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Irish musicians wow a packed town hall

There’s something about Irish music that seems to really strike a chord in Raglan.

Back in 2008 it was the rehearsal then premiere of the Celtic-Kiwi collaboration ‘Green Fire Islands’ which packed them in – and then last Friday night it was again a full house at the Raglan Town Hall as three of Ireland’s most celebrated Celtic musicians, with the help of an Irish-born Kiwi guitarist, played a gig of their North Island tour here.

An eclectic mix of locals and some out-of-towners – 50 tickets were bought online through Eventfinda – delighted over the two and a half hour show to the alternately fragile and steely voice of Pauline Scanlon and the instrumental skills of her accompanying trio, Keeva.

Billed as a concert “from Carnegie Hall to the Raglan Town Hall”, in recognition of the West Kerry songstress’s appearance at the New York institution recognised as one of the most prestigious music venues in the world, the performance ran the gamut from traditional and contemporary Irish numbers through to English, Breton and American folk songs.

Flanking Scanlon on stage were Dubliner Alan Doherty – former front man of the Irish band Grada and the flute soloist on the ‘Lord of the Rings’ soundtrack – West Clare composer and session fiddler Tola Crusty and Irish-born Lower Hutt guitarist Gerry Paul, who has toured the world with various of his folk heroes.

The performers sipped from their tour sponsors’ beers between songs, with the irrepressible Doherty promising it would both make them play better and make people in the audience look better as the evening went along.

Whatever the cause the audience got increasingly into the spirit, delighting local promoter Tom McCormick as “the whole hall went nuts with everyone dancing” towards midnight. He reckoned the Irish musicians were “blown away by their reception here”.

There was also a poignant moment when the band lured up on stage for their final song the grandson of ‘Green Fire Islands’ creative director and producer Bronwen Christianos. Earlier in the show a surprised Bronwen had been presented a bouquet of flowers to mark her 70th birthday that day.

‘Green Fire Islands’, after its premiere in Raglan, was performed in Wellington, New Plymouth (Womad) and Auckland and then in 2012 was taken abroad for performances in Ireland and London.

While the main purpose of the current Irish musicians visit was to collaborate with Trinity Roots on a project to “combine the traditional music of Ireland and New Zealand within a modern musical context”, their Raglan gig on Friday night was billed as one of four intimate shows on their own in the North Island.

However Scanlon did refer to the collaboration with Trinity Roots as having been “very special”, and local kaumatua Sean Ellison pointed out to concertgoers that an Irish-Kiwi musical link was not a new thing for Raglan and that “it started here at Poihakena marae when the Irish arrived over for ‘Green Fire Islands’”.

Friday’s show — presented by craft brewer Tuatara — also served as a fundraiser for the Raglan Volunteer Fire Brigade which with the help of television celebrity chef Jimmy Boswell, a recent arrival in town, served up what else but Irish stew in the supper room at $5 a plate.

Edith Symes

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