Belgium 2012

A triptych in Belgium

Labadoux festival 4 May 2012
Turnhout 29 September 2012 
Brussels 30 September 2012

Friday the 4th May: The Dubliners were the highlight of the LABADOUX FOLK FESTIVAL in the town of Ingelmunster, province of West-Flanders. The local TV station, Focus WTV, filmed part of the gig and John was interviewed. He could clearly remember The Dubliners had already appeared on stage there in 2003 and that the audience had been very attentive, which is not always obvious in a tent. 

Shortly after Barney’s death the Labadoux festival organisation posted a message on their site to pay their deepest respect to the legendary musician, “undoubtely one of the most mythical banjoplayers in the history of folkmusic” and to present their sympathy to The Dubliners.

Because different groups played in the tent before and after The Dubliners, with the sound installation of the festival organisation, there was no slide show that night.

When entering the tent, it struck me how many young people were present in the audience. I suppose part of them were not aware of what had happened the weeks before, because very spontaneously they welcomed The Dubliners singing “Happy Birthday to you”, when the lads appeared on stage, to congratulate them with their 50th Jubilee. This joyfull singing gave me mixed feelings though, looking at a stage with no chair at the left side…. 

I have always admired the professionalism of The Dubliners and even more so that night. Their gig was as inspiring for the enthousiastic audience as always. Gerry O’Connor visibly felt at home in the group. He did not feel like a “replacement” for Barney because Gerry has his own great style in playing the banjo. Gerry’s and Eamonn’s “blue grass” tribute to Barney, near the end of the first part of the gig, was like firework and made it clear to the audience that Barney was a many sided musician open to different types of music. 

There was another special tribute to Barney by the end of the second part. Barney’s younger banjo pupil and travel companion, Padraig Drew, John on the fiddle and Gerry also on the banjo played several reels and jigs in honour to their friend. It was heartwarming for me to see them play together. At the end of this part, when Padraig stood up from his chair and walked away from the stage, he held his banjo in exactly the same way Barney used to do when he walked off the stage. This was really striking to me and moved me to tears, so much beautiful memories came alive. 

Saturday 29th September: before the gig in Turnhout, in the province of Antwerp in Belgium, there was a short and intimate tribute to The Dubliners in the bar of the cultural center. They were all presented a medal and a charter of honour. This was an initiative of the cultural department of the Provincial Executive of Antwerp, whose depute for the cultural deparment, Peter Bellens, is himself a genuine fan of The Dubliners. He organised the tribute in cooperation with close friends of The Dubliners in Belgium. 

Peter Bellens’ speech is full of such interesting information, that I think it would be a pity to give you only a short summary. Is is worthwhile to pass it on to all the fans, and with his kind permission, we can - so this is the full speech:

Dear members of The Dubliners,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

As a member of the Provincial Executive of Antwerp in charge of Culture and as a genuine Dubliners-fan, it is a great pleasure for me to welcome you in “De Warande” here in Turnhout, cultural capital of Flanders 2012.
For The Dubliners it is not the first time they visit Turnhout: according to their own archives they had their first gig in this city in 1975. And thirty-two years later, in 2007, I even attended, together with some 15.000 other people, to a Dubliners open-air concert at the Turnhout Market place (de illustere “Turnhoutse Vrijdagen”).

I am convinced that all the people who were present that warm summer evening, will never forget the ambiance and the amazing atmosphere. I thank The Dubliners and their management for selecting Turnhout to present their European Fiftieth Anniversary-tour in Flanders.

This fiftieth anniversary is a perfect reason to celebrate and to pay a tribute to these five ambassadors of folk music. During their impressive career, they reached out to people everywhere, with their talent, their musical virtuosity and good grace.
And it is only respectable in a moment like this to pause for a moment of remembrance in honour of four predecessors - members of The Dubliners who are no longer amongst us.

In the course of these fifty years, the group suffered tragic and sometimes premature losses. I am convinced that tonight the spirit of Luke Kelly, Ciarán Bourke, Ronnie Drew and banjo-Barney McKenna, will be with The Dubliners

Their successors turned out to be an important addition to the group as well as to the repertoire. I also want to emphasize the major role The Dubliners played in the
international revival of folk music. The legacy of The Dubliners is not only present in their performances and recordings, but also in the example they set to a whole generation of traditional and folk musicians.

Every time I attend a performance of The Dubliners I am struck, not only by the music and the ambiance, but by the way the audience leaves the theatre after the show as well : with a smile upon their face and manifestly showing that they are feeling good and happy.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very proud to present, after these few words, in the name of the Provincial Executive, a medal and a charter of honour to each of these five Dubliners. A medal and a charter as tokens of our appreciation for their contribution to folk music and for bringing people closer together all over the world.

The first member of The Dubliners I will present the medal and the charter of honour to, does not only play the fiddle, the mandolin and the thin whistle in a wonderful way, he is also known for his Marino-compositions and for his quiet way to keep the group on the right track: Maestro John Sheahan.

There is a new kid on the block and with his 52 years the youngest of The Dubliners. He has so much skill that it seems that picking the tenor banjo is very simple : a more than worthy successor for banjo-Barney: Mister Gerry O’Connor.

The next in my row is also a gifted musician and guitarist. His voice remembers me of Ronnie Drew and the past 25 years he produced all The Dubliners-albums: Mister Emonn Campbell.

As a joke some say that he was an apprentice with The Quare Fellas and with The Dublin City Ramblers before he joined The Dubliners. He plays the 5-string banjo, the bodhrán and the spoons and he is passionately in love with his hometown: Mister Patsy Watchorn.

And last but not least the man who represents to me the incarnation of music. He finds his way in many disciplines: Gregorian music, celtic music, classical music to mention a few and who also helps his two sons Robert and James to keep the folk music torch burning: my good friend Seán Cannon.

I now propose to have a drink and I wish you all a marvelous evening with The Dubliners!

After the speech there was a reception with nice wine and some snacks, but of course the most interesting part was, that I could congratulate The Dubliners and admire their medals an charter. They were really pleased with them.

Sunday 30th September – Paleis voor Schone Kunsten - Brussels. The best and most famous venue in the capital of Belgium was reserved for the final jubilee concert of The Dubliners. This venue is the place to be in Belgium for the greatest concerts of classical music. It was a real treat to hear The Dubliners and see the slide show, in this impressive venue with top accoustic qualities. The “classical” surroundings however, could not prevent the audience from singing and clapping very cheerfully. In Turnhout as well as in Brussels it struck me that the audience felt closely involved in the story of The Dubliners golden julilee. People were fascinated and inspired by the treasure of pictures and videos. During the interval and after the gig one could hear several people sharing their own stories and memories of The Dubliners’ gigs they had been to over the years. 

The number of fans united through this website and forum has increased year after year, modern media have made it possible to be constantly in touch with one another, many bonds of friendship were created and it makes many of us feel good that our own little story has become part of the great story of The Dubliners. We can never thank them enough for what their music means to us.

Report by Ria Voet; 4 May 2012 pictures by Ria Voet; 29 September 2012 pictures with kind permission by Martine Goetschalckx; 30 September 2012 pictures by  Ria Voet (lookup individual copyrights in the gallery!)

© 2000-2014 Rare Auld Times Entertainment, Dublin, Ireland