Music and Reviews from Clare, Limerick, Waterford and sometimes further afield

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Sing Along with the Speks: Live in Ennis

I caught up with The Speks in Ennis where they entertained a family audience  as part of the St Patrick's Day festivities at Glor. The  'boy band'  dressed in primary colours and wearing wigs were quite at home on the big stage and looked like they were enjoying themselves as much as their young listeners. The charming set of favourite childrens' songs and nursery rhymes familiar to all ages were peppered with interludes of Irish dance tunes performed on traditional instruments. I particularly liked  Miss Molly Had a Dolly, given a distinctly Irish makeover when fused with the hornpipe the Beggerman. A key feature was the addition of  simple ostinatos to encourage audience participation.  More colour was added via illustrations of the rhymes projected on the backdrop screen and there was a range of nicely produced books and cds available in the foyer.

I spoke to Quince Spek,  aka Paul Quin in the bustling foyer following the gig and he told me that some of the band are together since their school days and acknowledged the influence of one of their school teachers in developing their style .  The Speks website is a mine of material,  recordings, lyrics , tips on  classroom use etc. and an excellent  resource for anyone involved in primary school education.

Ar fheabhas!


Sunday, March 24, 2013

'A Drop of Golden Sun' : The Sound of Music in Nenagh

A crazy planet full of crazy people,
Is somersaulting all around the sky.
And everytime it turns another somersault,
Another day goes by.

The enduring  appeal of Rogers and Hammerstein's final musical was  reaffirmed as the CBS Hall  was packed nightly with young and old for Nenagh Choral Society's splendid  production of the The Sound of Music.

Swanky theatres are all very well but there is something magical about seeing these  functional comunity spaces transported  for a time, to a theatrical realm where the local  players  sparkle  as their grease painted alter egos. The vivid colourful sets instantly  evoked the Austrian Alps and  we also loved the church panels with their stained glass effect windows.

There were strong performances from all the leads. Maria is such a goody goody, that usually I want to scratch her eyes out by the second scene but Emily Sheary carried off the saccharine role beautifully, imbuing her with a feisty quality .  Louise Cormack as her upper crust rival was delightfully supercilious and Patrick Rohan Jnr as the expedient freeloading Max was the antithesis of  Paul Shesgreen's   aloof, principled Captain von Trapp.  Mother Abbess, Niamh Chadwick delivered the central message of following your dream with suitable gravitas. The supporting characters squeezed every nuance from their parts. The pit vote for best supporting role was Alan O Brien  who made band members chuckle every night as the pompous, guffawing Admiral von Schreiber. Director Greg Browne ignored W.C Field's advice and includes not only nine confident youngsters in the cast but also a dog  adding an extra frisson to   the torch bearing  'Nazi' stormtroopers parade through the audience.
Nenagh Choral Society's back cataloque

Some of the best singing came in the well balanced acappella liturgical numbers and the Salve Regina near the Act 1 finale was particularly fine.  There was an extra vocal treat with a chorale by German composer Biebl was inserted  in the concert scene for the impressive  young baritone Dylan Rooney  in the role of the Gauleiter Herr Zeller. One to watch out for with good stage presence to match his vocal ability. I enjoyed  the less familiar trio No Way to Stop it, some of the witty lines of which are quoted above and which is often cut from stage set list and doesn't feature in the film version.

A full string quartet with double bass added an unusually  rich string timbre under musical director Laura Kearney.  Being part of the  band and seeing the show come together in the final stages gives some  sense of what an immense combined effort, an amateur musical production is.  Chairman Ger McCarthy and his  tuxedoed team were front of house every night with a warm greeting for patrons as they came in from the biting cold.  With an intergenerational cast there was a particularly strong sense of community in this endeavour as so many elements combined to bring audience members to their feet  each night at the close for a rousing sing along of the final chorus.  This show is ingrained as part of our childhoods and  for the many children, who came to see this heart warming  production, to paraphrase the lyrics of one of Maria and the Captain's lovely duets 'somewhere in their youth or childhood, they will have seen something good'.

