Vienna, Austria September 2011

All Good Things Come In Threes

Vienna – 8th, 10th and 13th September 2011

"September time, Dubliners' time" – so Milica Theessink as, accompanied by the enthusiastic applause and cheering of the Metropol audience, she welcomed "her boys" on stage for the "final test run" before their 50th anniversary year 2012.

Not that the oldest boygroup in the world needs any further test run! Here are five thoroughbred musicians on stage, well attuned and proficient, although they occasionally do give you the impression – perhaps intentionally – that they improvise at times! Which again underlines their professionalism of course.

They called it their "holiday tour" – indeed, on no other tour can they actually unpack their suitcases for a whole week – and they were undoubtedly very relaxed and laid-back on the Metropol stage. Compared to many of the venues where The Dubliners appear, the "Großer Saal" of the Metropol is relatively small, it seats just over 500 visitors, with chairs on three sides of the stage and a bar running across the rear of the entire hall. And the front row is so near the stage that you can easily park your glass there! Almost as intimate as if The Dubliners were appearing in your own front room.

Before our arrival in Vienna we had tickets for two concerts – for Thursday (the opening night) and for Saturday, together with Renata, who was flying to Vienna from Italy especially for the gig. But not even halfway through the first set of the opening night I was already considering buying tickets for a third one! After all – don't all good things come in threes?

Not that "good" is the appropriate word to describe The Dubliners in Vienna! An understatement if ever there was one! The lads themselves were in excellent form and, on all three nights that I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing them, dedicated as always with heart and soul from the opening reels to the final encore to entertaining their audience to the full. A fantastic atmosphere every night – I have seldom experienced an audience so enthusiastic, so lively, so responsive. The Dubliners and the Metropol, and that on three nights within one week – without a doubt an unforgettable experience!

Although parts of the set list were identical every evening – needless to say that this fact is irrelevant to a hardcore fan – there were nevertheless several stages of the concerts where the programme varied from night to night, so that we were treated to many old favourites and a few wonderful surprises in the course of the week. 

Barney was, for instance, in the mood every evening for his much-loved love song for all age-groups, but not always for the tragic sea song "Three Score And Ten", lamenting the many lives lost in the great North Sea gale of 1889. In between he remembered in song the noble and generous Jock Stewart, "a man you don't meet every day".

It is always a pleasure for me to listen to Patsy's "Ferryman" and his "Dublin In The Rare Auld Times", which he performed every night, as well as his fine version of "Paddy On The Railway" – forever associated with his "idol" Luke Kelly. But I was thrilled to hear for the first time ever Patsy's live rendition of "Isle Of Innisfree", Dick Farrelly's beautiful ballad about an emigrant's longing for his native Ireland, a melody which later became the main theme music for the film "The Quiet Man". I heard it three times at the Metropol and was spellbound each time. We also very much enjoyed "The Nightingale", "The Town I Loved So Well" and "The Fields Of Athenry" – three of the songs which Patsy chose to alternate during the week. 

Not to forget the memorable piece that brought The Dubliners world fame when in 1967 it reached the Top Ten of the British charts after being played day-in, day-out, on the pirate radio station "Radio Caroline". The audience in Vienna loved it, and clapped and sang along accordingly. Nota bene – any similarity whatsoever between "Seven Drunken Nights" and six nights at the Metropol is purely coincidental ...

Seán demonstrates his versatility in every concert, his vast repertoire ranging from lively, rousing songs to beautiful, emotive ballads. In Vienna he had an even greater opportunity to perform especially the latter. So it came about that while treating us to a daily sip of "The Rare Old Mountain Dew" and taking us along that "Rocky Road To Dublin" every night, his ballads alternated from gig to gig, and we heard not only his beautiful rendition of Phil Colclough's "The Call And The Answer", but also of the traditional "Night Visiting Song". And two wonderful songs in Gaelic – the slow air "Fáinne Geal An Lae" (Dawning Of The Day) and on the final evening, in memory of Ciarán Bourke, the lively "Peggy Lettermore".

As to the instrumental pieces – John's tin whistle, Barney's banjo and Eamonn's guitar set off all hands and every foot in the Metropol clapping and stamping to "The Belfast Hornpipe" and "The Swallow's Tail". Thunderous applause here every night, also later on in the concert, after their selection of reels – this time with John's fiddle – "Cooley's", "The Dawn" and what Barney always calls in the German-speaking world "The Mullingar Pferderennen". No Dubliners' gig of course without an Irish solo – Barney and Eamonn, left alone on stage while the other three disappear to put the kettle on. 

