“[Australia] is the most Irish country in the world outside of Ireland. We are the bearers of a very very proud legacy and heritage. I hope we do it justice tonight.”
The name Shane Howard entered my radar only a month ago when I saw his trio at the Illawarra Folk Festival. The quality shone.
So now the Irish Consulate in Sydney has invited me to this evening called ‘Exile – Songs And Tales Of Irish Australia’. A time to explore Irish Australia. To learn the journey of our music after it arrived here.
Being here three years, I’m fascinated by the narrative of the Irish here in Australia. Like Boston or New York, it is remarkable to see the journey of the diaspora, from street names to smiling eyes to half of the names on plaques on walls. And of course the music. Tonight’s artist: three parts Australian, three parts Irish.
Image © Mark O'Connor
Cork poet, legend, lovely soul John Spillane seemed the darkest horse of them all. He sat noodling away to the side, the quite kid in the class with a thousand yard stare. But once to the fore he comes out with the most shining, genius heart warming songs you’ll ever be lucky to hear. 'Passage West' floored me. A chorus from the gods. Draíocht lyrics. Also winner of rhyming couplet of the night award: “frontal lobotomy or the bottle in front of me”. John has the gift, plain and simple. And did we mention, he’s from Cork too.
When I first heard Declan O'Rourke on Tom Dunne live from the Roisin Dubh in Galway, the talent was there to behold. Along with a classy, acrobatic, baritone voice, and a slickness on the guitar you can now add half didge, half throat-singing to the Dublin native’s skillset. Ladies be loving that shizzle.
Pauline Scanlon was the pure drop of the operation. From Dingle, Co. Kerry, a few miles up the road from the home of the force aka Skellig Michael aka Luke Skywalker’s house. A Gaeilgeoir, her songs enjoy the caress of her native speaker grip.
Image © Mark O'Connor
Leah Flanagan's ‘Saltwater’ sounds reminded of Broome, home of the magnificent Stephen Pigram, another Illawarra jewel I keep in my heart. Her contemporary style was a more modern Australian sound.
The evening had a lovely conversation over and back between the traditional Irish source and the Aussie kid brother showing all the beautiful new moves; Musical Director Ewen Baker providing fiddle tunes to a potentially chaotic but charming three-guitar accompaniment.
And then there was Shane Howard. The skipper of this ship of Irish saints, scholars and groovers with sexy (Colin Farrell) accents. He spoke at the reception beforehand. Acknowledgement to the Eora nation. There it was clear, his vision as an artist.
With visuals and narrative created by his wife, Teresa, tonight’s tale of the Irish in Australia warmed the heart. The impromptu finale of ‘Auld Triangle’s,1916 Irish Rising Leader’s Padraig Pearse ‘Oró Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile’ and ‘Raglan road’ sent us home sweatin’.
Standout tracks of the evening: Declan O'Rourke’s ‘Galileo’, a touching version of Michael Kennedy’s (RIP) song ‘Sight’ interpreted by Shane Howard, the aforementioned ‘Passage West’ by John Spillane and of course ‘Solid Rock’.
'Exile' is touring Brisbane and Perth next.