That’s the funny thing about ticket less gigs, the memory fails on you. In 2007 and 2008 Cobh singer songwriter Freddie White did two consecutive winter residencies in Bewley’s Cafe Theatre on Grafton Street in a space fit for 50 people and no more. I love to rock out to a stadium gig as much as the next person but there’s no denying the privilege and awe that comes with seeing an artist in as intimate a surrounding as this. The problem is that myself and my father attended both years and each year we went to two or three gigs in the space of two or three weeks. This bit of a write up may incorporate events from more than one night and so I’ll apologise if my fact finding is a little off, it was a long time ago.
My introduction to Freddie came via Tom Waits. Hard to be a typical outsider in school without being a Waits fan but the price of that is the likelihood that you’ll never see him live. When my father insisted I hear the famous rendition of ‘Martha’ put forward by Freddie I began a journey through his back catalogue wherein I found that the Waits connection only skimmed the surface. Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Ray Charles and more – my musical taste was evolving at lightning speed. My first opportunity to see Freddie came when he supported Christy Moore in The Point back in 2005 and from there I picked up some of his solo gigs including The Riverbank in Newbridge; where he also very unexpectedly added another Tom Waits track to his repertoire, ‘I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You’ (more on that later). To what I can recall, we didn’t see or hear from Freddie again until he started a run in Bewley’s. As I eluded to above, this place was tiny and the capacity of 50 included artists and staff as far as I could see, what better way to see a solo acoustic performer?
So as I said, I might trip over myself a little here trying to remember which night was which, what I may wind up doing altogether is just amalgamating the highlights of all performances. What I do remember clear as day though is that this first gig was a bit special and that it was easily one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. Beforehand, I had only had access to “Lost & Found” and “Live On Tour” out of all the albums White has released. This was a time before Spotify and the guy’s material could be difficult to come by. So the first order of operations I had once we were sat down was to head to the merch table and pick up a copy of his latest offering, “Four Days In May”. As I approached the table I noticed a familiar face sat behind it, sure enough it was the man himself, as nonchalant as you like running his own merch table. Over I went, fanboying like hell as much as I tried not to, and I picked up a copy of the album. Did I mention I fanboyed? Of course I had to ask him to sign it. Whilst he did I thought it prudent to ask if ‘I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You’ was still part of his repertoire . The response was a gem – “I don’t know if I remember the words…I could give it a shot though”. More on that later.
As for the gig itself, given the size of the venue it was hard to get a bad spot. That being said, myself and my father were front and centre as usual, which essentially meant our knees were rubbing off the stage. The show itself, well it was the usual massively high measure of class I’ve come to expect from the man. White has built his career on mostly covers, but rather than cover songs he has a tendency to take ownership of them instead. Most famous of these covers is of course his version of ‘Martha’ by Tom Waits. If I’m being honest, as a very protective Waits fan nobody can ever touch his original in my eyes, and I’ve generally preferred White at his most obscure. Digging into the back catalogue of artists he has covered, the Randy Newman numbers tend to stick out, and on this particular night there was plenty from the American songster. But a real standout was a seemingly impromptu and excellent cover of Billy Joel’s ‘Goodnight Saigon’. The main reason I say impromptu is because he forgot the lyrics half way through and took some assistance from my father calmly shouting them up to him. Told ya this venue was intimate! The gig carried on, song after song was played, no sign of my merch table request though. I wasn’t too bothered, the whole gig had been great regardless. As he leaves the stage after his encore though, he looks my way and planted a hand on my shoulder as he walked past. Back on again for a second encore, he points my way and says “I promised this man a song earlier”. Ah here we go, great stuff. White may not be a stadium filling rock God or a slick pop star but the gesture alone was just a touch of class. Of he goes then, into a flawless version of ‘I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You’, not a hitch on the lyrics even though I was ready to start shouting them if needed.
When you take a shine to local artists, one’s like White that are in their element playing max capacity 500 – 1,000 seater venues, you build a fantastically sincere connection to them. I have found similar with Luka Bloom and Christy Moore over the years, though the latter obviously varies massively with his attendances. To have these acts and gigs to counter against the huge stadium events is the only way I would ever want it though, and long may they continue. White still gigs pretty regularly, a little less in Ireland given that he now lives on the other side of the world, and I have seen him several times since. But none have come close to the magic that Bewley’s at Christmas conjured up. A special run of gigs for anyone in attendance and a moment of pure magic for myself.