Kevin Morrow at McClosky’s

By Dermot Carmody

Singer and songwriter Kevin Morrow has been playing regularly on Thursday nights in McCloskey’s pub in Donnybrook for the last five years.

The place itself is an old-school shop where a guest or customer can expect the type of efficient service that comes wrapped in a convivial deadpan expression and only requires the correct angling of an empty pint glass to set the wheels in motion.

No dusty books, sewing machines or faux antiques adorn its shelves. It’s just a big old comfortable local where you and the twenty members of your bell-ringing club can be accommodated and still leave plenty of space for book readers, field enthusiasts or solo philosophers to have their piece of peace.

Kevin’s poster suggests a human jukebox. It lists about twenty artists whose material he performs in his solo gigs ranging from Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton via David Bowie and Joni Mitchell. Kevin’s mental songbook must probably contain hundreds, if not thousands, of songs in dozens of genres.

It would be wrong however to see him as a hack covers artist. His guitar playing and excellent harmonica combine with a soulful vocal range and lovely overall musicianship to mark him out as capable of interpreting a song faithfully while very much making it his own.

Not many men from Hollywood, County Down could pull off Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. Actually there might be only the one who really enjoys the Thursday night gig in McCloskeys.

“I do really like this gig,” says Kevin. “People are kind of chilled it’s not like a mad weekend with people letting off steam.” He feels more people are listening on a Thursday night. These are the nights when he gets requests not just for the songs of other well-known artists, but for his own songs.

Kevin Morrow blows a mean harmonica on Thursday nights at McCloskey’s pub.
(Photo Dermot Carmody)

Perched on a high stool, straw trilby atop his head, Kevin is charming and affable between songs, clearly comfortable in his performer’s skin. It’s not surprising really – he’s been at it a while.

He formed the rock band Renegade in 1981 in Belfast. They became well known there, supporting Wishbone Ash and Mama’s Boys. After a four-year stint in London in the 80s, where life revolved more around building sites than guitars, he moved back to Belfast, playing with local band The Attic and then to Dublin in 1990.

He played with a number of Dublin bands, notably Parchman Farm, who were resident at the legendary JJ Smyths in Aungier Street for many years, and Brian Downey’s Blues Up Front in 2001. In 2004 he formed Hollywood Slim And the Fat Cats who played a residency in the Burlington Supper Club until 2009, when he went solo. 

Now he’s keen to promote his own songwriting talent. “I’m recording with a fellow called Bill Shanley,” he explains. “He’s Ray Davies’ guitar player and he works with Paul Brady. I’m recording voice, guitar and harmonica and he’s adding bass, keyboards, slide guitar, loads of vocal harmonies as well. I’m really, really pleased with it.”

Kevin’s face lights up talking about the project. He whips out his phone to play me some snippets of recent recordings, including his haunting ballad, October Moon, which will be a track on the EP he’s planning to release this autumn.

When I ask him how he intends to promote the recording, his faith in his own work comes through: “I reckon if the songs are really good, they’ll speak on their own without having to push too hard.”

As our conversation ends and Kevin prepare to start the gig, an elderly patron grabs him on his way out the door to apologise for not staying. “She told me not to tarry,” he laments. “Ah, for God’s sake,” says Kevin sympathetically, “I’ve the Green Glens Of Antrim all set for you…” And off he goes to play another thirty requests instead.

Kevin Morrow plays at McCloskey’s in Donnybrook every Thursday night. No cover charge.

Kevin also plays O’Reilly’s in Sandymount on Saturdays, The Old Mill, Tallaght on Fridays and Birchall’s in Crumlin on Sundays.