Paris 10 May 2012

An Emotional Roller Coaster Ride

La Cigale, Paris - 10th May 2012

I'm glad I got tickets for Paris.

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision – made only a few days after returning home from London and the unforgettable concert in the Royal Albert Hall, and as our next planned Dubliners' gig suddenly appeared almost unbearably far away. The idea was so inviting – another splendid city, another 50th celebration gig to crown our visit. And after all, La Cigale is much nearer home than a lot of the venues we've travelled to!

Decision made, tickets bought, plans in full progress – I was really looking forward to our short trip to Paris and one more wonderful birthday party.

Then came 5th April. I was shocked, speechless, and very sad.

For a while it wasn't at all clear if the concert would take place, and I wasn't even sure that I wanted to go if it did. Of course it wouldn't be the first time I'd experienced a Dubliners' gig with a change of line-up, but this was different. After following The Dubliners for so many decades, this would be my first ever concert without Barney McKenna. And his passing was so sudden, so unexpected, so fresh – and so final!

The gig was confirmed. Well, if The Dubliners were going to Paris, so were we! Our own sadness as fans could be nothing in comparison to that of those who had lost a beloved friend and fellow-traveller of so many years. And in these inconceivably difficult times we owed them not only our deepest sympathy but also every possible support and encouragement.

Needless to say, it was still with mixed feelings that I entered La Cigale that evening, not least as I'd heard in the meantime various details of a very emotional Denmark tour.

The concert opened with a short performance of the French band The Moorings – half an hour of rousing Irish folk punk that was much appreciated by what very soon proved to be an extremely lively and enthusiastic audience. A short interval for set alterations followed – Barney's chair was suddenly very conspicuous by its absence – before The Dubliners themselves appeared on stage. The four of them.

Undoubtedly, The Dubliners' appearance in La Cigale proved to be by far the most emotive and most emotional I have ever experienced. A visibly moved John Sheahan, after welcoming the audience to their 50th anniversary concert, informed of the sudden passing of Barney McKenna, and of their decision to continue with the tour in his honour. And as John spoke, Barney's photo was projected on to the screen behind him. John then introduced banjo player and their good friend Gerry O'Connor, who had kindly agreed to join them on the tour. Only then did The Dubliners strike up the familiar opening reels.

Whereas in the Royal Albert Hall the archive photos and video footage had appeared on a screen above the stage, in La Cigale they were projected on to the backdrop behind the performers. And from my perspective, sitting as I was directly in front of the relatively high stage, it seemed at times as if The Dubliners on the screen were not only interacting with The Dubliners on stage, but were even intermingling with them. If Barney McKenna was not there in person, he was present in La Cigale just the same – smiling into the audience over Seán's shoulder, or casually watching us, larger than life, between Patsy and Eamonn.

Although the set list reminded very much of the concert in London, present circumstances had given rise to several changes in the programme. Among them, two additional videos – two very special, very touching videos.

The first was one of Barney's final performances of "Fiddler's Green", recorded at Vicar Street for the new DVD only a few months before. It moved me to tears. And not just me.

The second video was "I Wish I Had Someone To Love Me", taken from the earlier Vicar Street DVD. How often have we listened, spellbound, to Barney's "love song for all ages". How often have his stories and anecdotes brought a smile to our lips. How sad the realization that all this now belongs to the past.

Gerry O'Connor proved to be a banjo virtuoso. Whether in the accompaniment of Seán's and Patsy's wide range of songs, or in taking over a main part in one of the many and varied instrumentals pieces – he did a splendid job every time, and it was a great pleasure to hear him. Absolutely brilliant was the duet that he and Eamonn performed together – a couple of bluegrass tunes for banjo and guitar, which Gerry, after reminding of Barney's fondness for bluegrass and jazz music, dedicated to his late friend. And needless to say, a series of photos of Barney appeared behind them on the screen as they played. Gerry and Eamonn very obviously enjoyed every second of that duet – I tried to capture some of it with my camera, but neither banjo nor guitar remained still long enough for me to get a decent shot, and all attempts were out of focus!

Gerry also plays the fiddle, and it was quite a unique – and very enjoyable – experience to hear two fiddles plus guitar performing John's compositions "Farewell To Harstad" and "Feathered Gael".

Towards the end of the second set, John welcomed on stage Pádraig Drew. This young man was of course not only Barney's helping hand for a big part of every year, but also his able student and dear friend. How kind and considerate of The Dubliners to invite Pádraig to accompany them on tour, and how touching to see him sitting in Barney's place next to John. Well, the stage was pretty full for their well-known reels medley – six chairs this time – and a very lively, rousing medley it was!

Standing ovations in La Cigale at the end of the night, and a visibly and audibly happy, enthusiastic audience.

As a long-standing fan of The Dubliners, there are two aspects – apart from of course their wonderful, unequalled music – that have constantly raised my admiration for them over the years. Firstly, their unfailing respect and loyalty and gratitude towards their fans around the world, their wish never to disappoint no matter how adverse or difficult the situation may be. And secondly, the same unfailing respect and loyalty and gratitude they manifest towards those Dubliners who are no longer in their midst. "Upholding the legacy of those lost has been regarded virtually as a commitment", as we wrote after the concert in London only a few weeks ago.

The concert in La Cigale saw the culmination of both.

Yes, I'm glad I got tickets for Paris.

Report by Enid; pictures by Enid & Helmut and Marie (lookup individual copyrights in the gallery!)


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