- 06 May 23
It was a very special occasion indeed when family, friends and fellow musicians gathered in the 3Olympia Theatre to officially remember the life and work of the iconic Irish drummer Noel Bridgeman, in a concert brought together by Terry O'Neill and featuring Audrey Bridgeman and a host of Ireland's leading musos...
The doors to 3Olympia Theatre in Dublin opened at 7:00PM Thursday for a show that was set to start an hour later.
People arrived early, filling the halls and back lounge bar areas of the venue. Though the mood wasn't sombre, there was a kind of reverence in the air.
As the evening evolved, however, Remembering Noel Bridgeman became a celebration of the great Irish drummer's life as much as it was a fond goodbye to him.
The theatre seemed to hold its breath in the moments before the show began, purple lighting cast upon the instruments on stage – two drum kits, a red keyboard, and awaiting mics – setting the mood of the night with a sense of anticipation.
At 8:00 sharp, the show started with a welcoming introduction from Noel's daughter Audrey Bridgeman – also a drummer, singer and songwriter. She began with the title track of her Fire In Your Soul album before welcoming the crowd and leading into a second song, 'Brighter Future.'
“It’s a great pleasure to welcome everybody here to share this special night," she said. "It’s going to be a great celebration."
Two songs later, Audrey stepped down from behind the drums to take a place at the red keyboard, launching into a rendition of the Cream classic, 'Sunshine of Your Love', alongside legendary Irish guitarist Tommy Moore and the RNB band. The music was accompanied by speckled, flickering spots of light decorating the stage like sunbeams.
After an instrumental piece, featuring melodramatic guitar riffs and steady drum beats, Audrey took a moment to address the audience about the purpose of the show.
"Thanks everybody," Audrey said. "It's great to see everybody here. As you know, tonight is a real celebration for my dad. And although the night is for Dad and for the family, it's also for St. Francis Hospice, which is very important.
"St. Francis, as you know, provides palliative care. Their services are really rooted in human dignity and treating people with respect and compassion regardless of their religious or cultural background, or socio-economic status."
The "iconic and pioneering" frontman with the ground-breaking Irish rockers Skid Row's Brush Shiels was invited to the stage by the host, broadcaster Ronan Collins. There followed a lovely moment when – to his complete surprise – Brush was presented, onstage, with a Hot Press Lifetime Achievement Award. The award – featuring a marvellous illustration by Hot Press' Davd Rooney – was presented by Hot Press Deputy Editor Stuart Clark alongside Audrey.
"I suppose, that when you get to 77 that's an achievement itself," Brush laughed. But the reception from the crowd showed the genuine emotion in the room.
Brush recalled the defining moments that came with meeting Noel.
"I'm eleven years old, playing football at Broadstone playground and this little fella comes up to me with curly hair and glasses. And he asks me, 'Can I join you?' And I'm this height," he says, motioning to a size a little shorter than himself, "and he's that height," he added, motioning with an approximation of an even smaller person.
"Years later, we're the same height," he continued to a round of laughs, "and we're outside the Fillmore West in San Francisco and we're getting on."
Brush continued on with the story, reminiscing about times past playing before and with other music legends through the ages.
"I never got the chance to say goodbye to him, and I would have loved that," he finished. "Thanks Noel. I would have never done it without you."
Brush's music was a pulsing, rallying call, backed by a video montage of Skid Row performing over the years.
Brush's cameo concluded, Ronan credited some of the other musicians who had performed, including John Walsh on trumpet, Antonio Cafolla on saxophone, Tommy Moore on bass, and Ed Deane on guitar. They were, Ronan said, paying tribute to the drummer, whose "life revolved around all the great musicians.
"It's a great tribute to the memory of Noel," he added, "and to all the great musicians he featured with over the years, so many of whom are here tonight. Noel's love was music: it had no beginnings and no ends. It was music. It was all-encompassing."
"To prove that," Ronan continued, introducing guitarists Hugh Buckley and Lee Meehan, "Are a couple of gentlemen who very much wanted to be part of tonight with a style of music Noel particularly loved."
