Category: Archive

Ronnie drew a crowd

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Eileen Murphy

RONNIE DREW in concert at the Irish Treasury, 325 Fifth Ave., NYC. Friday, Nov. 5.

Judging by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd packing into the opening-night party at the Irish Treasury last Friday night, you’d have thought that the owners were handing out free money. The occasion was a rare performance by legendary folk singer Ronnie Drew, who had flown in to officially "open" the Fifth Avenue hotspot.

The owners of the Treasury, Dublin natives Chris Martin and Rory Connolly, deserve credit for ensuring that the crowd size stayed manageable by distributing a limited number of tickets for the night. The food was great, the drink was plentiful, and the craic — in the shadow of the Empire State Building — was mighty.

Against a Bewley’s Café backdrop, one of the many authentic Irish touches in the beautifully decorated bar, Drew opened the show with "Finnegans Wake." Ably accompanied by fellow singer and old friend Michael "Jesse" Owens on guitar, Drew’s trademark smoke-and-strong-whiskey vocals blew new life into old number.

A born storyteller, Drew is at his best on songs that have a strong narrative line. He switched gears effortlessly between the black humor of "McAlpine’s Fusiliers" and the wistful sadness of "The Cockie." His acting skills shone on the very funny "Paddy’s Not at Work Today," and the caustic "Captains and the Kings."

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Between the songs, Drew told some wonderful stories, channeling the ghosts of old mates like Brendan Behan and Paddy Kavanagh — these tales make up part of his critically acclaimed stage show, "Ronnie, We Hardly Knew Ye."

He sang Behan’s "The Auld Triangle" after telling a story about Behan’s exploits in Spain. "I have come for the funeral of General Franco," Brendan told horrified Spanish police, who informed him that the generalissimo was not yet dead. "I’ll wait," said Behan, before being unceremoniously deported.

Drew followed up with Kavanagh’s "Raglan Road," noting with a mischievous grin, that Luke Kelly’s recording of the latter was the definitive one.

"But I like it, too, so I’ll sing it," he deadpanned with a twinkle in his silver-blue eyes.

In an evening of standout numbers, it’s hard to pick out the highlights, but his cover of Christy Moore’s "La Quinta Brigade" certainly ranks as a top moment, as does his performance of Sean O’Casey’s "Red Roses for Me," and Kavanagh’s "If Ever You Go to Dublin Town."

Perhaps the most poignant moment came when he invited Pete St. John — author of such classic songs as "The Fields of Athenry" and "Dublin in the Rare Old Times" — to join him onstage. The entire audience — even the chatty ones near the door — sang along, and cheered in agreement when St. John hailed Drew as "the finest folk singer of my generation."

The crowd howled and screamed for more as Drew said his good nights after the two-hour show, so he was persuaded to do a few encores: old favorites "Dicey Reilly" and "Dirty Old Town." More encores were demanded, and Drew good-naturedly obliged with "The Monto" — "you can all do your clappy-handy thing," he laughed — and then ended the evening with the song that launched his career back in the early 1960s, the naughty ditty, "Seven Drunken Nights."

It’s been too long since Ronnie Drew has played New York — 15 years, aside from a one-week tour last spring. Judging by the enthusiastic response, he’s one Irish treasure that should be displayed in America — often.

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