May 2011

Leaping leprechauns

Michael Flatley has a lot to answer for. Ever since he turned Irish dancing into mass entertainment we have been deluged by clones, imitations and sub-standard spin-offs. And the floodgates are still open. Last night we had The Essence of Ireland; in a couple of weeks Spirit of the Dance treads the same boards with more toe-tapping, knee-twitching, leg kicking dancers and an accompaniments of ballads, folk songs and traditional airs.
Unfortunately, there is only so much one can do to fill a two-hour program of a fairly restricted form of dance.
Thus we have stories woven to justify the dancing – and the plots are being stretched thinner and further from the basic Irish folklore. Last night’s saga of a self-centred Irish emigrant introduced Spanish, Mexican and country and western sub-plots plus an awfully rendered theme from Titanic (well, the hero was crossing the Atlantic) and even an American hoe-down straight out of Oklahoma.
It was all very energetic and the spasms of genuine Irish dancing were as bedazzling as ever. The pace was mostly fast and furious, helped along by frequent demands on the audience to clap along. The backing band were joyously boisterous and in fine folksy voice and the obligatory Lord of the Dance made the usual fitting finale.
But the material is becoming thin and we are seeing nothing that’s new or better. And say a prayer for poor Danny Boy who had the life strangled out of him by a singer who deserves to remain nameless.

Mambo magic

As we waited for the curtain to go up we scanned the program (big type, lots of pictures, filling space) and wonder how Ladysmith Black Mambazo keep going. They arrived in Truro this afternoon from Bristol, will be back on their coach right after the show, play in Fareham tomorrow and then head off to appear in Cheltenham on Sunday, Hay-on-Wye on Monday and Reading on Tuesday. And that’s merely a sampling of a two month tour of one-night stands.
Yet what we get is a rollicking, lively, energy-filled show full of joie-de-vivre, happiness and laughter.
Little wonder that this group is a legend in their own, substantial, lifetime. It’s full of zest happiness and vitality. No nonsense, no gimmicks – simply good, straightforward a-capella singing from people to whom music is the mainstay of their life. And they enhance their songs with plenty of high-energy choreography that many a ballet troupe would be hard put to match.
Setting the night off to a great start was one-man band Munto Valdo, the biggest new name on the world music scene. His mouth worked the harmonica, his hands the acoustic guitar and his feet the synthesiser. And between breaths his voice soared in beautiful harmonies.
A joyous night with music and performers a million miles from X-Factor clones and all the better for it.

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