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Irish folk singer shows his roots

Gary Muir
The Expositor
Brantford, Ontario

After the dynamic and almost frenetic performances of Orealis and Four Men And A Dog earlier this season, the Brantford Folk Club brought in a decided change of pace with its presentation of singer-songwriter Brendan Nolan on Friday evening.

There is a connection here, in that all three concerts contained an Irish factor, but there the similarity ends as, for the most part, Nolan's low key performance made you want to sit back and contemplate rather than jump up and dance.

At one point in Friday's concert, the affable quiet Irishman, who now resides in St. Petersburg after a 10-year sojourn in Montreal, apologized for singing so many Irish songs. He had no need to. His roots are there and it is apparent that he has an obvious affinity and empathy for music from that country.

His song selection examined Ireland, both past and present, and included traditional and contemporary material, much of that in the latter category coming from Nolan's own pen.

The past came through in one of his own songs, Beresford, which is set during the rebellion in Ireland in 1798 and traces the fortunes of the son of a nobleman who falls in love with a servant girl and has to flee with her to Canada to escape the wrath of his father.

The theme of Irish Immigration got a good workout by Nolan. Again, on the traditional side, he included a sensitive rendition of Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore, which portrays the unbelievable shipboard conditions endured by those crossing to North America in the nineteenth century.

The Immigrant theme was also there In another Nolan original, the questioning The Curse of the Immigrant. The autobiographical and insightful piece illustrates the dilemma faced by any immigrant, who must often wonder what life would have been like had he stayed at home, especially when he sees his dreams, "break, like shells upon the shore."

Modern day Ireland was also there in a haunting rendition of Phil Coulter's The Town I Loved So Well, which depicts the torment that the town of Derry in Northern Ireland has undergone since the beginning of the "Troubles."

In a lighter vein, another of Nolan's songs about immigrants of a sort, told of Joe Dolan. Complete with whack-fal-a-diddles, this tune relates how Joe was determined to fight for Israel in the Seven Days' War. Unfortunately for Joe, his hitchhiking efforts got him to the front too late and the only thing he ended up killing was a bottle or six of whiskey.

Nolan's accompaniment, whether on guitar or bodhran, was never intrusive but helped to set the mood needed by each song and along with his straightforward and unpretentious musical delivery left the audience in a mellow and satisfied frame of mind.