On Saturday night I went out in Dublin with my friend and fellow harp wiz Eugene Ryan. (Michael McMenamy, another Irish harp player and mutual friend, was unavailable, alas.) After dinner we checked into a pub (which shall remain nameless) to see what music was on offer, and heard a very lame fellow with electric guitar and voice murder a few well-worn blues tunes, after which a lady got up with her much better band and sang the blues in the style of a country singer–not awful, but not very idiomatically correct either. We left before the cover charge was due.
Our next stop was a club called The Mezz, where we heard a trio of bass, acoustic guitar, and drums lay down a few tunes. The band wasn’t great–the singer shouted every word from the back of his throat, which sounded pretty torn up after awhile, the drummer had some time issues, which is not tops for any drummer, and the acoustic guitar was really not suited for the kind of thumping rockers the band was playing–but the bass player was just killer. On our way out of the club I stopped and said to the bass player (who later introduced himself as Daragh Kinch) “You’re a great bass player,” adding for his ears only “and you’re much too good for this band.”
“Thanks man!” he responded. “I’m playing around the corner with a GREAT band at the Turk’s Head in half an hour. Come see us!”
Eugene and I trundled around the corner in the rain to the Turk’s Head, where we grabbed a couple of drinks and waited for the band to show. When they did, I went up to the stage and said hello again to Daragh, who thanked us for coming. I introduced myself and Eugene, and mentioned that I was the author of “Jazz Harp,” and we were immediately invited to sit in.
What a night it was! The band–whose name is “Tropical Issue”–consisted of keys (Binho Manenti), soprano sax (Yanni Hatziefstathiou), bass (Daragh), drums (Caio Fly), and vocals/acoustic guitar (Felipe Vargas), and they laid down one smoking funk groove after another in a two-hour-long continuous set. The singer announced from the get-go that it was “a night of celebration of music and freedom,” and the band was wide open for anything and anyone. (Daragh told me later that “It’s very open, different people all the time. If you’ve got soul, get on up! You’re a member now!”) Eugene and I got up to play from the second tune on. Eugene sat in for a couple tunes; he only had a chromatic harp with him, and this was a funk band, so he chose not to push it too hard for too long. He sounded terrific, with fine lines and a great vibrato. I played with the band until the place closed at 2 AM, playing diatonics through my Fireball mic (which I always bring with me, following advice from Lee Oskar, who told me that I never wanted to put my face up close against a mic somebody else had slobbered all over) straight into the PA. The PA put just a little compression on the mic, and the result was a big, powerful sound that was easily heard in the room and on the stage. (I had my Digitech RP355 with me, but I didn’t have a convertor for Irish power sockets, and anyway it didn’t make sense to stop everything to set up the RP. I would have loved to use some of the RP’s sounds with this band–wow, it would have been nice to use an octave doubler to match a tenor sax sound to the soprano–but when it comes down to it a harp straight through the PA works when that’s all you’ve got.)
In between covers of James Brown, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson, the band improvised grooves (one of which was titled “It’s Harmonica Night at the Turk’s Head;” as it happened, by that time a third harp player, a Dublin local named Jerry Foley, had showed up, and the place was indeed loaded with harp players). By the time the set was half over the soprano sax and I were playing horn section lines, and the whole thing was just rockin’, rockin’, rockin’.
You never know what’s going to happen when you go out to dinner in Dublin, and when you hear someone playing great stuff, it never hurts to tell them so. This was a night to remember for sure.