 Related Posts Nuns' Chorus part 2 The Sound of Music in Ennis
Cast members
Sr Berthe, Caoimhe Geaney, Sr Mararetta Zelda Dillon, Sr Sophia Naomi Morrissey, Sr Gerthrud Denise Maher, Liesl-Billie Kelly, Friedrich- Shane Slattery, Louisa -Eva McKeogh, Kurt- Manus Heenan, Brigitta Caroline Browne, Marta- Grace Shesgreen and Grace Brennan, Gretl Alannah Slattery and Laoise Kennedy, Rolf- Paul Browne, Franz Michael Cormack , Frau Schmidt Amy Ryan , Housemaid Ursula Mgt McGee, New Postulant Saoirse McGee, Baron Elberfeld Gerry Scanlon, Baroness Colette Horan, Frau Zeller-Susan Whelan

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bards, Broadcasters & Buskers: Ennis Book Club Festival 2013

Mobile Mascot

Ten Books You Must Read                      
Readings: Fergal Keane and Marina Lewycka with Sean Rocks
Sunday Symposium:  Power and Corruption
Reading in the Dark
Remembering Dennis

In Ennis,  the sun shone as an influx of bibliophiles descended on Clare for the annual niche festival devoted to that  loquacious form of social collective, the book club. The format of walks and talks and the opportunity to connect with  authors  proving  to have an enduring appeal for the literary inclined as  for a seventh year,  venues buzzed with wordy chatter over the three day Ennis Book Club Festival .  Here is a round up of my festival experiences.

 Broadcasters Bookpick 
 10 Books You Should Read : An intense  hum of conversation resounded in Glor foyer  on Saturday morning as  punters  gathered to hear selections by radio folk, Sean Moncrieff and Áine Lawlor for one of the most popular events of the weekend.  Moncrieff's selection was quirky and he made an entertaining and  articulate case for most of the titles, communicating such  a genuine enthusiasm for the eclectic list that you would almost forgive him for the indulgence of reading at considerable length a rather bleak and dreary passage from his own book. Áine Lawlor, by her own admission, was 'ill-prepared' for the session and her selection of  several pairs of well known titles  by the same authors seemed to misread  the bookish audience. More titles you should re-read perhaps?
I include the selections of both speakers below

Tales of Two Valentinas

More Broadcasters and authors Fergal Keane and Marina Lewycka interviews by Sean Rocks .

This is a tricky format for a live event, being essentially a one to one  interview with the audience as voyeurs.  Grand on radio but in a large black box theatre with hundreds watching eyes , it can't be easy to create that sense of intimacy between interviewer and   interviewee to draw out the best insights.  Sometimes it can sizzle particularly if the authors have a sense of the dramatic and Lynne Reid Banks with Kevin Barry  and poets Paul Durkan and Thomas Lynch  had a performance  element that made for  memorable evenings from past festivals. Both interviewees this evening were genial and forthcoming and Rocks as always had done his homework, although not afraid to ask the simple questions  On Rwanda he asks the acclaimed BBC broadcaster. 'What do you do with memories like that'  You just don't think about it' the reply. 'Keane was as good as I've ever heard him' exclaimed one bibliophile.  Marina Lewycka, author of a Short History of Ukrainian Tractors  was a charming and gracious guest. You can get a sense of her style in her webpage which includes transcripts of interviews with the author..

