- 11 Jun 21
We've been waiting for all of 15 months for the return of live music. It happened last night at the Iveagh Gardens in Dublin, with James Vincent McMorrow headlining. And did it, as James Brown might have said, feeeeeel good!
“Forget about the real world
Where we going out tonight?
Take me to the party, girl
Everything will be alright...”
Mask on. Through the barriers, show your ID, and your ticket, empty your bag, throw out the bottle of water, zig zag keeping your distance, scan your ticket and enter. It really doesn’t feel too different so far.
Applause greets Sorcha Richardson and her band as they walk on stage. Tens of thousands of people flooded and crashed the National Concert Hall’s website at 10am on June 3rd to try get tickets to tonight’s show. With all tickets sold within a minute, ultimately there were five-hundred lucky winners. Five-hundred people sitting and standing in pods, separated from each other by a few metres. Hand sanitiser everywhere. Not one of them knows how to act. It’s all just a bit weird.
Should you sit, should you stand, should you dance, should you sing? We’ve all forgotten how the game is played. It’s still great. Sorcha and Joe and Theo and Cian – they’re all really fucking great – but it’s just weird to begin. Having been locked in a cage for what feels a lifetime, when the door finally opens, you don’t sprint out the door, you tip toe cautiously.
Sorcha encourages us to sing Happy Birthday, first to Cian and then to Theo. It’s the icebreaker the night needed. It feels good to laugh at ourselves. It feels normal and real. A collective smile. James arrives along with his trusty Fender Jazzmaster in hand to shred on ’Starlight Lounge’, a track he co-produced with Sorcha during lockdown. Shred he does. Two songs later, Sorcha’s set ends with a bang:
“Ay, okay, we don't have to talk about it
It's only love...”
With the interval in progress, people gradually move to the side of the stage where two security men bellow “toilets to the right, confectionaries to the left.” There’s no alcohol on sale, which has probably given rise to the most sober crowd you’ll ever seen on Irish shores. The options available are 99s or crepes. Water or Coke.
With so few in attendance, there are no queues, no agro, no problems. There’s a beautiful serenity to the occasion, and to the scenery, helped along by the distance we’re forced to keep. Friends talk amongst friends, passing the time as James’ crew prepare the stage. You catch flickers of conversations. This is real life: bursting, bubbling with humanity.
You’d love to scream, “I love you all”, to acknowledge and embrace every majestic character within the walls of the Iveagh Gardens, every fucking soul, battered and bruised by the year we’ve all had. Tell them that you’re so glad they’re alive and they made it through and that, their living and breathing of this shared moment is the fuel that feeds your own joy and your own thirst for life. Best leave it to the professionals. Enter James Vincent McMorrow. The brass plays. Big, filthy, sexy brass.
“I come home every night, it's just me and my friends
Me and my friends, me and my friends
It's just me and my friends
Me and my friends, me and my friends
Is it the time, is it the time to be okay? Feels like it
'Cause I'm thinking that it should be the time
Is it the time to be okay? Yeah
It's just me and my friends...”
James implores the crowd to “make five-hundred, six-hundred people sound like ten-thousand” as he tells them he’s spent the last two weeks “in a room with these people, getting to play music again, reminding ourselves of why we did this with our lives, and why we obsess over it every second of every day and why it’s been so hard to have it taken away, but why it’s so good to have it back. It just means the world.”
(Shift to Falsetto) "Bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love...”
To see 500 humans joined in a collective experience, eyes to the stage, in a field in the heart of a city, thousands of eyes throughout the country and beyond watching the events unfold on a screen: it’d stir something deep within. Drums pierce through the cacophony that ends ‘Waiting’. A fast beating heart.
“Now I find this city's like a stranger to me
I once was fooled by Cadillacs and honey
And no one feels like you
Not like you
In the forest I made my home
Lay down on hard and ancient stone
And if my heart should somehow stop
I'll hang on to the hope that you're not too late”
McMorrow briefly channels his inner James Brown. In the front row, there are three girls in tears.
Across the distance of the pods, I see a couple holding hands and laughing. I see couples everywhere, young and old, first dates, third dates, third anniversaries, tenth anniversaries. Those who look like they’ll last the long haul. Those who look uncertain to last the night. Beautiful chaos, body language open to be read as they fall in love with a voice soaring above it all:
“Sometimes my hands they don't feel like my own
I need someone to love I need someone to hold...”
Applause, drowned out by screams, drowned out by more applause. You wouldn’t realise you’d miss those sounds as much as you did or that it’d cut as deep as it does when they return. The sun disappears behind the building and says goodnight. James tells the crowd “We’ve now entered the dance portion of the night.”
James’ well-manicured pearly whites glint on as he smiles all the way through ‘Gone’. As we dance, all the beautiful colours and costumes of the crowd come to the fore. A boy wearing an oversized Hawaiian shirt with beer bottles, a girl wearing stand-out flares. Long summer dresses. Ageing men in Sunday suits. Amen brothers, amen sisters. The cleaners continue to clean. The show goes on. James’ voice crackles as he pushes it to the very limit of what it can do. Like a boxer going out swinging in the 12th.
“Once I had a dream, once I had a hope
That was yesterday, not so long ago
This is not the end, this is just the world
Such a foolish thing, such an honest girl”
There will be an encore. A girl at the back screams at the top of her lungs for ‘Paradise’. “This is Paradise”. A girl at the back screams at the top of her lungs in joy. One last joyous dance. A beautiful chorus of harmonies backs James. The sun reappears, all golden, orange and red.
“Pretend that we're surrounded by this paradise oh oh oh oh...”
The ringmaster introduces his players before bringing down the curtain on the night. In the abstract, James feels like a strange choice to be the one to unite an audience, to be the first domino falling that will hopefully unite a country that loves song, that loves music and that loves dance. A man who at times seems ill at ease with himself, and at others exudes this ultra-confidence. But honestly, there couldn’t have been a better choice.
There isn’t an Irish artist around with a greater range of emotion in his songs; there probably isn’t an Irish artist with a better voice; and maybe there isn’t an Irish artist with a better grasp of the value of a live performance. Plus, who else can laugh at themselves so easily, while taking it so seriously? A beautiful end to a beautiful night.
“I remember my first love
I remember my first love...”
James asks for a selfie at the end, understanding this whole night was about the audience, the great missing factor in the past year. It truly feels like the beginning of the end of the nightmare. That we can hopefully look forward to bigger events as we move through the summer and put everything that happened in 2020 and 2021 behind us.
Never forget the moment though, glinting between the past and the future. Tonight was so fucking special!