“The jukebox part of the night is over!”

Took  myself and the visiting Australian off to the Black Box’s Open House Festival last night to see Luka Bloom. Because I enjoy random bits of his stuff and she was up for a gig sold with: ‘well, they put him down as folk because … oh never mind, you’ll see.’

We started with the compere accidentally flustering support, leading to some operational difficulties, since if the guitarist has to play the first three bars on his own before the flute and fiddle come in, it helps to have the guitar plugged in. Actually Luka Bloom proceeded to do exactly the same thing half an hour later, so I think the trio from Glengormley School of Traditional Music weren’t doing too badly. And they were absolutely excellent.

Luka Bloom is an entertaining and funny man in the habit of wandering on stage with the teaspoon still in his mug and leaping backward so hard from the feedback he’s accidentally caused by hanging the guitar lead off the mike that he knocks over the other mike stand behind him. I think everyone was just grateful he didn’t take out the guitar stand. He mostly veers between romance, emigrant songs and social commentary with the odd song about mermaids. He’d probably have been a hippy in the 70s if nice boys from Kildare went in for being hippies, as it is, he mostly hits a nice line between idealism about the power of music in his songs and an excellent grasp of what people are actually like in his chat. And has views on the turf-cutting ban.

This was a no set-list gig “I’m just playing what comes into my head and the next song that comes into it after that, and we’ll see how it goes” and requests taken (“Could you ask for things I’ve actually played in the last five years?)”. Which caused a row down the back, because Belfast audiences are just like that*. Also five minutes of deep confusion while the requester and Bloom attempted to line up what she was asking for with a song he’d actually written. Dear everyone ever, please do not ask for songs by giving a random line from the second verse, it confuses the life out of everyone, particularly the man who wrote it.

Post-jukebox, he brought Conor Byrne up and went a bit more trad, but he also played ‘Bogman’ and ‘The First Time Ever I saw Your Face’ back to back, thereby making the entire room boggle gently at the tone shift. Byrne is a superb trad flautist, which led to some shameless one-upmanship over the reels.

I wasn’t looking for much, he’s not the kind of singer I generally plan to go see, I don’t have a stack of his albums and I don’t have a deep attachment – more the sort of thing where you rock up because you’ve noticed he’s playing and it’s a guaranteed solid show. But he played ‘Sunny Sailor Boy’ so I went home perfectly content.



* Dylan Moran complains that Belfast is the only place he’s ever been where the hecklers footnote each other. This is possibly an understatement.