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

Monday, December 30, 2013

Katakana Debut: Red Kettle Sessions

Photo: KATAKANA, performing at the Red Kettle sessions, Red Kettle Theatre, 123A Parade Quay, Waterford, on December 29th at 8pm. All info at

In this twilight zone of twixtmass, the Red Kettle Sessions offered two bands to tempt Waterford music lovers away from their couches for an evening of live music, both with rather exotic names veiling their local provenance - Earlier this week, El Hígado No Existe played two nights at the Central Hall.                                     Last night, a capacity house gathered for the debut of a new string band Katakana, featuring the doyen of Waterford songsmiths, Liam Merriman. There was a house party atmosphere at the Red Kettle HQ with an easy rapport between the players and a familiar audience with complimentary dram of local hooch, Muldoons whiskey liquer served on entry.

Liam Merriman avec chapeau
                                                                                                              Merriman was on form mixing self deprecating stage patter with a set list of sweet and gentle yet potent songs. It is more usual to see this troubadour, ploughing a more lonely furrow as a solo artist and Merriman clearly relished the luxury of the support of Nick Bankes on double bass and backing vocals, Dave Prim on Spanish guitar and Eoin Maher on mandolin and whistle. Merriman's voice is soft and mellifluous, never overstated in a set drawn from his collection of four albums, the latest recorded in Nashville.

Clodagh Power
The generous set of sixteen songs opened with a couple of road songs. The lyrics are well crafted with intelligent arrangements skillfully evoking the mood. Eoin Maher's whistle line cut through the string base and together with echo like backing vocals created a spooky mood in Wandering Road and I liked the arpeggiated string effects in the plethora of water related lyrics in songs like Rain Rain and Flow Gentle River. The Boys with the Radio evoked memories of that not often lauded species, the corner boys. The only cover was Mark Knopflers Why Worry The set closed with a gentle beguiling love song, The Love in Your Eyes.

Clodagh Power, home for the holiday from London played a charming short set of songs to her own guitar accompaniment opening with a very effective solo version of Winter Fire and Snow and closing with Stephen Foster's Hard Times. Perhaps most memorable was her acapella version of a Declan O Rourke song, Marrying the Sea

Katakana on stage at Central Hall photo courtesy of

Incidentally we learn that 'Katakana' is some form of Japanese alphabet chosen for it's rarity value as opposed to any reference to local slang ( To say something is 'cat' in Waterford is not a compliment) . We liked the eccentric props of stuffed animals and motor bike helmet perched on top of speakers.  It is great to hear these musicians in a conducive setting, rather than straining to hear them over the noise of pub chatter and premier league commentary The Red Kettle Sessions continue on January 11th with another local treasure released from his usual performing space of next door pub Jordan's, the inimitable Francie White.*

*The singer scheduled for Jan 11th was Francis White Junior and not Francie as stated above . Post amended Jan 11th

Related articles Francie White at Imagine

More high quality  images from this event can be viewed on this photoblog

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Memories of a Summer Puccini Trail

Dresden Opera House
With the year drawing to a close and highlights of the year lists appearing everywhere, I wanted to recall a couple of events that slipped through the blog net, before too many of the details recede into the fog of dimmed memories. In June, I traveled to Italy, stopping off in Saxony en route. Looking back over the week, it was the strains of Italian opera composer, Puccini that provided the soundtrack to this escapade with a visit to hear Manon Lescaut at Dresden Opera House and a trip to the composer's Tuscan birthplace, Lucca on the itinerary.

Iconic image: Dresden Destroyed
Flooded Banks

There  is a spot in the Berlin where Puccini rubs shoulders with Wagner and Guonod. The Deutsch Oper underground stop is lined with ceramic tiles bearing the names of opera composers. On to our base in Leipzig, from where  we took the train to  Dresden, a journey of little more than an hour for a day of sightseeing and a trip to the famous Opera House home to Semperoper. Given that Dresden had suffered such extensive bombing during the war, I  expected to find a modern city, with new architecture replacing old. A surprise then to find a cityscape magically restored to it's former Baroque splendour with  no visible cracks. No more so than in the emblematic Frauenkirche.  Extraordinary!  The elements had wreaked some havoc though and at the city quays, boats remained forlornly at their moorings cut off from their tourist passengers by high water levels.

      Promo for Manon Lescaut from Semperoper

View from Seat 71 

In the evening, we took our seats high up in the gods for a production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut. For a modest ticket price of €11.50, (secured on the day) I didn't expect much of a view but in fact it wasn't bad at all and it was perfect if (a) you are dressed not in glad rags but walking gear and (b) are prone to a little snooze after a heavy day of sightseeing. A-list conductor, Christian Thielemann directed. I include a link to a review that appeared in the online journal, Opera Critic, here.

Dresden boasted a superior class of busker with golden angels and excellent trumpeters adding colour to the scene. Undaunted by the enormous space, Arun was  pouring the strains of the Grand March from Aida into Neumarket.  It was a cheerful sight  'Ah Ireland-  he said when I paused to chat 'I came some years ago to play in  Wexford for the festival' said the young Armenian. a human face to all those press reports about wrangles between Wexford Festival and the Musicians Union
Lucca  Birthplace of Puccini

On to Italy via a cheap Ryanair flight, where we spent a few days in Viarregio, on the Tuscan Riviera. Sadly we were too early for the Puccini Festival held annually at Torre del Lago where the composer had a villa. In Lucca, the composer's birthplace, you can visit the elegant town house house he grew up in before taking in a recital at the 'never ending Puccini Festival'.  In a local initiative, Puccini e la sua Lucca, a rotating cycle of recital programmes is offered to a predominantly tourist audience. With lots of tourists in the region looking for some evening entertainment, this seems like a good  initiative- We heard
Golden Angel at Frauenkirche 
solid professional performers in a splendid baroque space, in a recital of the composer's arias interspersed with Neopolitan songs. I particularly enjoyed the solo piano fantasias on operas very well played by Diego Fiorino. It is probably stretching it though to brand it a festival which suggests a temporary extravaganza  rather than a year round nightly event.  Having come from enjoying the delights of a subsidised. full scale opera production for half the price, the tickets seemed pricey at €20 a ticket and we wouldn't have rushed back for a second night. Unfortunately the percussion sound effects of the box office counting their takings was distinctly audible at one point in the recital.

