On two occasions last year, I watched Glen Hansard perform with his band the Frames, and I was thrilled on every level. His songs are by turns passionate, humane, cheerful, sad, honest, emotional, intricate, delicate and anthemic. I wondered why he was performing in the Kings Cross Scale and mid-way up the bill at a European festival when he should have a huge, huge fanbase.

I suppose it would have been natural to wonder if it was me who was wrong. And yet, when I was at these gigs, I could look around and see others that were equally as devoted, and I could hear music that explained why. So, clearly, it was the wider public that missed out.

(Indeed, none of my friends who joined me at the aforementioned festival could not be persuaded to join me at the front for the Frames. They went back to their tents, and I can still look at them - including two members of this website’s writing staff -with a large degree of superiority. For that hour, my life was dramatically more enjoyable than theirs).

So, this year, the film 'Once' was released. Glen Hansard played the lead role, alongside Marketa Irglova, his ‘real life girlfriend’, with whom he had made an exceptional album as 'The Swell Season' just before the most recent Frames album. The film was well received, even more so when released on DVD, and its lead song ‘Falling Slowly’ won an Oscar.

So, tonight Hansard and Irglova show off the songs from the ‘Once’ soundtrack in front of a sold-out audience at the Barbican. I’d never been to the Barbican before, but it’s a fantastic venue. The girl sitting next to me explained that she’d come on the strength of the film, had never been to a pop gig before, but that this was the best place to watch classical music in London.

Let me tell you, she was right. The Barbican is a magnificent venue. Some people may not like all seated venues, granted. But here, instead of being shoved around, doused in cheap lager by someone that wanted to steal my view of half the singer’s head, I had a clear view of the stage and exceptional sound. Rather nice, I think.

In the opening section of the film, Glen’s character busks the songs ‘Say It To Me Now’. Just to show us he can do it for real, Glen appears at the front of the stage and sings the song with his battered acoustic guitar (it has a huge hole just next to the strings) and without any mikes.

After this, Irglova arrives in the stage and sings ‘All The Way Down’. Glen actually sings this in the film, but I think they were right to change this, because its clear, simple melody suits her precise voice. The pair do have a natural charisma performing as a couple, which extends beyond their own relationship, and is best demonstrated when they perform ‘Falling Slowly’. The Oscar song may have taken on a life of its own, as Glen explains from the stage, but they sing it as if it was a private performance between the pair of them.

But this evening was more than a performance of the songs from the film. Glen and Marketa were joined on stage by Glen’s bandmates from the Frames, and it was the celebration of more than a decade of exceptional music that made this such an exceptional evening.

Throughout the concert, one girl called out for ‘Star Star’. This song was a slightly limp track from the Frames’ third album, but in expanded form had become a mainstay of the band’s live show. Played tonight with an acoustic rather than electric guitar, it was magical.

But even better were two other tracks, both over a decade old. ‘Your Face’, lilting and melodic and ‘Fitzcarraldo’, epic and intense. With Marketa on piano, and playing in their largest London venue, the Frames showed that they should have been playing to this kind of audience their whole career.

Explaining the appeal of Glen Hansard is difficult. He is a great songwriter, I am absolutely convinced. But he doesn’t seem to believe that he has to prove he is with empty gestures, and as such his songs are open, warm and heartfelt - I often say that the Frames are like a much improved version of Snow Patrol, although that doesn’t do justice to their Irish folk influences, or the huge diversity in their music.

They may have secured a booking at the Barbican on the strength of film which appealed because it was understated, but they gave the Barbican audience an expansive live show, which celebrated over a decade of exceptional music.

Closing the show, they invited their support act, a friend who had played music on the same Dublin streets as the Frames fifteen years ago, to take the microphone and sing Dylan’s ’Forever Young’. It was a marvellous, humble conclusion to one of the best performances I will ever see.











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Commenting On: Barbican, London, 5/6/2008 - Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova








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