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.
Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, James Bomford.