There are direct flights to nearby Pisa from Cork during the Summer and train connections from the airport to many towns in Tuscany including Lucca and Viareggio on the coast are  easy and very cheap.

Curtain Call Puccini Recital Lucca 

Noc Noc: It's Newfoundland

The regeneration of the Mall area in Waterford continues with the reopening of the Reginald Bar and Nightclub last month. Renamed as the Reg, there is an impressive lineup of live bands each weekend, with free admission before 11pm.
I nipped in last night to see Newfoundland, a band who played an energetic mix of folk and contemporary song with  numbers  by Bob Dylan , Arcade Fire , Mumford and Sons among the set list.
The band have recently returned from a tour in Norway where their finger picking string style went down very well. The skill level was impressive and moreover, instruments were swapped around which must keep things interesting.
  There was a good crowd and a  holiday mood prevailed Unusually for a nightclub, there were quite a few parties of parents with grown up children, home for the holidays.

Newfoundland play will have a residency on Sundays from the 12th January at The reg.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Passing of a Brass Band Patriarch

This week we remember Christy McAllister 19/11/1919 - 15/12/2013. Christy was recognised as the grandfather of Ennis Brass Band and was the patriarch of four generations of band members. We mourn his loss and share our sympathies with his family and friends. May he rest in peace.
I was honoured to be a guest of the band at their recent concert in St Columba's Church in Ennis. In retrospect the songs of farewell seem apt. What a legacy he leaves behind.

Programme 6th December
Dance of the Blessed Spirits /
Melodie Gluck arr Kreisler
Ave Maria Schubert
Ashokan Farewell Ungar

Oft in the Stilly Night Moore

Xmas Shorts: A Night of New Plays in Waterford

Just in from an interesting and entertaining evening of new theatrical writing . Titled Xmas Shorts, Trapdoor Theatre Company in association with Red Kettle TC presented five short plays by writers, Anna Jordan, Tom O Brien, Patrick Kelly and Dayna Killian.  at Central Hall Waterford. There was a relaxed collegial atmosphere in the small theatre with an audience of local thespians and friends in. Set design was simple but effective and a different projected image introduced prefaced each piece and acted as a backdrop for several.   I particularly liked the impressionist pub secene image for the Brendan Behan Standup, in which Damien McDonnell brought the curmudgeonly spirit of the playwright to life on stage through a text by Tom O Brien. The device of a penitential confessional scene was used to good effect here  and also in Dangers of Ignorance. Brian Coady had the audience in stitches in this comedy monologue by Anna Jordan. The evening     opened and closed with an ensemble piece. Emma was a dark Medea like tale featuring a real life mother and daughter. Isobel and Dayna Killian in the cast and the finale featured a set of siblings in contemplative mood as they packed up their childhood home.  Making up the set  was a two hander ghost story Marianne There was a resonating plot device with these two dramas also in the dramatic placing of a watch for characters  beyond the grave .
  With revivals and classics being the staple fare of the big professional companies, new writing has become the preserve of smaller companies and the am-dram scene and it was great to hear so much good writing delivered in a Waterford accent.

Quibbles . It is hard to read programme notes that are both in CAPITALS and in BOLD. I couldn't find any information on the event on line either on the Red Kettle Theatre Company website  or Trapdoors Blogspot. Surely the event merited a paragraph or two on the company website.

Xmas Shorts continues nightly at 8pm at the Central Hall, The Quay, Waterford

Emma Written and directed by Dayna Killian  Cast Ben Quinlan, Grainne Kavanagh Isabel Killian, Margaret Ryan and Dayna
Marianne by Patrick Kelly Director Clare Smith Cast Conor Halpin Jr Garreth Drohan 
Dangers of Ignorance by Anna Jordan director Shauna Farrell starring Brian Coady
Brendan Behan Standup by Tom O Brien  Director Robert Doherty Starring Damien McDonnell
Carpe Diem by Anna Jordan director Shauna Farrell Cast Kieran Doyle, Anita O Keeffe, Dean Sullicvan, Ciara Dower, and Jacqui Kelleher

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Vladimir's Christmas Cracker at the Theatre Royal Waterford

It is quite a feat  for visiting artists who are not  household names to respectably fill any but the smallest venues in  Irish towns and cities on a midweek night and it was good to see the Theatre Royal, Waterford  packed to capacity on Tuesday night. The draw was Slovakian violin virtuoso, Vladimir Jablokov who brought his travelling Viennese Christmas extravaganza to Waterford for fourth  consecutive year. Accompanied by an ensemble including  family members with soloists, soprano Claudia Boyle and  tenor, Sean Costello, the fare was  light  and sparkling- musical miniatures with seasonal carols and popular standards. 'I hope you heard what you expected to hear tonight' said the dynamic polka prince clad in proper concert meister attire-natty tails and shiny shoes. Judging by the  reponse, the formula of musical pops laced with down home folksy charm- a whiff of the Waltons tempered with the spirit of the von Trapps -, went down a treat with this  audience, most of whom were repeat attendees.

