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Further Adventures at TAC: Musical Moments Close to My Heart – and the Second Stage Event

February 7, 2020

Second open-door event TAC poster

Second open-door event TAC poster

An incredible bit of synchronicity or something else has come about recently between the troupe of TAC Teatro and me. We are working on our first full-blown play, and in recent weeks there has been a sudden incorporation of a couple of bits of music that I had nothing to do with but that lie at the heart of my life-long musical loves.

As it turns out, both of the pieces were introduced by the same member of the company. But the skills and talents that we have in the company mean that the music can be performed to a degree that I never imagined likely. I mean, I knew we have great musicians in the company, but here I am talking about Irish music! And the company is made mostly of Italian and French actors and musicians.

So how amazing it was when over recent rehearsal days the troupe began playing and incorporating into the play the famous Irish piece of music dating back to the 1930s – and one of the most popular pieces of the last century – called “Cooley’s Reel.”

Three of the actors and me playing Cooley’s Reel at TAC Teatro

I was familiar with the piece from so many different sources from my initial period listening to Irish music during the Celtic revival of the late 1960s and early 1970s and with bands like Planxty, The Chieftains, the Bothy Band, the Sands Family, Horslips and many more. And you go to any Irish music jam session and you are likely to hear it there too, as I’m certain I did in recent years in Irish pubs in Paris or elsewhere.

Anyway, I made a video of the musicians rehearsing the piece (and I added into the video some of the first exploratory acrobatic workout we did with the ladder that is also part of the show – check it out, above). It was only one of a handful of the first efforts to play the reel, so there are a few minor moments off the rails, but it sure sounds great to me already! Bizarrely, for me, I have found myself playing the bongo a little bit like a Bodhran, rather than me doing my usual musical instrument, the guitar. My Seagull guitar is here played by Pacôme Puech – I didn’t have the confidence to get the rhythm right on the guitar – and on flute is Marine Lefèvre, and on fiddle is Marina Meinero.

The other bit of music that I was stunned to find one of the actors – Marine – wanted to incorporate somehow in the show was “Only Our Rivers Run Free,” which I also first heard through Christy Moore’s version in Planxty. It is one of the few traditional Irish songs that I occasionally have the guts to try to do myself on stage, as to me if feels like a great Bob Dylan protest song, and I try to ignore that I’m not Irish and I can attack it like a Dylan cover.

It was written in 1965 by Mickey McConnell, who was only 18 years old at the time. He went on to have a career as a journalist at the Irish Times, before decided in his 40s to return to a career in music. Extraordinary. The poetry of the song is astounding, and even more so when you realize it was written by an 18-year-old. I love that line, “are you gone like the snows of last winter?”

So that’s the update from my adventures at TAC Teatro. In the meantime, I hope the snows of winter go fast and I’ll be able to post some great thing about the completed show in April! In the meantime, we will be inviting the public to check out our progress in our “second stage” open-door event on 29 February, as the poster at the top of this post explains….

Premature Exit at the Highlander

August 2, 2012

If you feel like you want to walk off the stage in mid set, do it MAN! If, that is, you are performing in an open mic and not doing a professional, paid gig. That’s what I did last night at the Highlander.

Of course, there is a very strong argument to be made for being 100 percent professional at all times and in all situations, whether you are professional or not. It’s like that old Hollywood guy talking once about flighty actors who think certain roles are beneath them are useless, whereas if he found a bit-part actor treating his role like the most important thing in the world, then that is a future star.

Having said that, one of the great things about doing open mics, as opposed to paid gigs, is that it really is acceptable to just decide mid-set that you only want to do one song. You do the song, get off stage and that’s it.

Last night at the Highlander, I arrived so late that I was No. 17 on the list and had a nearly 3 and a half hour wait until my moment to play. So that moment came well after 1 AM, and I had been drinking beer after beer – okay, three and a half – and talking to people all night. I had had a busy day, and the Highlander was so full it was elbow-room-only. There were a lot of interesting musicians, interesting people, and it was just a fabulous evening.

But by the time I got up to play I was really nearly overcome by fatigue and the beer, and the audience had all but disappeared. I told everyone that I had counted 14 people left in the room…to which one attractive young woman then decided to make a joke/heckle, and said, “Then let’s start the orgy!”

It was kind of funny. In fact, it completely knocked the wind out of me, as everyone started joking about her comment – including me. So how do I plunge into the seriousness of the emotion of a song after that, especially the one I planned to play, my latest concoction. Well, behaving “professionally,” I did just that.

But oh, dear, it did not feel good at all! I did not feel into the emotion, and I felt my legs shifting under the lightness of the beer and fatigue. I could not, in short, find the center within, the zone that is needed to connect with to sing. I decided to sing a completely different kind of song, “Only Our Rivers Run Free,” but as I thought of the orgy and thought of the lyrics in the song about laying down one’s life for one’s country… I could not mix the two, and the fatigue and the drink, and I simply stopped the intro chords and said, “Well, I think I will just leave it at one song tonight…..” And I left the stage.

It felt weird to wait 3 and a half hours to play my three songs, and then to do just one and walk out. But in the end, it felt right. And this being an open mic, it actually meant that there was still another musician waiting to get up, and an equally fatigued audience, so I did a few people a favor.

Still, I had enough energy and balance to go home and ride my usual 5 kilometers on the unicycle, to encounter some people in the street who wanted to try the unicycle, to let them – one had done it before – and to go to bed quite contented. There had been, after all, a lot of good music before my mini-set at the Highlander.

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