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 — 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.
Peter O’Toole on bouzouki; the tasty, low-key, Fiachna Ó Braonáin, on lead guitar; Martin Brunsden on double bass; and Dave Clarke on drums. Then they drive it on from there with ‘Love Don’t Work This Way’ with Ó Maonlaoí on his toes in a type of rain dance, like the Celtic druid he is.
We’re into a whirlwind of highs and lows with ‘Good For You’, ‘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?
Fifteen minutes later, with a dose of Rachmaninoff thrown in for good measure, we’ve been taken on a global voyage to places we’ve never imagined we’d be.
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. Ó 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.
A word also for support act, 19-year-old Cork singer-songwriter Gerald Ahearn, and his six-piece band. Impressive, energetic, talented.
The same could be said for second support act, Clare Sands, who delivered an eclectic set of self-penned songs.