Supergroup in a session - the Irish Sea Sessions!

Damien Dempsey, Hop Farm 2010, by Jill Furmanovsky
Damien Dempsey, Hop Farm 2010, by Jill Furmanovsky

They’ve sold out the Liverpool Philarmonic Hall and now they’re heading for Derry!

The Irish Sea Sessions is a concert with a difference - 14 top performers in trad, folk and contemporary from Ireland and Liverpool, all sharing a stage and “blazing away in a seat of the pants show”, according to musical director Bernard O’Neill.

It’s a concept which started off in Liverpool last year, when the Irish Sea Sessions concert proved one of the sensations of the year in the Philharmonic Hall. Following that success, the 2011 sessions are going from Liverpool, tonight, to the Ulster Hall in Belfast tomorrow night and then the Millennium Forum in Derry on Sunday night.

This year the artists include the Dublin singer Damien Dempsey, who has a big following in the North West, Liverpool-based singer Jennifer John, piper John McSherry, singer Niamh Parsons, Gino Lupari of Four Men and a Dog - 14 performers in total, with the latest addition the Derry sean nos dancer Mary McGuigan.

Mary told the Journal - “We’ve been in rehearsal this week in Liverpool and I think it’s going to be a super show, something special. There’s so much talent in this group of people, and it’s been wonderful to see it all coming together.”

The show is intended as a celebration of the musical and cultural links across the Irish Sea, with Liverpool being one of the great centres of Irish population. The city’s links with Derry have also been developing fast in recent months, as Derry seeks to learn from Liverpool’s year as European City of Culture in 2008.

“The Irish Sea Sessions couldn’t have started anywhere else other than Liverpool because of its massive ties with Ireland,” says Bernard O’Neill, a bass player himself who has worked with a range of recording stars, including Rufus Wainwright and Sinead O’Connor. “But now it’s established itself it’s able to go and explore other audiences.

“It’s very unadulterated. It’s purely a session of like-minded musicians and it’s in no way controlled by any artistic or financial constraints so everyone gets a fair crack of the whip.”

Niamh Parsons, who’s bound for the Inishowen singers gathering in the springtime, says those who make it to the Forum on Sunday night are in for a treat.

“You can guess how it went down here in Liverpool last year when you hear that the Philharmonic Hall here is already sold out. One reviewer gave the show 15 out of ten! It’s really a very strong line-up. We’ve all been working hard this week to pull the show together but a lot of it is about that spontaneity on stage and getting across the feeling that everyone is having a good time - which we will be!”

Some stunning solo performances can be expected as part of the proceedings.

Damien Dempsey is one of the most distinctive voices to emerge on the Irish scene. As well as touring his own show extensively, he has supported the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Morrissey.

John McSherry, from Belfast, is a virtuosic piper very much in demand for concert performances and session work, featuring on recordings of Nanci Griffiths and the Corrs.

Holland-based accordionist Dave Munnelly has an international reputation, touring his own band and playing everything from Irish reels to Parisian cafe numbers.

Magherafelt man Gino Lupari, on vocals, bodhran and personality, is a big favourite in these parts and no stranger to Derry after his spell studying at the Magee campus.

Bernard O’Neill says, “The concert’s been described as a cross between a super-group and a session and I suppose that’s not far away from it. It’s a real mix, from Liverpool to Derry, from singers to banjo players to bodhran players - the common denominator is the talent that each performer brings to the stage.”

The full line-up for Sunday’s concert is - Dave Munnelly, Terry Clarke-Coyne, John McSherry, Méabh O’Hare, Jennifer John, Damien Dempsey, Alan Burke, Ian Prowse, Graham Dunne, Niamh Parsons, Gino Lupari, Bernard O’Neill, Stevie Dunne and Mary McGuigan.

For more details, check out the Irish Sea Sessions website

For local info on the concert, and to book, go to or phone the box office on 02871 264455.