The Ruby Sessions at Doyles, Tuesday 22-06-2004

20:44 Sitting on the train tryinq to see through the steamed-up windows to see where we are. Looks like it might be Sandymount. I can feel the wheels of the train slipping as it accelerates too quickly and loses grip on the rails. How can we live in a country this wet and not build transport systems that can cope?

20:56 It's five to, but the venue's still closed. Time for a pint.

21:00 Still not open. Standing in a queue on the stairs with a pint, so that's ok. Talking to a few people in the queue who seem to be serious fans; one of 'em has brought her Tycho Brahe CDs along. She's considering getting them signed, since they're now officially a limited edition due to the band's name change.

21:06 Finally! Seat at the front, too. Too bad there's no sign of the others as I suspect the gig proper will be full to standing capacity. The stage is just a corner of the room with some red velvet curtains to create a backdrop/backstage. Oh, and a broomstick to turn off the house lights.

21:37 Gig start! yay!

I'd come to see Tychonaut (nee The Tycho Brahe) playing, but it turns out it's a multi-act gig; four bands for your fiver, and the fiver's going to charity anyway. The first act is Niall James Holohan - one man and his slightly distorted, slightly off key guitar. He's apparently just back from the South By South West (SXSW) bash in Austin, Texas. He launches into the first song with a little dramatic phrasing, which may have been part of the act or may have contained the name of the song. Either way, he's entertaining. His second song is called Silence, but there's not much of that - he's funny, and the crowd likes him. He introduces his third song: "This is called The Fall Of The Roman Empire"; he pauses, then adds, "It's about America, for the illiterates". That gets him a laugh, and the song gets him more cheers and applause. The music is solid banging acoustic guitar, and his voice isn't spectacular, but it fits the music, and the lyrics are thoughtful and funny at the same time. Song four is introduced as "This is for all the lovers here tonight" followed by half-sigh, which gets a few more laughs, and he's off again. Song five - "this is a Dublin song, it's called Pissing In The Sink" - is evidently for the drinkers, and gets cheers, laughs, grins of recognition, the lot. Even the tourists seem to enjoy it despite it being laden with local references. Introducing his final song, Niall comments, "I've been told to talk more between songs, but I can't fuckin' do it" - which really doesn't seem to be true; sure, he's getting his words tangled occasionally, but we're all entertained anyway. The last song is Sexually Attracted To Myself, which, being (somewhat mockingly) about high self-opinion, can't fail to woo an Irish crowd - mocking the proud is, after all, one of our national pastimes - and he gets us all to sing along with the last chorus. Which we do, after a little encouragement. And then he's done, leaving the stage to raucous applause and cheering.

The second act is Susan Enan, a singer/songwriter/guitarist who looks like she belongs in the Sheryl Crow genre and sounds that way, too, although her voice has a haunting quality that's occasionally reminiscent of Kate Bush. She's accompanied by, if I heard correctly, Kelvin Bush, who plays a double bass with flair and precision. Susan's guitar playing is simple, clear, and really sits nicely under her voice. Again, I missed the name of the first song, but I suspect from perusing the EP that it may have been Moonlight. Song two is Skin, Bone and Silicone, which has a rocking guitar sound somewhat reminiscent of The Beautiful South, and Kelvin sings backing vocals. The lyrics are gorgeous, every word carefully chosen to fit the mood and rhythm of the song. She introduces Kelvin on the way into the third song, The Grave, which has the sound of a lament and describes the impermanence of everything - it'll all be gone in the grave. She could sing this without any amplification as the audience is fully attentive and perfectly silent, and her guitar rings out clearly as she plays. The fourth song, On Your Side, she says she's playing as a favour to Kelvin. "'cos I like it", says Kelvin. Susan responds, "I don't", and they laugh. The song sounds a bit like The Band's The Weight. Kelvin says he likes the song because he gets to play, and it's true - he does a lovely little fill at the end of the first verse which draws murmurs of amusement and appreciation from the audience. They continue the banter after the song, with Susan playing straight man to Kelvin, and the humour is only accentuated by Kelvin's Northern accent. The fourth and final song is Bring On The Wonder, and the crowd responds with rousing applause and cheering. The MC announces that Susan will be selling her EP briefly before hightailing it off to gigs elsewhere, so there's a bit of a rush to the door to buy them. Susan's selling them herself, and is very unassuming and graciously accepts compliments on her set. She certainly made an impression at our table; I think between us we bought five or six copies of the EP.

The third band is called Hummingbird (no website that I can find) The MC tells us they've recently been in the States and shared the stage with a bunch of "name" people, including either Will Young or Justin Timberlake. The frontman says, "it's all true" as they launch into the first song. I spend most of the song, Almost Gone, trying to figure out who they sound like. They're a three-piece group: guitar/vocals, bass, and the smallest drumkit I've seen since Stray Cats. Some of the music sounds like Tom Petty, and the singer's got a sort of David Gray voice, and really I don't think these sounds go well together. I'm finding them almost boring to listen to even though they're quite obviously talented. The bass guitarist sings backing vocals during the first track, and gets some nice harmonies going with the lead, but really I'm not hooked. For the second song, the frontman retunes his guitar, while he apologises to the crowd for doing so. The song is called Free For The Day, and once it gets going it somehow sounds like they've got a piano on stage - partly down to some really stylish work on the part of the bass player, who's hitting bass chords and the like. At this point it strikes me that there's a little of Nine Days about their sound, too, and I'm sure you could name another half-dozen similar sounding bands. Before the third song, The Calling, the frontman introduces the band. He's not exactly a brilliant lead - he's spending too much time tooling with his guitar, and he can't really talk to the crowd. He says that the song is from the EP they released in November 2003, and from the bar, it sounds a bit like Neil Young on Harvest Moon, but the fact that I'm at the bar is telling - I can't be bothered to wait for the next gap between acts. They finish up with a song called Holding On. One of the guys at my table went to talk to them afterward and said the frontman had no presence off-stage, either, which really is a shame, because they can play.

Finally, the band I actually came to see are about to start. The MC does a little spiel about the gig - it's called The Ruby Sessions, they've released a CD and done a little tour, that sort of thing - and gives props to the sound engineer, Steve Lynch. Which he deserves; Steve is one of the most attentive sound engineers I've ever seen, taking cues from the bands as they play in order to give them the mix they're looking for.

Tychonaut are, alas, somewhat disappointing, particularly given that they were really good the last time I saw them. They open with Your House From Mine from their first album (This Is), but they're not quite gelling - it's four distinct musicians playing ensemble instead of one musical unit. They've acquired a cello player since I saw them last, and she's got a very delicate touch, but it's still a little overbearing and doesn't work so well with the vocals. The second song is Internal Life Of Animals and they're using a backing track for it. They work a little better on this, but it's still not right, and it's a little jarring when the song ends abruptly. They finally get it together for the third song, Lucky The Bee, which sounds almost as good as it does on the Love/Life album, and they continue with Defiance from the second disc in the same album. Their final song, Half Mast is met with more cheers than they really deserve - I think for anyone who'd never heard them before, this really wasn't a good showcase - but they still come back for an encore for which they perform Out of the Blue.

On the whole, I'm glad it turned out to be a four-act gig, because if I'd turned up just for Tychonaut I'd have been sorely disappointed. As it is I've come away with a new CD (Susan Enan's EP) and a pair of names to look out for in the gig listings in future.