Having seen them perform so many times, I now associate them with major events and life changes. When I saw them perform at De Duif church in Amsterdam on May 8, 2015, it was exactly two weeks before Ireland had a vote on same-sex marriage. The lyrics to ‘Hot, scary summer’ seemed particularly appropriate and terrifying.
‘Remember kissing on the cobblestones, in the heat of the night, and all the pretty, young homophobes, looking out for a fight.’
I remember fighting the urge to shout ‘Vote yes’ at the end of the song. The Dutch audience wouldn’t have clicked to its meaning perhaps. That referendum had a successful outcome.
My first time seeing them in Limerick was in January 2016. I had moved back to Ireland in August and started a new job in Dublin in November. On that last Saturday in January, I was home in Limerick for the weekend and walked to Dolans in the pouring rain in the dark feeling a profound sense of self-pity. I wasn’t yet re-acclimatised to life in Ireland after fifteen years away. I was struggling with the idea that maybe my return to Ireland was the biggest mistake of my life and was contemplating booking a 1-way ticket back to Amsterdam. The forlorn sound of Conor’s voice singing one of my all-time favourite songs ‘Wichita Lineman’ as the finale captured my mood perfectly.
The gig that was cancelled in Vicar Street in December 2021 didn’t bother me. I had briefly met Conor O’Brien that summer (or at least I think it was him). Doing my daily walk to get out the house. I walked through the Docklands so I could do the coastal walk to the Poolbeg Lighthouse. He and a friend of his were on their bikes coming through a metal barrier. There was never any danger but bike to human contact was narrowly avoided. All of us were very apologetic. It was only after that I thought ‘Hang on – that was the singer from Villagers’. Maybe it wasn’t but I choose to believe that it was.
Last night’s gig was as enjoyable as I knew it was going to be. The support act Niamh Regan had quite the ordeal making it back from Manchester to be on time for the show. For the main act it was Conor O’Brien with his guitar and Oisin Walsh Peelo on piano. When you see a group whose gigs you have attended as often as I’ve seen Villagers it’s like being wrapped in a warm blanket. You know all the songs and you know they are going to be good.
I was on my own of course, having moved back to Limerick a couple of months earlier. As I walked home in the downpour, I didn’t feel sad. I know that it’s going to take time to settle back in; I know that making a brand-new set of friends gets more difficult the older you get; I know that readjustment is slow. I’ve done it before though. And I know that there will likely be another Villagers gig in the not-too-distant future, from where I can ponder on life’s journey.