Issue 3 2/98

FolkWorld Live Review

Irish Folk Festival Tour 1997 through Germany

Saalbau Essen 20th October 1997

Spirit of Ireland

By Michael Moll

The Murphy's sponsored Irish Folk Festival, oldest and most prestigious Irish Music tour in Germany, had this autumn the subtitle "Spirit of Ireland", and could be seen in sixteen German and three Swiss towns. I took the chance to see it in Essen, biggest city of the industrial Ruhr region, which is not as bad as its reputation - "a nice town with good audience", as Cherish the Ladies' Donna Long says.

Sean Keane; photo by The MollisWith the first three songs of this evening, one of the spirits of Ireland presented on this tour was portrayed: Emigration. Sean Keane from Co. Galway along with his 'friends' Frank Kilkelly (guitar) and Brian McGrath (keyboards, banjo) started off the evening with the emigration songs "The Green Among The Gold", "Man from Connemara" and "Home" - and as this was the only act flown in from Ireland, you see that emigration was an important theme of the tour. As we are used to, Sean made all the songs his very own ones; he also did a tune on the tin whistle; and the audience honoured his set with friendly applause.
Then we had the chance to see the brothers Christy & Tim O'Leary together on stage, joined by Sean Keane's 'friend' Frank Kilkelly on guitar. Christy and Tim hail from Kenmare, Co. Kerry, and both are now living in Edinburgh. Christy is well known as a piper and former member of the Boys of the Lough (he was dismissed of the band by Dave Richardson because he went on this tour...), his older brother Tim is a great fiddle player who has since shortly his own band A Rún. Besides some great tunes - slights, polkas, slip jigs, reels and a Norwegian Wedding March - we were also treated by Christy to two beautiful songs.
For the last two sets of the first half of the evening they welcomed back on stage Sean Keane & Friends. These two sets were for me the highlight of the evening - two of the best Irish traditional singers singing together "The Rambling Irishman"; and the voices of Sean and Christy blend perfectly. The following set of tunes - a barndance, "Peacock Feather" and a "Reel in G" - proved again the instrumental qualities of the five musicians on stage; their playing together on uilleann pipes, fiddle, concert flute, banjo, guitar was excellent. Hopefully after this tour these two top acts Sean Keane & Friends and Christy & Tim O'Leary get the idea of forming a band like this - then we would have to welcome a new Irish super band on the scene!

After a twenty minute break Dick Gaughan had his set. You may now wonder why one of the best known Scotsmen tours with the German Irish tour. Explains Dick, "you may have noticed my strong Irish accent. Well I have to confess of being Scottish, but I have Irish grandparents and I have an Irish name. That's enough for that I am qualified of being here. I would be qualified playing for Ireland football - if I would play football..." OK, Dick, we agree. And a great singer is always welcome no matter where he is from. Dick sang that night some strong songs like "Geronimo's Cadillac" or "Both Sides The Tweed", but I especially enjoyed his wonderful version of Ron Kavana's song "Reconciliation".
Sean Keane mit 2 Cherish the Ladies auf dem Irish Folk Festival; photo by The MollisThe finale act of the night were the Irish American Cherish the Ladies, who were now their second time on the Irish Folk Festival tour. Tonight the audience was again caught by their performance - especially by the two step dancers (this time two ladies: Eileen Golden and Sinead Lawler). The Ladies played the "Essen Polkas" (as they did not remember their real names); and the highlight of their set was for me Aiofe Clancy's a capella version of Fear a Bhata - her singing gets better every time I see them!

Traditionally the end of the Irish tour is the big Irish Folk Session as encore, with all musicians of the tour appearing again for a few sets. This time the (nearly) finale song was the poppy "The Games People play". With the following set of tunes, the step dancers were joined by Dick Gaughan, Joanie Madden and several other musicians. Another encore followed (a "Happy Birthday" to the sound man Frank and another set of tunes), and then a good evening of Irish music was finished.

Photo above, left: Sean Kean
Photo right: The Irish Folk Festival session with Sean Keane and 2 Cherish the Ladies

You can find an
interview with Sean Keane in German language in this issue!

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