The programme was book ended with Viennese marches and interspersed with polkas and waltzes. The vocal element opened with a duet -Vienna, City of my Dreams, familiar from the recordings of Richard Tauber. There was a nod to more modern repertoire in a 20th century carol, The Road to Bethlehem by British composer Michael Head and the Irish tradition was represented by the Wexford Carol both beautifully delivered  by rising international star Claudia Boyle. I was surprised to see microphones set up as had the doors been open, both singers could have been heard on the Quay without the aid of amplification.
Claudia Boyle Rising International Opera Star

The audience weren't slow to join in with waltzes by Lehar, Kalman and Strauss. This is after all the city that hosted an international light opera festival for many years. I couldn't help but feel nostalgic for the decade in my lifetime when Viennese  operettas were  much in vogue and a string quartet was the norm in the pit band. Indeed, I cut my  musical teeth on this repertoire and enjoyed many nights of vamping along to schmaltzy waltzes for local musical societies  in this theatre.

The second half opened with a stringent pinch of Prokofiev and it was good to hear the viola  feature after all the high treble Strauss violin lines.  A minor criticism, is that generally, the arrangements did not fully exploit the cello and viola player and volume level on the electric piano were at times a little too heavy. Like a house  party, each family member did a turn. Olga Jablokov impressively tossed off a difficult piano part of a Disneyesque arrangement of Sleigh Ride as a mere trifle. The singers let their hair down with more popular repertoire and these consummate operatic artists proved their versatility adapting their style to suit the popular numbers. There were shades of Marilyn Monroe in  Claudia's delivery of Santa Baby' in an eye popping red dress and Sean would have given the 'Velvet Fog' a run for his money in his relaxed and easy  delivery of  Mel Tormé's Christmas song.

Terrific and all as the singers were, my highlights in the second half were the instrumental numbers. Patriarch, Alexander Jablokov played variations on a traditional Russian folksong. Vladimir and  brother Anton had a lot of fun with their jazzy improvised duet version of  Mariah Carey's pop hit, All I Want for Christmas. There was a pause for moments of serenity when Mother and son Andrew presented a duet arrangement of Schubert's Avé Maria.

In this period theatrical space there was a  sense of the charm of a Victorian music hall musical evening as Vladimir did a bit of circulating around the stalls to serenade individuals. It was old fashioned light  music entertainment done with skill and charm and the audience lapped it up.

Vladimir Jablokov is an excellent player but  he combines skill with an unabashed showmanship that is quite refreshing in a classical artist.  His collaborating artists clearly enjoy working with him. Moreover he appears to have an astute sense of the whole business of marketing and building an audience.  We also liked that the set list was available free of charge without having to buy a programme.  Catch him at his last gigs on this tour  in Enniskillen and Cork

Related articles Review Wexford Opera Festival Opening Night Review

Nationwide Report on Vladimir Jablokov

Viennese Christmas Set List

1 Dostal Flieger Marsch
J Strauss, Annen Polka 
Sieczynski Vienna City of My Dreams Duet 
Strauss 11 Czardas Die Fledermaus Boyle 
Vejvoda Rosamunde Polka
Lehar Merry Widow Waltz Duet 
Kalman Ianzen Mocht Ich(Music Playing Gypsy Princess) Duet 
M Head  Little Road to Bethlehem Claudia
trad In Dulci Jubilo
Gruber Silent Night 
Strauss Tritsch Tratsch polka  strauss 11

Prokofiev  Troika
Dammicco / Bembo When a Child is Born  Sean 
Leroy Anderson Sleigh Ride Featuring Olga piano
Wexford Carol  Claudia 
Afanasieff/ Carey All I Want for Christmas Vlad / Anton 
Kudasheva  The Forest raised a Christmas Tree arr Victor Jablokov solo Alexander
Schubert Ave Maria Mrs. Jablokov 
Torrme Christmas Song  Sean
Javits/ Springer Santa Baby  Claudia 
Strauss 11 Blue Danube 
Strauss 1 Radetsky March 
Encore Brahms Hungarian Dance 5  Anton / Vlad 
Encore 2 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Preview:Events in Waterford this week

Denise Quinn is Baglady
 Play and a Pint :  Mon -Fri 6.30pm Fri 8pm Central Hall
A new Red Kettle Theatre Company production launches this week. Baglady by Frank McGuiness should prove an antidote to the tinseled jollity of the season.  The production features a triumvirate  of Waterford theatrical talents. The monologue stars Denise Quinn in her debut role  for the Waterford company.  It is directed by Frieda Ryan in her second directorial role for Red Kettle following the well received Perfidia.  Also on the team is
choreographer, Libby Seward. Baglady opens this evening and runs nightly at 6.30pm at the Central Hall on the Quay and is  terrific value at €10 for play and a festive beverage in next door Jordan's Bar.

WIT Ensembles Showcase: Good Shepherd Chapel Thurs 5th Dec 7pm
The various ensembles made up of students on WIT's degree programmes and the associated music school .  The WIT Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble are among the groups featured.

Winterval Singing Tree 
Waterford has again mounted a 'Winterval Festival' a concerted effort to inject a turbo boost of jollity to gee up  the retail heart of the city. Some ideas from the German Christmas market tradition have been imported to add some festive cheer. The olde world charm of a carousel organ sounds pervade John Robert's Square.  A pair of  magnificent looking shire horses  garlanded with jingle bells  pull a carriage along the circuit of the Mall and the Quay. Amid a proliferation of wooden huts at Cathedral Square is the Singing Tree. A set of choir steps camouflaged as a Christmas tree will see as a platform for numerous local choirs on weekends  and Wednesday evenings. There are still a few slots left on the platform Contact Jack Stephenson for more details.

Acoustic Gig at Garter Lane: American singer songwriter, Josh Ritter is in Garter Lane on Thursday.  It is encouraging to see this billed as an acoustic gig. Hopefully there will be in trend to unamplified gigs in the smaller venues in 2014.

