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May 2019
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2005-08-05 Clonard Monastery, Belfast

reviewed by Beate


Getting to a concert, especially on a Friday night, can mean a long drive and a lot of time spent in traffic jams. And even if all goes well, Dublin-Belfast is a two-hour drive. Well, this time, it did not really matter, because the concert kind of started for me when I was still on the road with the lads being live at the George Jones show on BBC Northern Ireland radio.


It started off by playing "All out of Love" (with Air Supply) from the new album, and that was followed by a lengthy interview which covered everything from holiday destinations and travel plans to the new album. Regarding holidays, James will spent his vacation in Granada, Niall will go to Tuscany, and Matthew having just moved into his new house will stay at home. However, he talked a lot about exploring the area around Kells, and visiting some sites near there. They also talked about Ireland in general, and about Dublin being their ideal base for both the European continent and North America, given it is only a five-hour-flight to New York. Of course the new CD was a subject as well, and the lads talked about their new songs and the guest appearances on it. All in all, they were on air for about 20 minutes, and it was the usual banter with one completing the sentences of another and sometimes it was kind of hard to follow the turns of the conversation. Still, it's their special, refreshing style and it was a lot of fun listening to them. The interview ended with an a capella version of "Here, there and everywhere". 


Thankfully, Clonard Monastery was not too difficult to find, and after only one wrong turn I stood in front of that huge, beautiful church. What a terrific venue for a Celtic Tenor concert! The church was filling up rapidly the nearer it got to 8 pm, and chairs had to be put out for additional seating. All in all, I would think there were about 800 or 900 people there when the concert started. Among them, sitting in the first row, was Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, recently all over the news due to the progresses in the peace process.

I had stumbled over the programme for the West Belfast Festival right when I came into the church, and here is what the description of the evening read like:

"The Celtic Tenors comprise of a trio of Irish Talent including: accomplished young tenor Matthew Gilsenan, Niall Morris winner of The Wolfson Prize and James Nelson a veteran performer of over 50 roles in operas around the world. Deirdre Shannon joins the lineup with support from Brian Keenan. Directed by David Munro. A mesmerizing night not to be missed. Tickets £10 from Feile outlets."

And mesmerising it was even though it turned out that, due to some obligations in the US, Deirdre was not joining them as usual! Brian Keenan, a classical guitar player, started the evening off with a few pieces and it was a fantastic sound in that church building.


The tenors' part then started with a slight delay, due to the fact that (read that) David was locked into the Ladies' bathroom. At least that's what I heard and maybe James or Niall or Matthew could deliver some kind of explanation at a later stage???


The concert started with "Ag criost an siol", which the tenors, as in Dunmore, did from the registry door, before coming into the church and launching right into "Star of the County Down". Then it was time for the introductions, with this time  James adding the local touch, with his mom being from Bangor Co. Down, which is not far from Belfast. On they went with "Caledonia", "Wild Rover", "Bheir mi o" and "Mary from Dungloe". Images of my recent holiday immediately came to mind, not only had we been to Dungloe, but on the way to and from there also passed the areas and villages named in the song, from The Rosses to Gweedore. It was then time for the first song from the new CD (and getting those glimpses into it makes me want to get one right here and now) "Angel of Mercy". This song was written for the Celtic Tenors by Ronan Hardiman, a name that did ring a bell because he has also written the music for "Lord of the Dance".

They introduced it as a piece dedicated to people who have lost a loved one, and it is a song to pause for a moment, and let your thoughts wander. I don't know was it the atmosphere in the church, or the three voices paired with the beauty of this song, I cried my way right through it almost right from the first note.


And then - something very special. At least for me. How many times had I felt sorry for myself that I discovered the group too late to see them perform "Mull of Kintyre" on stage? By the time I saw my first concert, it was no longer in the programme and has never had a comeback. Just the opposite, I was (more than once) assured that this song was history! Up until Friday night, and what can I say, I just loved it! Don't know what it is about it, though, that makes Matthew stubbornly insist on singing James's text? Or at least mix some of James's lines with his? "Mull of Kintyre" was followed by "Nella Fantasia", and "Granada" - with James mentioning again that this would be his holiday destination.


After that, Niall launched into the introduction for "Non Siamo Isole". He gave some background info, how this was the song that had actually given the new album its title "We are not Islands", and how they had recorded it with a local hero, Brian Kennedy. Clonard Monastery is just around the corner from Falls Road, and that is where Brian Kennedy grew up. Niall also lined out that they had thought it a good idea to record the song with Brian, as his voice makes such a difference to the trained voices. Bless him. He meant well and I understood the sense of his words perfectly, but of course some people uttered a little protest as, in turn, they came to the conclusion that he had just labelled Brian's voice "untrained". Don't get me wrong, no one was bearing a grudge about it, but it was a nice banter developing between audience and stage, and with every possible explanation he tried to give, Niall somehow managed to make it worse and get further protest, until someone told him Brian's mother was in the back of the church and he just groaned "Oh good, that's all I needed to know now." Which of course meant he had the laughter back on his side.


Am I mistaken, or are they constantly changing "Non Siamo Isole"? A different harmony here, and a little bit of a different approach there, and I just feel it's getting better and better. Matthew did take a much lighter approach this time compared to Dunmore, and in my opinion this is doing the song a world of good, as it does in fact live from the difference in the two voices singing it.

After "La Danza", James stood in front for "You walk with God", and then it was time for "You raise me up" which, in short words, I just adore. And judging from the reactions, so did the rest of the audience. The next two songs, "Here there and everywhere" and "Whiskey in the jar", went well with the crowd too. It was the second time that day for me to hear that Beatles song, and it well and truly deserves its place on the new CD. So beautiful!


After "Danny Boy" and "Remember Me", it was "Time to say goodbye" a little weird to hear all these songs without Deirdre's voice in it. Not meaning that the lads cannot do it alone, but I am just used to having her on stage for certain songs I guess!


The audience (as one) was at their feet even before the last note of "Time to say goodbye" had faded, and the tenors got an enthusiastic standing ovation and very, very long applause. And of course they came back for their final encore, "Phil the Fluter's Ball", greeted with much laughter and, generally, much appreciated.


I take it from the long lines at the signing afterwards that this was another great success for the tenors and although it was quite a long drive up there and back home to Dublin during the night (I had to get back because I had friends visiting whom I had promised I would spend Saturday with them), I would not have missed it for the world. Two particular songs keep "haunting" me now "Angel of Mercy", and "Here there and everywhere". So can't wait for that CD to be launched!