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2005-12-31 Cork, Opera House

reviewed by John

 

Can I please start off (again I the nick of time) by wishing everyone here a very happy, prosperous, and peaceful 2006?

 

Cork - well, there are special nights, and there are special nights. And there are nights which are just waiting for an excuse to explode into your emotions. Last night was one of those. Just as little background, Cork is probably 1 1/2 hours' drive from Killarney. As with almost every waking moment during my quickie trip to Ireland, it rained like crazy and the wind blew! And when it didn't, the sunshine bouncing off the slick road surfaces was blinding. The weather truly was hideous almost all through the evening of 30th and all day on 31st. However......

 

Cork Opera House has a foyer which is way too small, but a lovely auditorium - it reminds me very much of theatres from my youth, though it is FAR newer. The stalls looked pretty well packed to me, and half the circle was filled too. Cork has a special songwriting son, Jimmy McCarthy, who wrote both 'The contender' and 'Katie', both of which were to feature in the programme. The audience (and I remember this from a previous concert in the same venue maybe 14 months ago) starts off well and truly warmed up anyway - you can detect the buzz as soon as people are seated - you just know they're loaded with appreciation. And true to form, as soon as the gents came on, the enthusiasm for the singing was palpable. Not in Cork does anyone need to be encouraged to join in, whether it be in the singing or clapping along. Given that this was a late start anyway (the show did not start until 10 p.m. in order to allow the group to be on stage for the midnight countdown), I imagine people had had more time to 'loosen up' shall we say? The weather was appalling, but the warmth was overpowering inside.

 

Again, I do not have a track list (Rianne, who is still in Ireland, has both of them, and either she or Anja or Beate will definitely post the running order), but I do know that the expected selection was cut short to make sure that everything was ready for that countdown. During the course of the two hours, I think two wall clocks were brought on stage and discounted because they had both stopped.

 

Most noticeable throughout the show was the complete air of relaxation about James, Matthew and Niall. They beamed from the moment they came onstage (in fact, Niall was giggling much of the time), and honestly there were times when I think they were quite overwhelmed by the reception which certain numbers earned them. We did not get 'Anthem' or 'All I ask of you' this time, but we did get a repeat of 'Sit down! You're rocking the boat', and of course, the absolute certainty for this place, 'The contender'. I am happy to report that Matthew's voice remains as perfect as ever, and for this track, and this alone, they did employ a recording orchestration backing track. My own recollection of last night (until the games started at midnight) was the closeness of backing harmonies when two out of the three would be supporting a soloist - they really did excel themselves last night.

 

Now the pranks!

 

There were party hats on the piano from the outset, and these were brought into play (Niall assured us it was an absolutely spontaneous idea of Matthew's half-way through Phil the Fluter - which closed the first half) to use two of those to make a Jean-Paul Gaultier-esque conical bra in the style of Madonna for The Widow. The Widow, curiously, was unfazed by all this unusual attention, but the years are beginning to show, and once again she was forced to virtually force David's head through his keyboard as she leaned on him to recover. (I forgot to mention, David was wearing MY jacket again, but when he saw me approaching, he threw it offstage, so it remains tantalising just out of my grasp.)

 

At midnight, everyone sang Auld Lang Syne (and that means everyone), and after a few moments for hugs and kisses and climbing over seats to rows where friends were seated, Pzazz, and Donna (who sang 'Katie' beautifully, might I say) all joined James, Matthew and Niall on stage to drink champagne (from glasses carried on by Anja and Beate, who have been selling CT merchandise throughout the tour where permitted) from a bottle expertly opened by Posh (I suspect he may have opened such bottle before, he did it with such an assured air!) Then we settled down for a little more entertainment.

 

There had been a grouping of probably a dozen helium balloons mid-stage from near the end of the first half, and it was at this point that Niall grabbed them all and a large pair of scissors and started to take them from the bunch one by one and hand them out. Matthew tied his to Martin's guitar head. Matthew then took another and tied it to the side strut of David's spectacles. And The Scot soldiered on! (Incidentally, if anyone ever needs embellishments to birthday cards, I can heartily recommend Mr. Munro for the task - he appears to possess an unusual talent for such things). James seemed to behave, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the balloon which found itself tied to back of Donna's dress may well have been placed there by him. Posh struggled manfully to separate more, couldn't, and after peeping through the massed strings, finally released the whole lot up to the ceiling.

 

Then the moment of magic arrived. Cork has an unofficial anthem, affectionately known as 'The Banks'. It's full title is 'On the banks of my own lovely Lee' which is the river which flows through the centre of Cork so majestically (Cork has some beautifully picturesque bridges, incidentally). It is a simply GORGEOUS, lilting, gentle song, and to hear the massed voices of many hundreds of people singing along so incredibly beautifully is a moment which I suspect will live with me forever. An extremely moving moment, the sort which makes you, for just one precious moment, forget all the troubles of the world and appreciate how glorious it is when people move in unity rather than in adversity. A perfect spirit in which to welcome in a brand new year.

 

It was around 12.30 when the show ended with an a capella version of Galway Bay with some highly dubious lyrics - most definitely NOT the original, and they brought the house down, not least because of the serious Barber-Shop demeanours of the tenors until the final line.

 

There was understandably no meet and greet. I have some photographs (again inferior quality to my way of thinking - I really MUST master this camera), but Rianne has some beauties which I know she will be posting when she gets home later this week.