Last night was spent in Vicar Street in the company of Christy Moore and his audience.
And I don’t want to exaggerate but it in my restrained and unbiased opinion, it was one of the most electrifying nights in the history of showbusiness.
When people ask what are the best gigs I have ever attended the answer is simple – Bruce Springsteen in Limerick, and Dolly Parton in Cork. Bruce Springsteen was surprising – I know many of this songs but I have never been a megafan – he’s the type of artist that I tended to forget about. However three years ago he played a concert in Thomond Park Rugby stadium in July. The sun was shining, it was a beautiful evening and Bruce played a four hour set. All the stars aligned for him that night – the weather, location, backing band, audience. I exited the show as a true believer.
Dolly Parton in the Marquee in Cork was a better known prospect for me – having been a lifelong Dolly devotee I expected greatness. And she didn’t disappoint – she played about seven different instruments; glistened like an interior decorator’s worst nightmare – she was a shimmering, rhinestone, glitterball. Her downhome tales of simple living in the Tennessee Mountains were clearly part of the patter but they sounded completely fresh and as if she were telling them to me personally. And the songs – stone cold classics to the last.
I knew that Christy was going to be good – people tend to speak about him in awed reverence. He’s known for taking his concerts seriously – the bar is closed throughout the show and people are only allowed enter and exit during breaks between songs. And he doesn’t appreciate an audience that is too vocal in its appreciation – last night he singled out a group of rowdies and asked them straight out if they thought they were at a show where they were allowed chat among themselves. Not a peep was heard from them for the rest of the gig.
I don’t know why I previously regarded Christy as somewhat of a novelty act – probably to do with the fact that I became aware of him when I was about twelve when he had a hit with ‘Don’t forget your shovel if you want to go to work.’ That sounded like a jolly, jokey caper to my innocent ears. It was only years later that I realised it was a song about Irish emigrant brickies in London.
There seemed to be an atmosphere of pining for home in a lot of his songs – many of which tell the tales of the emigrant in their new homes in a foreign land, dreaming of the old days in the old country. And it was incredibly sad.
I don’t know why I found it to be so sad, seeing as I’m sort of the reverse side of these emigrant songs. I used to dream about being in Ireland when I lived away, until one day I decided to stop daydreaming, so I packed my bags and returned, late last year.
I suppose the reality of the return was the wake-up call that I was not expecting. The rose-tinted, romantic image of the homeland was a fantasy. Real life is not bad by any means, but while I was away I was dreaming of a place that probably never existed in reality. Because if I am honest, I ran out of the country as fast as my stubby little legs could carry me. I wasn’t fleeing famine or unemployment or starvation or oppression. I was champing at the bit to leave. Tobe anywhere but here. Anywhere was better than Ireland I thought – more liberal; more free; and a lot more gay.
While I was away the homeland became romanticised, when I began to understand that Amsterdam was no more a paradise than Dublin was. Now that I’m back, I understand that the place I missed only existed in my head. And to further complicate matters I also now miss the country I returned from.
But the way Christy captured those conflicting desires and wishes was quite gutwrenching. I even welled up once or twice – no one could see me so it was safe to do so. It was an absolutely stunning concert.
There’s no place like home, and especially when you don’t know where home is any more.
So it’s probably good to simply keep getting on with it.