Wednesday 22 November 2017

Memorable night of music proves O'Carroll has lots more Friends

Singer Louis O'Carroll keeps wonderful sounds of Kerry alive, writes Muiris X FitzGerald

MELODIC VOICE: Louis O’Carroll, in the centre — and flanked by Neil Mitchell, far left, Tom Shanahan
— has attracted a cult following after the release of his CD 'River to Sea' at a benefit concert in Listowel
MELODIC VOICE: Louis O’Carroll, in the centre — and flanked by Neil Mitchell, far left, Tom Shanahan — has attracted a cult following after the release of his CD 'River to Sea' at a benefit concert in Listowel

Muiris X FitzGerald

River to Sea -- Louis O'Carroll and Friends

Concert at the John Field Room, National Concert Hall

The early indications on a recent Thursday night in Dublin were that this was going to be a special event. The John Field Room was packed within minutes of the doors opening, the best seats being quickly occupied by fleet-footed 70 and 80-year-olds, who had probably togged out for the Kerry Minors in the late Fifties.

There was no printed programme -- everyone knew the music they had come for, classic old Kerry songs sung by Louis O'Carroll (a consultant psychiatrist) with a beautiful melodic voice and a passionate commitment to ensuring that these Kerry songs live on.

Ever since the CD River to Sea was launched at a benefit concert in St John's Church in Listowel, he has attracted a cult following. Clips appear on YouTube and the CD is now played in Irish bars where our sadly increasing diaspora congregate -- in Boston, Manchester and Sydney.

The concert warm-up featured ballads, sean-nos singing and a Dylanesque selection from the veteran troubadour -- Francie Conway from Tralee.

But the audience had come to hear The Man -- Louis, proud son of Listowel -- and the extraordinary musicians backing him. After introductions by the inimitable Billy Keane -- son of John B -- a great Kerry roar went up, and in seconds we were off on the road to Abbeyfeale, as Louis launched into The Sive Song.

He then led us through a succession of traditional songs which demonstrated the range and virtuosity of his voice -- from the sonority of a movingly rendered Valley of Knockanure to the lyrical sweetness of Brian McMahon's achingly beautiful hymn to Listowel, My Silver River Feale.

This was the stuff that the Dublin-Listowel Association and the Kerryman's Association throngs had come for -- and they got more of it. The elegiac renditions of Sweet Listowel, the Hills of Kerry and Dingle Bay caused palpable emotion in the hall.

But merriment at any Kerry gathering is never far away, and Louis and Friends tore into Red Haired Mary and the classic Fiddler's Green, perfect vehicles to show their versatile ensemble music-making.

The voice was shown to greatest effect during the a capella sections of the songs, backed by a lonesome fiddle (Dermot Healy) or the funereal thud of the bodhran (Ivan Smith). The other musicians each got a solo spot to show their talents -- Francie Conway and Neil Mitchell on guitar and Tom Shanahan on pipes and low whistle (his 90-year-old father from Lixnaw was in the audience).

On an evening like this, a traditional recitation was a must and Louis touchingly delivered the poem The Tinker's Son by Sigerson Clifford.

But the night had to end sometime and what better finale than a reprise of The Sive Song -- the audience now on their feet and in full-throat.

This was followed by two rollicking renditions of the hilarious, foot-stomping Journey to Jericho, a nouveau-Kerry confection by Somers and Conway -- with the memorable chorus uttered by a boozy Kerry husband thrown out by the wife: "She told me go to Jericho/ she told me go to France/ she told me go to The Cannibal Isles and learn a Cannibal Dance ... "

A fitting rambunctious ending to a memorable night of Kerry music, hearing a unique singer with a glorious voice and a fabulous display of instrumental virtuosity by Louis's Friends.

In the end, it all gets back to Kerry and its wonderful music, which we must never lose. Funds from the Concert and the CD River to Sea go to the Listowel Hospice.

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