John Gorka live at The Brontë Music Club

Concert review from the Brontë Music Club site
Cathal McLaughlin
May 29, 2009

I regret to admit that my prior knowledge of John Gorka has been limited to an excellent cover of Girl from the North Country, featured on Dylanís birthday tribute album, A NOD TO BOB. Cherrie McIlwaine, she of the wispa-smooth tones, who was among those savouring tonightís very special performance, has also featured frequent plays on her most excellent BBC Radio Ulster Late Show, a must for lovers of great music everywhere. Local promoter, Andy Peters, told me that he has been trying to persuade this exceptionally talented folk singer, I hope he doesnít mind being pigeon-holed thus, to tour here for quite some time. All present owe Andy a big debt of thanks for his silver tongue, and his persistence, in persuading tonightís performer to allow us the privilege of hearing him first hand. While his set featured songs of a quirky nature, others were poignant and personal.

At first, some appeared very funny, like I Saw A Stranger With Your Hair which follows up the catchy title line with the lyrics, ëtried to make her give it back/so I could send it off to you/maybe Federal Express/ëcause I know youíd miss ití, but which really turns out to be a rather tender story of lost love - is there any other kind? ñ finishing with the melancholy lines, ëby the way how is my heart?/I haven't seen it since you left/I'm almost sure it followed you/could you sometime send it back?í Yes ñ still funny, but there is a tinge of sadness. This is the performer that New Jersey native John Gorka is. The fact that some songs are comedic in nature should not detract from the fact that he is a superlative and serious songwriter covering many varied and meaningful subjects, albeit a bit of interpretive analysis may sometimes be required. He is also a wonderful guitarist and a masterful stage performer, outwardly affable and funny but I suspect this does mask a slightly shy personality. Whatever it is, it worked for me and apparently also for those around me applauding each and every offering until their hands hurt.

The masterclass continued with the wonderful thought provoking Blue Chalk, which Maura OíConnell has almost made her own; The Lock Keeper, a cover of the late Stan Rogersí classic and who, along with Mavis Staples, to whom John dedicated his When You Sing, would seem to occupy a fair sized area in his list of all time heroes. Not bad choices I have to agree. He mentioned what a thrill it was for him when he finally got to meet the great lady, an r&b legend and civil rights activist to boot, and told her that she ëmade the world seem a better placeí. He then performed a few special requests from fervent fans, several of whom had travelled from the mainland while two others had flown in from Hamburg, especially to take in not only this, but last nightís Belfast gig as well.

What could only be described as an exceptional performance was concluded with what is, in my book, the definitive version of that classic, The Water is Wide, an experience in itself and well worth the admission on its own. Gerry Creen, who is fast becoming a bit of a star locally, filled the nightís support slot with a set of his own compositions including Lucky Star, describing unachieved potential, and the excellent lyrical commentary on the abuse of power, The Eagle and the Dove.