By Daniel Neely
A couple of weeks ago I previewed Tommy Sands’s show “The Ballad of a Songman” that took place at the Irish Arts Center on the 30th. I am happy to report that I went, and it was spectacular. In “Songman,” Sands takes vignettes about his life, his family, his music, and the Troubles, and through song and story, weaves them into a witty, masterfully conceived and expertly realized tapestry that alternates between being uproariously funny and deeply upsetting. In some ways, the show is broadly historical: Sands covers his youth and upbringing in County Down, his relationship with his parents and the Sands Family band, the death of his brother, his friendship with musicians like Pete Seeger (among many others), his meetings with influential figures like Ian Paisley, and his tireless campaigns for peace not just in Northern Ireland, but the world over. This last subject is a particularly important part of the show and he handles it with an unfailing wit that had the audience rapt throughout.
However, there’s a wisdom and a philosophy of life that is communicated in the show’s every facet that makes “Songman” less of a memoir and more of an object lesson in the philosophy of life and of living. I went in expecting that this might be the case, but was overwhelmed at how adventuresome and smartly handled the whole thing was.
The show is presented in a one-man format, but Sands augments it with a smart multi-media presentation that includes a large number of excellent and well-curated photos and videos that not only enrich his tale, but that he uses and interacts with in impressive fashion. It really extends the show’s feel.
“Songman” is simply brilliant. It is a moving and delightful work and Sands delivers on all levels. The audience left the performance absolutely buzzing. Hopefully, Sands will be able to take this show on the road because I think it would appeal to a wide range of audiences – I could see it working quite well in a university theater setting. Absolutely recommended. Learn more about Sands and his show at www.tommysands.com
A bright future
In other news, I’ve been listening to “Heart on a String,” the new album from Haley and Dylan Richardson. The Richardsons are two very young musicians with an extremely bright future and this, their debut album, documents an auspicious beginning in Irish music.
Haley is one of Irish America’s musical wunderkinds. A precocious young talent (she was only 12 when this album was made and already has an All-Ireland on fiddle to her name), her musical development has been hastened along under the watchful eye of the great Brian Conway. She is an extraordinary young musician and puts on quite a display here.
Dylan is also a strong player. Having studied with the likes of John Doyle and Eamon O’Leary, he, too, has competed favorably in Fleadh competition and here proves himself a solid backer with a reasoned approach and good taste.
The album is rife with interesting, high-level repertory (much of it common to players of the Sligo persuasion) and the Richardsons execute nicely throughout. Haley distinguishes herself in her playing, especially on “Porthole of the Kelp / …” (which has some flashy guitarwork from Dylan) “Bonnie Kate / …” (which features John Whelan) and ‘The Mathematician / …,” where her technical abilities are very much on display. Her well-realized version of“Lament for Staker Wallace” is another of the album’s highlights, as is her take on “Dear Irish Boy,” which features backing by Flynn Cohen.
Special mention is due to the track Conway himself appears on, the hornpipes “The Eclipse / ….” His plays melds so well with Haley’s, but beyond that he brings nuanced depth and a lovely bounce to already her stellar approach.
This is a sharp, strong debut from a couple of Irish music’s bright young stars. Definitely worth having a listen to! For more information and to by the album, visit www.towheads.org.
For more on Daniel Neely, the Irish Echo’s traditional music correspondent, go to www.danieltneely.com.