Review: Paul Brady & Theo Katzman – Ulster Hall, Belfast
This is surely a match made in heaven, even if it is one that not even the Lord himself could have ever seen coming – the undisputed king of Irish singer-songwriters with a career spanning over 50 years, together with an accomplished jazz, pop, rock guitarist and producer, with a sparking solo catalogue and who is also the front man for funk favourites, Vulfpeck. In purely numerical terms, Theo Katzman wasn’t even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes when Paul Brady played and recorded with Planxy in the mid 1970’s. Let that sink in for a minute.
While you’re getting your head round the age thing, Dublin’s Bairbre Anne warms up the crowd. Playing with John Hogg and Sean Genockey on guitars, it has to be said that the sound (and particularly the vocal mix) did not do her any favours this evening. That said, she put her heart into her set and was very capable of hitting and holding the big notes.
There’s definitely a real disparity between the diminutive figure on stage and the huge voice that at times seems to dominate the hall. With her debut album I want To Do It Right But There’s No Such Thing due for release imminently, we get a few songs from that as well as some of her previous single and EP releases.
“27” is nicely done, with solo piano sliding into the backing guitars. “Selfish,” written allegedly at 4am after drinking too much gin, is full of frustration, anger and regret about a relationship gone wrong and almost veers off into Adele territory. “Heavy Pressure” and “Lose Yourself” are brighter and more upbeat with the guitars driving the sound, more urgency in the performance and some blistering vocal work from Baribre Anne. Sadly, the poor sound quality persists through the main act; it has to be said that the sound at the back of the Ulster Hall was noticeably better than up towards the stage.
It’s obvious as the band take the stage that both Brady and Katzman are having fun with this project. Everyone is smiling and joking and they quickly get started with the Brady tune “I Believe In Magic.” Paul Brady may be 72 years of age, but he can more than hold his own with a bunch of guys half his age.
There are contrasts between the styles – Brady’s plays guitar like a man who learned on an acoustic; Katzman is electric (in more ways that one). Brady’s voice is like a deep, solid rock that anchors the songs while Katzman uses an impressive range of styles, at times sounding somewhat Prince-like when he hits the high notes.
The band are immense. Lee Pardini on keys plays beautifully throughout and Louis Cato on drums does an amazing job. Joe Dart on bass is a sight to behold. A man cool enough to wear sunglasses indoors and at night, he is a blur of perpetual motion as well as being one of the best bassists around.
The overall sound is one of real old-school funk and soul with Katzman’s guitar adding something almost Nile Rodgers-like at times. The format is simple enough – the band swap between Brady and Katzman songs, with both trading verses on many of them.
It was interesting to hear Brady describe how Katzman, when given access to Brady’s back catalogue, picked out older and less well-known material but this makes perfect sense when Brady explains that these were songs that he wrote when he was Katzman’s age. Songs such as “Not The Only One” and “Sea Of Love” are brought out, dusted off and given a new lease of life in this setting – funkier, soulful and sometimes with a rock and roll edge to them.
Katzman’s material is similarly transformed at times. “Break Up Together” and and “Pop Song” benefit from Brady’s rock solid voice and guitar style. The highlight of Katzman’s material was “It’s Good To Be Alone,” introduced as “kinda a country song” but when Brady takes on the second verse, you could have been listening to of his own songs. This is beautiful; the band are there in the background, playing impeccably, but it’s Brady’s guitar and voice that take centre stage. On “Crappy Love Song,” Katzman dominates the tongue-in-cheek tune with an R&B feel and a spot of scatting thrown in for good measure.
Brady’s “Just In Time” had a great rock and roll feel to it with Brady singing the lead vocal lines and Pardini and Katzman singing the responses. “The Law Of Love” gets an airing and Katzman’s “Love Is A Beautiful Thing” gets a laugh or two when Katzman points out how his thinly-veiled and subversive song about jealousy has been misinterpreted as a genuine love song. Brady rounds out the set with a stomping, hand-clapping version of “The World Is What You Make It” which even finds space for Dart to solo on bass for a few minutes.
We get a three-song encore after a standing ovation. Katzman leads the audience in a three-part harmony sing-along on “My Heart Is Dead” before Brady takes over with “The Lakes Of Ponchartrain,” complete with guest appearance from John McSherry on whistle and then a massive version of “Crazy Dreams” featuring a dance-off between Katzman and Dart. Pardini’s keyboards and Katzman’s guitar light this song up, while Dart and Cato drive it along.
The band had about 4 ½ days rehearsal before heading out to play four dates around Ireland, of which this was the last. They sound great – certainly polished but at times raw, edgy and bursting with energy and good humour. Musical genres collide without clashing and Brady and Katzman just seem perfect musical partners. After this evening, there can only be two questions – what happens if they start to write and record together? And where can I buy the album.