By Adam Sufiva
Galway Museum may be considered a place of quiet contemplation, but, on Friday June 21st, Love Live Music Day, Sandra Coffey filled its high ceilings with her soaring vocal range. Formerly a classical singer, Coffey has shorn off the rigid structures of that genre for a cooler, looser vibe, mixing soul with rock. Though her hour-long lunchtime set comprised of as many covers as originals, her forthcoming album, I am told, is peopled solely by original numbers.
The light atmosphere of the Museum foyer was dispelled soon after Coffey and band took to the “stage” (actually a large rug). Yet, a classy, laid-back feel was also cultivated. Guitarist Aidan Curran and harmonica/clarinet player Maciek Zaworonek sat on soft leather couches. On either side, the trio were flanked by an exhibition of urban photos. A very original version of the Beatles’s “All My Loving” kicked things off, beginning slowly, building up momentum as it went along. Songs by Stevie Nicks, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone and Joni Mitchell also featured. Of these, Coffey’s haunting rendition of Dylan’s “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” surpassed all others, performed in a higher key than the original.
A number of songs from Coffey’s forthcoming album, Morning Zoo, blended well with the choice of cover versions. “Wild Hair” is a simple number with well-chosen clarinet and harmonica moments, while “Silhouette” proves more enigmatic, apparently dealing with a student’s wayward thoughts during a college lecture. It opens with one of the most interesting first verses you’ll hear: “Where words are feathers/ The air was moist/ An actor among us,/ He heard the philosopher’s voice”.
“Mascara Girl”, Coffey’s first single, released in September 2012, was delivered with a hint of country-girl attitude, which didn’t quite fit as well as the studio version’s cooler vibe. “Friday” offered a jazzy approach, its rhythm swift and infectious. This is a no-frills number, barely two and a half minutes long, refusing to linger excessively over its mysterious lyrics, including lines such as “A few stray words bring an echo from bone/ Whispering poisonous deeds”. These songs were interesting and melodious, catchy in an unobvious way.
The guitar playing of Aidan Curran was perfectly judged, peppering subtle notes around rhythmic chords, always avoiding ostentation. This skill was particularly evident on the slow Bob Dylan number. The harmonica, too, served the set well. While the clarinet suited some numbers, it felt a bit overused. Another instrument, perhaps a keyboard/piano, would have added a new dimension. Coffey’s album, I am glad to hear, incorporates piano, as well as organ, violin and cello. The bass guitar and drums evident on such studio tracks as “Mascara Girl” will be retained for Coffey’s album launch in July.
It’s a pity the door to the Museum’s café wasn’t left open, as lunchtime munchers missed out on some entertaining sounds and a particularly enchanting vocal performance. Those filtering into the building were faced with the choice of music or food, while those who chose to go plateless stood for the duration of the set, as seats were not provided. It would be difficult to find much fault with the set itself, apart from the need for another instrument. Though one cue was obviously missed, it’s clear this hour-long lunchtime performance was the result of much strenuous rehearsal. Her album launch, with bass and drums in tow, should enhance this sound even further.
Sandra Coffey’s debut album, Morning Zoo, will be launched upstairs in the Townhouse Bar on Thursday 25 July at 9.30pm.