2012 panel

Politicos and Journos
Sunday Symposium  'I am an anarchist an eco warrior' declared Alex , a bibliophile with an interest in Bolivia and acontributor to the Q&A at the Sunday Symposium .   No loafing around in bed for the hardy species of  book club bibliophile  hibernicus  and there was full house in Glor on Sunday morning for a symposium on power and corruption  with journalist Elaine Byrne , academic Brian Lucey and politicians Roisin Shortall and Mary O Rourke. ' Reponsibility without power' was her downfall remarked Shortall ruefully on her departure from' office. 'We co-opt to corrupt' said Brian Lucey, on the pervasive nature of corruption Irish style. Power without the fun of ever being in the infamous Galway tent -Mary O Rourke distanced herself from corruption, Fianna Fail style .
'Reading in the Dark' at Sceal Eile Bookshop photo Éibhleann Ní Ghríofa

Readings in the Dark   In contrast to the large auditorium events , one of the most enjoyable events took place in the  small independent book shop Scéal Eile . In the cosy space in the light of candles and a wood burning stove Darren Killeen of Hounds Hollow Productions presented a selection of readings from James Joyce and Bram Stoker.  Galway writer, Alan McMonagle read from his own anthology of short stories Liar, Liar.  James Fleming  after a nod to local hero Johnny Patterson launched into a hilarious monologue on the life of a statue-the busking variety not the inanimate kind, a scene in which sees him interviewed by Sean Rocks , a case of art imitating life at Ennis Book Club Festival.

 Remembering Dennis: Poets and friends gathered at the Ground Hotel to pay tribute to the late Dennis O Driscoll. The poet was due to read at the festival, I was privileged to be invited to contribute some musical punctuation on violin. The poem that caught my attention most was 'The Light of Other Days' a humorous rant on the poet's dislike of John McCormack, tempered by his father's penchant for the mawkish ballads and a moment where the melody choice of  Oft in the Stilly Night chimed with the texts.  I include my selection below.

For a seventh successive year we say bravo and thank you to the hard working committee who under chairman, Ciana Campbell brighten the early Spring Days for a while by drawing entertaining guests and generating lively conversation in the Clare county town. There was so much more that I didn't get along to with celebrity authors. John Banville and Joseph O Connor in town on Friday. My sources tell me that Michael Harding was most beguiling at his morning reading from his memoir hot off the press.
It was great to see the events well attended due  no doubt to a well managed publicity campaign and our compliments also on the beautifully printed notes accompanying each talk. We wouldn't wish to be anywhere else but at home in Ennis  for this excellent festival. Wishing all involved continued success in their  endeavours.

My report from 2012 here 

For a flavour of sights and sounds from 2012 have a look at the video below.

My Musical Selection for Remembering Denis

The Lark in The Clear Air  arr TC Kelly
Traumerei  Schumann
Sliabh na mBan  Slow Air
Ashokan Farewell  Ungar
Oft in the Stilly Night Moore

10 Books You Must Read
S Moncrieff                                                             Aine Lawlor
Collected Stories Raymond  Carver                     The Emporer of All Maladies: A Biography of 
Cloud Atlas David Mitchell                                   Cancer Siddhartha Mukherjee                                       
Consider the Lobster David Foster Wallace          Wolf Hall   Hilary Mantell
The Case for God Karen Armstrong                    Bring Up the Bodies  "
The Angel of the Streetlamps Sean Moncrieff       Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen 
How to be Alone Jonathan Franzen                     Persuasion                   "
The Catcher in the Rye JD Salinger                     The Polish Office    Alan Furst 
The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald                     The Spies of Warsaw  
Legacy of Ashes Tim Weiner                               Charles Dowding's Vegetable Course
The Rabbit Quartet John Updike                          Forgotton Skills of Cooking Darina Allen            
                                                          On Gardening  Helen Dillon *  (omitted from live list)


Sunday, March 10, 2013

This House at the National Theatre London

By Guest Blogger
John Hartery

It was a notable weekend at the National Theatre in London as the smaller Cottosloe was about to shut down for a refit and rebranding in recognition of a large benefactor.

