Vienna September 2013

The Dublin Legends

Vienna Revisited 2013

Metropol, Vienna, September 5-7, 2013


The loud speakers were blasting at full power, spotlights bathing the protagonists on stage in bright white light, colored rays excitedly swirling around them, reflecting off the walls and the enthusiastic faces of the fans. The music was pumping. It was SRO as the audience was swept into exuberance. 

The man in the middle was shaking his guitar towards the crowd in tune with the chorus that was joined by a myriad of hoarse voices, his sparkling eyes telling how much he enjoyed the beat. The man on his right played his fiddle like no one has ever played a fiddle before, working the strings with zest and gusto, working the crowd into a frenzy. That crowd was singing, clapping, rocking and rolling along with the tune. 

On the other side, the guy that was singing with verve and that certain stinging bite that carried the crowd into even higher excitement, took a rock star stance and swirled his banjo around, lifting it high up in the air like he was about to smash his Black Diamond Deering with a mighty blow on the ground, only to stop with a mischievous grin. The guy next to him strummed, picked, played his guitar like there's no tomorrow, ripping crystal-clear twangy notes from it and delivering hard-driving chords which made the people let out yells of rapture.  

When the song climaxed, stomping and raunchy, the masses didn't stop shouting and clapping for minutes, so on one end of the stage the devil fiddler, on the other end the guitar wizard, jumped into a bluesy, steamy improvisation of rhythm, while the singer, after pretending to juggle with some imaginery objects, turned around and gave a a few bumps and grinds that triggered even more hollers. 

It was "Dirty Old Town" and it was Rock'n'Roll, baby! 

It was The Dublin Legends in Vienna!!

It was the best folk gig the Metropol ever has seen.

So we brought in our best reporters, threw some single words at them and invited them to describe the feelings and memories these words evoked! 


We all know that 2012 was a hard year for the lads, for more than one reason, and getting to the end of it was a strain in many respects. 2013 marked a new beginning, with all its accompanying worries, not least health problems. And although it was impossible to detect on stage (we’re talking professionals here), some tension was undoubtedly there. I think Vienna was a kind of milestone this year, a moment when The Dublin Legends were finally able to breathe more freely. And you felt it in every thing they did – the gig, “same but different” as Éamonn says, with familiar tunes side by side with new ones and new arrangements of old favourites, the renewed ease with which they interacted on stage and off, the joy of meeting old friends and refreshing acquaintances before and after the gig… The Metropol is in itself a “relaxing” venue, intimate and friendly, and the atmosphere was one of unadulterated joy. As for myself, I couldn’t have appreciated the atmosphere more – I had seen them in Italy only ten days earlier and, as it was their first time in my own country, I had felt kind of responsible (and afterwards, proud of the big success!) But in Vienna I was able to relax completely – and how enjoyable it was! [Renata]


Breathtaking was the gig itself, from start to finish, one of the best I ever witnessed! But to go into detail, what I find increasingly breathtaking is the new approach to some of the songs, “Dirty Old Town” for one. It was always a favourite with the audience, but this year it’s rocking! The fiddle and guitar work of Gerry and Éamonn is much more in evidence, a little blues-y, Patsy takes the audience with him in an irresistible chorus, and you really can’t sit still – you have to get up and rock with the rest!

And at the risk of repeating myself, “To Barney”, played by Gerry on the banjo and Éamonn on guitar, is always breathtaking to me. It took my breath away the first time I heard it, it did in Vienna, and I think it always will. 

Breath-taking was also the medley “Cooley’s”, “The Dawn” and “The Mullingar Races”, very near the end of the second half, played fast, urging you to get up (but we were up already at that stage…) and be part of it! I wonder the lads didn’t feel a little out of breath themselves in Vienna, the audience was so near and so enthusiastic, we almost overwhelmed them! [Renata]

