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2008-02-14 Delft

reviewed by John

Delft is about one hour away from Amsterdam by train, and I had fond recollections of it from a previous visit. It is now etched more firmly in my memory as the venue for one of the more memorable (for very selfish reasons) CT concerts I have attended.

I arrived in Holland early Thursday (after a VERY early start from home), to be greeted by a bone chilling wind and significant moisture in the air; to the extent that I sometimes thought it was raining. As ever, the Dutch people, as well as speaking wonderful English (thank goodness  Dutch pronunciation is not the easiest in the world, though all three tenors displayed varying degrees of mastery), are endlessly hospitable and friendly, so I always look forward with great relish to visits to their country. No matter what the temperature outside, their charm will always remove the chill.

The theatre is a modern and very comfortable building, and the auditorium itself is wide though not especially deep. My guess would be that it can accommodate maybe 800 people including those in the upper circle. And the seats were wonderfully comfortable and roomy, which always helps. Red velvet upholstery&.mmmmm, velvet.

The song list, which I stole from the stage after the encore, was as follows (and I've included the alternates, which were not performed)

I'll tell me ma
Song for Ireland
Finnegan's wake
You raise me up
An
cailin rua
The holy city
Ave Maria (in preference to Pie Jesu)
O mio babbino caro
Libiamo
In the gloaming
Irish Rover
Remember me

Interval

(Something inside) so strong
Bring him home
Ten
thousand Tears
Summertime (in preference to Katie)
A love so beautiful (in preference to Still by your side)
The mad lady and me
An poc ar buile
Caledonia
Whiskey in the jar
All out of love
Time
to say goodbye
And a final encore of Danny Boy

The highlights (and one low point on this occasion) are very subjective things, but I hope you'll bear with me if I mention just some of the performances, and some of the really notable (and noticeable) impressions the evening left on me. Aside, of course, from renewing long-standing friendships with other attendees and meeting new fans too.

First of all, this was the first time I had seen Robbie and Colm perform. (It is invidious to make comparisons, and so I shall not. Both their predecessors have given me endless hours of musical enjoyment, and `The Scot' especially I like to number as a friend; he has the uncanny ability to make me collapse in fits of laughter with the movement of an eyebrow alone.) Each brings his stamp of individuality to the role he performs. Robbie, who is sadly not a permanent fixture, clearly has endless experience and versatility. This was especially noticeable to me during `(Something inside) so strong', a song which has haunted me since I first heard its composer, Labi Siffre's, recording probably 40 years ago. His version is taken much slower and more delicately than that of the CTs, (whose arrangement probably owes much to the production genius of Mike Moran), but Robbie rocked us into this song with such force that it seemed to take on new life. I've not heard guitar playing like that previously at a CT concert, and it wasn't the only occasion during the evening that I felt a significant change had occurred. It is rather sad that Robbie won't be touring in future with them (at least not the immediate future), because he is clearly greatly appreciated on stage, and does manage to stamp his versatility on everything he does. Nice man too.

And as for Colm, another of those prodigies, I suspect. He is quiet, unassuming, dare I say rather shy (certainly when it comes to taking thoroughly deserved applause), and a great giggler off stage (that always endears me to people). The only drawback is his height - I hate to have to look that far up! I remember seeing Neil Sedaka at London's Royal Festival Hall some years back in concert. The performers were just he and his piano  absolutely nothing else. And the sounds literally filled that auditorium to the rafters, which is a pretty astounding thing to achieve. I heard Matthew and James saying later that the piano in Delft was probably the best on the tour, but its operator was stunning. He is younger than my younger son (another black mark for him), but his playing has a depth and resonance which really do make you wonder exactly what levels he will reach in due course. He can play sensitively and with great empathy, and within minutes can be pounding the keys with great panache to complement the thundering crescendos coming from the singers. It's probably worth saying here that there were no recorded tracks used at all during the performance I saw. Considering that one of the songs was `Ten thousand tears', the recorded arrangement for which I consider David Munro's masterpiece and which relies heavily on multi-tracked vocal support and electronic harp (I think), it was astounding to hear such a rounded, pitch perfect rendition. This was one of the moments when Colm's contribution underpinned the singing perfectly. Whilst all voices were `aaa-ing' carefully (and I consider myself an authority on backing vocals), he was gently pushing the melody along with deft key strokes. A wonderful performance of a song which really must be quite difficult to perform live. And the timbre of Matthew's voice is beyond perfect for this song. I have said many times that this song should have enjoyed significant commercial success when first released! When the Greatest Hits album is issued, maybe then it will get its deserved recognition. Colm also proved himself a rather impressive and dominating actor during `Libiamo', when the guest soprano for the evening visited his piano stool during her walk-about and interfered with his person! I believe Colm will be touring North America after he has fulfilled his obligations to his own group (which actually includes a concert very close to my home on March 8)  all of you over there should watch out for him, because he is a very impressive musician.

Miss Malone continues to stun, not only with her vocal prowess, but also with her radiant beauty. She seems to me to have acquired greater confidence on stage  the level is still amazing considering she is only the age she is. She has developed a poise and coquettishness which are really quite stunning, and has managed to carve out for herself a quite distinct niche on CT tours. Her contribution to `Ave Maria' was delightful, `O mio babbino' is breathtaking, and (although I never liked the song) she does wonders with `Summertime'. I so wanted to hear `Katie', the reject, but that would have been greedy. I am going to send Barb a different photo than the one which she has posted. There is a much more smiley Donna in that one, and wreathed in smiles is how she appears to me each time I think of he. That's when I don't remember her goosing Daryl on stage, of course.

