From Achill to the Algarve
Gary Vesey is a well-known singer from Achill. A handsome young buck, he has been playing the pub circuit in the Algarve in Portugal for the past few years. Now fluent in Portuguese, Gary’s ability to charm, excite and transform an anonymous crowd of diverse holiday makers into a rocking honorary Irish diaspora is unreal.
It’s not an easy market. Patrons have real choices and make them. In the musical mix of Portugal, there’s cha-cha on the beach, salsa on the street and lonesome traditional fados in dark bars.
It’s a Sunday night in the Black Anchor in Tavira, 20 miles west of Faro Airport. Gary’s only getting started. We grab seats at the bar. Gary has already been around for the craic with the crowd, sussing out his audience.
People come on holiday and are gone. Every gig has its own character. It might be it a six-foot exhibitionist gymnast from China or a tireless jig dancer from Toulon. Gary has an eye like a hawk for a character to liven the show. The crowd is warming up with The Fields of Athenry. But it’s an interactive experience. There’s grins and winks and smart remarks and greetings. People are smiling approvingly. “Is this what Ireland is really like?” asks Hans from Hamburg. “I must go there. It’s awesome.”
The answer is lost in the music. On stage it’s just Gary and his guitar. No pre-recorded trackers. No karaoke orchestra hidden in a cardboard box. It’s up she flew and skin and hair flying. A man from Mayo alone full of craic and charm and charisma, weaving a magic spell of empathy with a smile and a song that lights up like a sunburst over Minnaune.
Gary is generous on stage. Guests are warmly received and approved. Sure of his talent Gary shares with his audience. His urgings gets a quick response. Suddenly 20-year-old Chris from Bournemouth is on stage. But it’s not a stage. What can it be? He’s on a barstool. The bar staff watch nervously. Two savvy customers stand on either side now propping him for safety.
“I Can’t Get no Satisfaction,” he shrieks into the microphone. Long hair stranding across his shoulders, he’s every inch a rock star. This kid can sing. Someone mentioned Isle of Wight and European tour. Now there’s a harmonica screeching harmony with Gary’s guitar. No generational apartheid here. A 60th birthday party group explodes into dance with what seems like the birthday boy’s aunts and uncles getting in the crazy groove. “And I tried, and I tried. and I tried and I tried. I can’t get No! HEY HEY HEY!”
At the centre of it all Gary, impish druid of electric empathy, beams innocently. He’s the main man, but he’s so cool that it’s as if he was getting on the school bus outside McHale College or serving customers at the counter in Sweeney’s in the Sound in Achill.
Things calm. Gary covers the Nathan Carter hit, ‘Rock me Momma’. He catches my eye on the line Rock me Momma, then he winks. Like the Westport Train. It’s all so casual and quick that nobody notices. He take a gulp from his 1.5 litre bottle of water. “Sligo bet the Rossies,” he says. “I thought they were going to hammer us.” He adjusts the mic. For a fleeting second his forehead furrows with whimsical truculence. He’s a serious Mayo supporter.
Any Wild Rovers here from Eindhoven? There’s a riot of applause at the back of the bar. It’s as if Holland won the World Cup! Do you know Red Rose Cafe? We’re back in the zone. Any one from the Isle of Man? The man on the next stool cheers ’til his beer spills. Here goes the roller coaster. It’s our Gary. The Achill buck! You couldn’t be but proud!
Gary’s new CD is a collection of Irish bar standards. They’re what he uses in between bursts of spontaneity and audience interaction. But they’re like still photos from a storm. Gary Vesey live is a modern Euro-Irish cultural and musical experience. It would set your heart aglow. Surely this is the type of guy who should be ‘Mayo Man of the Year’.
Gary plays Fridays and Sundays, Black Anchor, Tavira; Saturdays and Wednesdays, Vert’in, Cabanas; Tuesdays and Thursdays, O’Shea’s, Vilamoura.
Tony Deffely, from Glenisland, Castlebar, is a teacher at the Castlebar College of Further Education.