Audrey Bridgeman joined the two on the drums for 'Georgia', which was followed up by Mary Stokes' own words on Noel and his legendary generosity of spirit.
"It's a sad occasion, but it's a celebration. I want to say thank you to Noel for standing by us and behind us, playing with the Mary Stokes Band many, many times, over the course of thirty years. Apart from his brilliance, his musicianship, his timing – which was absolutely always spot-on – one of the things most I remember about Noel, is his kindness. And I remember his willingness to give gentle advice. It's one of the reasons why I'm still around here."
Backed by Brain Harris on guitar, Johnny Taylor on the keyboards, Garvan Gallagher on bass and Kevin Malone on drums, in her true Dublin-blue style, Mary launched into a powerful, soulful rendition of the great blues standard, 'Bring It On Home'.
Decked out in a black dress with a flapper-like skirt and blazer over it, Susan Tomelty gave it her all singing the swinging, grooving 'Tredezkie Trucks'. She danced with an expressive pop in her step to the jazzy touch brought to the song by two saxophones and a trumpet.
Singing the mournful tune 'I Would Rather Go Blind', Mary Coughlan stretched her arms out, as if to encompass all the emotion embedded deep within the magnificent Etta James song.
It was the first of two from the Galway songstress, preceding a surprise appearance by Donovan, in place of Pat Farrell, who passed away this past January. Like Noel Bridgeman, Pat received hospice care at Saint Francis Hospice.
Joined by B.P. Fallon, Donovan read a poem and a eulogy remembering Noel. After reading it and fondly remembering "our master of percussion," Donovan pulled out a green guitar, decorated with a metal stag on the body of it, to sing.
Setting down a pint of Guinness on stage, Mik Pyro introduced his own tribute, a song made famous when he fronted Republic of Loose, 'Comeback Girl'.
"Normally I do the blues, but for Noel, Audrey asked me to do this so fuck it."
Midway through the song, Mik prompted the audience to join in by extending his arms out and clapping to the beat. It garnered a call and response soul moment, as Mik reminded the world that Noel was "up there," while pointing towards the heavens. He finished his set flipping his guitar behind his head and playing it with consummate skill, and the passion which is a Pyro trademark.
Rob Strong gave a rocking blues performance of 'Pride and Joy', before playing 'Got My Mojo Working' alongside Colm Wilkinson.
Colm had his own story and song to share
"I met Noel Bridgeman fifty years ago, and he taught me this song fifty years ago," Colm began, strumming the opening chords of 'Portland Town' on his guitar.
"A very simple song. Noel was sort of a force of nature and he's come up with a lot of very intellectual things. He used to talk of the strangest of things. He taught me this song when we were doing a gig in Belgium."
Ronan Collins, invoking an "extraordinary time of music" in Ireland, recalled Noel's contributions to Mary Black's musical performances and band and inviting the Irish folk singer to the stage.
Opening with 'Katie,' which immediately had the audience singing along, Mary shared that for the rest of her time on stage she wanted to pay tribute to Noel by playing songs that he had played with her on the road and in the studio. It was a lovely set, that raised the emotional pitch even higher.
The Waterboy's 1989 line-up, with Mike Scott out front, emerged to take us to the summit. Aptly starting with 'On My Way To Heaven', frontman Mike Scott introduced their setlist as five tracks that Noel had played with them over his time with the band – a period which has gone down in Irish rock lore as one of the brightest and most prolific of any major Irish-based band. With Mike Scott singing his heart out, it was a fitting way to bring a night of extraordinary music and high emotion to a close. Brush Shiels even made his way back on-stage to help them perform the song 'A Life of Sundays.'
There was one more tube: as a final goodbye to Noel, the musicians gathered on-stage for one final song. Playing 'Across The Universe,' friends and family stood together, never losing sight of who the event was in memory of, at once mourning the loss – and celebrating the achievements – of the legendary Noel Bridgeman.