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The National Concert Hall, Dublin Friday 19 August 2005
If this concert doesn't find it's way to a CD album then a severe oversight has taken place.
Many months of painstaking preparation of the musical arrangements, by Eleanor and friends, for the 50 piece RTE Concert Orchestra all fell so perfectly into place on this, Eleanor McEvoy's big night out.
I feel humbled at having the opportunity of trying to put this into words. However, the best that I can do is to highlight one or two key moments and then leave you to envisage the rest because quite frankly there was just so much to take in. I just hope that there is a CD to back up what I'll try to say.
I suppose the stage layout for the RTE Concert Orchestra is taken from the standards manual, namely, strings section on the audience's left, circling through the reed instruments to the brass section on the right. Percussion at the back and conductor centre front. Just at the right of the conductor was Eleanor's spot.
There were electric lead and bass guitarists just behind Eleanor and 'Animal' was on the drumkit behind them. Far right at the front was a well-loved backing singer called Liam Bradley. The two guitarists were related, father and son Des and Paul Moore.
Just before the start of the show, a guy came on to the stage, and did a line check of Eleanor's guitar and walked off with it. Then, from the right of the stage came a young lady who, in both Gaelic, then English, welcomed us to the evening's performance at the NCH.
As the orchestra got themselves tuned up, conductor David Brophy made his stage entrance to generous applause. We then had poached 'Heart' for starters. Yes, Only A Woman's Heart, in the form of an overture, tastefully arranged by Brian Byrne. It was cinemascope, widescreen, technicolour big show stuff and I along with Eleanor's regulars were just blown away. Wherever we were blown to, we were there to stay for the evening.
As this opener was nearing it's close I just happened to glance down at my programme, expecting a little break for audience applause when I heard Eleanor's voice sing the second line of You'll Hear Better Songs (Than This) (arr. Eleanor McEvoy) but as I glanced up, there was no Eleanor. She then entered the stage (audience's right), donning her guitar and radio mike. The first couple of lines were unaccompanied, then one of the reed instuments (clarinet I think) and Eleanor's accoustic guitar were used throughout.
This seemingly continuous link from one song to the next appeared to be the theme for the evening. The audience did occasionly get the chance to warmly applaud, although you could tell that they were loving it by the obedient and attentive silence that was kept as each song was delivered.
There seemed to be no time to applaud when in crashed I'll Be Willing (arr. Fergus O' Carroll) which made it's entrance with the full brass section and hefty drumkit taking over from the solo trumpet on the album version. This song just rocked !
I was really impressed with the string section on Not Quite Love (arr. David Brophy) but I felt that Eleanor was singing against rather than with the brass section towards the end of this one.
Whisper A Prayer To The Moon (arr. Eleanor McEvoy) maintained it's dreamy feel with the assistance of a flute and harp along with some lovely crisp electric guitar punctuations. This was enhanced further by the starry night light effect around the back of the stage.
Eleanor's solo live gig rhythmic guitar was retained for the intro for Did You Tell Him (arr. Eleanor McEvoy) and really loved the string section joining in with the punctuations in the middle of the song and the way that brilliant screaming violin went off on one at the end.
The audience were introduced to Liam Bradley who shared the vocals on Something So Wonderful (arr Brian Byrne). The delivery was so soulful, the hairs on my arms were standing up ! I presume that Liam was enjoying the show, but I'd have loved him to have had a go on at least one song on the drumkit.
Memphis Tennessee (arr. Johnny Tate) retained it's recently acquired slowed down tempo, and I'll leave it to your imagination as to how it sounded with the orchestral arrangement. I'm sure that Chuck Berry would have been truly overwhelmed if he'd been present.
Territory Of Poets (arr. Brian Byrne) sounded fantastic - the intro came straight off a spaghetti western ! As the song drew to a close, the musicians made their exit one by one, leaving the remainder to continue. I saw The Corrs and the backing band pull the same stunt recently - quite amusing.
If you would like to turn to page 6 of your programme, your attention will be drawn to a 15 minute interval which will now be observed.
First song of part 2 was a first for me too. My version of What's Following Me is void of Famine (arr. Eleanor McEvoy). And is this one helluva a song to have missing from a collection. The string section added the perfect emotive feel to the tragedy of the Irish famine of 1848. This was further enhanced by Eleanor's singing.
Seemlessly we were into the opening notes of one of my faves from Yola, The Rain Falls (arr. David Brophy) one of the percussion guys, back right seemed to be playing a different 'toy' every time I glanced that way. For this song it appeared that he was playing what looked like an oversized smarties tube. With all the orchestral diversions I still managed to follow Eleanor's acoustic guitarwork on this one - still love it to bits !
The Tubular Bells marked the closure of this song and the opener of Anach Cuin (arr David Brophy). I've mentioned in previous reviews that all good shows should put aside a moment for reflection - and this was the time. The bells tolled in memory of the victims of an Irish fishing boat tragedy. The brilliant clarinet focussed the mind. Although Eleanor sang in Gaelic it didn't matter if it wasn't understood lyrically.
We were brought back to life with Please Heart You're Killing Me (arr. Fergus O'Carroll) with a good rocking full orchestral backing.
This was followed by Eleanor's violin solo, Driving Home From Butler's (arr. Eleanor McEvoy)- She's so thrilled about this title. It's common knowledge that Eleanor used to play in an orchestra and the violin players' union applauded as one upon completion of this melody.
Two more songs from Yola : - Easy In Love (arr. Johnny Tate) followed up by the percussion only backed Isn't It A Little Late (arr. Noel Eccles). The latter used the full array of percussion instruments.
The end came far too quickly, yet amazingly we'd witnessed 17 songs, the final one being the tribute to the assassinated journalist, Veronica Guerin, Easy To Lose Hope (arr. Fergus O'Carroll).
There were two encores, the first one brought us Only A Woman's Heart - this time Eleanor sang and I think there might have been another song for the 2nd encore, but we got a team bow instead.
My previous Eleanor concert in Chester was noted down as the best one ever - well, as for this one, I died and went to Heaven !
One small matter to bear in mind is that this performance with RTE Concert Orchestra is a one-off and that Eleanor's next tour will more than likely be with acoustic guitar & violin.
You'll probably be forgiven for thinking that re-visiting these songs might be a comedown after a night like this.
Far from it ! Because (a) Happy memories of this night will be evoked and ( b) it will add further weight to my belief that Eleanor's songs can sit on a variety of backing styles and still sound great.
Review: Graham Ashmore
Graham's Shed Extension