Copper Coast Art Group Christmas Exhibition : The exhibition opened yesterday at the Coastgurad Station Tramore and runs for the next fortnight or so

Monday, November 18, 2013

Bach to Bacharach: A Week in Waterford

There was lots to enjoy in Waterford this week, e Here is a roundup of what I heard over the last seven days. There were at least as  many events again that I missed. The Van Brugh Quartet were guests of Waterford Music Club and there was ballet and Broadway musical numbers in the Theare Royal.

Sunday. Twin Cathedrals The splendid organist, Cecilia Kehoe played Bach's G minor Prelude BMV 541 in the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity following 12.00 Mass. It was  a busy morning for Cecelia as she was on duty earlier at the Christchurch Cathedral organ.Next week you can hear her accompany the visiting Waterford Male Voice Choir  at 12.00 Mass at Barronstrand St.

In the afternoon, the  master fiddler, Martin Hayes  was in Garter Lane with accompanist Dennis Cahill. I like Sunday  afternoon events especially in Winter when a reluctance to leave the comfort of home on dark cold evenings is a deterent. The mood was somewhat reverent for the much lauded fiddler generally agreed to be the doyen of the  lilting Clare fiddle style. I can never hear jigs and reels without longing to see some  feet to add  dancing dimension to the tunes. Speaking of feet-Who needs a bodhran player when you have  two strong feet.  Martin Hayes provided his own percussion accompaniment by stomping both of his to  the beat throughout the entire set relenting  only for  the slow airs. It wasn't an enhancing effect. He was preceded by young Tramore fiddler, Rebecca McCarthy Kent accompanied by John Grant.  With both duos, I found myself pondering on the role of the guitarist accompanists in Irish traditional music. Cahill was always subservient to the fiddle. offering a  distinctive sparse chordal drone accompaniment.  Even in jazz, the accompanying player is indulged with the occasional solo moment .

Malcolm Proud
Monday :  There was more  Bach at the Good Shepherd Chapel as part of the Mondays at the Chapel, series under the auspices of WIT Music Department. Malcolm Proud , a major player in the international early music world played a Partita (E minor) on Harpsichord. and all for free. What a shame not to see more of the music students in attendance.

Wednesday: No Bach at the Wedenesday night Ukulele Club at Downes Pub. but the mix was eclectic  This is early days for the club, which is open to beginners and improver uke players. Fancy having a go.? We will lend you uke and teach you three chords .  More details on the Deise Ukes facebook page

Friday : The Barrack Street Concert Band paid homage to the ouevre of Burt Bacharach with a gala concert at the Theatre Royal. This was by any standards an impressive production. The  large concert band provided the music. Guest vocal soloists Red Hurley and Kathy Nugent added the lyrics . Hard to believe that it was Kathy Nugent's first performance at the Theatre Royal. There was a charming children's choir and musical director, Mark Fitzgerald  paused in his baton duties to offer a lovely instrumental version of Alfie on fugelhorn.  (Oddly enough there was just one duet as an encore.)  Bravo Mark and BCB. So proud of ye!

Gig of the Week
Further on down the Mall, it was cheering to see two new ventures opening this weekend.  We were greeted by owner Trevor Predergast for a post show beveridge at  new tapas bar The Olive Tree and a  decent live band, Thank Funk were on the platform at the official re-launch of the Reginald Nightclub.  The band made up of music students from WIT were energetic but were let down by a lack of resolution in the sound system. Another way of saying -It was too loud. But I would say that wouldn't I There was a mix of age groups as punters looked in to relive their younger Gig dancing days.

Saturday: We started the week at one cathedral and finished it another. Both were designed by the same 18th century architect John Roberts  Saturday was devoted to the beguiling melismatic world  of early chant and song at a workshop facilitated by Hannah Fahey of vocal group Sionna . The event was part of the Cathedral Arts programme at Christcurch . Music though is  all about context and I felt the event would have benefited from being a attached to a  liturgical matins or evensong service.

      Gig of the Week The Songs and Music of Burt Bacharach Barrack Street Concert Band at the Theatre Royal

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Music Education Matters: Putting Music on the Curriculum

Students in Ennis NS at their first violin lesson 

I was privileged to be invited to offer some thoughts on the state of music education in schools and my article appeared last month in the Irish Examiner . You can read the full article here .

The Journal of Music posted a link to the article and added some further comment, picking up on the reference to the suggestion that the GAA school sports programme might offer a useful template . You can read that piece here. Here is the link to the GAA website outlining their schools programme

The Journal of Music points out that there is a national programme of music education launched in 2010 -Music Generation. While I am aware that the programme is being rolled out, I did not refer to it as I am commenting on what I see in my own experience. In the four counties I have recently worked in, there is no Music Generation programme . In Clare, there has been much discussion about the application process and two exhausting and unsuccessful applications  and another pending but as yet no funds. The process of pitting counties against each other in rival bids to secure funds seems to me unseemly and counterproductive.

At the initial briefings on Music Generation in Ennis, it was stated that music education in state primary schools would not come under the Music Generation umbrella. I note from statements by the Dept. of Education, that that approach has softened and indeed the Department is now saying that Music Generation programmes can happen in schools . This is a response from the department press office on a query relating to music education provision in schools

    '  Music Generation, through its work with Music Education Partnerships, co-funds a range of access programmes, including programmes that can happen within primary school. Instrument banks are also funded. Music Generation is currently a philanthropically funded organisation, but the Department of Education and Skills will begin funding it on a phased basis from 2014. 

Applying to Music Network for funds for instrument banks in my experience is not straightforward and again pits schools against groups such as local  brass bands and private music schools. In Ennis,  applications to the Music Capital scheme by two primary schools were turned down whereas a private music school was granted funds for new instruments.

While it is encouraging to read of pilot projects here and there happening in schools,  there is a danger though that by passing the responsibility, the government can use Music Generation as a convenient excuse for not funding a basic music education for all primary school students.

