Concert Reviews

Vicar Street, 28th December 2014


Yes, I know that’s not English – it’s German. But sometimes a word in one language simply illustrates better than the corresponding word in another, and in this case the German word just fits to a T.

“Märchenhaft” – that means fabulous, magical, fantastic, all adjectives you could easily use in connection with the past two years. But literally translated it’s “like a fairy tale”.

A fairy tale of Dublin!

The Vicar Street concert on 28th December marked the end of two very successful years of The Dublin Legends. But those two years were by no means short of blows of fate and unforeseen setbacks. We remember above all the sudden and unavoidable postponement of the first leg of their very first tour 2013, and Patsy’s sad and unexpected decision in April 2014 to retire from touring. But blows and setbacks were overcome – how relieved and thankful we were to see Eamonn recovered and back on stage again so soon, how fortunate that the huge gap Patsy left could be worthily filled by his talented brother Paul – and at the end of this short but eventful space of time The Dublin Legends can look back on highly-acclaimed concert tours across Europe where they have already conquered the hearts of thousands of fans.

I’ve been lucky enough to see The Dublin Legends fourteen times during these past two years. And I’ve enjoyed every single moment of every single gig – each one of them a highlight in its own right. Nonetheless, two or three concerts stand out in my memory above all others. Vienna 2013 for instance was one such unforgettable experience. A favourite venue at all times, and the Metropol audience always an extremely enthusiastic one – but the very first gigs of The Dublin Legends there just about brought the house down! And what is more – what a pleasure for me, and an honour too, to be present on all three nights as their first (and hopefully not last) CD was recorded.

The recent gig at Vicar Street was another such wonderful and memorable occasion.

We’d heard it on the grapevine that we were in for a couple of surprises, and to be honest, I was pretty much expecting Paul Kelly to be one of them, presuming he’d be joining the lads on stage at some point of the concert. After all, the “super sub” had stood in for Gerry so often while the latter was on tour with Joe Bonamassa that he more or less belongs to the band, at least in the hearts of those who have had the pleasure of seeing them perform together. But what a lovely surprise when Paul came on stage right at the beginning, and played the entire concert with them.

Well, a fifth man on board meant an unaccustomed variety and constellation of musical instruments – several times in the course of the concert the two virtuosi Gerry O’Connor and Paul Kelly deftly exchanged fiddle for banjo, fiddle for mandolin, and vice versa. And needless to say, what a fantastic night for all fans of the instrumental pieces! What a treat to experience in one and the same gig not only Gerry’s brilliant banjo playing accompanied by maestro Eamonn on guitar in their already legendary duet “Billy In The Low Ground/Moving Cloud” aka “To Barney”, heard and seen so many times yet never the same, but also Paul Kelly’s wonderful fiddle set, ending in an amazing version of “Mason’s Apron” that simply took your breath away just watching. And apparently that was just the slow version…

Songs didn’t come too short either! Seán was in excellent form and to the very appreciative audience showed once again the whole spectrum of his vocal versatility – from rousing drinking songs to beautiful Irish ballads, from evocative verses about emigration to humorous, breathtaking tales of unlucky courtship or the trials and tribulations of a traveller.

Paul Watchorn has made several excellent additions to The Dublin Legends’ repertoire since he joined the band a few months ago. Two of these new (old) songs he performed at Vicar Street – a lively, foot-tapping rendition of “Waxies Dargle”, and a fine version of the pitman’s song “School Days Over”, which we remember from Luke Kelly. Of course a few of the regular old favourites are a must at every gig, at Vicar Street they included a really nice, sprightly version of “The Ferryman”, which Paul announced as a special request from his family in the audience. Mind you, the remaining few hundred visitors very much enjoyed it too!

Not to forget of course Ewan MacColl’s ode to Salford. Their rocking, rousing, roof-raising rendition of “Dirty Old Town” is already legendary and always one of my own personal highlights.

Oh yes, and just in case it isn’t so well-known to everyone yet, the band has a third singer now! In the meantime it has become tradition – and a very welcome one too – for Eamonn to give us a song in each set of the show. This time he treated us not only to rollicking “Seven Drunken Nights” but also to a superb version of “McAlpine’s Fusiliers”. First time I’d ever heard him sing it – I’m pretty sure Ronnie Drew would have loved it. The audience certainly did!

But that wasn’t the last of the surprises I mentioned earlier. In the middle of the second set there was another one in store for us. And what a delightful surprise indeed when the lovely Eleanor Shanley joined The Dublin Legends on stage! Her first piece was a beautiful rendition of “Nora” which she performed in memory of Nora O’Malley, Eamonn’s late mother-in-law.

What then followed was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the evening – probably one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time, “Fairytale Of New York”. (And it was of course the title of this song that gave me the inspiration for these lines.) The audience recognised the tune at once and was audibly delighted – enthusiastic whistling and cheering filled the hall even during the first bars of music.

Eleanor Shanley and Paul Watchorn duetting, and accompanied by Eamonn on guitar, Gerry on fiddle, Paul on mandolin, and with Seán tapping the beat on his guitar (perhaps he should get himself a bodhrán?) – what a wonderful performance! Vicar Street loved it, sang along with gusto and rewarded with thunderous applause.

By the way, Paul W. told me later he had only learned it that afternoon, but I’m inclined to think he was just pulling my leg – it just sounded too perfect; and if it was true, well that’s one more proof of their musical proficiency.

Eleanor joined them on stage again for the final encores and a good time was had by all, both on stage and off.

Fairy tales almost always have a happy ending. Long standing ovations at the end of an unforgettable night, happy, smiling faces everywhere – Vicar Street 2014, the culmination of two incredible, magical years.

And something quite special, quite extra-ordinary – this fairy tale has a sequel! It’s called The Dublin Legends’ Tour 2015 and it starts very soon. I’m looking forward to joining it once or twice in the course of the next 12 months – and perhaps for another highlight at Vicar Street in December. That would be fantastic. No, correction – that would be *märchenhaft*!

By: Enid Bühler