The Oxford dictionary defines "breathtaking" as "astonishing or awe-inspiring in quality, so as to take one's breath away". 
Well, I'd say that describes those three gigs at the Metropol to a T! 
I've experienced some great concerts over the years, but this was something else! It wasn't just the brilliant music on stage – music pure from start to finish and a wonderfully varied cross section through all genres. It wasn't just their easy-going, relaxed manner on stage, their unmistakable pleasure in performing together, their seemingly boundless energy and their manifest satisfaction in entertaining. It wasn't just the intimacy of the venue – the stage so close and open to the audience on three sides. And it wasn't just the extremely lively and appreciative audience – fans of all ages simply bursting with enthusiasm. It was all of that and it was more. A new quality, a new intensity. The atmosphere was electric. At the end of the first night I was quite overwhelmed – yes, it literally took my breath away, and I couldn't imagine that the next gig could possibly equal it, never mind top it. But I was proved wrong! And I was proved wrong again on the third and final night. I've wondered since, what if there had been a fourth gig? But I'm afraid that exceeds the limits of my imagination completely... [Enid]


“Fields of Athenry”: Vienna was the first time I’d heard it live, sung by Patsy, a sad song about deportation, touching not only because of the tune itself and the lyrics, but also because the whole audience was caught in the atmosphere and, encouraged by Patsy, was singing along with feeling… 

“Song for PJ”, Gerry’s own composition that he plays on the fiddle, is very moving. The tune is melancholy and very sweet and the story that Gerry tells before playing the tune, and which inspired it, is also touching. Coming as it did in Vienna after “The Spanish Lady”, it provided a pause after a lively tune and also gave food for thought. Thanks Gerry. 

And now a little story. Seán announced in the second half that he was going to sing “Shores of Amerikay”, one of many songs about emigration. I recorded it (a private video, I hasten to add) for an American friend of Irish descent who I know loves both the song and the singer. When she saw the video, her reaction was overwhelming – she said it had brought tears to her eyes, because it reminded her of how much her grandfather had had to give up when he first travelled to America, and of his sadness when the family had to go back to America after a visit to Ireland. She kept playing the video over and over again. So thanks to The Dublin Legends on behalf of a friend and keen fan from over the Pond. [Renata]

Some of the most emotive songs and tunes are undoubtedly those that describe a true story, those that reflect something from the author's or composer's own personal experiences or memories. 
One such touching piece is "The Town I Loved So Well", Phil Coulter's heart-rending ode to his changed and troubled home town Derry. A song that has moved me to tears more than once and which Phil Coulter himself refers to as the one he would like to be remembered for. Several times I have had the pleasure of hearing live Patsy's wonderful, emotional rendition of this ballad, and I was thrilled that he chose to sing it in Vienna too. Needless to say, I was mesmerized as always. 

Gerry's own composition, "Song For P.J.", inspired by his father-in-law's life and dedicated to his memory, is surely one of the most evocative tunes I have ever heard. Even more so knowing the touching story behind it – Gerry speaks of his late father-in-law with great respect and admiration, with fondness and with a touch of humour. Wonderful to listen to this beautiful tune, wonderful to watch Gerry perform it – his eyes closed, almost reverently, oblivious to all but his fiddle and the music. [Enid]


Since Ewan MacColl wrote his famous *love song* to Salford more than 60 years ago it has been performed and recorded innumerable times by innumerable singers and bands. And needless to say, there have been some great versions over the years, each artist lending the song his own special style. But I doubt if there has ever been such an adventurous, unconventional rendition as that of The Dublin Legends! They rocked that "Dirty Old Town" – and how! And what is more – it was decidedly contagious! Within seconds the fans were out of their seats, dancing, swinging, tapping their feet and clapping like mad. 
As to the instrumental interlude – it was nothing short of a sensation! On stage four seemingly ageless rockers and off stage hundreds of fans responding with unbridled enthusiasm! And Gerry's fiddle improvisation simply blew me away – the best I've heard since Bruce Turner's jazzy clarinet solo on an old Seeger/MacColl recording. [Enid]

As I mentioned once, the average age of this group is well over sixty. You’d suppose that they’d think of taking a rest, of doing what they already know by heart, of keeping on the well-trodden path, no changes. Well, apparently not! The “rocking” version of “Dirty Old Town”, with a daring fiddle accompaniment and the guitar work much more in evidence, is only one of many examples. The instrumental ability of both Gerry and Éamonn is now very much to the fore, and the Vienna audience, made up of aficionados, recognised and appreciated that at once. What about “The Belfast Hornpipe/Flowers of Redhill” played on the banjo, with a deceptively sober beginning that climaxes in a toe-tapping crescendo? You’d say that “Flowers of Redhill” is a modern composition, but I’ve been assured it’s a traditional Donegal tune, originally a reel… What it is, it’s definitely something delightfully traditional and daringly new! [Renata]


