Issue 8 2/99

FolkWorld Live Review

The Concert for Omagh

Brussels, 30 November 1998

By Joe Hennon

With Altan, De Dannan, Frances Black, The Liam O'Flynn Band, La Lugh, Paddy Keenan, Paddy Glackin, Micheal O Domhnaill, Eleanor Shanley, Tommy Hayes

Altan; photo by The Mollis The Irish community in Belgium paid its respects to the victims of the Omagh bombing and showed its solidarity with the survivors with a stunning concert featuring some of the greatest Irish musicians of the past 30 years. The concert took place in the Ancienne Belgique and not alone was it a wonderful musical success but it also raised over 2 million francs (IR£40.000) for the Omagh victims fund.

The opening act of the four-hour show featured three ex-members of the legendary Bothy Band. Paddy Glackin and Micheal O Domhnaill play together regularly these days, but the genius of the pipes, Paddy Keenan, had been off the scene for ages before making a comeback in 1997 with the excellent 'Na Keen Affair'. Paddy was in sparkling form and his solo slow air was the first of the many high points of the night.

La Lugh were next on stage and the Dundalk-based band, who had the Irish traditional album of the year in 1996 with 'Brighid's Kiss', did themselves proud with a sterling performance. Mario N'Goma's percussion and Siobhan Kennedy's dancing gives them that extra something that differentiates them from other bands.

Liam O Flynn; photo by The Mollis Things went from the sublime to the even more sublime when ex-Planxty piper Liam O'Flynn took the stage with guitar genius Arty McGlynn in tow, along with Tommy Hayes on percussion and Rod McVey on keyboards. Two words are sufficient to describe this - sheer class. Liam and Arty have been giants on the scene for 30 years and the audience was entranced by the laid-back brilliance of their music, most of which came from the recent album 'The Piper's Call'.

Next up was Frances Black, and the contrast in styles worked extremely well. Frances is more contemporary folk than traditional, and her reworkings of some of her most popular songs such as 'The Sky Road' and 'Wall of Tears', accompanied only by her sister Mary's former right-hand man Declan Sinnott on tasteful acoustic guitar, and Eddie Lynch on keyboards, were excellent. A nicer person you could not wish to meet, and her rambling, humorous introductions endeared her to the audience.

Eleanor Shanley; photo by The Mollis Clearly there were plenty of knowledgeable people in attendance, because when it was announced that Frankie Gavin was too ill to play with De Dannan (he had a serious lung infection and was replaced by the brilliant John Carty from At The Racket) there were groans of disappointment from many quarters. Equally, there were gasps of surprise and delight when Eleanor Shanley appeared unexpectedly fom the wings. Eleanor had not sung with De Dannan for five years and only stepped in four days before the concert as Andrew Murray had to drop out. Her singing was wonderful and was matched for excellence by Colm Murphy's remarkable bodhran solo early in the set.

After more than three and a half hours of wonderful music, Altan took to the stage to finish the evening, and what a performance they gave. Beginning with an emotional solo lament in Irish from Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, the Donegal band then blasted into top gear with a brace of sets from their Blackwater album, and proceeded to deliver a towering set full of emotion, good humour and wonderful musicianship. They remained on stage for the encore, joined by La Lugh and Paddy Keenan. A fantastic finish to a fantastic concert.

Joe Hennon is member of the Belgium based Irish band Shantalla.

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