I believe that if we rely on extra curricular model of music tuition without the involvement of the main players in education , the primary school system,  it will continue to be accessed by the homogenous pool of students,   not too different from the group that would avail of private music tuition in any case. To quote my own closing remarks in the Irish Examiner.  'If Ireland wants to forge a common culture of participation in the arts, we need to put musical activity on the curriculum in more than a token way for all our students and not just a chosen few.' 

Related articles  A  Quality Music Education only reaches a minority of students in British Schools, an Ofsted report has said

Α  response

An inclusive approach to developing a School Orchestra  Cathy Desmond IAYO Newsnotes

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mighty Mighty Wexford !

I've been many times to the Wexford Opera Festival but this year I saw it from a different perspective as correspondent for The Irish Examiner. My roundup of the 62nd season is here 

Impressive as the main productions were, there was loads to enjoy at the  fringe festival. I saw two of the short works which are terrific value at €25 and if you don't like them are not going to detain you too long. The one act comedy, The Sleeping Queen by Irish composer, Balfe was given a quirky Glee Club/ Horrible Histories treatment and was pleasant enough if not compelling.

 I loved Richard Wargo's Loser's.  Director, Conor Hanratty  created a familiar stage set for the tale of small town Irish life in the 50's that is right out of the  amdram world of John B  Keane complete with pictures of the Sacred Heart and Pope John. In this work, Wargo had worried less about setting Friels' text and the results were   more engaging than his setting of Winners, an earlier work based on of another  Friel story. 'I grew up with the music of Puccini and Britten and the theatre of Rogers and Hammerstein' said Wargo when I spoke to him briefly after the performance  and all those elements can be heard to in this work. The pair of settings, Winners and Losers known as Ballymore should make a very suitable work for an Irish company.  This work was one of my highlights of the festival. I was  sorry to miss Back to  Titanic, a nostalgic selection of music played on the ill fated liner. It featured Kelley Lonergan, a young singer from Clonmel one of the rising stars of the Irish operatic scene. I interviewed Kelley and hope to bring that interview on a later post.
Author Eoin Colfer 

The short works were again staged in the Presentation School Hall. This space leaves me cold. I don't find it convivial The seating is not comfortable and the view from the back of the hall is not great. I have seen local musical societies work harder to make this sort of space work. Temporary tiered seating is surely worth considering and why not a  display of old programmes and posters to liven up the foyer / school corridor.  Without the short works going on in Whites as in former years, that hotel does not  appear to be the lively festival hub it once was.

The weather was mixed this year. Racegoers had to brave the rain and wind but there was a lovely fine evening for the opening fireworks. The poetic litany in Eoin Colfer's launch speech must have included every denizen of the town and is powerful stuff. You can hear it in this link here. 

There is no doubt that Wexford do what they do very well indeed.  It might not have the heat of an Aix en Provence but it does have charm and a great range and breadth of events. I met many patrons from overseas who travel here year after year drawn by these elements . Some I spoke to expressed alarm about  the bringing forward of priority booking dates for the 2014 festival.  Prices for the main productions may not be high relative to London prices at €100 or so  but are relative to other arts experiences in Ireland.  Whether they can attract sufficient Irish patrons to ensure the near capacity houses they need to be viable will be a challenge.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Superior Scottish Ensemble at Christchurch

Southern Tenant Union Folk are  back in Ireland for  a hectic week long tour.  Above is the Scottish ensemble's appearance on the Late Late Show, that made me sit up and pay attention. I saw them last night at Christchurch Cathedral, Waterford.

The six gentlemen dressed smartly  in suits made an impressive tableau gathered around a retro style microphone. The sound was an inventive  blend of  bluegrass with other styles.  20th century film music is cited as an influence and there is a strong seam of Cuban roots music in there too. The playing is highly accomplished and the vocal blend is satisfying. The songs are intelligent, thoughtful, tending to the dark side,  many with a  political edge.  'If we only sing songs about whiskey and riding box-cars, we're finished said chef d'équipe , Pat McGarvey. You can hear his interview on the Andrew Marr show below.

At the close  the band abandoned their altar position and moved to stand and sing among the pews. It was thrilling somehow to hear musicians without the veneer of amplification however subtle. Given that audiences for live music in Waterford are sometimes less than 50, maybe we could have a little more wireless performance practice.

I am not sure whether it was the acoustic or the Scottish accents, or the amplification, but I struggled to catch the spoken introductions.   But I am very glad to have seen them. It cannot be easy travelling the length and breadth of Ireland on the darkest days of Winter.  If they were disheartened by the paucity of the attendance scattered in the pews, they didn't show it. They are brave to undertake it and worthy of our support. Tour dates are below.

Venue Notes : Christchurch is a very  elegant 18th century ecclesiastical space. With the organ pipes gleaming under the bright lights of crystal chandeliers, it didn't seem quite an appropriate setting for the style of performance, even when as well executed as it was last night. PR seemed minimal . I couldn't find a reference in local press and I learned of the gig from a poster  in a local café. 

Thur 7th Nov Bangor Town Hall, Bangor, Co Down
Fri 8th Nov Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford City
Sat 9th Nov Seamus Ennis Cultural Centre, Naul, Co Dublin
Sun 10th Nov Murphy’s Bar, Thomastown, Co Kilkenny
Mon 11th Nov Crane Lane Theatre, Cork City
Tues 12th Nov St John’s Theatre, Listowel, Co Kerry
Wed 13th Nov Allihies Copper Mine Museum, Beara, West Cork
Thur 14th Nov De Barras, Clonakilty, West Cork
Fri 15th Nov Carnegie Arts Centre, Kenmare, Co Kerry
Sat 16th Nov Upstairs At Dolan’s, Limerick City

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Bunmahon Copper Miners' Story

Guest Blogger: John Hartery
On Saturday at the Imagine Festival there was a screening of the film about the Bunmahon copper miners. The movie is a community endeavour. The outcome  of a project involving the Copper Coast organisation and the residents of the coastal village.