Fresh from the same Cottosloe  the new play, This House, by James Graham and directed by Jeremy Herrin was just settling into the huge Olivier Theatre when I caught it last Saturday. The play is a comedy  based on the Harold Wilson led Labour government in the 1974-1977 period. However, Wilson never appears and nor does many of the other big hitters politician of the time  because the action is set in the powerhouse behind the thrones in the  smokey backrooms occupied by the whips.
Labour Whip played by Phil Daniels 

The minority Wilson government survived for 5 years  by the  skin of its teeth through deals, chicanery,  dirty tricks, MPs on stretchers and old fashioned politics.  The sets dominated by a centrepiece clockface are  clever and  move between the benches of the House of Commons and the office of the government and opposition whips. The characters are introduced by the Speaker which is a clever device to help keep track of the many characters in the fast moving action.
off stage
At the beginning, we get some good gags as the newly elected Labour party whips with their  beer and sandwiches usurp the smooth Tory Toffs. Some  caricatures   jar a bit including the permanently drunk unionist politicians from Northern Ireland.
Some remarkable episodes of the time are recreated included the death faking and reappearance of John Stonehouse and the Lib-Lab Pact.

But there was  many more larger than life incidents that were only briefly touched on including Michael Heseltine and the mace and  the Jeremy Thorpe  court  trial. I suspect the play will reappear in a TV  format akin to Mad Men when those flared trousers can get another outing. The live 70'style guitar driven rock band acts as an aural backdrop of the period, This feature was not to everyone's taste and a gentleman seated in my row put his hands resolutely  in his ears for these bits

This House  was  excellent entertainment, a glimpse behind the scenes into how politics works for us.

Earlier in the day I saw Port by Simon Stephens in the Lyttleton which was memorable for a tour de force performance by Kate O'Flynn

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mol an Oige Feile na hInse and Coole Music festival

Coole Music School hosted their 6th annual orchestra jamboree  on Sunday 3rd March in the Community Centre Gort.  Sonic Strings, a dancing violin troupe kicked off the proceedings in jazz style .   Junior ensembles from Co Cork VEC , Limerick's Sing Out With Strings, Athenry  and Young European Strings Dublin joined the home team to present an afternoon concert. After a splendid and varied afternoon all ensembles
surrounded the audience as musicians lined the hall the four lengths of the hall to play a final ensemble  piece in unison and in canon specially composed for the occasion by Coole Music director Katarina Baker . A special feature were  strategicaly placed chime bar players linking all the groups together.

Féile na hInse is a festival dedicating to promoting Irish language and culture held annually in Ennis . It consists of a plethora of competitions over 8 days. with over 2,000 young people involved each year and over 70 schools, both primary and Second level, participating. I went along last Tuesday to hear some of the competitions. How wonderful to see the art of  singing being nurtured in the very young and there was a large entry in the Comórtais Amhrámíocht Aonair  from  primary schools across the region.Songs like  Mo GileMear, Dilin o Damhsa, Dúlaiman and  Beidh aonach amarach, an Poc ar Buile, Ailiu Eini, Trasna na dTonnta were delivered by the cantoirí óige. Some of these songs I haven't heard since I was at school myself and  it was heartening to see the tradition of Irish song being preserved by primary school teachers.
 It was notable  that a range of cultural backgrounds were represented among the contestants.

Young solo competitor faces adjudicator

Finalists Amraniocht Aonair

Frank Custy adjudicated at the Grupa Ceoil competition awarding prizes to Annagh and Barefield national  schools after pointing out that several groups had omitted the fonn mall in favour of a port mall,  -fonn mall being a  slow song air whereas port mall being a slow jig tune, I believe. The grupa ceoil format was laid down in the 60's by Sean O Riada and is essentially a sequence of tunes and airs presented by varying combinations of solos and tutti with melody and harmony parts.There was some terrific mature playing from the young musicians  Here is the winning group from Barefield NS .

