Live Reviews

Sharon Shannon Trio – Norton’s, Digbeth: Live Review

Sharon Shannon Trio – Norton’s, Digbeth – 17th February 2023

Can it really be 30 years since I first clapped eyes on this consummate mistress of the box, and the glee she displays in delighting audiences. Ongoing; given, shared and reflected back by a heaving audience of the faithful.

Norton’s is new to me, at least as a venue, and on this evidence, it is an absolute corker, and one to which I will certainly be back. “Not just another Irish pub” is their byline, along with the tag, much in evidence, “Slainte bab“, an affectionate homage to the Brummie Irish population, a mash-up of the Gaelic with the local tongue, as the Irish and their forbears still pack a sizeable punch in, especially, this part of the city. Like many, I first came across it courtesy the carving up of the High Street here, pending the extension of the tramlines. Forced into a detour up Meriden Street, making my way to the O2 Institute, it looked an inviting pint. And it was/is, the proprietor proudly showing off his concert room and flogging me tickets to this very gig.

Six months on business looks good, a fair old line stretching out the side door, the adjacent bar packed. A multi-generational crowd, with some family groups, all demonstrating the appeal Shannon has across both the staunchly traditional camp and the neo-trad fusioneers. With perhaps my only grouch being that it was all seating, line upon line of rickety chairs laid out in front the stage, nonetheless the atmosphere was high and heady and the anticipation was palpable. Timed to arrive at 8pm, she did just that, along with the current members of her trio, Jim Murray and Jack Maher. I say current, as both are long-term accompanists of hers, and it is they who are with her on her live double, Live At De Barras, recorded in 2020 and released the year after. (And that mightn’t be a bad place to start, should this piece tickle your interest.)

We’re going to play some jigs,” she said, with a massive grin, and that’s exactly what she did, squeezing off with Neckbelly, immediately showing quite how fast her right hand and fingers can be, tumbling over the buttons. With Merry Go Round, the hint of a bluebeat rhythm a recurring feature of her playing. Murray was already showing off a ridiculous grasp of his guitar, his blur of surely eight fingers on each hand producing a flurry of chords, far from those automatically deemed necessary. Those deemed necessary were coming from Maher, who was the more received rhythmic metronome, the pair the perfect bedding for Shannon’s sparkling bombardment of the melody lines. Dedicating the next one, a more lilt of a tune to her Mammy Shannon, Mammy’s Jig, had the audience blinking into their porter.

Maher sings too, coming first to the fore for Man Of Constant Sorrow, the old staple that found renewed life from George Clooney’s ‘O Brother, Where Are Thou’, with the Soggy Bottom Boys kicking this 19222 song back to life. Shannon made Maher’s job that much easier by stating how it has been Jackson Browne who had sung it on her own studio rendition thereof. No pressure, then. And none taken, his agreeable baritone a perfect instrument. The more continental swing of Coridinia follows, ahead of further hooleys that begged for the absence of chairs. One of these had included, it seemed, an instrumental version of Moondance, “which you wouldn’t have recognised“, after she had played it. Whether a criticism or merely observation, I confess she wasn’t wrong.

Duo In G now gave a showcase for her band to shine, a classically based piece, with Maher now on mandolin. As astonishing to watch the fingers employed in the delivery, this was stunningly effective, Shannon herself only coming in for the second half. Another conjoined romp of jigs, or rather, polkas and it was time for a breather. And a decent pint of an ale I was hitherto unfamiliar, Galway hooker.

The second half demonstrated I wasn’t alone in discovering the bar, it all getting a tad noisy as the trio launched into the second half, causing a brief flicker of concern to cross Shannon’s otherwise ceaseless beam. Reading the room perfectly, she quelled the backchat with a pin-drop rendition of Indigo, paired with Beatrice, which took up the reins again for a lively gallop, this time without the unnecessary noise. Maher pitched in with another song, Smile, I think, a glorious downbeat song of wry optimism.

Jigatha Christie is a great name, by any standard, and is one of her more nostalgic and wistful tunes, the feel becoming apparent that we were beginning to coast into the home straight. Blackbird, surely one of her best known tunes, cemented that feel, ahead the you can all join in of Courtin’, which had the hall joining in on the chorus, if needing little in the way of any prompt to do so. With Murray inviting the audience to clap, you can imagine it, I’m sure. All too soon and she was announcing the closer, this time, to balance the earlier tribute to he Ma, with Daddy Shannon’s Jig, segued into my personal nemesis, Penguin Cafe’s Orchestra’s wretched Music For A Found Harmonium. I know, I know, my problem, my bad, but I wish they’d all stopped looking for the bloody instrument. Shannon, Murray and Maher played it impeccably, of course.

Traditional crowds demand a traditional encore experience, and how might Ms Shannon appease this most traditional of audiences? Can you think of anything in her repertoire that might seem fit? And yes, clearly she does and did, with a rousing version of Galway Girl, with everyone bellowing along the Steve Earle parts with much gusto and little restraint (and certainly not a thought of any other song by a similar name). As that eased into a gentler Phil Cunningham air, we all knew that was it, and tottered off into our respective journeys, enriched and engaged by yet another demonstration of how and why live music trumps all experience. No fiddle tonight, from the bandleader, but she did unbox her whistle at one stage, for one of sets in the first half.

Thank you, Sharon, and Slainte, Bab.

Here’s one I found earlier, the same trio, live in Clonakilty, from the live album mentioned above, with Coridineo

Sharon Shannon online: website / facebook / twitter / Instagram

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