Hamburg 2009

When The Boys Come Rolling Home
28-30 December 2009, Dublin. Ireland

In his introductory speech, Jim McCann did not mention the numerous accomplishments credited to the band by fans and critics alike. He rather emphasized what, above anything else,  seems to be one of the core reason for the longevity of the Dubliners: "The most loved folk band in the world." 

You can argue about creativity, audience figures and sales success regarding just about every artist you can think of, but you can't argue about what happens when The Dubliners appear live: The love was flowing freely back and forth between the band and the audience these three nights at Vicar Street. The Irish worship their heroes, and huge numbers of people poured in to be a part of the year-end and homecoming celebrations which lasted from 28 to 30 December 2009.

The City of Dublin displayed her most un-welcoming side - it was chilling cold and constantly drizzling. A mighty gale held the city in its clutches and made people close their coats and jackets tightly as well as hold on to their caps and hats firmly.

Inside the venue was a fascinating proof of the generation-bridging appeal The Dubliners have on every type of people you could imagine: Young (and youngest) and old, well-earned grey hair next to flashy model-type girls, distinguished ladies, seasoned drinkers, serious music lovers, whole families, people from all walks of life, including the occasional tough bloke blowing in from the cold and wet streets with jeans and a short-sleeved shirt only, making you shudder at the thought of leaving the venue like that. In the midst of all that band members showed up now and then, mixing with the crowd and shaking hands, but they also sought a few moments of calmness backstage to tune in at the task ahead: Giving the audience the best show in town.

Meanwhile, back the the dressing room, the band went over last minute details. There were surprise guests announced. While the basic layout of the show was set and discussed long ago, there always is a thought or two brought forward to further improve each special night. By now, out in the hall, the sounddesk is all set up and ready. 

The program is well-structured and possibly an even tighter package than it had been on tour. Nevertheless, if you attended one of the "A Time To Remember" gigs during the year or followed our reports here, you basically already got a very good picture of how the nights went. This, and the fact that we have more gig reports coming up as the second wing of "A Time To Remember" takes place the first half of 2010, is the reason we do not elucidate the program in detail this time around, but instead serve you with bits and pieces.

The family type of show was clear from the very first moment: John took care to emphasize the important things right away, greeting the audience within the opening applause with a warm "Merry Christmas!". And you surely know you are really in Ireland when people can sing along with "Preab San Ol" - and I mean the Gaelic part of it. At least, in all honesty, they were giving a mighty good impression of being fluent in the old language for a non Gaelic-speaker like me. 

What was evident was that the first show was a bit shorter and more streamlined. The first set clocked in at 68 minutes as compared to the fall when it ran for a good 75 minutes. And while you never can get enough of a good thing, it has to be said that these few minutes less did not harm the show, but it was to its benefit. The second set was the same, delivering 70 minutes sharp.

The first night, Sean Keane of the Chieftains added his fiddle to the integrated work of art knows as the "Dubs". Tall Sean remembered how he played for the first time with Barney in a club in Thomas Street decades ago. The tunes they played displayed a wonderful craftmanship - it was a mesmerizing combination of two very unique styles of violin playing and a moment to be cherished. They finished their collaboration with Cooley's Reel, The Dawn and Mullingar Races, ending a few very traditional minutes in the best sense of the word "Trad".

As for the banter, quite a lot of it can be heard in almost every performance, but let's face it, most audiences would feel cheated if there weren't the usual quips and quotes, the lads playing with their own well-earned image - like John introducing Barney's first song with those remarks how Barney loves singing sea shantys and "also loves drinking ...  songs", with a meaningful twinkle-eyed pause between "drinking" and "songs". The ballads are as usual well-chosen and well-established. Also those not in the usual setlist fit into the public image of the band, like Barney's "Jock Stewart" containing the most appropriate chorus "So be easy and free when you're drinking with me, I'm a man you don't meet every day" which seems to be written for The Dubliners (but isn't, in case you wonder).

The three anniversaries were met with the unique combination of laughter and tears that seems to be a worldwide trademark for the Irish and John's poems were, no surprise, very well received.

Patsy's "Nightingale" yet again proved to be a crowd pleaser; it's one of those ballads that do not rank high in the usual all-time best-of set lists but always goes well with an audience. In a night of peaks, the crowd burst out in a huge cry of joy when Patsy announced "The Town I Loved So Well". After a huge round of applause for all the guests from the North that night, Patsy masterfully delivered a heartfelt rendition of the Phil Coulter ballad. A very special feeling enveloped the venue as the crowd joined him on every syllable of his dramatic performance.

Tuesday held a meeting of the generations in store as second night's guest star was, "from the heart of the liberties" as John announced her, Imelda May. Speaking of hearts, she won the hearts of the audience immediately - charming, humorous, energetic and highly talented, she wooed Dublin very successful that night. She started with "Dublin In The Rare Auld Times", accompanied by everyone at Vicar Street, getting extra cheers for a triumphant "A rogue and a child of Mary, from the rebel liberties" line. Then the she performed her goose-bumps producing ballad "Falling In Love With You Again". She came back later at the end of the night to join the boys in a glorious standing-room-only party-all-night-long version of "Molly Malone".

These few remarks - and I am the first to admit that we could go on and on and on about all the memorable moments of these night - should make it clear finally and ultimatively, that at least once in your life you have to go to Dublin to see The Dubliners hold court, no matter what the cost may be - just like that old Jazz standard says:

Catch a flame, catch a breeze,
On your hands, on your knees
Swim or fly, only please
Come on back to me

That said, swim or fly or ride a Guinness, but please for your own sake visit the lads in Dublin. 

See even more pictures in our 2009 gallery!

Article & photographs: Rare Auld Times Entertainment, Dublin, Ireland.


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