You wait years for a Paul Brady gig to come along, and then two come along in succession. Due to appear in the august surroundings of the Ulster Hall with his long-time friend and musical partner, Andy Irvine, later in the year, tonight is a celebration of Paul’s illustrious solo career, from his early folk days with The Johnstons, Planxty, Andy Irvine, though his landmark ‘Hard station’ album, and his continuing musical sojourn through rock, pop, blues and beyond.
The capacity crowd was treated to a seemingly effortless masterclass in songs to lift the spirit, delve into the conscience and move the feet.
I had forgotten just how many great songs the man has been responsible for. ‘Nobody knows’, ‘The Island’, ‘Crazy Dreams’, ‘Helpless Heart’, ‘Arthur McBride’. The evening was so full, that it was only after the gig I realised he didn’t have time for classics like ‘Nothin’ but the same old Story’, ‘Dancer in the Fire’, the list goes on.
The chat between songs and connecting them also displayed an artist at ease in their skin, with an easygoing charm and wit. The intro to ‘Steel Claw’ is a tale behind Rock superstar Tina Turner covering the song on her huge comeback album, ‘Private Dancer’ and making him a ‘Happy Bunny’ is greeted with much mirth, and the evening has a homely feel it despite the size of the packed hall.
With a quick change of genre from rock to trad, we are treated to more finesse on the fretboard from the versatile Strabane man.
The first of several roof-raised moments comes with a startling version of ‘Arthur McBride’, which once again displays Brady’s underappreciated guitar skills and his comic timing in this classic anti-military tale with the demise of the recruiting Sergeant, and his wee drummer always getting a resounding response from the crowd. ‘Rainbow’ is succinctly introduced, as ‘Old love, Newly Found’, while ‘It’s a beautiful world, (now you are here)’, neatly celebrates the birth of a new child into the world. Circle of love?
The set ends with the crowd happily joining in the knockabout fun and vocal gymnastics of ‘The world is What you Make it’. However, he was never going to get away without an encore. A few fluffed tin whistle lines adds to the fun, before a fine rendition of ‘The lakes of Ponchartrain’.
For a Tyrone man singing in Belfast, ‘The Homes of Donegal’ accompanied by each last person in the Hall, sounds strangely like a hometown gig. ‘Busted Loose’ is a fine end to proceedings.
Nice to see Paul happily spend time signing autographs, and having selfies taken, first gig post -Covid I’ve seen the artist do so. Maybe I don’t get out enough!
No fancy backdrop or lighting needed, the stage was primed with three guitars, a keyboard, a mandolin, and a man happy in his own skin and the wealth of his own talents, and happy to share them with an audience who loved every last note.