If a person didn’t come to Dingle for the music then s/he would be missing a trick and might as well have gone somewhere else entirely. Music, traditional Celtic music, is one of the great highlights of any visit to Dingle. It’s the best music town in Ireland, according to our, maybe slightly biased, flute player last night. Our visit has a strong musical flavour to it but you do have to be thoughtful about where you go to hear this music. There’s a big difference, in my opinion, between going for the experience of a crowd-clapping, yee-hawing, request-making (they call it Kerryoke as it’s in County Kerry), performance and one where you go to listen to the music. Be warned. If you go into one of the many pubs and listen to music for free, other than the price of drink, you can make your choice, so ignore everything I say, but, a paid for concert, well then what I’m saying applies.
Last night was a paid for concert, firmly in the former category, it’s audience participation but not as we know it, Jim. In other words the participation consists of calling out the names of songs for Seamus and George (not his real name but given because he looks like George Clooney) to play, not joining in with a musical instrument but there is a lot of clapping, although not from me. That’s the theory, any song you care to name, was the challenge. Not totally accurate because my request for ‘The Leaving of Limerick (or Liverpool)’ either would do, was turned down because, I quote, ‘that’s too much of a song’. Whatever that means I don’t know but they didn’t do it. But at least I did better than one audience member who must have called out ‘The Mountains of Mourne’ four of five times and was completely ignored, at least I got some kind of explanation even though it made no sense. The star was little June from Portland, I think, in front of us who had three requests ‘accepted’. Bitter? Me?
It’s no use me complaining (although I am) about the kind of musical experience we got as we’ve been to this very same location 3 times before and it’s always the same, crammed full of a large group of Americans all on the same Ken or Bill’s tour and having a jolly old time being loud and enthusiastic, well loud anyway. Mea Culpa, I knew what it would be like but it’s annoying none the less. Seamus Begley is the main guy, he cracks the jokes, including the same one he told a year ago about the priest and the haircut, interacts with the audience, i.e. whips them up into a ‘I have Irish ancestors’ kind of frenzy, you’re from Baston and so here’s a song for you – The Baston Burglar, no less. He sings beautifully and he’s good at what he does and when he’s serious I like him a lot but that’s not often, at least not often enough for my taste.
One of the rare times that he was serious was when he told us George was going to play a solo tune / instrumental on the guitar and he didn’t like to be interrupted. In other words shut the f—k up and listen. One of the audience laughed, may have just been a coincidence, as he was introducing the tune, George said, quite sharply, that wasn’t meant to be a joke. Ahh, a man after my own heart. He played it beautifully and all in the room were silent, either they got the message or the tune calmed their excited breasts. He is an excellent guitar player and I would like to have heard more of him but then I knew it wasn’t going to be that kind of concert. He had a CD of music from Dingle which he produced but, as I pointed out to him, I bought it last year and he hasn’t yet got another one. Shame.
OK, now tonight we are going to a concert in St James’ church in Dingle that I hope will be of a different character but, as I’m writing this before the concert, I will not know whether I am right. OK, now the concert is over and it’s the next morning and I’ll give you an idea of what last night’s concert was like. Different, very different and all the better for it, in my humble opinion. Sorry about the quality of the photo above, I didn’t want to turn the flash on. Four musicians – guitarist, singer, Uilleann pipes and flute and something called a mandola, at least I think that’s what he said, taking it in turns to play either solo or in pairs and mostly traditional Celtic music. They were all excellent. I had a couple of lessons from the guitar player two years ago when we were here, until I actually heard him play and then just thought this is ridiculous, the gap between us that is, and stopped. Like George last night he is a superb guitarist and has other qualities I admire, to which I will return in a moment. The female singer, Eilis Kennedy, is half of a duo called Lumiere, we bought one of their CDs last time we were here. Excellent again. All good and an audience respectful, it seemed to me, of what they’re hearing and even though some of them were the same people as at the concert the night before. They had the sense to sense that this was a different musical environment. And yes I know that music doesn’t have to be ‘hallowed’ to be great, there’s room for all sorts.
As we walk back to the Land Rover every pub we pass has live music, sounded great but we’d left the pups in the vehicle long enough so no more music, participatory or otherwise, for us. I said the guitarist had a quality, other than his playing, that I admired and you’ll think it strange then that I haven’t named him and the reason I haven’t is because of that quality. He, on the last three times we’ve heard him play, performs in the first half of this concert and then disappears to the pub down the road for another gig. If you’re already out you might as well pack as much paid work into the evening as you can. He was leaving the building as I came back from the break.
I didn’t speak to him, he didn’t remember who I was when I spoke to him last time and that was after a year so no point embarrassing myself further in front of others. One of those others seeing him walking out carrying his guitar cases, said to him, are you leaving? Disappointed rather than intrusive. Yes, he said, and I quote, I’ve had enough of your shit. I thought boy, you can tell he’s a song writer, he’s got that way with words. Now we know that Americans have a reputation of being unappreciative of irony, sarcasm, what you might call the Irish / British sense of humour. True or not this lady did not seem to appreciate the humour and I’m fairly sure it was meant as a joke. I just thought, two grumpy guitarists (three if you count me) on consecutive evenings. What fun. I went home feeling that I had got my money’s worth. So there we have it, retirement and music in Dingle in all its intriguing variety.