A Time To Remember in Wadern –
a unique and memorable experience!
Wadern, 4 November 2009
Undoubtedly this year's concerts across Europe are unlike anything the fans have seen and heard before, and the gig in Wadern was in this respect no exception. There's a different atmosphere prevailing from that of earlier gigs, at times a new and poignant intensity, due in no small part to the nostalgic theme of the tour and to the audio-visual elements integrated – this effective combination of old and new, past and present, then and now. A Time To Remember takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride – joy, sorrow, admiration, gratitude, so many sensations alternate throughout the show, leaving impressions that continue to occupy your thoughts long after the performers have disappeared from the stage.
But the gig in Wadern was remarkable in an additional way. John Sheahan
had to leave the tour and return to Ireland for two days, so it came about that the visitors in Wadern were witnesses of an extraordinary line-up – and I myself experienced for the first time ever The Dubliners live without John Sheahan!
One look at the stage on entering the venue and it was clear that someone must be missing. Four microphones instead of five – and the instruments already in position betrayed that the missing musician could only be John or Sean. A Time To Remember with only four Dubliners! I must admit that on realizing this my happy anticipation of the concert was rather dampened! But from the moment Barney, Sean, Patsy and Eamonn appeared on stage and struck up the opening reels, it was obvious that whatever the reason for John's absence, the 600 fans in the Herbert-Klein-Halle should not be disappointed or miss out in any way. Actually it wasn't until a good way through the first set that Sean, in his excellent German, explained to the audience why there were only four Dubliners present, assuring us that John was very sorry not to be there, but hoping that the audience would understand the situation and promising that the four of them would do their best!
A few alterations to the regular programme of A Time To Remember were unavoidable – John Sheahan is for some things simply indispensable – and admittedly everything else sounded pretty unfamiliar without him, not only the instrumental pieces. Without John's fiddle or tin whistle it was up to the other instruments to come to the fore – Eamonn's guitar and most especially Barney's banjo. One tune in particular was striking in this respect – "The Swallow's Tail", best known to all with the familiar "Sheahan" tin whistle. A poignant coincidence that it should be during A Time To Remember that we heard this tune from the "McKenna" banjo instead, involuntarily reminding of the first time this was recorded – on The Dubliners' very first album and before John Sheahan joined the group. What Barney delighted us with in Wadern was possibly the nearest to this old version I at least have ever heard live.
Apart from "The Swallow's Tail", the track list of this first album from 1964 was all in all well represented in A Time To Remember. Almost incredible that even 45 years later at least two of these songs have lost none of their popularity with the concertgoers. On the contrary, it's hard to imagine a Dubliners' gig without Sean singing of the Irish love triangle in "Banks Of The Roses" or a lively " Wild Rover" to accompany you home. Both songs performed in the very beginnings of course by Luke Kelly, to whom the first part of the concert was dedicated. "The Nightingale", sadly neglected over the years – and obviously not so familiar to the audience in Wadern – experienced a worthy revival through Patsy. But the tribute to Luke Kelly was not restricted to hearing Sean and Patsy remembering him in some of his most popular songs, including the patriot ballad from dauntless "Kelly The Boy From Killane" and Phil Coulter's touching ode to a beloved but sadly changed and troubled Derry. While the picture with his striking profile dominated the stage, the voice of the Dublin Minstrel himself paralysed the audience with his one and only poem, his stirring and challenging "For What Died The Sons Of Róisin" – so near and clear, as if he were just standing in the wings awaiting his cue to appear. What followed showed a completely different facet of the jewel that was Luke Kelly, a live video dedicating to all the ladies from 9 to 99 in the audience and everywhere his well-known and explicit advice for all young maids. Very moving to watch him accompanied not only by Barney, John and Ronnie on screen, but also by the four on stage. And when Luke called out during the first chorus "let's hear ye sing", a good many of the visitors in Wadern were only too ready to comply.
Barney, as the only remaining member of the very first line-up, and in the absence of John the only one of the "Original Dubliners" present, was of course the darling of the audience! His "Guten Abend meine Freunde" (good evening my friends) early in the evening had already brought about an enthusiastic reaction. But the applause at the end of this dear old salt's sea shanty of the evening, "South Australia", which followed his greeting in German, was nothing short of frenetic. Altogether Barney surprised us more than once in Wadern. While Sean and Patsy disappeared backstage "to make tea – für die Pause (for the interval) and Irish Coffee – ohne Kaffee (without coffee)", Barney introduced us to a little tune I had never heard before, neither from The Dubliners nor from anyone else. He called it "Orange And Blue", and while pictures of his much younger self appeared on the screen behind him, spotlights in the matching colours lit up the stage. After this colourful little novelty it was time for the familiar "Maid Behind The Bar", Barney, as always, reminding us of Eamonn's partiality for this lady!