The mining industry in Bunmahon lasted from the 1840's till the latter part of that century. Workers climbed down ladders and out under the sea bed and mined dreadful conditions. Women and children were also employed to break up the mined rock to extract the ore. The finished product was carried away on schooners to smelting works in Wales. The mines of Bunmahon are an important part of our history and the film gives us a a vital insight into the lives of our Déise forefathers

Tina Keating from the Copper Coast Geopark outlined the social conditions prevalent during the mining period. The village swelled to a population of over 3,000 during production. Afterwards, many miners migrated to Montana and mined there.
Sean Corcoran and Angela Mulcahy who made  the movie were on hand to describe how it was shot.
It's a short film of approximately 15 minutes and will be of interest to social and local historians and those in the education sector. A further 5 or 6 shorter documentary pieces accompany the main work.
Further details of the movie can be found here . It can be seen again at the Waterford Film Festival on 9th November

This YouTube clip illustrates the working conditions (no connection to the film)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Poole's Pictures Draw The Crowds 100 Years On

The original Trip Advisor

Booking office for British railway now Jordans American Bar the Quay Waterford from the Poole Collection

By Guest Blogger: John Hartery

On the Saturday of the bank holiday in the Granville Hotel those wonderful people from the Imagine Festival Waterford put on a talk about the Poole photographs from a century ago. I thought I'd ramble in and be amongst a handful of hardy afficionados part social history, part photographic buffs. I was completely wrong. The joint was heaving and every available perch was taken as an overflow of all ages snaffled the last few spots on the floor.

Who was this Poole guy and why are folk still keen on his work?

Tramore photographer Margaret O'Brien Moran  is now working on the Poole Collection a treasure trove of original photographs from the late 1800's / early part of the last century. A.H.Poole was originally from Somerset but moved and lived in Waterford in 34 The Mall, a glorious building next to the one of T.F.Meagher fame. O' Brien Moran explained the work underway to digitise the original plates by the National Library of Ireland and the National Photographic Archives. The rich history that can be gleaned from the reverse of the original photograph was  illustrated and the archive also include's Mr Poole's original accounting records.  The collection is believed to be the largest collection of identifiable portraits in Ireland. Contributions from the floor discussed the quality of the photographs and how they stand up to scrutiny in micro-close up to reveal the content of posters, newspapers etc. Curiously,  it was revealed that Mr Poole left a note for his family in 1929 'going to Tramore' and was never seen again.

The  Poole archive is available for viewing  here.

July 22, 1922
Diffused bomb in Granville Hotel Waterford 1922 from Poole Collection.
 James Doherty delivered a talk in the second half of the event as plans for a walk around scenes from the original photographs were shelved for weather  and the now legendary Quay  roadworks reasons. This part was fascinating as Mr Doherty showed some of the Poole photographs which are available in high quality on Flikr - sample here. Many of the pictures have annotations from viewers that adds to our knowledge.

The Siege of Waterford was discussed and photographs used to illustrate the events. On the right  is a picture of Free State soldiers with a diffused bomb. You can read more about the events of the time and the Siege of Waterford here

Chamber of Commerce
Chamber of Commerce, Waterford 1930 from the Poole Collection
However, it seemed it was the  shop fronts, interiors and street-scapes of the last century in Waterford city centre that drew the most attention and interest. It is not evident now that the wonderfully decorated shops from Poole's pictures are matched by today's stores.
February 7, 1907
The extraordinary merchandising of Jones, chemist The Quay, Waterford from the Poole Collection

It us understood that the National Archives intend arranging an exhibition of his work next year. Let's hope that the people of Waterford can see the original pictures  in his hometown.

A wonderful event and well done to everybody involved.


End Of Term a play by Noel Kelly

By Guest Blogger John Hartery

Nestled away in the middle of the Waterford Imagine Festival was a little gem. We arrived just in time to get the last available tickets on the Friday night of the run.  Noel Kelly is well known to local theatre-goers and his latest offering is a fine piece. End Of Term is a short play about a middle-aged man who wonders 'have you ever asked yourself, is that all there is to life?'. It's a two-hander with Brendan Payne playing the part of Michael and Lorraine Murphy as  Maura. The production group is the local Stagemad

The play is lightly-rooted in Waterford with a nod to the high water (1959) and low water (2008) points  in local sport. It is recalled that the couple's first date was to the Granville where she drank Stag.The format of the early part of the work is a series of monologues as we see their marriage gradually break up. There's a fling for Michael with his fellow teacher and the impact of the recession on the Maura's business.  Payne delivered an outstanding performance and wonderfully traced the lead up to the mid life crisis he faced. Murphy was a perfect  foil and wholly convincing as the wife at a loss as her husband reassessed  his life.

The final scene from Payne was powerful and memorable. The play was directed by James Power with Liam Fitzpatrick as stage manager and Richard Collins subtlety  looking after the sound and light.  Well done to all involved!

Venue Notes 
 The Central Hall venue is a wonderful addition to the city's theatre space and plaudits to Red Kettle for its efforts to do this. Friendly and helpful staff added to the occasion. We look forward to return visits. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Love Hat: Il Capello di Paglia di Firenze opens 2013 Wexford Festival

The 62nd season of opera productions at Wexford opened in fine style with Il Capello di Paglia di Firenze, a fizzy light hearted comedy from the 20th century Italian composer, Nino Rota, better known for his film scores than grand operatic works.

The farcical plot hinges on the frantic road trip of a desperate groom followed by his unsuspecting wedding entourage in the hunt  for a very particular style of straw hat which he must be replace exactly to avert a duel and be reunited with his bride. This was great fun, a stylish production delivered with panache by the large cast, chorus and orchestra.
What were the elements that added to the sugar rush of this entertaining theatrical confection.

