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2011-12-21 Moynalty

reviewed by John

 
As I promised yesterday, I'd like to give my brief impressions of the Celtic Tenors' concert I attended in Moynalty on December 21. Incidentally, the place name is pronounced `Munalty', so if anyone should ever find themselves there, you don't stand out from the crowd quite so much, nor attract too much derision, if you pronounce it correctly. Moynalty is a small town surrounded, it seemed to me, by farm holdings. Much of the farming land is in fact reclaimed bog – Matthew himself told me that he had spent much of his youth helping to drain the former wetlands. The entire area reminded me of my childhood and youth, which was spent in a beautiful rural area famous for its farming. The roads are narrow and winding, the views beautiful, and the atmosphere tranquil.

The church lies near the centre of town, and the first thing of note was the wonderful twinkling light decorations festooned around the avenue of small fir trees on the approach. The night was cold, but the event was significantly over-subscribed (I heard there was a waiting list for returned tickets). Certainly every available space inside the church was taken up with chairs clearly brought in for the occasion. The reason for the popularity can be attributed not just to the calibre of the entertainment, but also to the fact that Moynalty happens to be the home of Matthew, and indeed the majority of his family. In this sort of community, people know each other (and believe me, ALL the each others) very well: I completely lost count of the number of times Matthew would look forward, right, left, upstairs or down, and express recognition of yet another friend or acquaintance. It's probably also worth mentioning that amongst the audience, to his great delight, was the lady who first encouraged him to sing publicly after hearing him sing `The Holy City' – she clearly has the power of prophecy. How well that little recommendation has flourished! The church itself has small mezzanine floors at the rear of the nave, and in both transepts. I heard that the capacity is in the region of 500 people, and every nook and cranny was full for the concert.

As normal, I shall mention the highlights as they struck me.

This concert had a number of unusual features to it. Firstly, pre-concert, we were entertained by a local piano accordion band for around 30 minutes. Its repertoire was highly varied, and the performance warmed the audience up perfectly for the on-stage arrival of Colm and the tenors.

`Caledonia' was performed with a harp accompaniment; the staccato plucking of the strings was a perfect counterpoint for the smooth melody line of a song which has long been a special favourite of mine. At the end of the interval, this principal harpist was joined by two further ladies, and they performed three pieces as a trio. I wasn't paying close enough attention during the announcement of their program, but I do know that they played two charming reels which were pure delight to hear. As was mentioned during the meet and greet, the reel was made for the harp (or maybe vice versa) – either way, the combination is one made in heaven. A truly lovely interlude.

The Tenors and Deirdre were supported at various times by a choir of I should estimate 40 local schoolchildren drawn from all the junior schools. Their performances were stunning – given that their ages probably range from 6 to maybe 11 (my guess) – they displayed a poise and talent of which they should be very proud. They looked good, they smiled, they sang in tune and in time, and candidly I was highly impressed at all their appearances. It was a real thrill to watch and listen to them. Given that they provided vocal support for `The Holy City', which is never an easy piece to perform, I was floored by their performance. They also had a `solo' piece in the second half – `Jingle Bell Rock', which was charming.

And before we get to the principal act, I want to indulge myself and spend a little time extolling the virtues and talents of Deirdre Gilsenan. It is quite a while since I have seen her perform. Her radiant beauty has only strengthened, and her performance was as serene as ever. James (I think) mentioned during one of Deirdre's introductions that Daryl had said recently that he felt that Deirdre has the best female voice in Ireland currently. No-one present at the concert would argue with that. She started with a song which has so many links to my own childhood – being a teenager of the 1960s, I often find myself conscious that my generation represents the link between `the old stuff' and things like Beatle mania and my beloved Motown. The song Deirdre chose to perform was `When I grow too old to dream' which was a staple of village concerts and pub sing-songs from my youth. It is a totally nostalgic song (although its lyrics look forward), which of course she delivered to absolute perfection, while looking simply stunning in a scarlet velvet gown. This kind of physical and musical beauty does not grace too many stages, and her performance was stunning. And as if that was not enough, she also joined the guys for `Away in a manger', and along with the children's choir, also participated in `O come, all ye faithful'. And the greatest moment for me was her duet with her elder brother of `The Prayer'. The song itself is one which has the power to make me emotional – the combination of her voice and Matthew's for this song has been one of my musical highlights for years. It is simply perfection every time I see them perform it.

And after all this preamble, the tenors themselves. After Colm's entrance ( resplendent in his very stylish pencil-slim suit), Matthew, Daryl and James entered the raised stage from the rear to enormous applause – this was very much a partisan audience. They launched immediately into `Red haired Mary', which is for me the epitome of Irish good-natured fun music. This is my first experience of the song live, with only Colm providing instrumental support on his keyboard. I had expected to find the sound rather thin in comparison to the recorded version with its frenetic RTE Orchestra contribution, but this works very well. LOVE the song, loved the performance too. Mention was made before the next song (and before MANY other songs too) of the new album, this one being the title track, `Feels like home'. This will always qualify as a highlight for me – it's a Randy Newman song, and anything Randy Newman writes is always special for me. `Oh Holy Night' brings back memories of Veronika Ploes, whose firm favourite this song always was. The guys soar and weave through this monumental song with such aplomb – it is always a delight to hear. Matthew performed `Galileo' for my first live concert – his recording is stunning, his live performance quite unbelievable in its tenderness; and it was devoted to his wife, Celestine with the most touching dedication imaginable. In fact Celestine featured quite heavily in the concert, much to her surprise. `Lay down Sally' was also performed (the village priest had been warned!), and throughout the first two verses, James, the usual third drunk, was making suggestive and drunken eye contact with a lady sitting on the opposite side of the aisle to Celestine. When he left the stage, everyone knew where he was going….or rather, not. He pulled a rose from one of the red arrangements, and edged towards the `victim', but turned at the last instant, and `assaulted' a stunned Celestine. It raised a huge reaction from the audience, most of whom knew only too well who she is. And their reaction was as nothing compared to her own. She confided later that she has often expected to be the target, but had almost stopped having those fears. Only goes to show….NEVER drop your guard.

`Better' was something of a revelation to me. As recorded, Daryl's solo is a relatively gentle song. In live performance, there's greater force and power in its delivery as they open the throttles, and it pays off magnificently. `Westering home' is a well-known melody in Ireland, more closely associated with the Irish lyrics, but it received maybe the second loudest ovation of the evening (the loudest has yet to come). It's hardly surprising, since the melody is infinitely memorable – a true sing-along tune if ever there was one.

`All out of love' raised the loudest cheer of the entire evening when we reached the break point. They really opened up with all guns blazing for this performance, despite reportedly having been told by their current management to drop it. Thankfully they have chosen to ignore that advice.

There was one more song which I cannot fail to mention. Many readers will be aware that the date of the concert, December 21, was also the day of the funeral of Samuel Sambuli, the director of Cheryl's Children's Home in Nairobi, the beneficiary of so much support from the tenors, Kenya Build and a body of volunteers, some heavily involved. James made an emotionally-charged dedication to the memory of the man who, as he mentioned, had literally saved the lives of hundreds of children from the Nairobi slums. It was patently clear that James delivered his tribute with great difficulty, and I noticed the looks of concern directed at him by Matthew and Daryl. He got through the song perfectly; and I shall never know how. Those of us there who counted Samuel as a friend felt as though all our emotions were under assault. It was the ultimate way to bid farewell, and you could see from his expression that James was lost in the lyrics somewhere far way in Kenya. It was a performance I shall never forget – would that it had been in a happier, more positive circumstance.

John