Tuesday, 23 February 2016

ANNIE comes to Derry

ANNIE, the world's favourite family musical opened last night at Derry's Millennium Forum. The show runs here until Saturday 27th February. Starring Birds of a Feather star Lesley Joseph as the tyrannical Miss Hannigan, this much loved show returned to Derry with a standing ovation last night. One that was very well deserved and delighted the local fans.
As I arrived at the Millennium Forum last night with my little cousin in tow, I was amazed at how many children were in the vicinity. Everyone was there for one reason only - to see the long anticipated new production of Annie.
From the onset the show was alive with music and song. Set in 1930's New York during the Great Depression, brave young Annie is forced to live a life of misery and torment at Miss Hannigan's orphanage. Determined to find her real parents, her luck changes when she is chosen to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks. Spiteful Miss Hannigan has other ideas and hatches a plan to spoil Annie's search....
Lesley Joseph was joined on the Derry stage by Alex Bourne (Oliver Warbucks), Holly Dale Spenser (Grace Farrell), Jonny Fines (Rooster) and Djalenga Scott (Lily), alongside the other cast members. This cast and production brought a whole new light on the tale of Annie. This is Annie like you've never seen it before. This is the Annie of 2016. And it works.
This stunning new production includes the unforgettable songs, Hard Knock Life, Easy Street, I Don't Need Anything But You and Tomorrow. It had the audience singing amongst themselves and it had us mesmorised throughout. 
Annie was played last night by Madeleine Haynes. A delightful young girl who really looked at home on the stage. Her singing voice was beautiful and her charm delightful.
One cannot overlook the role of Sandy (Amber) the dog. This little guy was right at home and never put a paw wrong.
Whilst watching Annie last night I began to realise that I'd never really contemplated what the story was really about before. I just took it as a surface tale about the orphan Annie. Having seen this musical a number of times, it wasn't until last night that I really thought hard about it. This is surely down to the cast and the performance they gave.

The song Tomorrow was just another catchy tune to me. Last night changed that perception. It really awakened in me the true meaning. Tomorrow really is a new day. Things can always get better. No matter how far down we have been pushed or thrown, we need to remain optimistic and look forward to the new day. 
In finding Mr Warbucks and helping him appreciate the true meaning in life, Annie teaches us that it's not always blood that makes us family - it's being with people who love us and care for us. In last night's production we saw how the optimism of a child can change the world of those who listen to that innocence. Maybe theatre really is escapism, but there's a lesson in every story. I found a few in this last night.
The stage setting for Annie was an appealing jigsaw-puzzle design by Colin Richmond, that all slotted together perfectly. Set changes were quick and professional. Costumes were delightful. The music transported us to another world. Annie brought me on a journey of self-discovery in ways I hadn't anticipated. 
I had been dubious about this new production. I needn't have worried. The standing ovation at the end of the night confirmed my take on the show. Thumbs up from this end.

Annie The Musical runs at The Millennium Forum unitl Saturday 27th February and tickets are now available from the Box Office and priced from £19.50. Telephone 071264455 or visit  www.millenniumforum.co.uk for bookings.


Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Damien O'Kane: Best Album Nomination BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2016

I was very fortunate to catch up with Coleraine born musician Damien O'Kane in October last year to chat about his new album, 'Areas of High Traffic'. On listening to the said album, I was delighted to then interview him regarding the compilation. And then to be in London for the London launch of the album, was quite special.
When I heard yesterday that that same album is now nominated for one of the UK'S most prestigious Music Awards, I was delighted. Damien's album 'Areas of High Traffic' is in the category 'Best Album' at the BBC Radio " Folk Awards 2016. Voting is now open and closes later this week on February 19th. Please go into the link below and vote for 'Areas of High Traffic'. This is one album that is very deserved of winning.

An immense banjo player, an superbly versatile guitarist, a resonant, hypnotic singer, a naturally inventive arranger, an innovative musical explorer, a producer, a bandleader, a provocatively original interpreter of folk song... and when all the pieces are fitted together with unconditional love, care and attention to detail, the results are spectacular. Evident no more so than on his new album Areas Of High Traffic. It was described by The Telegraph as ‘Folk-Pop that is Irish music for the 21st Century’ and was added the their list of ‘Best Folk Albums of 2015.’
Five years on from his first solo album Summer Hill, which itself, proved beyond doubt that he’s more than a skillful banjo player and a ‘powerful Irish voice’, and four years since his award winning banjo and guitar instrumental album The Mystery Inch with guitar maestro David Kosky, his 2015 outing Areas Of High Traffic has significantly eclipsed these with
a generous, rich sonic palette. It is an innovative and a thrilling take on Irish traditional song and music.
As with 2010’s Summer Hill, the songs are largely rooted in his homeland in the north of Ireland but the arrangements are different to anything that has gone before.
They are a melting pot of contemporary influences – folk, jazz, rock and electronica combined with not a trace of gimmickry. Along with his band of superbly talented musicians Cormac Byrne (kit and percussion), Anthony Davis (keys/pads/synths and organs), Steven Iveson (electric guitar) and Steven Byrnes (guitars and percussion), he has created a stunning soundscape which bravely puts a modern coat on the old songs.
Areas Of High Traffic sees O’Kane combine the beloved old with the bracingly new - a fearlessness to augment convention and in doing so, turn out something fresh and new. A confident and bold second solo album, Areas Of High Traffic showcases his originality and abilities as a singer, musician and a producer beautifully. Live, the music is utterly scintillating. R2 magazine said of the band live; ‘...brimming with innovation, energy and skilled musicianship.’
Exciting times lie ahead for O’Kane and his band of merry men. His continued work with the wonderful Barnsley songstress, Kate Rusby along with his own new, thoroughly exciting musical direction, the future promises to see O’Kane’s music and career kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.
Having heard O'Kane and his band play in Camden, London early November I have NO hesitation in recommending each and everyone of you to please vote for this wonderful album. You really won't regret it. 
Web links:

Saturday, 13 February 2016

The Inaugural Derry International Irish Music Festival

Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin presented the inaugural Derry International Irish Music Festival just last week. Following the success of the Fleadh Cheoil in 2013 the seed was firmly planted and it reached fruition during the first week of February. The hard work paid off and the festival showcased contemporary Irish music at its best.

Throughout the week there were workshops, a trad trial, Residencies, courses, endless sessions and some very main events. There really was something for everyone. I was very fortunate to pay quite a few of these a visit. They each left a lasting impression and I'm already looking forward to next year's festival.
The highlight for me just has to be The Transatlantic Sessions. This performance was the final night of the sessions UK tour and it was very poignant that it finished in Derry. Transatlantic Sessions is of course the brainchild of Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas. I had initially heard the sessions during 2013 and that night awakened my traditional musical spirit which had been dormant for too long. Since then I've listened to quite a lot of the sessions. I've had the great fortunte to interview a number of the musicians involved (including Aly Bain and Danny Thompson).
Joining the Sessions is Derry were Rhiannon Giddden, Karen Matheson, Cara Dillon and The Milk Carton Kids. Musicians included Phil Cunningham, John Doyle, Danny Thompson, Michael McGoldrick, Russ Barenberg, John McCusker, Donald Shaw and James Mackintosh. On Thursday night last week it really felt as if we, the audience, were invited into the parlour of a home and the session just flowed. Everyone was one on the night and the stage was just an extension of the said parlour. This was my first introduction to The Milk Carton Kids and they really added their authentic, exquisite twists to this session. Rhiannon Gidden was also a first for myself and she really stole the show. Her audacious reworking of 'Black is the Colour' had everone in awe. As always Matheson and Dillon were warmly welcomed and delighted the audience to the core. Jerry Douglas didn't leave the stage throughout. He really stood tall amongst his crew.
This combination of musicians excel when on that stage. It was a night of shared roots forging new common ground between today's finest Celtic and American musicians. It was a night not only of music and song, but one of storytelling, history and sheer enjoyment.
The first  Derry International Irish Music Festival also showcased an exploration of the writings and ideals of the leaders of the Easter Rising 1916, in a concert programme inspired by their lives, their work, and their words.
The night saw Lorcán McMathúna and his band explore these writings and ideals of the Easter Rising leaders in a spectacular fashion. Musically and dramatically, through song and spoken word, this really was a little piece of history on The Glassworks stage in Derry.
There were numerous sessions throughout the week. Workshops were visited and explored by young and old alike. 
The Instrument Fair gave people the opportunity to try an instrument and play their first notes. Professional instructors were present to demonstrate and assist. The Trad Trail encouraged folk to take their instrument across the city and play at various sessions. Bars and restaurants alike were alive with the sound of Irish music. Derry really was at the fore of traditional music and song for the week. 
Last week not only saw the first International Irish Music Festival in Derry but it also saw the official opening of a very special music academy in the city. A legacy from 2013 had finally materialised. Acadamh Ceoil Chaoimhín Uí Dhorhartaigh opened it's doors last autumn, with it's officail opening during last weeks Festival. 
I was very fortunate to meet up with Liz Doherty and Eiblín Ní Dhorhartaigh at Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin, Doire, late last year, to talk about this new academy and what it means for Derry. Eibhlín, the brainchild behind the academy, told me that as a legacy to the Fleady 2013, they decided to set up a Music Academy in the city. Liz told me that it would be 'a centre of excellence for music. We intend to provide a host of musical programmes.'
Eibhlín said, 'On a more personal level I have great pride in the opening of the academy because it is named after my husband who passed away 5 years ago. Chaoimhín would be very interested in passing on the tradition of music to young people.' Chaoimhín helped form the first branch of Comhaltas Ceoltúóiri Éireann in Derry in 1972. He was instrumental with Eibhlín in the development of Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin which opened just weeks before his death.' His fiddle was played for the first time since he died during the fiddle orchestra performance last week.
The fiddle orchestra performance was the closing concert of last weeks festival on the Sunday afternoon. 
100 Fiddles at 55° North was a 20 minute musical piece written by Belfast composer Neil Martin. An orchestra featuring 100 fiddles from across Ireland and Scotland. This really was a musical spectacle to surpass all others. A very fitting end to an exceptionally fitting week.
Last week showed that Derry is very much at the cultural fore with Irish music. Irish music at its very best. Derry International Irish Music Festival patron Cara Dillon said that: 'A festival of this kind has been long overdue in our corner of the world and I look forward to promoting it far and wide for years to come.' I don't doubt that her promotion will not be in vain. This is one annual event I will certainly be placing firmly in my diary for 2017 and for many years to come.