I always enjoy the lively instrumental pieces – tunes that instantly take control of your hands and feet and make it so hard to keep to your chair. A friend told me once that it can be quite amusing to sit behind me in a concert, because I'm always bouncing up and down! Well, no doubt that friend would have been very amused in Vienna because sitting still was simply impossible. And what immense fun it all was! 
Their opening tune "The Irish Washerwoman", one of the most well-known Irish jigs, was a perfect starter to get everyone in the mood. Later in the first set followed the more than familiar medley "Fermoy Lassies" – no idea how often I have heard this tune, but it still causes a thrill of excitement every time. And of course "To Barney", Gerry and Eamonn's brilliant duet on banjo and guitar, seen so many times already, but a joy and a pleasure again and again. 

"The Belfast Hornpipe", one of my all-time favourites, was on the programme for the second set. I love Gerry's banjo version of this. It was followed by a tune that Gerry introduced as "Flowers Of Red Hill" - which is actually a reel, at least in its original form. Although no tune is ever the same twice when Gerry plays it, his variation in Vienna reminded me very much of a track from his CD "Myriad" – it is titled there "Red Hill Burning" and he describes it this way: "I always liked the motif in the reel The Flowers of Red Hill. Here I try to develop it in various forms before we break into the tune. I hope you like the result". Needless to say, the audience in Vienna, yours truly included, didn't just like the result – they loved it! 
And last but by no means least, the familiar reels medley near the end of the gig. Remember the "Mullingar Races"? Always great fun – but this time nobody was using a chair, neither on stage nor off! Because by now everyone in the Metropol was on their feet and cheering them over the finishing line…

Great fun too was Seán's "Courtin' In The Kitchen", the jaunty tale of a highly promising invitation and its unexpected and very unfortunate outcome. It was fascinating to watch Seán performing this – the song has no less than nine verses, not to mention the chorus. Just listening left you almost breathless! [Enid]

What was NOT fun in Vienna? I’ll tell you what… not being able to be present at all three gigs! I enjoyed every second of the one I saw… The enthusiasm of the lads (it IS true that musicians never grow old!) is catching - and the enthusiasm of the audience “catches” the band… It was fun to be able to sing along at the top of my voice together with so many people who shared my joy. It was fun to hear the jokes and the banter, to see Seán dance while singing “Courtin’ In The Kitchen”, to see Patsy and Éamonn swing along like rockers over “Dirty Old Town”, to hear Gerry’s virtuoso solos on the fiddle and banjo. And it was fun to see The Legends having fun themselves. [Renata]


Friends who aren't fans of *my* kind of music (yes, such folk actually do exist!) are often somewhat puzzled when they hear that I've visited two or more concerts within a very short time. Raised eyebrows, and comments like "but isn't it all just the same?" or "but you know what's coming!" are nothing unusual. 
Well, quite apart from the fact that I could listen to this music until the cows come home anyway, I wish some of those said sceptical friends had been with me on those three glorious nights at the Metropol! True, the set lists were identical every night – almost – but no song or tune, no announcement or anecdote was exactly the same as the night before. Just one example out of many – I've seen "Billy In The Lowground/Moving Cloud", Gerry and Eamonn's marvellous tribute "To Barney", more than a dozen times in the meantime, but I can honestly say it has never been the same twice. There is always a bit of improvisation involved when Gerry takes to the stage, no matter whether with banjo or with fiddle. 

And there were other surprises in the Metropol – admittedly not all of them planned! Seán for instance, who on the first night announced "Cill Chais" – and then went on to sing "Fáinne Geal An Lae". He made the same mistake the next night, only vice-versa, then suddenly stopped after a few seconds and completely cool and unperturbed and with his typical dry humour announced that that was the wrong song. "I know two songs in Irish, you know!" The audience loved it – and in retrospect I wondered if it had all been part of the plan after all! 
But it was Eamonn who delivered the biggest surprise in Vienna! Quite unexpectedly, in the middle of their final encores of the final night, he sang "Seven Drunken Nights"! Well, I'd never heard him sing a song before, at least not on stage and as a solo part of a concert programme; I'd never been lucky enough in the past to witness one of those very rare occasions. But better late than never, as they say! Eamonn made a wonderful job of it – his voice fits that song perfectly – and hopefully we'll hear much more from him in future concerts! [Enid]


To a fan like me, all of a Dublin Legends gig is beautiful and I’d have trouble choosing from among the instrumentals and the songs to say which I like best. Of course, one can say that certain songs, those that tear at your heartstrings like “The Town I Loved So Well” or “Dublin In The Rare Auld Times” are beautiful and beautifully performed, and I personally also find extremely beautiful other lively tunes that are deceptively simple and “light”, such as “When The Boys Come Rolling Home”. 

