Doyle's, Dublin, 10 August 2004
Featuring Katell Keineg, Jenny Lindfors, Stephen Maguire and Billy Mangan
The best regular live night in Dublin, the Ruby Sessions every Tuesday upstairs in Doyle's (between Trinity College and the Screen cinema) always has a fine mix of novice and experienced singer-songers. Go along to help the Dublin Simon Community, who benefit from the proceeds. Alternatively, you can be like your heartless reviewer and selfishly take advantage of the excellent value-for-money, intimate atmosphere and quality line-up typified by tonight's varied and interesting bill.
Opening act Billy Mangan, up from Cork for the night, was very nervous and his attempts at onstage repartee came across as a bit manic. Strapping his harmonica around his neck was a dead giveaway that he was a Dylan fan, while both his accent and his wide-eyed naive persona called to mind his fellow Cork-boy John Spillane. After his first song he made a joke about having used Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' - which he didn't actually use until a few songs later. So, apart from fluffing his rehearsed spontaneous banter, his set was notable only for the same meandering tunelessness and embarrassing my-first-poetry-kit lyrics of both Dylan and Spillane. Doesn't anyone else believe that Dylan's influence has contaminated song writing?
Scotsman Stephen Maguire cut a dour figure at first, obviously not into superficial distractions like audience rapport. However, some inter-Scottish heckling saw him crack a smile and a witticism and everyone relaxed a little. But the good humour didn't last. Singing about disappointed love and bedsit-angst as if they were ideals to aspire to, his songs were unremarkable and couldn't redeem his brooding, unfriendly demeanour. Why are most male singer-songwriters so charmless and serious? I'm blaming Dylan again. If more guys listened to 'Blue' by Joni Mitchell, it would save us all a lot of discomfort.
Dubliner Jenny Lindfors, by welcome contrast, seems genuinely pleased to be here tonight and to have us hear her songs. By the end of her impressive cello-enhanced set, we were pleased too. Relaxed and confident, her songs have - yahoo! - memorable tunes and intelligent lyrics. Also noteworthy was her unique promotional technique of almost completely ignoring the tracks on her EP on sale at the door - it obviously worked at some subliminal consumer-brainwashing level because I'm really looking forward to hearing a full album of hers. Until then, we'll just have make the best of it and rush enthusiastically to her concerts.
Swelling tonight's turnout, though, were those who are devoted to the wonderful Katell Keineg. Solo, and with a shorter set than usual, she picked the sweetest fruit of her two fabulous albums, 'O Seasons O Castles' and 'Jet'. Like Lindfors before her, she deals in melodic folk-flavoured pop delivered with confidence and a winning smile. Usually a shy and slightly uncomfortable figure between songs, tonight Keineg was so relaxed that she obliged an audience request, namely the powerful and dramatic 'The Gulf Of Araby'. New song 'Hitler Was A Momma's Boy' was sassy and rocking, a good sign for her long-overdue new album 'High July' should it ever get around to being released.
At the risk of sounding like an ITV gameshow, tonight the girls won and the guys lost.
The weekly Ruby Sessions in Doyle's are in aid of the Simon Community has been running since 1999 and has seen the likes of Damien Rice, Mundy, Paddy Casey, Gemma Hayes and many more well-known Irish and international performers grace its stage. Definitely worth checking out. More info onwww.rubysessions.com.