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Rare opportunity to see ‘Songman’

May 25, 2015

By Peter McDermott

Tommy Sands

Tommy Sands will present on Saturday night a theatricalized music event based on his 2005 memoir.

By Daniel Neely

Tommy Sands is a living legend. He’s a widely respected singer and songwriter from County Down who grew up in the music. He has performed the world over, from New York to Moscow and everywhere in between and is a man who advocates passionately for the things he believes in. Not only is his music widely admired, but he’s become known the world over for his activism and humanitarian work. Throughout his entire life, he’s made it a point to sing out and make a difference, a way of being that has not only attracted the admiration of his musical peers, but also that of folks like Seamus Heaney, Frank McCourt, and Mary McAleese, to name but a few.

Indeed, there is great power in Sands’s music. His songs are cherished and have been performed by the likes of Joan Baez, Mick Moloney, Robbie O’Connell, Dolores Keane, Sean Keane, Frank Patterson, Dick Gaughan and Kathy Matthea, all of whom have helped make his work part of the living tradition. Take, for example, a pair of songs from his 1985 album “Singing of the Times,” “There Were Roses” and “Daughters and Sons.” They’re not just a classic songs, they’re are profound political statements and deep meditations on peace and humanitarianism. The same can be said of “Music of Healing,” a song Sands wrote with the legendary Pete Seeger for his 1995 “Hearts A’Wonder” album. Not only does it address Sands’s humanitarian concerns most poignantly, it helped inspire an innovative peace education program that has global relevancy.

These songs are symbols of a life that’s been fully lived and one that continues to strive to realize its fullest potential. This idea is reflected in Sands’s 2005 memoir “The Songman – A Journey in Irish Music.” In it, he explores his life growing up in Northern Ireland not only in music, but during the civil rights movement. In ruminating on the sentiments and sensibilities those experiences engendered, he spins a richly detailed story about people and music (among the many yarns are episodes recounting the times he had with the likes of The Bothy Band and Pete Seeger, for example) but also about struggle, forgiveness, and justice. It’s a remarkable story, presented in a way that has universal appeal.

Although New York City audiences have seen Sands a couple of times in the last few years as a participant in other artists’ shows, it has been quite some time since he was featured on his own. This will change on this Saturday, May 30, when Sands appears at the Irish Arts Center’s Donaghy Theatre. There, Sands will present a theatricalized music event based on his memoir. It will feature brilliant songs, intimate storytelling, striking imagery and, of course, humor. It’s a rare opportunity to see one of the great legends in the music perform in so intimate a venue.

This will be an exciting, soul stirring show. Sands is a charismatic performer and his enduring, iconic work speaks about Irish history and identity in a unique and engaging way. I cannot recommend this show more highly. For more information on the evening, visit irishartscenter.org. For more information about Sands and his work, visit www.tommysands.com.

Daniel Neely is the Irish Echo’s traditional music columnist.

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