We are playing at The London Palladium tonight, and next week at the outdoor arena in Pompeii where Pink Floyd performed”
The Bass player, Tony Shanahan is calling me from London.
“That’s amazing, how are the tickets going?” “Sold out, all the shows are sold out” Tony is talking about Patti Smith gigs, he is her bassist and musical director, I can’t imagine more disparity between two artists as people, than Patti and myself. Yet Tony finds himself comfortable with both of us, and us with him.
Tony has a hundred cousins in Cork - where his parents emigrated from - and a good few of them made their way south to see their American cousin performing with me in Levis of Ballydehob. Levis used to be one of those Grocer/Bar establishments that were common in Ireland. Now it has been taken over by Joe the nephew, and because he was the singer in a Band called ‘Fred’ he chose music as a way to draw audiences to the business left behind by two grand aunts.
Joe pestered me for years to play there, and I kept saying ‘Where?’ And Joe being the great character that he is, convinced me that Levis was essential, he didn’t mention that it could take me six hours to get there from Wexford. He also neglected to mention that the capacity of Levis is about forty, or forty-five at a push.
The first time I played there was a bit confusing. “Where do I play Joe” “Well most of the bands play behind the grocery counter” I looked at it, the shelves were filled with oddities, Bisto Tins, tinted bottles, and Irel Coffee Posters colourfully etched into tin, rusty tools and bad paintings hanging off kilter. The counter on the opposite side was the bar, and in between stood an old upright Piano, out of tune but playable. Joe had thought twice of taking it for nothing off someone, because it took up precious space. I didn’t have a band, so I chose to perform outside the counter, the audience could go behind if they wanted.
It’s at the foot of a three-story house that is filled to the brim with furniture, holy pictures and lots of beds. Joe invites the musicians to sleep upstairs. I chose the attic, and got myself ready for the gig. Clipping the little window open, I looked down at the colourful Main Street as it curved up the hill, and wondered who the people out there were? Would they care about me performing downstairs? Two attractive young women stopped to look in the window of a small art gallery across the street, I wondered where they were walking to, and they seemed dressed for something.
Joe said to come down around 8.30, I waited in the kitchen as he introduced me, then I walked through the frosted glass door to the roar of a crowded bar, I panned the room of heart warming smiles, and amongst them spotted the two women who had been across the street, this was where they were going. Later I was to find out that people had come from as far away as Belfast.
Last Saturday night we sold so many tickets, Joe had to put Tony and I out in the back, where he has created a tiny amphitheatre. Tony Shanahan was beaming from ear to ear, and his cousins were everywhere. Tony, who played on my new album, journeyed from New Jersey to Pompeii, and from that hallowed venue to the back of Levis with me, he is a true soul brother. And Ballydehobinners do make one feel loved.