Is there a moment quite as keen
Or memory as bright
As light and fire and music (sweet)
To warm the winter's night?
The sun may be weak as the New Year eases into existence, but the fire was still burning in the belly of Liam Ó Maonlaoí - me aul flower, so full of fuinneamh, energy-sapping fuinneamh - in Hothouse Flowers’ New Year’s Eve concert at Cork Opera House.
No shoes or socks (of course), mop of hair swaying like a baton, as if leading an orchestra, his solo piano starts, and then ‘An Raibh Tú Ar An gCarraig?’ smooths us into the gig before giving way to ‘I Can See Clearly Now’, Johhny Nash’s original, with attitude and voice volume of the best kind. The group were invited recently to be featured in the opening scene of Amazon Prime’s hugely successful The Grand Tour to perform the song for an invited audience in the Mojave Desert. It then went to Number 1 in the UK iTunes Rock Charts.
Peter O’Toole on bouzouki; the tasty, low-key, Fiachna Ó Braonáin, lead guitar; Martin Brunsden on double bass and Dave Clarke’s on drums, then drive it on from there with ‘Love Don’t Work This Way’ with Ó Maonlaoí on his toes in a Zulu-like rain dance, like the Celtic druid he is. Then it’s into a whirlwind of highs and lows with ‘Good For You’, ‘Songs From The Rain’, ‘The Lakes of Pontchartrain’, ‘This Is It’ , and ‘Rainy Night In Soho’ from guests Cork’s Clare O’Riordan and Jack O’Rourke; and a big jam on ‘Hallelujah Jordan’, as we build to midnight and ‘Don’t Go’. Why would we want to?
The encore starts with ‘Feel Like Living’, then ‘Your Love Goes On’ and 45 minutes into the new year there was still time for a deoch an doras (one for the road) with ‘Three Sisters’.
Four decades later they are still playing the best gig they have ever played. This was one of them. Mesmerising to watch, oh joy to the world. This was a goose pimples on your goose pimples night. O’Maonlaoí was once quoted as saying: "Sometimes I literally place my hands on my belly to keep the fire there." Some like it hot - this was boiling, 100 degrees Celsius, 100% effective.
Check out their new album Let’s Do This Thing, available for download on the band's website.
A word for first support act, 19-year-old Cork singer-songwriter Gerald Ahearn, and his six-piece band, who a few weeks earlier supported Billy Ocean on the same stage. Impressive, energetic, talented. Love the unbridled youth and confidence from everyone of them. Take your lead from the main act masters, tone back the volume a notch or two in theatres like this and you’ll be the big noises you want to be. Watch out for Ahearn’s album on February 1.
The same could be said for second Cork support act, the classically trained multi-instrumentalist, composer, singer and songwriter Clare Sands who delivered a sometimes folk, sometimes jazz, blues, other times South American-influenced impressive set of self-penned songs, and who was joined on staged by Fiachna for ‘Stella Fiesta’- an upbeat, energetic, multilingual summer single inspired by global travelling and world music. She, along with fellow Leesider, Jack O’Rourke, later blended so so smoothly and at times lead sections of the ‘Flowers’ set.