A mighty jingle-jangle of the "The Auld Triangle" brought the first set to a close, but not before Patsy, representing John very well at this point, had reminded us of the merchandise stand and especially the new CD – all very suitable for filling Christmas stockings!
Patsy regularly remembers Ciaran Bourke with a lively rendition of "All For Me Grog". So in Wadern at the beginning of the second half. But a worthy tribute must not fail to acknowledge Ciaran's respect for Gaelic and his contributions in this language to The Dubliners' repertoire. Sean sang for us the hearty song of praise to the girl called Peggy from Lettermore Island, which Ciaran recorded on their second album from 1964, "In Concert". The crowning piece of the tribute to Ciaran was another fascinating tape recording from their first album, the Irish-English drinking song from Ciaran and Luke, "Preab San Ol", with its eternal truth – there is more to life than wealth and material goods – and you can't take them with you anyway!
No concert imaginable without Barney's love song for all ages, but this time we saw behind him a much younger Barney too, smartly dressed and wearing a buttonhole, beaming at us from the screen. A photo that was taken at Ciaran's wedding in 1964. What then followed was another surprise, and from all I had heard before and have heard since was a special bonbon for the audience in Wadern and undoubtedly my own personal highlight of the evening. Barney announced it as a lamentation for those who had passed away, an Irish tune, which I recognised as "Ar Éirinn Ni Neosfainn Cé Hi" from the album "Further Along". And while Barney and Eamonn delighted the audience with this beautiful piece for banjo and guitar, a wonderful series of photos from the Emerald Isle appeared behind them on the screen – the Cliffs of Moher, Newgrange, the Wicklow Mountains, Trim Castle, Dublin's Ha'penny Bridge – and last but not least the Guinness Brewery! This impressive ensemble of music and scenery was fascinating and highly emotive. No wonder that after the thunderous applause had faded at last that Patsy admitted to the audience that he was feeling just a bit homesick after this!
Although the audience in Wadern had enjoyed a wonderful concert so far, there had of course been one aspect painfully missed up to then, and that was John Sheahan's beautiful poetry. But suddenly there was Eamonn, talking about the unforgettable Ronnie Drew, and remembering his unique voice and his talent, while Ronnie himself smiled down at us from the screen. And just like John Sheahan, Eamonn held a piece of paper in his hand, and told us how John had come to write down his thoughts after Ronnie's death. Eamonn read for us John's poem "Ronnie's Heaven", and if you closed your eyes at the parts where his gravel voice is imitated, it was almost as if Ronnie Drew himself and not Eamonn Campbell was speaking to us from the stage.
It was fascinating and at the same time funny to watch Barney, Sean and Eamonn accompanying Ronnie twice in what followed – the video recording of "McAlpine's Fusiliers" from the 25th anniversary tribute. Sean followed on with a sip – or a bowl, or a bucketful – of "The Rare Ould Mountain Dew", and the warning that this liquid could be "sehr gefährlich" (very dangerous). Patsy rounded off the tribute to Ronnie with a rousing "Finnegan's Wake", very familiar to the audience in Wadern but, as ever, ending inevitably with someone clapping in the wrong places. ("You're out!")
After the reel duet for banjo and guitar – this time in the absence of John indeed a "real" duet and not an Irish one – and Patsy's ever popular "Dirty Old Town", the official programme came to a close with Sean's song from Metallica, but not before he had ensured the audience that although it was their first visit to Wadern, he hoped it wouldn't be their last. "Das Wetter ist ebenso schön wie in Irland" (the weather is just as nice as in Ireland) NB – it had been raining on and off all day!
Thunderous applause, standing ovations and the call for more and more attested the appreciation of a very happy and enthusiastic audience. Of course no concert is complete without Dublin's world famous fishmonger, but this time the lady was present herself, peering over Patsy's shoulder from the corner of Grafton Street!
A Time To Remember – a concert to remember!
See even more pictures in our 2009
Article & photographs: Enid &