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