Irish Sea SessionsDon’t look back? Don’t knock it. In a world so fouled and confused, it’s comforting to know that some things will never change and great songs and singing will always hit you where it counts.

Liverpool was cold last weekend. The wind was whistling in from the Irish Sea and the Mersey was blowing it around town. Collars were up and heads were down.

Things were different up on Hope Street though.

The Philharmonic Hall’s Executive Director Simon Glinn had convinced Irish folk hero Damien Dempsey to come across the water and star in the inaugural Irish Sea Sessions, as part of the Liverpool Irish Festival.

Joined by such wonderful roots artists as flautist Eimar McGowan, Uilleann piper Becky Taylor, pianist David Munnelly, accordion player Collette O’Leary, ballad singer Niamh Parsons, fiddle star Carlene Anglim and musical director and double bass for the night, Bernard O’Neill; Dempsey helped lead the ensemble through a night of riotous reels and Celtic soul.

The format worked like a dream.

Each artist took a turn in the spotlight, before being helped out with harmonies from whoever made the mic first. As one song finished, a reel would announce itself from the dying embers of the previous melody and we’d be off again on a journey as fun as a hen party starting early on Easyjet.

Liverpool was represented by the pipes of Terry Coyne, singer and writer Lizzie Nunery and Amsterdam’s Ian Prowse. They didn’t let you down.

Nunnery’s ‘England Loves A Poor Boy (With A Gun)’ and Prowse’s ‘Does This Train Stop On Merseyside’ both more than held their own alongside such folk classics as ‘The Rocky Road ToDublin’ and ‘I Wish I Was Back In Liverpool’, and we can pay said songs no finer compliment than that.

Damien Dempsey’s ‘Sing All Your Cares Away’ also ensured that there was not a dry eye in the house, as the big Dubliner’s deep and soulful voice reverberated around the hush of the grand old hall and brought people closer together. It was that kind of night.

And that was the point. Music like this is inclusive and it was ironic to note that – on a stage that relies so much on the abilities of those who understand and revere musical theory – it was a gaggle of folk artists who provided one of the best nights that the Phil has seen in a while.

More highlights included Lizzie Nunnery’s acapella ’The Leaving Of Liverpool’, Niamh Parson’s ‘Fear a Bata’ (performed in Gaelic) and Prowse’s wounded determination shining bright on ‘Back Home In Derry’.

In Glasgow, the Celtic Connections events have become big noises annually and it would be a shame to remember the Irish Sea Sessions for one night only. Phil man Glinn hasspoken of his desire to stagethe event each year, perhaps even take it on tour. Let’s hope that it happens.

A folk singing hero? It’s something to be…

Alan O’Hare

Pic John Johnson

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