Belgium October 2008

The Dubliners In Belgium
Antwerp. Belgium
10th October 2008

Friday 10th October was the unique and only 2008 rendezvous with The Dubliners in the Elisabethzaal in Antwerp, Belgium. The Dubliners were treated like real VIPs: hostesses of the Irish Tourism Office in Brussels had come to Antwerp to welcome their cultural ambassadors with Belgian chocolates. A journalist of the Flemish television station VRT, interviewed John, Patsy and Sean. The interview, fragments of the show and a short history of The Dubliners and the recent passing away of their founder-member Ronnie Drew, were broadcast on Monday 13th October in “De Rode Loper”, a series about showbiz artists. (The name of the programme refers to the expression: “to give someone the red-carpet treatment").

The Dubliners were introduced on stage by Paul Ambach, alias Boogie Boy, a famous Belgian blues singer, pianist and concert promoter (not The Dubliners' , which is Live Nation for Belgium). He did this with great enthusiasm and referred to the evening as one with "historical value". Right from the start he already announced the date of next year's gig in Antwerp: Friday 2nd October 2009! 

It was quite a treat for me to see The Dubliners twice with only a month's interval. 
As the gig in Antwerp was the only one in Belgium this year, we got lots of extras, the lads were in top form! In this short report, I shall only focus on songs and tunes that I didn’t hear in Vienna and on elements I hadn't noticed before. They strengthen my admiration for The Dubliners' professionalism: over all those years the richness of their repertoire and performance has never stopped growing. It struck me for instance that when Barney was playing "Mullingar races", he did not only speed up the rhythm of his banjo playing, but he also had a hand free from time to time to imitate a jockey hitting his horse on the back, to race quicker.

After John's poem “Ronnie’s heaven", Patsy not only sang “Finnigan’s wake”, but also “The Sea Around Us” (both on the same LP). He told us that he heard this song for the first time in 1964 when Ronnie sung it in The Embankment (Tallaght, Co Dublin) and was fascinated by it. I heard it first on Patsy’s CD “Irish Rebel Heroes” and it was wonderful to hear him sing it live! The song is perfectly suited for the strength and the emotion that are so typical of Patsy’s beautiful voice. 

One of the last tunes John played was called “Four Poster Bed”. I had already heard it several times on CD and always particularly enjoyed it, but I never paid attention to the title. John explained why the tune was called as such: with his bow he softly hit the surface of his violin on the four (imagined) corners of a rectangle. This resulted in a nice sound effect that came back several times in the tune. 

I would like to end by mentioning a moment that was unique for the audience in Antwerp. Before “The Auld Triangle”, the end of the first part, Barney and Eamonn were having one of their popular “live rehearsals”. Just before playing a series of Irish reels and polka’s, Barney told us about his friend in Antwerp, musician Wannes Van De Velde. He expressed his admiration for Wannes, called him a very fine artist on the hornpipe and the guitar and said Wannes visited him in county Dublin. Barney and I sometimes talked about him backstage and he knew that Wannes was very ill. As an encouragement and to pay homage to him, Barney played the tune of Wannes Van De Velde’s famous song of his early years, “De Vagebond”, on his tenor banjo. He did this with great sensitivity and I was deeply moved. 

Epilogue: exactly a month later, on the 10th November, Wannes Van De Velde died, at the age of 71. He was Flanders’ best folksinger/flamenco-guitarist. He was also a writer and painter and was for Flanders and Antwerp what Ronnie Drew was for Ireland and Dublin. I assisted to his burial ceremony, with was organised by his family and the city council of Antwerp in one of his favourite theatres. About 2000 people attended to it. It was beautiful and sad at the same time. We all realised what a great loss his death is for our community. I think I understand even better how the Irish people feel about Ronnie's departing.

Article & photographs by Ria Voet
All photographs taken 10th October 2008

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