With Jason Manford doing a run of warm up shows in The Met’s main theatre and the lure of the Eurovision Song Contest from the comfort of the armchair, a more discerning crowd gathered in The Studio for an evening of finely crafted Irish songs and tunes from the now Yorkshire based native of Coleraine (N. Ireland), Damien O’Kane who was accompanied by a crack duo consisting of Manchester’s John-Joe Kelly on bodhrán (who even earned himself a solo showcase at the end of the night) and the unpretentious but immensely gifted Ed Boyd on guitar.
Taking inspiration from his native Northern Ireland and the likes of his eldest daughter’s Peppa Pig obsession and puddle jumping escapades, there were the occasional welcome lapses into love songs amongst the more traditional folk topics of tragedy and despair, with the likes of the gentle title track from his first solo album Summer Hill and the lovely Banks Of The Bann which he has been performing quite regularly in his solo slots whilst supporting his wife Kate Rusby on tour. Several sets of tunes where Damien took the lead with his dexterous and lively banjo playing invoked the usual foot tapping and it didn’t really matter that he confessed to some of the compositions not really having titles as yet. The likes of A Trip To Portugal and The Penistone Shroud which feature on the Mystery Inch album sat comfortably alongside newer compositions such as The Middleton Thief which simmered like a rock stomp before coming to the boil and taking off into a high tempo jig.
With an audience request for The Banks Of Boyne fulfilled and adding to the ‘water and river’ songs in the set alongside another Summer Hill favourite, The Strands Of Magilligan, it was an intense and fervent take on The Breaking Of Omagh Jail which took the prize for highlight of the evening; all three musicians pushing each other to their playing limits. A tremendous performance from a trio who seem to have a natural intuitive feel for playing alongside each other. It’s a shame that Damien seems content to take on a role which is out of the limelight; the intermittent yet welcomed opportunity to demonstrate his own prowess gives a rare chance to see some of the master exponents of folk music at work.
Review by: Michael Ainscoe
Photo Credit: Micahel Ainscoe (Copyright 2013)