Celtic feast


Sirocco, Alan Stivell and Dedannan
Sydney Town Hall, October 6
Reviewed by Bernie Brian

I had the opportunity to hear Alan Stivell and Dedannan play at an Irish pub in Paddington a week before their October 6 concert. The smell of the coal fire and a Guinness in my hand were ideal accompaniments to the traditional Irish music that Dedannan play. That evening all present were particularly captivated by the enchanting voice of Dedannan's Eleanor Shanley singing "Carrickfergus".

Transport it all to Sydney Town Hall, and a lot is lost. The audience responded warmly to all the performances, but this music does not fit in well with a cold, impersonal auditorium.

Australia's own Sirocco warmed the audience with a short set of their own brand of cross-cultural world music. A distinctive feature of this band is their attempt to combine traditional music with a modern format, using a wide range of instruments, including the Uilleann pipes, tin whistle and didgeridoo, electric guitar and keyboard.

A highlight of their set was some "Mongolian heavy metal" that they had learned on a recent cultural exchange in western China. The electric guitar could have been left out of this one, however.

Alan Stivell has been called the "greatest living exponent of the Celtic harp". Born in Brittany, he came to prominence in the 1970s as an ambassador for a movement seeking Breton independence, and a pioneer in the Celtic cultural renaissance.

Brittany was settled by migrating Celts from Wales, and many of its inhabitants identify more with their Celtic heritage than with France. Stivell's dream is to see the Celtic people, divided for centuries by artificial borders, once again reunited.

Stivell is particularly known for his attempts to unite traditional Celtic music with rock music, but on this tour he sticks to playing the harp solo. An exception is when he is joined by Sirocco during his encore, resulting in the unusual appearance of the Celtic harp with the didgeridoo.

Dedannan's performance was the highlight of the concert. Formed 17 years ago in Galway, Dedannan play traditional Irish music, but incorporate influences from as wide a spectrum as Strauss to the Beatles. Their repertoire included a song about Mexican immigrants to the US and a cheeky reworking of "Hey

Jude" into an Irish reel.

This is Dedannan's first trip to Australia, so they are probably not as well known in this country as other Irish bands such as the Chieftains. Fiddle player Frankie Gavin, bouzouki player Alec Finn and the fastest bodhran player you will ever see, Colm Murphy, were featured on the Irish music documentary Bringing it All Back Home, which was recently shown on SBS TV.

I left the concert wanting to hear more of Dedannan and of the voice of Eleanor Shanley, but was not sad to see the end of the Town Hall. I went to find a pint of Guinness, a coal fire and a dance floor.

Remaining tour dates are Her Majesty's Theatre, Adelaide, Wednesday October 14; and Perth Concert Hall, Thursday, October 15.