Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Roy Thompson packs the BAG

Sometimes you have to stop doing it for everybody else, and take time out to do it for yourself, writes Brian Byrne.

Which is what Roy Thompson did last night, taking the penultimate Ballymore Acoustic Gigs event before the summer break for one of his own. His fans and friends — both the same thing — have been waiting for this for years.

"It's about five years since I did a proper gig on my own," he began the session in Mick Murphys that was packed with a crowd probably as big as was ever in the small pub lounge, and one that lots of the singer-songwriters he has shepherded through the same venue would have loved to have. And always deserve to have.

But that's the music game. Not an easy one for the troubadour on the circuit, doing what he or she loves simply because they do. That came through in the songs that Roy chose, covers from his favourite performers as well as many of his own compositions.

'On the Road Again' was an apt starter, all about picking up the pieces, working on a dream, 'to find my way back home'. Well, he was home in the venue, home amongst friends, home with his beloved Martin guitar, and the dream started to become reality pretty quickly.

It was a night for Roy to pay homage to those whom he admires, many of them American singer-songwriters, and many of those he is now able to call friends through the common wealth of love of music. Name-checked were John Prine, Jeffrey Foucault, Greg Brown, Gillian Welch, the late Townes Van Zandt, Peter Mulvey, John Stacks and others. So he did some covers, did some stories, and most of all did his own material.

Songwriting is mostly about memories and the things we love. Roy recalled how there was always music at home when he was growing up, 'my mother had a lot of 78s, Bill Haley, Fats Waller, the big bands; my brother played piano, including Scott Joplin's The Entertainer, I always loved the sound of ragtime'.

He's an outdoorsman by choice and job as a conservation ranger, so there are motifs like those in 'Keepin' it Real', tying flies on the river, kingfishers, willow warblers — 'rejuvenates my soul, refits all my pieces, makes me whole'. And those in the one he sang for his old friend, the late Larry Roddy who started up the Ballymore gigs, 'we don't forget, but we move on ... like the swallows leave for winter, as the geese come in their stead'.

The 'Headed Home' close to the end of the evening, had a special resonance too, 'I need a place to cool my heels, to flee the fear ... someplace where they all know my name, they all love me just the same'.

We do all know Roy's name, and we do love him for his open soul and ethic of helping every one he can. And more. But this isn't a review, of the music or the man, just a record of a good night that lots of people have been awaiting for a long time.

If you want to hear more, well, Tuesday next 16 June, in Kilcullen Town Hall Theatre, Roy has organised a concert for Maintain Hope, where he and lots of other local entertainers are helping out Gerry O'Donoghue's Maintain Hope charity.

It'll be packed, so get your tickets now, Berneys Chemists or Hair by Eilis. Just €10. But priceless.