|The Pat McManus Band – Belfast, The Longfellow – 4 March 2017|
|Written by Mark Ashby and The Dark Queen|
|Saturday, 11 March 2017 04:00|
There’s a standing joke among some peeps in these parts that you have to make sure you have your passport validated before you cross the River Lagan, which separates east Belfast from the rest of the city. By sheer coincidence, myself and Mrs A actually had our passports with us… purely and simply because we’d needed them for ID for the Northern Ireland Assembly elections two days previously and by the time you read this we’ll have jetted over to Wales for HRH AOR, so they were lying in the bottom of my trusty backpack! Fortunately, the border guards proved to be friendly souls as our taxi whisked us over the bridge to the famed Longfellow Bar, home of the annual Woodstock Blues Festival – and, this fine Spring evening, the ‘The Professor’ himself as one of the hardest working trios in rock ‘n’ roll brought the March leg of their ‘Live Along The Highways’ tenth anniversary tour to this previously undiscovered (at least by the Über team) side street venue.
Following a rather pleasant set of covers from Gasoline Outlaws frontman Matt Fitzsimons and Chris ‘Tappers’ Taplin, and as our table is emptied of cans of Carlsberg for not the first (nor the last) time, the band saunter on stage for their final tune-up, before Pat blends out a Gary Moore motif – highly appropriate given the fact that Moore was born no more than a few hundred yards from this very pub – before rocking up those rhythm ‘n’ blues. It’s all about the ‘Smoke And Whiskey’ before Pat and the lads take us down to the ‘Crossroads’, The Professor’s fingers cascading over his fretboard with more fluidity than the nearby Connswater.
It’s a nonstop rock ‘n’ rollercoaster ride as Pat keeps the momentum going, amazing solo following amazing solo as he uses every last part of his instrument. The band – bassist Marty McDermott and drummer Paul Falloon – are tight their practised ease in providing the foundation for this tutorial is reflected in Marty’s stoical stance stage left,
The ghost of Gary Moore is never far from Pat’s shoulder, and ‘Still Got The Blues’ is deeply emotional in this environment , as McManus demonstrates his knowledge of the importance of pacing, moving up and down the gears with the ease of a Formula One champion. As ever with The Professor, everything he does is effortless and seamless, as one solo blends into another, one song into the next: hell, as the band kick into ‘Don’t Believe A Word’ hardly anyone but the most observant notices that he changes guitar during the intro, ensuring no loss of momentum.
And the, with another change of pace, the magic happens… it’s time to wind back the clock and we find ourselves in the company of those ‘Gentleman Rogues’, who are as rowdy and hellraising as ever: they’re definitely showing no signs of aging and for them it’s ‘Straight Forward’, with Pat showing no signs of ever looking back before, as ever the highlight of a PMB show, we relive those ‘Runaway Dreams’ and the roof threatens to lift on the chorus. Pat then briefly forsakes his guitar for his beloved fiddle, and to hear a traditional Irish musician play a traditional Irish lament in an environment as far removed from its origins as possible, and to see everyone jigging along, is a true testimony to the unifying power of music in this sadly still otherwise divided part of the Überverse.
By ‘Stepping Stone, from the most recent studio album, the problem of people spending money to come to a gig and then talking as loudly as possible throughout is becoming a real issue for those of us who actually did so to listen the music… and the gods forbid that anyone dares to think about standing up to get a better view of the proceedings! Not that Pat notices, as he’s just lost in the moments of musical magic he is creating.
As I said, the ghost of Gary Moore is never far away… but Pat shows a rare moment of misjudgement, as his cover of ‘Out In The Fields’ is unconvincing and surprisingly off-kilter. But, it is indeed a rare lapse, and he more than makes up for with his personal tribute to the man from down the street, with the ever rambunctious ‘Belfast Boy’ before closing the main set with one of my all-time favourite Mama’s Boys tunes, ‘Needle In The Groove’, which displays a reinvigorated funky flamboyance, thanks in no part to Marty’s slapped bass line.
The trio don’t even make it off the stage before being recalled for the encore, capturing the mood of the night with ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’: well, I am married to the crazee-ist mama in Belfast town… and she’s going crazee right beside me. ‘Messin’ With The Kid’ proves that you can’t do that with this audience-pleasing maestro, before he finally signs off with his own distinctive rendition of ‘La Grange’ - and, hell, was that a touch of ‘Freebird’ I heard thrown into the solo – before Joe Bonamassa turns up to carry Pat’s guitar cases to the van outside…
Another night, another venue we hadn’t been too before (but, at a fiver for a cider and a double Southern Comfort, and the same for a taxi ride home, one we’ll definitely be back to before too long) and another masterclass from the man who lives up to his nickname each and every time.
PHOTO CREDIT: All photos © The Dark Queen.
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