Friday, October 20, 2006

Sharon goes LIVE!

All text copyright Ita Kelly (c) 2006

It’s hard to believe that “Live at Dolan’s” is Sharon Shannon’s first DVD production. All those years on the road and all those great albums and collaborations and yet this must be the collaboration to beat them all. Recorded in Dolan’s in Limerick last July before a live audience over two nights, the DVD captures Sharon’s big band in top form. It’s a line up that pretty much represents the current Irish music scene with Declan O’Rourke, Mundy, Roesy, Damien Dempsey, Dessie O’Halloran and Jon Kenny as guests and some newcomers in the Brennan sisters and Jack Maher. The core of her band are her sister Mary Shannon and guitarist Jim Murray supplemented by banjo virtuoso Gerry O’Connor and fiddler Winnie Horan. The big band swell to include Robbie Casserly on drums, Paul Moore on bass, James Delaney on keyboards and Richie Buckley on sax. It’s a stunning show and it all started early last year when Sharon invited Ray D’Arcy of Today Fm to her cottage in Killeeneen in Co. Galway for a live broadcast from the kitchen there. “We did the whole three hour show” says Sharon, “we had such an amazing day we decided we just had to go on the road.” It was a year before that dream was realised and the ‘big’ band got together in a rehearsal studio in Dublin to prepare for 14 sell out dates around the country in April. Each night they played, they just gelled better together. “We didn’t realise how good it was going to get and felt we should have filmed this. Dolan’s was one of best gigs of the tour and we thought that’s the perfect place to do the DVD.” Two dates in July were agreed and the show was recorded before a packed enthusiastic audience. Six cameras captured the action and not one performance was left out of the final DVD so it comes in at a bumper 156 minutes. It’s a very eclectic mix of Sharon’s own popular tunes and songs from each of the guests, some of them their best known work like Mundy’s ‘Mexico’ and ‘July’, Declan O’Rourke’s ‘Galileo’, Roesy’s ‘One of the Same’ and Dessie O'Halloran’s ‘Say you love me’. Gerry O'Connor guesting on banjo gives a stunning performance of his tune ‘Time to Time’ with some dazzling reels added on, and new talent Jack Maher gives an amazing rendition of a blues number ‘Don’t Give up on Me’. The Brennan Sisters, four terrific traditional singers from Maam Valley in Connemara are also showcased with their tight close harmonies and confident delivery on the old Luke Kelly song ‘Hand me down my Bible’. The reggae style rhythm that accompanies the song gives it a lift that could carry it far into the charts. The girls also add great lustre to Dessie O’Halloran’s ‘Come Down from the Mountain Katie Daly.’

Comedian Jon Kenny also features on the DVD. He was invited to the original kitchen session for Today FM to sing Damien Dempsey’s verse of ‘Courtin' in the Kitchen’ when Damien was unable to come. He became part of the gang and part of the later tour. His ‘Big Rock candy mountain’ and ‘Donegal Kid’ are outrageously funny, giving another completely different aspect to the production.

All these artists are friends of Sharon’s and each of them compliments her in their own way. “She’s someone who ties together all these young musicians” says Declan O’Rourke, “it’s like a beautiful musical family. They are the cream of Irish music and it’s amazing to be on stage with them.”

“All the musicians are different” says Mundy. “She has a great way of adapting to everyone’s style – she’s the key. She’s so talented, she can play anything.”

Sharon has gotten to know all these people in various settings over the last few years. Roesy and Mundy are both from Birr in Co. Offaly but it was in Dublin at parties that she met them.

She met Declan O’Rourke originally at the recording studio Grouse Lodge when recording ‘Libertango’ and Declan was with Paddy Casey’s band recording his album ‘Living’. It was at a session in Whelan’s in Dublin that Sharon first heard Declan sing his own songs and she was immediately taken with his voice. Now Sharon’s manager is Declan’s manager too, and the weekend I spoke with Sharon Declan has just given her a demo of over twenty new songs, potential material for his next album.

It’s been a busy few years for Sharon who between touring with her own band has also found time to record and tour with Mike McGoldrick, Frankie Gavin and Jim Murray. Earlier this year she toured in Australia with Mike McGoldrick and Dezi Donnelly and they too released an album especially for that tour. This November she’s going back into studio with Mike and Dezi to record another album together in advance of their next foray to Australia in spring 2007.

In January there’s another exciting challenge for Sharon and her band when they perform with Willie Nelson at the Point and in Belfast. Dessie O’Halloran and Damien Dempsey will join the big band for those concerts. It’s a busy but a very enjoyable time in Sharon’s career. There’s a lot happening and with the release of this DVD and CD, Sharon hopes to do a lot more gigs with the big band.

The CD and DVD contain the same music tracks but the DVD has some extra features including an interview with Sharon herself, interviews with the guest artists, with fans and with the audience. The concert finale includes a rousing version of ‘Galway Girl’ sung by Mundy and the well known Johnny Cash song ‘Ring of Fire.’ Dubbed ‘the ultimate session’, Live at Dolan’s is certainly an amazing recording, a magical event pulling together the best of Irish talent incorporating their diverse styles and musical genres and all anchored by traditional artists, Sharon and her band. It’s quite a unique achievement and one only possible because of Sharon’s ability to appreciate and combine with these young talents.

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