Irish Music Magazine (Jan/Feb Issue)

by: Sean Walsh

Alan Kelly Gang with Eddi Reader & John Douglas | Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar – September 2011

At some point in the last few years, the Alan Kelly Quartet became the Alan Kelly Gang – and the change of moniker really suits the group, exuding, as they do, a real ‘gunslinger’ vibe as they line up on the stage. Proceedings are kicked off with the graceful Siena Waltz, a sublime Kelly composition, which sets the tone for the evenings music. A high standard that – over the course of the gig – will be maintained with what looks like consummate ease, as the gang New York-born Steph Geremia (flute and vocals) introduces a couple of tunes – one by Liz Carroll, the other a jaunty traditional Breton dance tune.

With the opening numbers under the belt the gang are visibly getting into the groove and loosening up, when the special guests join the fray. Scottish siren Eddi Reader and John Douglas (Trashcan Sinatras’ songwriter and guitarist) promise to add something delightful to the mix and they don’t disappoint either. On their first song – the Douglas-penned Wild Mountainside – Reader shows her remarkable vocal talent, and the crowd know that a special evening really is in prospect.

Tall, elegant and blessed with a Pre-Raphaelite beauty, Reader is a class act. Her status as one of the best ever vocalists to have graced these islands long assured, she gives a masterclass in how to sing a song. A few more of Douglas songs and a welcome sprinkling of songs by Robert Burns, her contribution on the night is perfectly in keeping with the style and quality of everybody on the stage.

In between the appearances of Reader and Douglas, the gang are clearly having a great time. The beautiful Steph Geremia’s haunting flute and Tola Custy’s energetic fiddle complementing Kelly’s own masterful accordion playing. Kelly is truly something. Wrestling with the unwieldy instrument, he makes sounds, which are unexpected and organic, but all the while it is sublime and complete.

At points in the night, the gang reach moments of soaring majesty – alternating between sombre and rollicking. The rollicking reaches an apogee when at one point Custy’s fiddle seems to explode with one (if not two) strings snapping and flying in the air. He beats a hasty retreat off stage for repairs while the rest of the gang don’t miss a beat. Before the end of the tune, Custy returns to an enthusiastic bout of applause, and completes the number.

Tonight’s gig is the first of an Irish tour to mark the release of the Alan Kelly Gang’s first official band album, Small Towns & Famous Nights. A highlight of the album is the song Connemara – written by Douglas and sung by Reader – and it’s a highlight of the gig as well. A controlled, measured song, everybody on the Linenhall stage contributes something to this beautiful piece of music.

The inevitable encore finishes the night off perfectly. A waltz dedicated to an elderly relative of Kelly – who is present in the audience – and a couple of reels, set up the perfect finale. Reader – who recorded an album of songs based on works by Scotland’s national bard Burns a few years ago – delivers what is perhaps the perfect version of My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose.  Making every single word count, the singer melds seamlessly with the other musicians to round off a great concert.

Alan Kelly is fast becoming a national treasure. The piano accordion maestro has assembled a group – or gang – around him, who can complement his own amazing skills. Since he burst onto the scene over ten years ago, Kelly has been establishing himself a serious contender. On the evidence tonight in Castlebar, he is maturing into the kind of artist, he always promised he would become. There is a lot more to come from the Roscommon man, but in the meantime enjoy what he’s doing now, and try and see these guys as soon as you get the chance.

Timber and Steel (Australia)

WOMADelaide – March 2011
Alan Kelly Gang
As a self-confessed trad-tragic the “guilty pleasure” band for me at this year’s WOMADelaide was always going to be the Alan Kelly Quartet. For those not in the know Alan Kelly is a master trad player from the west of Ireland credited with (according to the official bio) “making the piano accordion hip again”. I have seen Kelly perform before as part of Eddi Reader’s band but this was the time I’ve managed to catch his work with the Quartet live.

There is one of two ways a traditional Irish group can go when it comes to a live show. They can either take the performance route and be standing on stage playing to the crowd or they can sit in a semicircle giving the audience a sense that they have stumbled in on a traditional Irish pub “session”. With the Alan Kelly Quartet the decision was definitely for the latter and as a result we were treated to a lovely intimate performance of the best in Irish music.

I was overwhelmingly impressed with Alan Kelly and his cohorts. Their mastery of their respective instruments was sublime and while Kelly himself is very obviously the driving force behind the group with his piano accordion this really felt like a true collective of musicians. My standout of the Quartet would have been flautist and vocalist Steph Geremia, originally from New York but currently living in Galway, Ireland, who’s lilting style matched perfectly with the fiddle, accordion and guitar. Her self composed piece “The List Maker” (about Kelly himself) was easily my favourite tune with its driving 7/8 rhythm.
Overall a wonderful performance. I also caught the Alan Kelly Quartet on Sunday as part of their workshop session where they explained the history and arrangements behind the tunes which was definitely worthwhile. If you get a chance to see Kelly while he’s here (and don’t worry if you don’t – he comes back almost every year either by himself or with Reader) then you’ll absolutely fall in love.

The Living Tradition (Scotland/UK)

Cork Folk Festival – October 2010

Alan Kelly Gang with special guest Eddi Reader & John Douglas
The festival was beginning to come to a close but there was time for one more astonishing concert. At the Pavilion the Alan Kelly Quartet brewed up a storm with some electrifying sets of reels and jigs. Their special guest was Scottish singer Eddi Reader and the audience lifted the roof off the venue when they sung along with the Robbie Burns songs My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose and Willie Stewart. The final song of the 2010 folk festival was Bob Dylan’s, Just like a Rolling Stone and it was sung by Ricky Lynch with the backing of the Lynch Mob’s newest singer, Eddi Reader, it was Perfect!

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