‘Wow,’ Reddy says, after thanking her friends and her friends’ friends for coming, ‘I think there’s actually people here I don’t know.’ Following two one-woman, one-instrument warm up acts (Ev and Ruth), and a late start due to a band member motoring it down from Belfast, music fills the room rich. Ailbhe Reddy and her multi-instrumental, multi-vocal band fill us with sound. It’s a small room on one of the upper floors of Dublin’s Odessa bar. Distrust is the song. It’s the first on the EP we all received upon entry. Reddy thanks the girl who gave out the EPs at the door. She thanks her dad for allowing her to film her music video in an empty building he was on the verge of demolishing. (I think I’m allowed to call it a music video. There’s been a lot of talk of ‘audio-visual projects’ and the likes this evening, but since the EP comes in the refreshingly physical form of a CD – and they say romance is dead! – I’ll take my chances.)
Anyway, Reddy tunes her guitar. She thanks the sound guy. She thanks Shane’s dad for making the beautiful lighted sign behind her. I’m racking my brains to think who Shane is but I have no idea. Her voice when speaking is powerful and commanding. She’s full of jokes, which, she warns, will only be about the way she’s feeling: I’m thirsty, I’m hot, I’m excited. When she sings, it’s a voice with both power and sweetness.
Her lyrics set a scene. It was the song Coffee that first drew me to the singer, when she played it on The Women’s Podcast around November. Or am I mixing up my memory with lyrics. ‘It was November’ she sings ‘When I first saw you.’ I’m lost in the image of a barista ‘working the machine / hymns beneath the steam’. It seems simple but it’s so moving.
The songs are both more and less self-conscious than the Ailbhe on stage, who is slightly effacing of the experience of song writing and being a songwriter. She makes fun of her own mushiness: ‘We’re going to play a sad song,’ she warns, ‘get ready. Put your serious faces on.’ While this is endearing, it also presupposes a, ahem, ‘Distrust’ in the power of her own songs – their sentiment, their mushiness. For me they are, ahem, ‘Enough’ as they stand alone.
Perhaps I’m being facetious. You must, after all, command a stage somehow, and Reddy does a good job keeping us engaged. When, suddenly, the lights come on and a fire alarm goes on, she does what any true musician would do and continues to play. The song is a cover: Thirteen by Big Star. It’s more stripped down than the other songs anyway. She is accompanied by one male vocalist and an acoustic guitar. The punters continue to listen. We click our fingers. Fire or no fire, the show must go on.
And the show does go on. Power returns. Reddy tunes her guitar for one last time. ‘This is the last time I have to tune!’ she celebrates. Hurrah. Then she makes a ‘music joke’ about tuning to the key of F7. And there was me thinking all the jokes would be ‘feeling’-related. We finish out with the full band and, as has been the case throughout the whole show, some well thought-out instrumentation with word-painting in parts on strings.
Thanks, Reddy says, and thanks again, to Mary and Jimmy and Billy and everyone in the room but me, it seems. Still, I’ve been listening to the EP all morning and it strikes me that she’s going to have to get used to playing to more than just her friends. She’s bloody good!