A Rainy Night in Soho
Last night we were overlooking the Hudson from a hilltop view on the Jersey side of Upstate New York. A full moon was breaking over the horizon and between ourselves and Brendan Anthony we were keeping a small group of friends entertained with a few songs and tunes. The craic was good. Casey, who although he’s from California has more New York attitude than Johnny Boy from Mean Streets, was giving us the skinny on how to get into restaurants: “Hey, if you’ve got the Dead Presidents’ handshake, you can get in anywhere”, referring to the portraits of American Presidents that adorn the various denominations of dollar bills, “The deader the President, the quicker you’ll get a table!” Even the mosquitos were more Jersey than Jersey. We’re still scratching the bites a day later. But today was all about our first gig in the city. A car calls in the morning to drive us the half hour or so journey back into the city and it gives the girls their first treat of the chauffeur driven lifestyle. They’re not complaining after a week and a half in the car with me. Carlos our driver is from Ecuador and has made a good life for his family and himself here after initially coming as a student. He drops us off on Mercer Street and we grab an hour’s sleep (it was a good night) before heading over to New York’s centre of Irish Music, Paddy Reilly’s over on 29th Street and 2nd.
Paddy is probably one of Ireland’s best known balladeers (no disrespect Daniel, Donegal still thinks you’re the best!). If you want to blame anyone for all those pub singers churning our ‘The Fields of Athenry’ and ‘The Town I Loved so Well’, then Paddy’s your man. The pub bearing his name here on the East side is one of the best venues around for live Irish music and we’re delighted to be doing a short half-hour slot on Saturday’s regular open-mic. Brendan Anthony has arranged it all with Rick, the house soundman for the night, and a sound man he is. He has a great knowledge of music, has obviously played a lot, and is wonderfully encouraging to all the up-and-comings littering the pub. We’ve obviously arrived towards the arty end of the night as there’s a fair bit of avant-garde piano bar music being played from the stage. But we know we’ll bring it home. The girls are in fine tune and they hit the ground running with a duet vocal piece that has the rowdy crowd silenced in seconds. I know this isn’t like playing to a home crown, or even to the appreciative audiences of the south that we’ve met on our travels, but we’re in an Irish bar in New York City and it feels like coming home. We play a half-hour set and an older Irish man at the bar is obviously enjoying it. Rick calls us back for one more and we’re delighted to oblige. I meet Rhonda at the bar and thank her for having us. She lets us in on a fiddle session happening at ten, tomorrow night. Fantastic! Brendan, who has been listening appreciatively throughout – a tough one considering he heard all of our repertoire last night, some of it twice – drops us and our stuff back at the flat and we’re soon out on the town again.
It feels good to have a local guide you around the city. We’re brought up through Little Italy – aptly named as it’s getting smaller year on year as Chinatown gradually encroaches – and brought to Emilio Ballato’s for a bite to eat. Emilio greets us outside lounging against one of the poles supporting the overhanging awning. He’s pure Italian; thick accent, colorful and full of character. We’re brought inside the tiny restaurant and given a seat by the corner. On the walls are photos of Emilio with David Bowie, Michael Caine, Jon Bon Jovi, Justin Bieber (that one’s for all the teen’s reading this – and no I don’t listen to his music)– all the famous and infamous from today and yester-year. The food that night is the best we’ve had. You know you could write a blog just on the stuff we’ve eaten on this trip and it could fill volumes. Food is such a huge part of life here. Maybe it’s because so many of the immigrants who populate this country were escaping poverty and hunger. But the food and choice are just incredible. I just hope that when they’re weighing our bags for the trip home, they don’t put me on the scales too! We finish a great night with a beer in one of Brendan’s locals, Milady’s Bar, a down and dingy pub with tons of charm. Tomorrow we’re playing The Back Fence on Bleeker Street. Brendan tells us it’s going to be lively. Maybe I’ll have time to put up the chicken wire tonight!
We arrive back at the flat just as the rain starts to fall. It hits the hot asphalt and steam rises through the charging lights of the yellow cabs; a perfect New York scene.