Clare Champion article on Gort Festival

Limey Lords a Leaping: Me and My Girl in Ennis

Everyone is doing the Lambeth Walk on the Causeway this week as Ennis Musical Society present the 1930's morale booster, Me and My Girl for their 60th anniversary production. Tapping into the current penchant for toff TV, Downton Abbey, the show, a  gender reverse take on Pygmalion is the frothiest, lightest theatrical confection, a good old fashioned song and dance show  full of catchy tunes, corny jokes and lashings of lively dance routines, delivered with brio  in glorious tecnicolour by the Banner society . Hard to believe that cast and chorus members were  busy with all sorts day jobs before taking to the boards for the evening.

Brian Henry as Bill is an exuberant song and dance man in the best music hall tradition . Mary Healy  as Lady Jacqueline is delightfully OTT as his blonde bombshell comedic foil.  Tony Murray steals a scene dispensing advice as the doddery old family solicitor, Pargeter. Lauren Dunne as feisty heroine Sally shines in the wistful 'Once You Lose Your Heart' . The riotous company numbers are the ones that most cheer the heart  beautifully choreographed by Barbara Meany. Musical director Shane Farrell  keeps the tempos bright and breezy and  The Lambeth Walk was a  rumbustious delight. Is there a more cheerful and amiable song than The Sun Has Got His Hat On staged as a Lawn Tennis and Croquet party romp in eye socking whites and marine blue costumes?
Anyone for tennis?   from Ennis Mus Soc website

The nine piece pit with full brass and reed section had a terrific big band sound and the percussion added all sorts of bells and whistles I have never heard in a live band before. Pit  pianos are very often  filling in for missing parts but in this score the old joanna  is essential  to evoke that cockney knees up vibe though I missed a bass  part to add more bottom resonance.

Ticket prices were a modest €15 and this was great value for a  production which gave no sense that values were pared down in line with recession. How fantastic to see musical theatre alive and thriving on our doorstep in Clare. In the last few weeks alone there has been no need for a trip to the West End to see lively entertaining productions as both Ennis and Shannon societies mounted excellent productions .

Robert Lindsay A snatch from the 1986  London production

Venue Notes
Amateur societies and their following  aren't usually  in any hurry to clear the house and the meet and greet time after the show is important. It was a pity that no teas and coffees were available in the foyer following the performance .

The programme notes thoughtfully included printed lyrics to facilitate a closing sing a long. Great idea but the house lights need to come up for it to work.

Cathys Reviews Sound of Music   Ennis Musical Soc2012

Thursday, March 7, 2013

'Flute Player' Personified at Clare Poets February

Featured Poet Brian Mooney 
His was an earthed universe....
When he played 
he seemed
 to gather up 
the notes 
that cascaded down 
his timber flute

   from Flute Player for Des Mulkere

The Clare Poets kept the flame  burning at the monthly poetry vigil in Glór Foyer on 16th February . The featured poet was founder member Brian Mooney . Sadly Brian was indisposed but his daughter Cora read beautifully  from his work. Some of the lines had a particular resonance as special guest  was  Des Mulkere for whom Brian wrote Flute Player quoted above.   We heard Danny Boy and the Last Rose of Summer  and Des , a farmer and musician  knitted a number of threads in his discourse delivered in a rich sonorous voice-the Kiltartan Irish and his family's association with Yeats , Denis Hempson and the Belfast Harp Festival amongst others.  Mike Douse was in the chair  and added a note on John McCormack's recordings of Moore's Melodies. There was a lively open mike session with regulars and newcomers. I enjoyed  Pat Considine's ,The Waking Field and Patricia's eco conscious poem on Fracking, both attending for the first time I believe.    The always impressive Peter Kay picked up the WB thread with his  performances from memory  of  Bulla .  We had a  poem as Gaeilge from Pat McNamara and poems from Arthurs Watson and Joe Cronin.
The Clare Poets meet in Glor, Ennis on the third Saturday of each month. All are welcome, poets or hearers.