And then there were three more performers. I have been watching these gentlemen (and one's predecessor) now for probably almost 5 years. I have seen huge concert halls roaring for more, and been in small churches to hear performances. I read with great interest Kamikaze's observations of the shape of Matthew's mouth as he sang certain vowels, and it is a fact that small details stick with you and make events memorable. There were quite a few this night.

`Song for Ireland' I extolled to death last time, but it just gets better and better. The vocal arrangement is simply priceless, and the beauty of the lyrics is enough to bring tears to my eyes. It's destined to be a classic CT track, I am absolutely sure.

`An cailin rua' I have loved since the instant I first heard the first verse. I am tempted to say the old ones are the best (and I am perfectly qualified); this song has a niggling way of undulating along, and just when you think it's going in one direction, it turns a different corner. Thank goodness for those archives. Perfect song  almost a throw-away melody until it comes back and haunts your memory ceaselessly. This will be a hard one to sing karaoke to (unless you can speak Gaelic), but I guarantee you will when (I suppose if, though there should be no question about it) it is released on CD. I likened its rhythm to that of a babbling brook when I first heard it, and that's still exactly what it conjures up for me now again. It seems to have perfect symmetry, and that's no way to describe a song, but it fits the bill perfectly. I am always bereft when the last note has been sung.

`The holy city' is emotionally charged as if it had been struck by lightning. It takes me back to my childhood, though I can't really remember why. It really is one of the truly great religious pieces, and builds to the most moving crescendo. A good choice for the full force of tenor voices to blend in unison.

Caledonia remains my equal favourite CT track of all time. Daryl did a lovely job introducing it, in that it serves to remind each of them when they are touring that they have homes to which they can return. The allocation of verses to the respective individuals is masterful, and I know this song will carry me along for ever.

`The mad lady and me' sounds like another of those light-hearted traditional songs when you read the title. It is anything but that. Jimmy MacCarthy has the gift of genius for me when it comes to composing. Matthew introduced the song, which hinges around Jimmy's ability to relate to a bag lady who threw herself into the river in Cork, and floated along, buoyed up by her numerous coats, blowing kisses to onlookers, before being fished out. The song took me completely by surprise, in that, rather than being impish and amusing, it is poignant, sensitive, sad, and affectionate all at the same time. Matthew mentioned before they sang it that perhaps the mark of the great songsmiths is to compose melodies and write lyrics which allow all kinds of people to attach their own interpretation to them  often by the intentional obscurity of the intended images they conjure up. `Bright blue rose' contains many such unexpected metaphors for me, yet it works perfectly as a simple, beautiful song. This song is even better in my opinion, and you would have to be made of stone not to become enveloped in its lovely sentiments. Another must, surely, for the next album.

Towards the end of the second half, an introduction was interrupted by heckling!! The very idea! A lady in the circle questioned why the tenors were using microphones rather than singing without them.

After acknowledgement and an explanation as to the demands such performances place on singers other than as intermittent events, the CTs sang another song, and once again this lady shouted out that they ought to follow her advice. So they did, which is far more than I should have done in the circumstances. The fact that we got our final song (the second encore, `Danny Boy') as a result was very nice, but I do think that audiences have an obligation to behave unless there is really something to complain about.

Two more things before the best which has been saved until last. Tour manager Matt was sound engineer for the night. I think he upped the echo once or twice, because high tenor and soprano endings rebounded around us to magnificent effect after Daryl, James, Matthew and Donna had stopped singing  it was especially noticeable at the end of `Time to say goodbye', which received the customary (and charming) standing ovation which is invariably the mark of a happy Dutch audience.

And my magic moments&.

I have heard a few single notes which defy being described properly, such is their degree of perfection. James had one on Thursday night, singing the word `home' on a long note near the beginning of `Bring him home'. The degree of feeling and the bottomless depth of intensity of that single note have to be witnessed to be believed  this is one of music's timeless moments. I can think of only two others, both of which carry great significance for me. One is sung by Matthew in another song mentioned earlier, and the pinnacle for me is the word `time' sighed out by my Voice of Ages, a late female singer who is enjoying something of a resurgence after an imitator won a contest on national TV here tonight.

And lastly, my absolute winning moment of the evening was a combined effort  `In the gloaming' was performed live in concert for the very first time in the years I have been attending CT concerts, in the face of endless nagging, cajoling, encouragement, and begging on my part. I have adored this song since the second or third time I heard it. Again a song with a touching story as its background. The a capella performance is brilliant, stunning, painfully beautiful, and every other superlative imaginable. Daryl's rich, crystal-clear voice when he leads is the ideal vehicle for the under-stated melody, and with the sombre and profound humming accompaniment of James' and Matthew's voices before all three edge seamlessly into the most delicate and intricate harmonies is a combination I shall remember for the rest of my life. It is nothing short of utter and absolute perfection from the first note to the very last. I remained transfixed as silence engulfed the concert hall as the performance ended, and judging by the lapse before the truly rapturous applause, I was not alone. A song in a million, brilliantly conveyed by peerless male voices.

Which is a lovely way to bring to an end a review of a concert which demonstrates a subtle, almost imperceptible change of tone for a Celtic Tenor event. There is a change in presentation, though I cannot put my finger on exactly what underpins it. Maybe it is the change in musicians, maybe the clear affection for The Netherlands which all the performers demonstrate, but those of you in North America are in for a rare treat over the next few weeks if this calibre of performance continues.

A prize for the person who can stay awake until the end!