Photo: Aisling Walsh – https://ashmosis.wordpress.com/
We all know the hit-or-miss pain that is the Irish in-store gig. Anyone who has ever attended one is likely to have telepathically heard the inward screams of a poor guitar-tuning soul over the deafening silence of the crowd, and participated in a collective wince. Every once in a while the right combination of factors comes into play and both musician and bystander escape relatively unscathed and satisfied, but this is a rarity. Certainly in Ireland anyway.
Time and time again I’ve tried to pinpoint the exact reasons as to why such events often don’t work, but a comprehensive conclusion has always eluded me. Because, looking at the prerequisite components on paper, they really should. You’ve got an act that’s willing to brave the daylight and risk the very possible occurrence of repeated, accidental, awkward eye contact with a single member of the audience, a group of onlookers who have obviously come to terms with the fact that they will have to talk to each other before and after the show without the social crutch of alcohol, and a location which fosters creativity and a sense of community. So, why then, do these performances all too frequently become stifled and implode on themselves? This being Ireland, the most obvious explanation is that a dry gig makes for a dry atmosphere.
Alternatively perhaps this type of setting is just so intimate that a sense of unease settles over those in attendance having not first shared an obligatory drink together. Or maybe it’s as simple as that without a pint in one of your hands, one just does not know what to do with these clumsy self-operated instruments. A friend of mine suggested that handing out miniature bottles of orange and cola like those distributed to youths at community events might help things along. I think she could be onto something.
Last night, I saw Jimmy Monaghan, Brigid Power-Ryce and Yawning Chasm perform at the Bell, Book and Candle in Galway. This was not an in-store gig. It was a gig that happened to take place within a store. Or shop for anyone not reading this from America (trademark “In-Shop” fast, the Irish In-Store – Ed.).
A handful of small but crucial elements assisted in setting an appropriate tone on the night. Attendees sat comfortably on the floor as opposed to self-consciously shifting from foot to foot for too long, which was probably largely responsible for the fluid transition from in-store to gig. Moreover, a quick-thinking Declan Kelly (one half of Yawning Chasm) politely suggested that spectators step out for a cigarette in between sets, regardless of nicotine-dependence levels, thereby quashing any potentially unnerving moments as acts changed over. As for ambience, a set of fairy lights was strewn along the floor in front of the performance area while a number of beautiful and complementary images were projected onto a screen behind the musicians.
Jimmy Monaghan of Music for Dead Birds commenced the evening, without trusty drummer Dónal Walsh and just a guitar for accompaniment. Jimmy treated attentive listeners to a glimpse of what to expect of upcoming releases from the duo with tracks such as ‘Penitentiary’ and ‘Singing Freebird’. His rendition of ‘Penitentiary’ was captivating, and showcased the potential of a song that will truly flourish with the addition of percussion. ‘Singing Freebird’ was equally impressive and its chorus succeeded in breaking any initial ice with the humorous line “If you don’t like what I do well then fuck you”.
Up next was Brigid Power-Ryce, who offered an enchantingly subtle and impassioned performance. She did not engage much with the crowd and played with her eyes closed throughout, allowing her finely crafted songs to speak for her instead. Brigid’s strength is without question her voice, which echoed throughout the small room with clarity. The highlight of her set was ‘My Lagan Love’, for which she discarded her electric guitar in favour of an accordion.
Yawning Chasm finished off the night, playing mostly newer songs as well as an old favourite ‘Your Bones Will Be Bleach White’. Aaron Coyne seemed completely comfortable and relaxed sitting on a chair whilst singing and playing guitar, offering a few mellow words between songs. During an interval he revealed that he once worked in the shop and that it and its owner mean a lot to him. It’s no wonder then as to why he was so composed. He was home. Declan on the other hand changed positions as often as he changed instruments, as well as cracking the odd joke. The contrast between the two created symmetry as well as suggesting an unspoken bond. While their performing styles may differ, they seem to provide balance for each other and this was the most arresting aspect of the entire gig. To say that a communal state of enlightenment was reached as they played the ethereal and haunting ‘Moon Silver Ocean’ might be a bit of an overstatement, but it isn’t far off either.