Mike Scott, Steven Wickham and an international mix of talented musicians planted their roots firmly in the historic Abbey Theatre. The setting is apt as a conscious homage to the master poet William Butler Yeats. A selection from at least twenty five of Yeats’ poems and plays, spanning both famous and lesser known works, were put to music. There was a danger that such an evening could, in wicked irony, create a terrible beauty but fortunately that did not happen. Scott blended a pop, rock and folk sound to create a melee of noise that did the great man’s words justice.
The entrance was surreal – an almost overly extended delay of minutes in darkness and near silence, except for the atmospheric sound of crashing waves. Scott, the main focal point of tonight (it is after all Mike Scott’s Waterboys now) was clearly nervous on this the premier of five nights for this exclusive presentation. Apart from a few spinal tap moments he and the band succeeded in combining -high art’ with music. However, when Blaise Margail on trombone and Wickham on fiddle came out with masks from the Abbey costume cupboard the crowds’ nerves were set on edge – but they carried out their ritual dance and duelling instruments with flair. The staccato interpretation of -News for the Delphic Oracle’ sounded like something out of -Peter and the Wolf’ but again worked. Whilst -The Song of the Wandered Aengus’ a poem which was inspired by a Greek folk song, it sounded more like a throwback to an 80’s pop ballad – with slightly off kilter timing to make the lyrics fit the music.
Some of the night’s songs were a mix of plays – Kathleen Ni Houlihan blended with The Blood Bond – which hammered home tonight’s main timeless theme of Yeats work. The song this produced, -Let the Earth Bare Witness’, was one of only two songs on the night supported by background video footage: footage of Iranians wearing the -Sea of Green’ in protest last year which proved more powerful than any folk singers pre song tirade. -The Lake Isle Of Innisfree’ was given the less than predictable 12 bar blues interpretation, which got a laugh of recognition and the loudest clap thus far. Though two standing ovations and encores followed, climaxed of course with -The Whole Of The Moon’, dedicated to the man of the evening.
Due to demand, dates have now been added at the end of the year to Grand Canal Theatre in November. My own anxiety would be that this intimate performance would not transmit as well on a larger scale. If the set is as well orchestrated as last night, then they will overcome any problems.
Overall a great set, a resounding success and a brave move that deserves full praise.