It’s not too often that you get snow falling on St Patrick’s Day, but the ground was covered in a crisp and crunchy sheet of white as we shivered our way to Islington Assembly Hall.
For many of those hailing from Ireland, of Irish parentage or merely claiming some tenuous Irish descent, the drinking had started early with the Grand Slam winning rugby match in the afternoon. There was many a body clad in green, white and orange and sporting a cheap felt Guinness hat slipping and a sliding along Islington’s frozen pavements, some in a state of semi-undress would you believe.
Apart from a very welcome double Jack Daniels to warm us up on this mini beastly evening was Louise Morrissey; think Nashville meets Dublin via Tipperary for this long-established Irish Country music singer. Thirty years in the business has Louise, and it certainly showed. Lacking neither vocal power nor work ethic, she performed for a full hour with shorter pauses between songs than a Ramones gig and her ‘breaks’ being little more than half a minute to take a sip of water. A true professional.
She took the stage and kicked things off up-tempo, and the audience responded by filling the dance floor with more jiving than a rockabilly weekender in Camber Sands. When the slower ballads took down the pace, the glitter ball sparkled and the Waltzing began. Louise’s tender rendition of ‘Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain’ brought a tear to my eye.
Louise Morrissey’s marathon set had come to a close and the stage was being readied for Derek Ryan, during this time a spate of line dancing broke out, with the lines thinning out as the dances got more complex. The fancy footwork was like a night at Gilley’s on acid. The dancing was a joy to see and deep down I kind of wished I could join in. If only I didn’t have a sore knee. If only I’d paid more attention to Strictly.
Fresh from his earlier appearance on breakfast TV, former Pop boy band singer Derek Ryan retains the hair gel and cheeky boyish glint in his eye, but has long changed his allegiance to country – indeed the Carlow boy scooped ‘Album of the Year’ and ‘Songwriter of the Year’ at the Sunday World Country Music Awards. Old slave song, Pick a Bale of Cotton, which features on his album ‘The Simple Things’, was perhaps a curious choice for a white audience, or maybe a commentary on Ireland as a British colony. In truth, it was no doubt picked for its danceable country credentials. ‘Hold on to Your Hat’ (my favourite of the night) really got the toes tapping too.
Indeed, there was the odd aforementioned Guinness hat and flashing green hair accessory but most of the punters were dressed to dance. There was a broad range of ages in attendance, but it would be fair to say the older folks were out in force. With walking sticks and pints discarded in favour of spinning around the dance floor it was like witnessing a modern day miracle… let’s hope no-one from the Disability Living Allowance office was there to witness this holy event.
Derek Ryan, you can’t help but like him – the swooning ladies certainly do and many were gazing longingly over the stage barriers in the hope of a cheeky wink and a smile. He didn’t disappoint them. Derek knows how to please an audience and put on an uplifting, energetic and entertaining show. He proved his versatility with numbers ranging from a beautiful rendition of ‘Will Ye Go Lassie’ to a full on take of Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’. His band were some of the best musicians I’ve heard for some time, diverse and accomplished and jumping from traditional Irish to a very authentic old school Nashville sound. They should be applauded. The whole package made for the perfect way to enjoy St Patricks Day – to paraphrase Super Hans from Peepshow, the craic was pretty moreish.