Only the Irish could celebrate like this 
Author: Samela Harris 
Date: 1993-3-30  
Source: The Advertiser 

Only the Irish could usurp the cavernous formality of the Festival Theatre and make it seem. Like great big community hall.

One after another, the performers of the Guinness Celabration of Irish Music sent out cheerios, the odd thanks, some sponsors' plugs, sang a song to the boss's mum and even draw a raffle.

They weren't exactly dressed for the grand proscenium performance, either. It was, casual gear for all except the two females. For some it was T-shirt and stout - as opposed to beer - bellies.

But if informalising our poshest venue was a grand achievement, the music, spirit and general joie de vivre of the night was more so.

It was not so much a celebration of music as a celebration of musicianship. Every muso was a virtuoso. In groups they made tor soaring artistry - string ensemble work which transported the soul.

The sheer jubilation of the reels and jigs had feet tapping, hands clapping and faces smiling all round. But the Irish are about melancholy and politics, too. So there were moments for reflection and indignation - all punctuated by portly comic Brandan Grace whose gags were as old as his timing was good.

The three-man group Barleycorn, featuring ukulele as good as you're likely to hear, lamented most effectively on the Irish immigration phenomenon - "our best asset is our best export too". They also ventured green issues from the Emerald Isle.

It was the meek-looking Frances Black who, with the shyest of introductions, launched into the most potent and beautiful unaccompanied political song. It pointed out the ironies of the law - molotov cocktails are illegal but nuclear bombs are legal, poisoning your husband is illegal but poisoning the planet isn't.

Contrastingly, Black's accompaniest, Kieran Goss, sang a ditty about simply feeling good. And everyone did.

The accomplished five-man group, Stockton's Wing, provided compelling music old and new. Its Clam Diggers instrumental was as lyricism itself, while its pop-style songs and its swirling The Master's Daughter, the song which "nearly" made the group famous, were as lusty and likeable as the performers.

Dave Spillane was another sort of treat - a master of the mysterious uilleann pipes. Accompanied by Planxty founder Donal Lunny and fiddler Nollaig Casey, he produced almost new-age old world sounds, evocative of beauty and tranquility, of lush meadows, clifftops and wildflowers.

Star of the celebration, Christy Moore, was as physically unprepossessing as he was musically sublime. He conveyed the audience from mood to magical mood and brought down the house with his passionate drumming.

A full ensemble finale, a cacophany of assorted strings and Moore's percussion, was so rousing that it even attracted the show's promoter, Jon Nicholls, on to stage doing a jig. Not an ordinary sight. But it wasn't an ordinary night.