Pop: In the eye of a storm

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The Independent Culture
IT'S SURPRISING to realise that it has only been during the past 15 years or so that the likes of Christy Moore, Paul Brady and Mary Black have established a world market for a brand of easy-listening pop music firmly rooted in the Irish tradition but almost exclusively fuelled with songwriting, home-grown or bought in, in a pre-hat act American country vein. Hard to define more concisely but almost a genre in its own right.

Braving the storm-force winds and risking (successfully) an intermittent electricity supply, Dolores Keane, one of the longest-established stars of the scene, and her younger brother Sean, one of the fastest rising, were rewarded with a more than healthy turnout and a rapturous reception - from an audience demographic that major labels in Britain would simply never dream of. If the showband era of the Sixties has bequeathed to the world the blue-rinse pap of Daniel O'Donnell and his cronies, it has perhaps redeemed itself in fostering a communality of social experience with live music and a healthy belief that singers and songwriters don't necessarily have to be the same people. In the case of Dolores and Sean, they may never find themselves in the running for a Mercury Music prize but they are quite simply great singers with great songs - and that is a quality that should never be taken for granted or undervalued.

Touring for the first time together, the show took the form of two separate sets from each artist and their regular bands, with a smattering of duets and swapping of personnel - indeed the mercurial and rock-solid Ted Ponsonby deserves a mention in despatches for saving the cost of two rhythm guitarists and seemingly memorising two acts' entire repertoire with consummate cool. For this was no scripted show. Sean, at least, never sings the same set two night's running and that, together with an unusually dynamic band - Ponsonby on rhythm, Michael McGinty on string bass and Robbie Overson powerhousing away on Townshend-ish lead guitar - adds edge to what will always be a naturally gifted vocal performance.

Some of the duets were more compelling than others, but when the match succeeded, as on Kieran Halpin's strident, dramatic "Like Sister, Like Brother" - allowing Dolores's windswept, husky and declamatory style and Sean's higher, more lonesome tones to make something greater than the sum of the parts - it was a triumph.

Promoting her Greatest Hits Collection, Dolores delivered essentially that with typical good humour. But the reception for Sean's set was extraordinary, and with the appearance of effortless control - an eye of serenity in the midst of his band's storm - he moved the whole show up a gear. Emigration, peace and love gone wrong are themes that dominate Dolores' material but while Sean explores similar paths, he casts a much wider net. Three albums in, he's one of the great Irish discoveries of the Nineties.