Eric Bogle & John Munroe |
at the Tin Sandwich Music Club,
Carrig on Bannow, Ireland
(6 August 2003)
"Playing in a small marquee in Carrig on Bannow was not seen as part of my life plan." Such were the jesting words of Eric Bogle as he and John Munroe played to a wildly enthusiastic audience in a large tent in the back garden of a pub on Aug. 6, 2003.
For those who may not know it, Carrig on Bannow is a small village on the south coast of County Wexford in the sunny southeast corner of Ireland. It has a population of a few hundred, which expands greatly in summer. It has two claims to fame. It was a few miles from here, at Baginbun, that the Norman forces landed in 1169 to commence a period of 800 years of English rule in Ireland. It hosts a music festival every July to commemorate a top-class Irish harmonica player called Phil Murphy, with concerts and workshops.
Now it has another accolade. Here, on a lovely warm summer evening, I and a few hundred other people were privileged to witness a fantastic show by one of the finest songwriters of the folk canon of all time. Bogle may be best known for his "Green Fields of France" (actually composed as "No Man's Land") and "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" as recorded by other artists, but his range is much wider and it is amazing how many people hear him sing and say "Did he write that one, too?"
But it is not simply the fact that he can write great songs on almost any subject from anti-war to dead cats. He is the consummate performer. His banter and joking with the audience is as good as many comedians. He is a giant of a writer but at the interval he sits down to chat at tables with the punters. There is no fanfare, no big introduction. Bogle and Munroe stroll up to the stage, plug in and play. After the show he uses the same public toilets as the visitors -- such a novelty when less talented "superstars" provide demand lists of 40 pages with specific bottled water or white towels the order of the day.
The three-hour show was a tour de force of folk music, social comment and fun. We had the better-known songs, some new material and the greats. The playing of Munroe, who made any stringed instrument he picked up sing, enhanced Bogle's words. Munroe is no novice either, having produced a duet CD with Bogle, wrote some great songs himself and is part of the band Colcannon.
Part of the ecstasy of attending such a show is hearing the background to the compositions and the little tales surrounding them. Introducing the "Green Fields of France," Bogle recalled a story in a UK quality newspaper where Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a framed copy of the words to a young girl saying that this was his favourite poem. He went on to say that a Scot called Eric Bogle who died in the First World War wrote it. Needless to say the very much alive Scot got good mileage out of that.
After the show I met a visitor from another European country who had been fascinated by the show. She wanted to know if we all knew the performer and if Irish audiences always joined in so heartily. Of course, we told her that this was a typical Irish concert. It was that but having such an enjoyable set of performers made it all the better.
A sure sign of the quality of the show was that at no time during the three hours did I hear chatting or whispering in the audience -- that has been the bane of my concert-going in recent years.
Incidentally, the Tin Sandwich Music Club promoted the concert as it does weekly sessions featuring numerous visiting American acts, particularly bluegrass. The prime mover is John Murphy, son of Phil (I presume the tin sandwich is the harmonica) and he is to be congratulated on bringing such top class entertainment to what even some locals might call "the arse hole of nowhere" or "the back of beyond."
Bogle said that they had found it difficult to find Carrig on Bannow but a few hundred patrons were extremely glad that they had.