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The fantastic Mr Fish

Going Out

GOLDEN GILLS Jerry Fish’s versatile voice swings easily from slow, smooth and jazzy to a grit-filled growl.

Ciara Moynihan

Westport Arts Festival is kicking off tomorrow evening, the highlights in this years’ line-up are bound to include Saturday night’s performance by Jerry Fish (and guests) in the hallowed venue that is the Holy Trinity Church.   
The former frontman of An Emotional Fish has built a solid reputation for carnivalesque, gender-bending performances, and no doubt the Westport show will be no different. His  Electric Sideshow has become an must-see part of the annual Electric Picnic, and his performance of ‘Misery Hill: The Songs & Tall Tales of Jerry Fish - Part One Jerry Fish’ last week at the Dublin  Fringe Fest was deemed ‘incredible’ by one of the Fringe Fest judges. Fish has also just released a new version of Emotional Fish song ‘Blue’, featuring May Kay (Fight Like Apes), as an homage to his late friend, former bandmate Martin Murphy.
The Dublin-born singer was not christened Jerry Fish – it was how The Pogues used refer to him when he was in An Emotional Fish. When he went solo in 2002, he decided to keep on the nickname as his professional persona, linking past and present. In fairness, it does have more of a stage-name ring than Gerard Whelan.
The charismatic singer hasn’t played in Westport, his wife’s home town, since the 2013 Westport Music Festival in the grounds of Westport House – the same year that Imelda May, Seasick Steve and Jools Holland performed.
Watching Mr Fish do his lounge-lizard turn on stage evokes smoky ghosts of Tom Waits, Willy DeVille, Professor Longhair and Dr John – all of whom he readily acknowledges as strong influences. And yet he has a style all his own. With his rolling band of troubadours, he weaves a strange, heady brew of barrio blues, juke-joint jazz, psychedelia, tropicalia and whatever you’re having yourself.
His Electric Sideshows have been dubbed ‘travelling musical medicine shows’, but don’t worry, the drugs he doles out are not the swallowing, sniffing or rubbing-in kind – they work their magic in different, devilish ways: “Laughter is the greatest medicine,” he told me back in 2009, disclosing that he gets the greatest buzz from watching people aged seven to 70 taking to the floor and dancing together in uninhibited, laughter-fuelled abandonment.
Head along to Holy Trinity Church on Saturday night and be transported, magically, to a burlesque, jauntily carefree world, where the most important thing, as his song ‘Dig – A Dog and Bone Story’ tells us, is to “get yourself happy and pass it on.”   
But be quick to get your ticket – the moustachioed musical maestro that is Mr Fish is sure to reel in a crowd.
Other events to watch out for over the five-day festival, which finishes on Sunday, include DJ Kormac, who will rock Castle Late Night Venue on Friday with an audio visual show with a big sound, mesmerising bespoke visuals and a live drummer; an intimate concert in Matt Molloy’s Yard Bar on Thursday night with top trad musicians Matt Molloy, John Carty and Arty McGlynn; Pat Kinevane’s play ‘Underneath’, which will be staged in the Westport Town Hall Theatre on Friday night; Tommie Lehane’s exhibition in the Town Hall Theatre, Veronica Bolay’s exhibition in The Custom House Studios, Breda Burns exhibition in Green Fuse Gallery and the McGing’s open exhibition; and a mystery pop-up speakeasy called The Absacker Bar, which tantalisingly promises ‘a memorable night of mystery, a taste of the underground, exotic entertainment and refreshments’; and workshops in everything from art to singing.
 
For more information on these and the entire Westport Arts Festival 2017 programme of events, visit the festival www.westportartsfestival.com, where tickets can also be purchased.

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