Belgium October 2008

Some Men You Don't Meet Everyday
Merzig, Germany
3rd  November 2008

Basically I'm faced with only one problem in putting my impressions of the gig in Merzig into words...the fear of running out of superlatives! Because that was more than simply another great concert in a row of many. Not just first class, but in a class of its own!

I suppose it's only natural to praise the gig you've just been to as your best one ever. This one is fresh in your mind and the memories of those before have obviously faded with the time. But this year I saw and heard The Dubliners twice in a little more than three weeks, and still having a vivid recollection of the first gig I venture to say that certainly some aspects of the concert in the Stadthalle in Merzig were incomparable.

Admittedly, two unbeatable factors were of a personal nature. First of all, how often in your life does your wedding anniversary coincide with a concert of your favourite band, and that more or less on your own doorstep? The second aspect was not quite so spectacular, namely where we were sitting! Now that wasn't the first time we were lucky enough to get seats in the front row at a Dubliners' gig, but not always is the front row as it is in the Stadthalle...literally within "spitting distance" of the stage. So near that you actually have eye-contact with those performing, and no gesture, no expression, no spontaneous dancing step, no casual remark escapes you!

The atmosphere in Merzig was fantastic! The five up on stage and the full house below were on the same wavelength right from the very start. The fans in the Stadthalle were obviously hungry to see and hear The Dubliners again, because even a two-minute delay brought about rhythmical clapping to summon the lads on stage. And when they did appear the applause was overwhelming and continued with the same vehemence throughout the whole gig. The visitors in Merzig proved to be especially word-perfect and unmistakably had great fun joining in on the chorus of all those long-time favourites and even other not-quite-so-familiar songs.

The Dubliners themselves were undoubtedly in high spirits and musically in top form. Their inexhaustible pleasure in making music and in entertaining us seemed to ooze out of every pore. Did I just imagine it? Were they infected by the atmosphere in the Stadthalle? Is it true after all what the local fruit drinks' manufacturer maintains in its slogan..."Merziger macht herziger"? Whatsoever, I can't remember seeing them in a livelier mood and I'm not only referring to their music. I don't think they missed out even one of their routine jokes that night...those jokes where you can't help laughing in spite of the fact that you know exactly when to expect them! (I wonder how many poems John has really written? And what would Barney do if someone started to dance after all?)

There are some things without which a Dubliners' gig would be as unthinkable as a "pub with no beer"! And of course we heard in the first part of the show old rousing favourites like "The Black Velvet Band", or "Paddy On The Railway". But the audience in the Stadthalle was more than receptive for quieter pieces too and was audibly thrilled with Patsy's remembering "Dublin In The Rare Auld Times" or Sean's Gaelic ballad "Cill Chais". Not to forget their tribute to the great Luke Kelly...John's moving poem and Patsy's homage to "The Dublin Minstrel" were rewarded with thundering applause.

Personally what fascinated me most during the first half of the concert in Merzig were the instrumental pieces. I was sitting exactly opposite John Sheahan and sometime during "The Belfast Hornpipe/The Swallow's Tail" it occurred to me just how incredible it is what he can conjure out of a simple tin-whistle! Later on it was Barney McKenna's marvellous banjo solo for two that held me spellbound. Did I imagine it or was that reels medley longer than the last time I heard it? Barney's banjo and Eamonn's guitar seemed to be having so much fun with "The Maid Behind The Bar" that they weren't at all willing to stop! It was overwhelming and the reaction of the audience too!

Patsy and his fantastic choir sent us off into the interval with a tremendous rendering of "The Auld Triangle" and if it didn't quite reach the Royal Canal then I'm sure it must have been heard at least all along the banks of the Saar which flows west of the Stadthalle and gives this part of Germany its name.

After a break of 15 minutes (or was it a quarter of an hour after all?), during which many of us had complied with John's request (to support their families worldwide!) and purchased "Weihnachtsgeschenke" (Christmas presents), the party continued with Sean singing another "must" in every Dubliners' concert, "The Spanish Lady". Barney followed on with his second vocal solo of the evening after his love song for all age groups "I Wish I Had Someone To Love Me" and as in the last gig pleasantly surprised me in his song choice. In Merzig he introduced us to that "canny gan man, Jock Stewart" and judging by the storm of applause after the final verse the fans were the opinion that not only the title hero but also Barney McKenna was " a man you don't meet every day"!

Sean was in a great mood for jesting and brought about what was probably the biggest laugh of the evening when he announced that beautiful love song "The Call And The Answer", written by a friend of his, Phil Colclough, an Englishman. And added in his very best German and with, of course, a twinkle in his eye and a laugh in his voice..."aber wir singen es trotzdem!" (but we're still going to sing it!) 

Only once after that was it silent in the Stadthalle, namely as John paid tribute to their friend and founder Ronnie Drew and spoke of the great loss to the music world. His poem "Ronnie's Heaven" followed, and he read it so light-heartedly that we knew it wasn't impious to smile or even laugh in places...on the contrary, John knew very well when he put his thoughts to paper that Ronnie himself would have wanted it no other way. Patsy rounded off their tribute to Ronnie musically with two great songs from the earliest recordings of The Dubliners...a rousing "Finnegan's Wake" and a song of praise to "The Sea Around Us".

As in the first half, I was carried away by the instrumentals. Whether John's wonderful "St. Patrick's Cathedral" or the brilliant mandolin duet for three ...I have never enjoyed them more. Nor experienced such a close-up of John's and Eamonn's excellent pas de deux just before they reached the finishing line at the "Mullingar Races". Second to none was the "Hen's March To The Midden". The visitors in Merzig were, putting it mildly, extremely amused, and John very obviously tickled pink by their reaction! From the farmyard he then swept us away into the bedroom and his "Four-Poster Bed" delighted the audience scarcely less than his cackling hens before!

How time flies when you're enjoying yourself! All too soon Sean announced the last song of the evening, "Whiskey In The Jar". (Sean: "A song from Metallica!") Of course the fans wanted more and didn't let them go without hearing and singing "The Wild Rover " and "Molly Malone", pulling out all the stops to thank The Dubliners for three wonderful hours of outstanding entertainment...thunderous applause, cheering, whistling, foot-stamping and (what else?) standing ovations!

See you again next year! And who knows? Maybe if my memories of 2008 have faded enough by then I'll be writing here again to say that Merzig 2009 was the best gig ever...

Find twice as much photographs from the show in our 2008 gallery!

Article by Enid Bühler, photographs by Helmut Bühler
All photographs taken 03 November 2008

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