On two occasions Barney had brought his melodeon with him, and as a special treat for the Austrian audience, and much to their delight, started off with the "Haushammer Schuhplattler" – the Schuhplattler is a traditional folk dance of Austrian/Southern German origin. Back to his banjo, and especially for Eamonn, first "The Maid Behind The Bar" – "and then we'll go on to whatever I can remember" (so Barney). There's certainly nothing wrong with his memory, their performance was brilliant, and the Irish solo reaped thunderous applause and enthusiastic cheering and on one occasion standing ovations!

John is not only a gifted musician, but also a wonderful poet, and the audience in Vienna had the pleasure of hearing for the first time a new poem that he had only recently written in honour of the late Ronnie Drew. A character sketch, as John put it, "Ronnie Drew – Dublin personified".

No Dubliners' concert imaginable without at least one of John's own compositions. In memory of Norway's blackest day, and as a mark of respect for those who lost their lives there on 22nd July, he played for us in Vienna "Farewell To Harstad", a beautiful tune which he had composed 30 years before, but which he had performed for the first time ever on that tragic day. His second own composition was new – he described it as "a kind of march" and he had woken up one morning with the tune simply in his head. He called it "Feathered Gael". 

On the last night of the Vienna tour he rounded up this medley with the lively "Zillertaler Hochzeitsmarsch", an extremely popular tune in Austria (and the rest of the German-speaking world). The audience was delighted – the applause and cheering almost raised the roof of the Metropol!

The Dubliners were rewarded with standing ovations every night at the end of a fantastic concert, and on Thursday and Saturday invited and encouraged the visitors to come back again for another gig of the tour. But before the last encores of the final evening there were thanks all round from the five on stage, and acknowledgements to all who had helped to make the six nights at the Metropol such a success. Not to forget of course the promise to the fans that they'd be back again next year for their 50th anniversary! If wishes come true we'll be there too ...

The Travelling People

The Dubliners came to Italy only once in 1995 and the Italians who wish to see them have to take planes and trains and buses and taxis and follow them around Europe. In my case, since I have very little time to spend doing that, flying (plus some buses or taxis) is the only option. And I don’t like flying. 

But since the first time I saw The Dubs live, going to their concerts has become an addiction and the moment they step on stage and start playing “The Fermoye Lassies” is more than a joy, it’s a relief. They perform their magic and I let myself go. Their professionalism, self-confidence and the way they captivate their audiences are something that has to be seen to be believed. 

For some time a bonus has been added to my enjoyment of their concerts: there’s a network of fans constantly in touch with one another and wherever I go I’m sure to meet some of them – more travellers. We exchange news, we enjoy the gigs, we sing and clap like mad and we meet the lads afterwards. 

This year, for the first time, I met one of the most assiduous contributors to the website – Enid, who’s originally from England, but who’s lived in Germany for many years. She and her husband Helmut spent a week in Vienna and I joined them for the concert of Saturday 10th September. We’d been corresponding for ages and this was a great occasion. Together, we also met our Webmaster and some friends of The Dubliners’ entourage with whom we’d been in touch and who were actually expecting us.

It is a wonderful feeling. I’m not sure The Dubliners themselves are fully aware of the web of friendships they have generated over the years. Of course the Internet is the tool we use – but there is a quality to this human “web” which goes beyond the ordinary, and has to do with the peculiar relationship that The Dubliners have with their hardcore fans.

The first time I was admitted backstage by a reluctant Milica Theessink - who protects her “boys” like a lioness – I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I’d ask for the autographs, apologize and leave. But it was a different experience altogether.

Since that first time, every time I’ve gone backstage I’ve been sure of a warm welcome. The Dubliners value you as a person, not simply as one who could buy their music, and treat you accordingly. Where would you find a musician who remembers you and always finds the right words to say to you, as if he knew exactly what you’d like to hear (Patsy)? 

Where would you find one who treats you like an old friend, chatting and singing (and drinking) with you (Eamonn)? Where would you find one who makes a point of saying some words in your own language, with perfect pronunciation - and extreme kindness (Seán)? 

Where else can you find the equal of Barney, who charms you with his ramblings and invites you to the next concert? And where would you find a perfect host like John, who welcomes you as if he’d been waiting for you especially, and stops to chat with you as if he had all the time in the world? 

These men, who are famous, sought after and experienced, are as humble and kind as your oldest friend. 

We, the travelling people, will always be grateful to The Dubliners for the magic they have worked over the years, both on stage and backstage, for the many relationships they have helped generate, for the wonderful memories. I will cherish the Vienna experience and look forward to the fiftieth anniversary, to celebrate it with The Dubliners and the other fans, as friends.

All  Good Things Come In Threes by Enid
The Travelling People by Renata
All picures by Rare Auld Times Entertainment, taken Sept. 2011 in Vienna




From left to right:

Renata, Enid and Helmut

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