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Underneath the Arches

September 19, 2012

When Edinburgh’s rich deserted the old town for the Georgian splendours of the New Town at the start of the nineteenth century, the artisans occupied their original tenement homes, but the poorest in the city remained in the fetid tunnels and caves underneath the old town’s bridges. Excavation tells us that they existed on a subsistence diet of the cheapest commodities available to them. However, it also tells us that, at the time, that meant a diet of oysters, port and claret!

So The Caves venue in Edinburgh has a history which is both interesting and unexpected. Last night saw a continuation of this, when any Irish students, still reeling from surviving Freshers’ Week, would have been amazed to discover that, a few weeks after needing to queue round the block to see their countrywoman, Eleanor McEvoy,
at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, she would be far more easily accessible in the more intimate surroundings of this club venue.

With its uplighted vaulted roof and candles burning on rocky ledges, there was something magical about the atmosphere and McEvoy’s panache and enthusiasm combined to make it a memorable night.

Long feted in Ireland and Europe, Eleanor’s impact comes from a pretty unique blend of musicianship, commitment and connection. Last night we had acoustic and electric guitar, violin played straight, pizzicato and spiccato, as well as beautifully understated keyboards and, idiosyncratically, two Swan Vesta matchboxes used for accompanying
percussion at one point.

Her songs reach out – whether the yearningly frustrated ‘Sophie’. musing the heartache of anorexia, the self deprecating and beautiful love song: “You’ll hear better songs than this” (don’t think so!) or her rousing bluesy finale: “The way you wear your troubles”. And, though she’s an adopted daughter of Wexford, the warmth of that aul’ Cabra
pronounciation adds even more authority to the songs’ emotional impact.

Having attacked the world of ‘Vogue’ and its demands in the wry ‘Wanna look like me’, religion doesn’t escape, when she declaims ‘Deliver me’, with the fieriness that was also evident in her reaction to noisy interlopers in the balcony area above the performance space. The spark is vital, but the gentleness of songs like ‘Harbour’ is quite special and unique.

There is blues, folk, country, classical, and a bit of Irish in her musical delivery. There were a couple of lively jigs and reels on the fiddle and she had us all singing along to “I’ll be willing” – as well as enticing audience harmonies (mostly male at that!) to her classic ‘A Woman’s Heart’ – as I said – reaching out with sincerity as well as enthusiasm.

Anyone who can take standards, ranging from Dylan’s ‘Just like a Woman’, through Lauper’s “True Colours” to Barry McGuire’s ‘Eve of Destruction’, and make them her own, and fresh sounding, is clearly a special talent.

Music brings joy and McEvoy brings the music. Her concerts are feasts of togetherness, reflection and celebration – the oysters and claret if you like of artist/audience connection.

At the end of last night’s show she said it had been a pleasure and a privilege –but the privilege was ours, as was the pleasure. She’s a class act who uses her talent with judgment and perspective, and is very much her own woman: a refreshing original in an increasingly homogenous and stylised music scene.

In conclusion: a word for her sound man, John, whose expertise added to the perfect atmosphere; a word to the venue: it’s a cracking setting, but you will need to deal better with the arseholes in the balcony; and, if Philip King, or anyone ,is listening in Dingle: you do realize Eleanor would be perfect at ‘Other Voices’?????

Maith thu, Eleanor – agus go raibh mile maith agat.

Catch her this week in Glasgow and Airdrie – it’s a joy!

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