(Review) "An Irish Homecoming" at Celtic Connections 2010

I had a marvelous time in Glasgow last week at my first Celtic Connections festival as part of "An Irish Homecoming" the brainchild of the inimitable Joanie Madden and features Cherish the Ladies (and the great gang of dancers: Cara Butler, Joe Dwyer, Declan McHale, Michael Boyle, Dan Stacey, Noelle Curran, Colleen Farrell, and Jon Pilatzke), Maura O'Connell, Liz Carroll & John Doyle, Dermot Henry, and bohola -- well, most of bohola. The sad news was that Pat Broaders was unable to make it to Scotland due to a visa mixup in China. He is touring there with the dance show Celtic Legends -- and not living there -- although when he could not get out since they held his passport, I bet he began to wonder would he ere see the snow covered lawns of Beverly again... Needless to say, Pat was missed. The bold John Doyle was gracious and brilliant in covering Pat's part of the show with me -- learning a brand new song along with the handful of tunes I threw at him -- and all squeezed into a half hour rehearsal. You're a mighty man John -- Thank you again JD!

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of seeing the show -- it starts off with a blast with Cherish (Joanie Madden, Mary Coogan, Liz Kane - filling in for Roisin Dillon, Mirella Murray, Kathleen "KT" Boyle, and Michelle Burke) and continues on a musical roller coaster ride from there. The 2500-strong sold out crowd were a very receptive audience and sang, clapped, hooted and hollered the whole night long through to the final encore. Longtime Cherish soundman John Murray made us sound like an orchestra. With multiple live microphones and monitors onstage, he turned a sound engineers nightmare into something very sweet and powerful at the same time. Not too bad for a Dubliner like... :-))

Joanie Madden made the Glasgow Concert hall listeners feel as if they were sitting in her kitchen with her commandingly friendly interaction and storytelling -- never mind how she enthralled them with her powerful brand of flute playing and the incomparable beauty of her whistle playing. Corkonian Michelle Burke had the crowd in her adopted home of Glasgow captured with her beguiling style of singing. Mary Coogan is one of the most unsung guitar players today -- Coogie was just brilliant in her backing of songs and tunes. The fiddle playing of Galway's Liz Kane (with her head down and eyes closed) was heartfelt. My favorite piano accordion player, the impressive Mirella Murray, was in top form as ever and her duet playing with Liz was as spectacular as the Connemara landscape. And Glasgow's own KT Boyle's piano playing surpassed that of Charlie Lennon, Josephine Keegan, and Bridie Lafferty combined. It's no longer just "thump-thump-thump-thump" with KT around. ;-))

Maura O'Connell proved once again why she is simply the finest interpreter of song (of any style) in music today. She treats each and every word of a song as if it were the only word that matters and her twists and turns of the tune meld perfectly with her dynamic earthy voice. One of the highlights was when Maura was joined onstage by Rob Ickes and his elegant dobro playing during Nanci Griffith's "Trouble in the Field" -- which is as apt a song today as when it was written many years ago. All I can say about Rob is Jerry Who??? ;-)) (only a joke -- hand's down now fairly lively!)

Liz Carroll and John Doyle were as unbelievable as ever. Liz and JD started with "Paddy Glackin's Trip to Dingle" and reached Mars by the end of their set. As someone who had the pleasure and great luck of growing up playing music with Liz in Chicago, I am constantly amazed and flummoxed as how she continually gets better and better and never rests on her laurels - which is probably why her back is in good shape these days - Scottish influenced accidents aside ;-)) The intensity, drive, and melodic rhythmic inventiveness of Liz and John together is something to "be-heard". Powerful powerful stuff. (Here's keeping fingers crossed that both Maura O'Connell's "Naked with Friends" and Liz and John's "Double Play" walk away with nice shiny Grammy's next week -- they both received my vote -- in full disclosure, I'm a voting member of NARAS which awards the Grammy)

Dermot Henry, my fellow first timer to Celtic Connections was the hit of the show and received a standing ovation after his comedic yet poignant set. That say's it all. One more word (well, at least a couple) his song: "Folk and Irish Singer." Say no more, say no more. OK, then one more -- his ode to Christy Moore -- with the chorus which starts: "Chris-ty, Chris-ty, Chris-ty, Chris-ty Moo-re, you're a who-re….of a singer…"

I truly hope that Joanie Madden gets Dermot to complete his album of self-penned songs soon. He is a Sligo/New York treasure that needs to be heard by all. (And for trad music lovers out there, a cousin of Sligo/Chicago's own Kevin "the piper" Henry)

The dancers were fine-a-foot as one can see anywhere. The highlight within the dancing segments was by far the Chair Dance from the Step Crew which features Canadian's Dan Stacey and Jon Pilatzke along with USAer's multi-Irish dance award winners Cara Butler and Joe Dwyer preceded by the jealousy-inspiring fiddle duet of Dan and Jon with Mary Coogan wringing each glorious strain of J. Scott Skinner's waltz "Rosebud of Allenvale" which was followed by the fiddle only Jean Carignan's "Bird in the Tree" -- come on lads -- can't ye be just great at one thing like and not everything??? A??? ;-))

The other was the dance combo set which features Pat Broaders -- oops, still stuck in China - ;-)), I mean John Doyle and me singing Tommy Sand's "When the Boys Come Rolling Home" in conjunction with Joanie Madden's great tune "The Cat's Meow" followed by a full line treble jig. Just to clarify, the highlight was the song sung by John, Joanie's tune, and the skillful (ditto award winning) dancing of Declan, Michael, Noelle, and Colleen and the Step Crewers. Ya really don't want to hear me sing like… :-))

One of my personal pleasures of the concert was to get the chance to play a tune I wrote for the late Gwen Sale (wife of my dear friend Dennis Cahill) who hailed not that far from Glasgow. It's a tune called "Gweneen" and it was cathartic to play. I only wish Gwen was there in person to hear it.

John Doyle did a great guitar part on the tune and that's only with a few minutes of hearing it before the concert. Also, which I nearly forgot, was the addition of John Joe Kelly on bodhran - he was playing in a tribute-to-Johnny "Ringo" McDonagh-style and joined John and I on a couple of tunes after Gweneen. Now that be a rhythm section like!!

Overall, the Celtic Connection's Glasgow Concert Hall show will be a treasured memory for me to cherish for a long long time…

It was a pure pleasure to take part in this with all these loving and generous friends. Thanks Joanie for having me - i'm indebted to you for making this happen!!!!

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