All the hip young recessionistas spend their time in newly spawned collective “spaces” in old shop spaces, houses, factories or wherever, cogitating over art, photography, slam poetry and obscure touring bands. That’s what the newspapers tell you.
They’re not far wrong, for once. On Friday I saw the first Exchange event, a night of spoken word performances put on by the Exchange Words collective. There was performance poetry about things like breaking boundaries, and live radio theatre making an entertaining point about indoctrination, and a slightly incongruous, massively offensive stand-up set from Gareth Stack (as if he could ever blend seamlessly into a line-up). It was great. And they have the fire cert now, so rejoice, and start preparing for daytime all-ages gigs by touring bands you’re into as well as a new venue to see Irish bands in.
Before there was the Exchange though, there was the Joinery. Though (or perhaps as a lifelong 39 bus passenger, because) it’s a little out of the way in Stoneybatter, the Joinery’s former shop space in Arbour Hill has become one of my favourite places to see music. It has couches, it’s BYOB, everyone’s friendly and knows what’s up, and the gigs that go on there have a certain personality that wouldn’t really transfer to a bar venue, or even the glossier Exchange.
Last week I saw a line-up featuring Thinguma*jigsaw (Norway), Arlt (France) and Sport Murphy (Brooklyn, New York, USA). Here’s where the “certain personality” part comes through. Thinguma*jigsaw’s default line-up is banjo and musical saw, plus voice. Arlt’s is one acoustic guitar, two voice. Sport Murphy’s, two acoustic guitars, one voice. Not a microphone in sight. That’s coolness points right away, makes you feel like you’re at some kind of 60s hipster happening.
Thinguma*jigsaw, responsible for the tri-national tour as far as I’m aware (and playing for Ireland in it), were on first. It’s fairly well-documented here already that I think they are the bee’s knees. Unamplified as usual and still acting like a macabre touring circus act between songs, they were arresting, atmospheric and ghoulish. This was complemented by the period during which flautist/sawswoman/ukelele-master Martha Redivivius hid ominously in a nook. I don’t know how hiding can be ominous, but I don’t make the rules of action-signification. Here’s a picture.
After Thinguma*jigsaw came Arlt, a French duo consisting of a man with preposterous facial hair and a just generally French-looking woman. They were charmingly anti-folk, and did a sterling job of trying to explain what their (French) songs were about with a typically loose, Gallic grasp of the English language. They also played unamplified, playing off the dynamics of the gentleman’s deep voice and the lady’s effort-free but perfect soprano. All good so far.
Despite the solid excellence of the continentals, though, it was Sport Murphy who stole the show. Murphy was much more towards the mainstream of folk than his freak folk (Arlt) and unclassifiable morose banjo ballad (Thinguma*jigsaw) associates. But a little bit of personality is all it takes to win over a crowd at something as friendly as the Joinery, and between his James Murphy (brother?) drawl and his Bill Hicks appearance, he managed this with relative ease.
This is a guy north of forty, but if that’s not enough to tell you he’s lived, he’ll tell you himself. Wife leaving, wife coming back. Friends dying because of heroin. Stories of growing up with his nephew, sitting up and listening to Dylan records. And then stories of Petey being killed in the Twin Towers collapse, working as a fireman.
The songs were totally American, talking about life in New York after September 11th through the lens of being one of the families every politician’s heart went out to, and more broadly existing in a US songwriter milieu. But there’s Irishness to this, too, if you hadn’t noticed from the name. A satirical song about a holy relic in the local parish, for example, the same parish the mass for Petey was held in.
And, good Citizen as I am, it warms my cockles to hear somebody say “It’s great to finally be in Dublin, city of my father, city of my heart” because, in spite of all the cynicism about Irish Americans, and in spite of the crippling self-hatred under which all Irish seem to labour, I can relate to that. It’s the city of my father too, and the city of Joyce and Beckett, and collective art spaces that will never be as good as Berlin and thus never good enough, and the city of a river that gets called dirty even though it’s the only river through a European capital with salmon left in it
It was good to overhear Mr. Murphy outside saying he went to the Ha’penny Bridge, recited some Yeats and returned some of his emigrant father to that river. There are worse places to end up.