Pat McManus gigs are always special. So much so that many people go that extra little bit further to sit at the feet of the man affectionately known for a little more three decades now as ‘The Professor’ and bask in his talent. On this occasion, your PlanetMosh team thought we had indeed gone that extra mile (or few) as we hot-footed from the first heat of the annual Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses competition in the heart of Belfast to catch a train and then a taxi deep into the County Antrim hills… until we found ourselves standing beside a couple who had travelled all the way from France just for this one show!
Neither they nor us – nor any of the other hardy souls who had braved the looking snow and the ferocity of Storm Whatever-Stupid-Name-It-Has-This-Week – were disappointed, as the man from Fermanagh delivered another masterclass in the art of blues-rock geetar playing: a lesson of the kind which proved yet again (as if it needed proven) that certain over-hyped play-by-numbers so-called “superstars” are not, in fact, fit to carry this particular maestro’s guitar cases!
Kicking off with a triptych of tracks from his latest album, ‘Blues Train To Irish Town’, Pat sets the tone early, swapping from the stomp and swagger of ‘Smoke n Whiskey’ to the more mid-paced meandering of ‘Absent Friends’ with an almost lackadaisical ease, before asking ‘What’s Going On’, which sees him continue the Lizzy-esque Celtic vibe, switching mood again for the shredding solo of ‘Blacklisted’ and the beautiful, mournful lament of ‘Torn In Two’, which sees him deliver a passion-fuelled vocal in the way only an Irish bard can.
“This track doesn’t need any introduction…” And neither it does, as Pat opens up his fretboard for the haunting opening melody of ‘Still Got The Blues For You’: of course, he more than does the song justice, while adding his own little subtle twists to both its harmonics and solo. Quickly he switches mood again, admitting that “I’m crapping myself” as he pulls the first real surprise of the night, with the debut live airing of ‘The Bolt’, with its dazzling display of finger tapping, underpinned as ever by the rock solid rhythm section of Marty McDermott and Paul Falloon, who follow their leader with professional aplomb. For many years, Pat had shied away from playing Mama’s Boys songs in his live sets, but now they’re a standard element of his set, and it’s like turning the clock back 30 years as he turns to his Marshall stack, whacks up the volume button and vibrates his whammy bar before once more picking up the pace for ‘Gentleman Rogues’, the ebullient singalong of ‘Straight Forward…’ and the iconic ‘Runaway Dreams’, complete with its blistering violin solo.
It’s time for another change, as he swtiches to acoustic for the tongue-in-cheek, country-tinged ‘The Oldest Rocker In Town’ before delivering another surprise: a stripped back version of Whitesnake’s ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’, which not only gets arms waving and voices growing hoarse (or maybe that’s just ‘Oldest Rocker Syndrome’?) but also once again demonstrates that he’s not afraid to tackle other people’s songs and do so in his own unique style.
There’s another beautiful instrumental (his third of the evening) before the rambunctious ‘Running From The Wreckage’ and the dynamic pairing of ‘Stepping Stone’ and ‘So Far Away’ from the new album (he plays eight out of its ten songs) set the scene for the finale of the main set – the poignant and hugely respectful tribute to Gary Moore that is ‘Belfast Boy’ and the properly groovilicious (sic) ‘Needle In The Groove’.
Tonight, however, is not just a Pat McManus gig, no matter how special they may be. It’s also a celebration, as The Professor was the first artist to perform at this very venue when if opened ten years – and that calls for a party, doesn’t it? Of course it does, and he suitably obliges with an encore rammed with both personal and crowd favourites, before bringing the curtain down (well, he would have if there had been one!) on another hugely enjoyable evening in the company of a man who truly is a master of his craft.
It’s just a pity that the mainstream media don’t recognize his talent and (criminally) ignore him in favour of those who can afford to pay massive retainers to PR companies to get their faces on the front covers of myriad magazines, even when they have nothing to say for themselves but just need their ego stroked… Pat McManus has no ego: but, then maybe that’s the problem… then again, he wouldn’t want it any other way, as he is content to let his music do his talking for him.
Iona Sunset / Smoke n Whiskey / Absent Friends / What’s Going On / Rise Up / Blacklisted / Torn In Two / Still Got The Blues For You / The Bolt / Gentleman Rogues / Straight Forward (No Looking Back) / Runaway Dreams / The Oldest Rocker In Town / Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City / The Messiah Will Come Again / Running From The Wreckage / Stepping Stone / So Far Away / Belfast Boy / Needle In The Groove
Walkin’ By Myself / Crossroads / Highway To Hell / Smoke On The Water / Tush
- Pat McManus returns to the Diamond this coming Saturday (6 February), when he joins The Answer singer Cormac Neeson and Quireboys keyboard player Keith Weir in the Diamond All Stars (the line up is completed by drummer Davy ‘Basher’ Bates of Stormzone and bassist Seamy Donnelly of A Little Bitter) for the final part of the club’s tenth aniiversary gigs.
- Photographs by The Dark Queen.
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