photo: Bill Shaw
He was the guy who annoyed me almost the entire way through the gig. The drunk who chatted loudly at the wrong moments and even tried to sing along at the non sing along moments. On the way out he looked me in the eye, staggered across and told me he knew what a fan I was when I got the first G in Gloria! Suddenly we are mates and he says, “the music is in good hands with Glen.” How right he is!
At this Ulster Hall gig Glen Hansard came 100 miles up the road and showed why so many of us believe hm to be the Elisha to the Elijahs of Bruce and Van. The opening song, a new one called Roll On Slow had his Springsteen reference - “Thunder Road on the E Street Radio” - and two songs in we got a rousing version of Them’s Gloria! Truthfully the first nine minutes alone were worth the price of the ticket.
After that we got two and a half hours of genre variety and instrumental versatility. Hansard doesn’t hem himself to Van and Bruce. Oh no! We were in New Orleans one moment with the amazing horn section, on Mermaid Avenue in Brooklyn singing Woody Guthrie the next, then across to Mike Scott’s Spiddal, into Dublin pubs with an unaccompanied Rocky Road To Dublin before bringing it home to Belfast with another Van cover, Into The Mystic.
There are a lot of shifts in volume. We rock out with seventies guitar solos to the tenderness of the string quartet. There are a lot of blues in the foundational structure of what Hansard is doing right now. We get a lot of the last record Didn’t He Ramble and a sign of Hansard’s musical confidence as well as confidence in his fanbase we get more brand new songs that at any other gig I have ever been to. Between Two Shores lands in January and the songs were so strong that I absolutely had to buy the vinyl edition available at the merch table tonight.
There wasn’t as much auld chatter tonight but when it came it was as humorous and insightful as ever. Hansard gave our gifted genius of a painter Colin Davidson some abuse (humorously harsh I’d say Colin), “his favourite Protestant!!” and before a tender song Shelter, on the piano, Hansard explained his efforts to help homeless people in Dublin at the start of the year. “Tonight’s money is going to the Simon Community,” he declared to a raucous cheer. My daughters were there and I just loved that they were seeing a musical hero who is a genuine hero.
Trump took a pasting after Guthrie’s Vigilante Man. Apparently a Fred Trump was once a cruel landlord to Guthrie and Hansard having had the privilege of reading Woody’s journals wrote a piece that links the Trumps with a Guthrie line, “What I would do to him, if I thought I could get away with it!” Comic and prophet all rolled into one songwriter’s vocation! My favourite, the dirt blues rock out, Way Back In the Way Back When was dedicated to the refugees coming from the middle east to the north west.
As a boy I was a winner of a Boys Brigade Choir competition. I remember as an eleven year old being told the importance of using the entire stage. Strings to his right, brass to his left, this thirteen piece band did just that. There was always something happening musically. The near perfect sound in the Ulster Hall makes it the best place in Belfast to hear live music. I have been watching Glen Hansard for 27 years and he is at the peak of what he does. So, this was one mighty gig.
Chatting to friends Andy and Beth I was telling them about the 27 years. Andy told me he was 27 this year. Ouch! I then challenged this newly engaged couple to make sure they got their children to a Glen Hansard gig in 27 years time! Andy agreed it wouldn’t be Bruce Springsteen in 2044. Never mind, as my new drunk buddy put it, “the music is in good hands.”