The Music: The music isn't so much in the style of the his 20th century film music but more retrospective, a sort of mélange of  Rossini  and Verdi. Throughout, the Spanish conductor, an assertive Sergio Alapont set an energetic bouncy pace that didn't let up . The orchestra led by Fionnuala Hunt responded with verve, the  strings veering from strident heavy vamping rhythms to lush sweeter sonorities and  there was some lovely solo work from solo wind timbres.

The Cast: Among the large cast, there was a native Florentine tenor with Filippo Adami replacing Davide Giusti originally cast. While all made the most of the comic element of the roles, two performances stood out for me . Claudia Boyle as Elena looked and sounded stunning . Filippo Fontana as jealous husband Beaupertis brought an extra edge to the madcap proceedings .

The chorus: The show was stolen by the Ladies Chorus. The catchy Milliners'  chorus at the opening of Act Two was the highlight of the show with the pizzicato string bass  accompaninent perfectly complimenting the on stage sewing motions .

The Costumes. Director Andrea Cigni sets the action in 1950's Paris. The bright colourful dresses and morning suits evoked the era of the MGM musical world of Gene Kelly and Audrey Hepburn.

The Set: The set was relatively unsophisticated . The heavily raked stage meant we could see the large cast easily but did give you the feeling that the action was happening on the rooftop . The painted billboards reinforced the Hollywood Musical theme but the staging didn't help to convey the sense of the action moving around to different locations and was for me the least satisfactory aspect of an otherwise sparkling production.

The Horse of Course Finally -that white horse I expected to see galloping across the stage in Maria on my last trip to Wexford in 2011? --- Well, to cap it all.  a white horse put his head in for a cameo appearance at the finale.

Related Posts Maria Wexford  2011 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cat and Chris Wood: Tuesday at Imagine Waterford

In Waterford, the word 'cat', used as an adjective, is  local slang-a derogatory term casting aspersions on the merits of an event .   So with that unpromising subliminal association, combined with a more overt connection  with that  of a certain well known musical theatre show in my mind, I went along to the Central Hall to see  'Cat',  a theatrical presentation offered as part of Imagine Festival. I am happy to declare that the deft one hander  directed by Jamie Beamish was anything but 'cat ' . Au contraire. Cat was was an excellent, well paced  and highly entertaining yarn. From the opening I was drawn in  to empathize with the likeable  theatrical animal , Dave, a wanabe Jellicle cat by the engaging performance of  Richard Hardwick, who seemed at first glance to have arrived direct from the West End .  But there is a sting in this tale...   By all accounts, Cat went went down a treat at the  Edinburgh Fringe . Last chance to catch it in Waterford tonight but expect to see it popping up at a festival near you. Here is the blurb-

'CAT is the story of “Dave the Cat” and how he was sacked from the original production of that famous musical “Cats” on opening night, and has never quite recovered. The show lets us into a world of backstage drama, romance and intrigue, and features songs supposedly “cut” from the original musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber (but don’t tell Andrew). Seating limited so book early. Not suitable for under 16′s.'

Later in the evening further down the Quay , the mood was thoughtful as English troubadour, Chris Wood had his audience in the Dooley's Hotel enthralled. with his distinctive mellifluous low tones. In his poetic lyrics and rueful asides he offered sharp observations on life in his well crafted grainy songs.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Little John Nee brings Sparkplug to Imagine Waterford

Little John Nee 'Sparkplug'

Waterford is a hive of activity  in October during the Imagine Festival. The impressive range of events take place in venues around the  in the smaller spaces of the South Eastern capital. The was an invasion of  eminent trad folk from Clare with  members of the Cotter clan , virtuoso fidlder Maeve Donnelly and scholarly concertina player Tim Collins  all in town as part of the John Dwyer Trad weekend. On Saturday night Little John Nee brought his latest theatrical invention to the bijou theatrical space of the Central Hall Waterford. The set was an intriguing  cornucopia of bric a brac , pallets and the accoutrements of a vintage car mechanic. To the forefront were a consort of ukuleles and various other musical instruments. This is the third of Little John's shows that I have seen.  His collaboration with Raymond Keane of Barabas in Johnny Patterson, The Singing Irish Clown produced a memorable theatrical experience that had a particular resonance to audiences in Ennis where I saw it. The Derry Boat mined the experience of  Northern migration to Scotland . Yet again the the versatile and unusual artist drew us in to the beguiling world of a character on the margins of society inviting us to empathise with a skillful blend of humour,  pathos and melody. Before loading up his van and heading West, Little John spoke  to me about his latest creation, Sparkplug,  You can hear that interview here

Little John Nee at Red Kettle HQ

listen to ‘Little John Nee’ on Audioboo

On the night he performed all the parts himself using the eclectic range of instruments  and loop pedals to set up an inventive aural backdrop of ostinatos adding to the melodramatic effect. You can here a version of the show with other actors playing some of the parts in this RTE Drama podcast

To paraphrase the author,  there is no better way to spend a Saturday night than in the company of a Rockabilly Conceptual Artist . Have a listen and see what you think.

Related posts

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Barbershop Quartets, a Thrupenny Piece and Sacred Songs all in an October weekend

Barbershop Quartets , a Thrupenny Opera  and Sacred Songs.

