Nagoya Irish music
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Bumphy’s Irish Pub, located in Kakuozan, is home to some fine live music by a veritable plethora of musicians: Tom Bauerle, David Dycus and Gerry Meister are just a few of the local performers that have appeared there recently. Not many will argue, however, that the musician who has come to define live music at Bumphy’s is Brian Cullen.
Brian has been living, teaching and performing in and around the area since he arrived in Nagoya in 1991. He’s recorded four albums in Japan and they, like his live performances, come in a variety of expressions. He performs and records with several local bands - the Magical Otters, the Rising Pints and Iznit Obvious. All of these bands play traditional Irish music, covers of old classics and original Brian Cullen tunes, and he also has a regular Friday night solo/acoustic gig at Bumphy’s in which any type of ditty from any era or genre might pop onto the set list.
Brian has been writing songs since his college days, and his songwriting embraces an assortment of musical flavors. Because Irish folk songs and ballads obviously inform and influence much that makes it into his catalog, most of his songs are a-drip with the requisite flurries of mandolin, acoustic guitar, harmonica and piano - all of which he plays - that have helped define the Irish music genre. But his songs are also capable of blending and bending into a tasteful mix of blues, jazz, bluegrass and pop. His newest band, Iznit Obvious, departs even further from this folk/acoustic-centric formula by incorporating jangly electric guitars into their sound and using nuggets of material from Brian’s early songwriting days as a rock ‘n roller in Ireland.
His vocal stylings are similarly genre-blurring. When he performs solo with just an acoustic guitar and sings his own Irish ballads (like the gorgeous “Tir na Nog”) or traditional Irish folk songs (such as “Red is the Rose”), his subtle yet perceptible lilt evokes beguiling Irish reveries. At other times, especially when he is with the Magical Otters, more enigmatic elements (“The Clock”) and bluesy nuances (“Kayoko”) emerge in his singing. And then there are moments that drift between jazzy sultriness (“Lady from Zurich”) and upbeat slices of country/pop/rock (“Sometimes” and “I Confess”). With a finely nuanced vocal dexterity and an unhurried delivery, Brian astutely covers these assorted stylistic bases with the appropriate level of gravity, playfulness, or let’s-have-a-beer vivacity.
And therein lies the gist - there is poise and depth in Brian’s stage persona that can make even the sad and pretty numbers somehow elicit a smile. Whether fronting one of his bands or playing solo, his live performances are an arresting mix of tender, tidy folk moments, and upbeat, sometimes jazzy, sometimes bluesy (and sometimes boozy) crowd-pleasers; this is especially true when flavored by the excellent mandolin and fiddle work of longtime sideman, Tomonori Shimizu. In addition to the feisty sense of fun inherent in all of Brian Cullen’s shows, live music junkies will appreciate the first-rate musicianship and the enduring, vibrant and close-knit ambience he excels at establishing.
And the tunes… From the pretty and sometimes plaintive ballads like “Salley Gardens” and “Leaving of Liverpool” to the waggish tomfoolery of the beer drinking/alcohol appreciation numbers like “The Wild Rover,” “Johnny Jump Up” and “I Love a Beer, well, the tunes just seem like old friends…being sung by an old friend.
Brian Cullen is recording takes from his various shows for an upcoming live CD. His website (http://zebox.com/BrianCullen/) has concert updates and MP3s to listen to and/or download. He has also just published a companion CD of Irish folk songs and stories to accompany his book, Land of Song and Story: An Introduction to Ireland.