On Saturday night Irish song-poet Martin Donnelly flew into town for a special one-off gig at the Star Anise Cafe. Hailing from the north of Ireland, Martin enraptured the small but appreciative audience with his sublime songsmithery. His Irish brogue and avuncular manner eased us into his beautifully-crafted songscapes, often inspired by the coastline of his childhood, his family and friends, and his great passion: birds. Their presence was felt not only in direct references and imagery, but also in the melodies themselves. When asked about the influence of his ornithology on his songcraft, Martin at first offered a brush-off, ‘Isn’t it obvious?’ before responding in a more considered fashion. He illustrated how he has a hyper-awareness of them, their songs, habits and rhythms of movement. They clearly deep move him – the song of a curlew causing a tight pain in his chest, so exquisite he finds it. It was touching to see a man talk about his passion this way.
Particular highlights of his set were ‘She Is’ (his feminist revisioning of the anamorphic ‘Song of Amergin’); and the ‘Green Man’ – two iconic tunes showing the man firing on full cylinders. His poetic songwriting (influenced by Seamus Heaney among others) was matched by his skilled guitar-playing. His gentle, soulful style reminded me (in a good way) of Christy Moore.
Martin provided witty pre-ambles for all the songs and was consistently amusing – to himself as well as to the audience! It was a delight to see someone from Northern Ireland in such gay spirits – normally the gift of the gab, the humour and the craic is seen in the Southern Irish. But Martin Donnelly is a great ambassador for the North – his songs made me want to visit that coast. Martin joked he should be employed by the Northern Ireland tourist board. If you get a chance to catch this skilled songsmith, then please do. It was thanks to Caroine Kelly, director of the Waldorf College, that Stroud was graced with his presence. I hope his migratory path crosses this way again.