Joe Chester – Unitarian Church, Dublin with special guests The Hedge Schools and Pine the Pilcrow
Review by Killian Laher
Photo by Julie Bienvenu
A concert in a church certainly has a sense of occasion. Maybe it’s the absence of clinking glasses and fumbling for change. Or maybe it’s the sheer beauty of a place like the Unitarian Church. Anyway it felt like a special night was in store. First up were Dublin three piece Pine the Pilcrow who impressed using keyboard, cello and violin on folky laments like It’s Only Love, Part Of You Died and Red Empire. Their brand of folky, evocative pieces went down well in the sacred surroundings, and their short set finished with new single Dahlia, which has an almost traditional Irish feel to it. Certainly a band to watch.
A rare opportunity to see Pat Barrett and Joe Chester play as The Hedge Schools came next. Barrett’s great, wounded bear of a voice took centre stage as his deft acoustic guitar playing was accompanied by Chester on guitar, keyboards and loops. Concentrating mainly on 2015’s At the End of a Winding Day album, gorgeous, heartfelt songs like Home, Winter Coats and Oceans soared in the church. The guitar interplay between the two was particularly strong on Good Ship Endeavour, and we also received a taste of the next album in the shape of Gold (after the gig Barrett mentioned they are “well down the road with the new album”). The set felt emotional and both men embraced at one point.
A long drawn out opening featuring the sounds of the sea and a prayer recital in Irish introduced Joe Chester’s set as he opened with the propulsive Spy Wednesday. Joined by Vyvienne Long on cello, Steve Wickham on violin and Brian Brannigan on keyboards, they played a moody set drawn from recent album The Easter Vigil. Chester’s voice has weathered a bit over the years and suits him better now, sounding a little like Michael Stipe on That’s Why Love Is Hell and Like A Rose Tattoo. Juliette In The Rain came across like Springsteen in his Tunnel of Love era while Dark Mornings was the poppiest moment, featuring Chester’s bright electric guitar licks. The set culminated in him pulling out his Dad’s guitar on the downbeat, elegiac Not A Christian Anymore before they encored with a passionate version of Vic Chestnutt’s Flirted With You All My Life (the line “oh death clearly I’m not ready” could only resonate in such a setting).
It felt like a spiritual evening and you could argue it was, with fine, affecting Irish music that moved the soul. A triumph for Joe Chester then, in the past his solo music has seemed a little indistinct and not memorable but with these songs he has delivered.