed to coax the whole audience into sitting on the floor, only allowing us up to dance when she felt the anticipation had reached its peak! As if the performance hadn’t been exciting enough, for the final farewell Janelle lunged into the crowd for a brief crowd surf!

As expected Lana del Rey was rather a limp and lazy disappointment, although her performance here was marginally better than the flop at Lovebox… and she still managed to pack out the Word tent with her desperately loyal fans. Another round of food and it was back to the main stage for the final act, Bon Iver. I have always liked his music but this show exceeded my expectations, a spectacular light show accompanied his passionate and sincere music, it was incredibly atmospheric.

As we walked wearily out, we witnessed the magical scenes that appear as darkness falls at Latitude… Pagan ritualistic fire parades, actors and performers everywhere asserting their creativity and involving the guests in their fun. For a day trip from London, Latitude is a huge effort but to see an unforgettable star like Janelle Monae, I would definitely do it all over again.

Massive thanks to my dad for driving us all the way there and back.

http://www.latitudefestival.co.uk/