But there’s something else that I find beautiful. It is the ability of The Legends to make each gig familiar and new at the same time, and to share the wonder with the audience. The old favourites (“Fermoy Lassies/Sporting Paddy”, “Black Velvet Band”, “Whiskey In The Jar”, “The Wild Rover”, “Molly Malone” to name a few) are always reassuringly there, but no two gigs are the same, and not just because of the new tunes. Some arrangements are different, there’s improvisation, and while the audience’s enjoying it all you can see the band enjoying it too, and sharing their enjoyment with the crowd. I particularly felt it in Vienna, because all the elements (the venue, the audience, the Legends themselves) were so well attuned. And it was so beautiful. I deeply regretted having to miss the next two gigs. One can’t have too much of a good thing... [Renata]

Although – or perhaps because – I neither speak nor understand more than a few words, I have always found the Irish language one of the most fascinating of all to listen to. Add to this Seán's lovely voice, and one of my personal highlights of every concert is complete. In Vienna he sang for us in Gaeilge a long-time favourite, the beautiful "Fáinne Geal An Lae" (The Dawning Of The Day). 

Pete St. John's "Fields Of Athenry" tells the emotive story of a family torn apart during the Great Famine – a poignant ballad depicting a tragic episode in Irish history. Sad but nonetheless beautiful lyrics and wonderfully set to music. A very popular song in the meantime, but only once or twice before had I seen Patsy performing it. He sang it in Vienna – a spellbinding, stirring rendition and beautifully accompanied by his fellow Legends. [Enid]


There’s something special about Vienna, not just because it’s a famous tourist destination but also, obviously, because it’s by now one of the favourite meeting places for Dublin Legends gigs. One of the reasons is that there’s always more than one gig and some of us actually have their annual holiday there because of the Dublin Legends; another reason is that perhaps only Dublin equals Vienna for the amount of friends that gather there to see the band and one another, but in Vienna the stage is wonderfully near and there’s more breathing space all round! 

There’s also something special about The Metropol, this old-fashioned venue that stands a little off the main road, with a courtyard at the front, creepers on the walls and a restaurant-cum-garden at the back. You stroll in, and one of the first things that catch your attention is the structure of the foyer, with elegant green doors on your right bearing signs in an old-fashioned script (“Direktion” – the door that leads to the meandering secrets of backstage - “Damen” and “Herren” – less mysterious, but necessary, the doors to the toilets.) The actual venue still shows signs of having once been a ballroom, with two ornamental pillars, a low ceiling and a bar that runs along the length of the wall opposite the stage. The garden at the back has long wooden tables, where you can sit and have something to eat or drink before the show and maybe meet some of the musicians. Altogether, a cosy venue, and one that we love. The Dublin Legends love it too, and it shows. You often find them strolling about before the gig, chatting to old friends, being introduced to fans. All in all, Vienna and The Dublin Legends “go together well”, even if they don’t rhyme. [Renata]

Once Vienna, always Vienna! Since that very first visit a couple of years ago, my September trip to Austria's capital has developed into a permanent fixture in my calendar. Apart from the fact that Vienna is such a lovely city, with always something interesting to discover that you haven't seen yet, the Metropol tops in the meantime the list of my favourite venues. Small and compact, with seats on three sides of a low stage, it's a wonderfully intimate place, and with a bar across the rear of the room, more like visiting a gig in your local pub than in a concert hall. 

But more than that – it's something like coming home now. All so familiar there, and always so many good friends to catch up with – some of them locals, others, like me, visitors from far afield. But all bound together through our mutual love of the music. Well, at the end of the final gig Milica announced that The Dublin Legends would be back again next year. And I'll be back too. After this year's incredible, unforgettable concerts, wild horses couldn't keep me away! [Enid]

Keep on rocking!

Review by Enid & Renata
Pictures Rare Auld Times Entertainment


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