‘How do you know there is a lead at the door- They don’t know when to come in and can’t find their key’ Just one of many gags delivered by the cheery Yorkshire Lady  who acted as MC  for an audience at the Theatre Royal Waterford on Friday  Cognoscenti among you will of course recognise that the audience must have been singers of the barbershop variety  and indeed the 2013 Irish Association of Barbershop Singers Convention  was held in the medieval port city this weekend. If the world of choral singing is a lake, barbershop singers constitute a significant rockpool and 600 or so  of the Irish members with guests from overseas gathered to indulge in their vocal passion. It was quite an heady blend of great good humour, glorious four part harmony and show biz pzazz , part X Factor and part Phoenix Nights. No programme was available, so I can’t credit any individuals or name the event but Friday night’s competition was won by the Bray Ladies Chorus, Serendipity for their rendition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The Ladies must have been in make up for hours to get the striking impasto  effects in their monster stage make up  Stephen from the Cambridge explained to me the distinction between a choir and a chorus.  Special Guests  The Gateway Chorus from San Francisco and The Old School Quartet were superb and threatened to list the roof of the Victorian auditorium . The party continued after the show at Tower Hotel  where the Festival Club was delightfully named Afterglow where the group gathered the chat and warble I into the small hours.

Venue Notes: I arrived at the Theatre Royal a little late to find one of the front of house staff standing in the doorway as if to deter anyone casually strolling in off the street.  I wondered for a moment if it was a private  event but on enquiring about ticket availability , the young man gestured towards the Box Office . I can’t say that I was impressed by the welcoming attitude of the Theatre Royal Team on this or recent visits.

The Threepenny Opera  by with libretto by Brecht and music by Weill is  most famous for the standard, Mac the Knife . A rare chance to see the emblematic 1920’s work was presented by the Gate Theatre production  for the Dublin Theatre Festival. I was lucky to secure a cancellation on Saturday night. The press reviews have been unanimously positive about the production and expectations were high. I did enjoy it but found almost two hours for a first half without an interval a little arduous. The forces assembled were impressive almost thirty players between cast and musicians. Among them an eight piece ensemble lead by Cathal Synnott supported the 20 or so actor/singers. I loved the real harmonium and among the pit players placed on stage, Karl Ronan on trombone excelled as the predominant voice in the pit. Not for the first time, I note the role the Artane Boys Band has played in producing superb professional brass players. It was good to hear  Brendan Doyle from Waterford in the ensemble.
Venue Notes. The Gate especially when packed is not the most comfortable theatre especially if you come in last and your seat is at the end of the row. Get in early and don't count on being able to get out easily.  I am always impressed by the authoritative presence of the Front of House Manager 

Palestrina Choir

Sunday Palestrina Choir Director Blanaid  Murphy Organist Gerald Gillen.  11.00 Sung Mass Pro Cathedral
As ever , the best music with superb musicians was to be heard for nothing, no ticket required and open to all in the capital ecclesiastical spaces. The Palestrina Choir sang a varied programme of old and new in a programme including Herbert Howells, Mozart and a new work by Scottish composer James McMillan, with responses by Colin Mawby and plainchant all executed with skill and style. The ceremony opened with the choir processing up while singing the opening hymn, All Creatures of our God and King, the words provided to encourage congregational participation . At the close , the choir lined up at the altar and their efforts were acknowledged and the new  senior positions were announced. The proceedings closed with a splendid organ voluntary by Widor by  Gerard Gillen on the Pro Cathedral Organ. Excellent! 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Everyman Orpheus

Orpheus may be a mere mortal in the kingdom of the Gods but the latest production of Gluck's Baroque masterpiece at the Everyman is simply divine. This is a terrific production, from the team who brought  the acclaimed Pagliacci to life at the same venue last year.
photo Miki Barlok Cork Operatic Soc Facebook 
 Again the musicians take pivotal roles ascending from the pit to join then singers on stage following the overture, casting off their sombre black robes for cream coloured drapes . Quite how they manage to memorise such a vast amount of music is extraordinary. Trinidian tenor, Ronald Samm returns to play the title role. His is not a pale youthful  sylph like Orfeo, but a heavyweight middle aged one with a great bottom to his tenor voice. His interpretation of the grief laden Che Faro at the close was moving and memorable and very much his own   Having seen him in the role, I feel all Orpheus' should be thus, Cork soprano Majella Cullagh played the role of Love. Eurydice is played by a dancer.  Tara Brandel was replaced by an understudy on Wednesday* I loved the set by Lisa Zagone featuring organ pipes and the magical lighting effects by Michael Hurley  created the feeling of  underworld and the golden glow of the Elysian Fields Every emotion was amplified by the hard working chorus. With a running time of less than two hours with an interval, no Wagnerian feat of endurance was called for.  

Miki Barlok via Cork Operatic Society Facebook

Just to show my critical faculties are working, I did have some minor quibbles.  Apollo may have played like a God on his hunting horn but didn't quite blend in to the Elysian Fields God squad  with his spectacles.  The two string players,   violin and viola were a little overpowered  by the wind and brass element in the ensemble with saxophone being the dominant element and I did miss the solidity of the cello element of the continuo part.

A rare and wonderful musical  treat. Last chance to see it on Friday and Saturday 

*Eurydice was played by Mihaela Griveva

Venue Notes: The Everyman Palace has a cosy, convivial bar space where the artists gathered after the show.
 Who we met: Oboe player Coral O Sullivan was on the other side of the footlights for a change. . Star of the show, Ronald Samm  spoke to me of the role Geraldine O Grady had played in mentoring his career. Violinist, Liz Charleson had laid aside her violin to join the chorus and the Frost clan were there in force to support Godess/bassonist , Sineid  We met  Deirdre Long from Waterford, Secretary of the Cork Operatic Society who started the evening on the pit organ console before joining the chorus.

Irish Examiner Review Orpheus 

Cathy's Review Pagliacci for Everyman

Cathy's Review Punk Baroque Delight

Ronald Samm Orpheus
_________     Eurydice
Majella Cullagh Love
Carolyn Goodwin Demeter Clarinet/ sax
Tom Crowley       Dionysis Violin
Catriona Lightfoot Athene Viola
Christiane O Mahoney   Hera Harp
Conor Palliser Apollo French Horn
John O Brien Director /Musical Director
Lisa Zagone Set Design
Tina Horan choreography
Michael Hurley Lighting bDesign