By Olivia Treacy
With our newly born 1999 still gurgling in the cradle, I find myself nostalgic yet future-bound, awash with thoughts of life’s endless possibilities and so keen to make them possible. In many ways I liken this life to a good trip around the Ring of Kerry, the premise being that, as we turn each bend, there’s a new discovery. But alas, we must partake in the journey.
Well, I took that journey in a way through Dublin’s elegant Shelbourne Hotel where, around every corner, there lies a new celebrity. In this case it was no less than Patrick Bergin, an adventurous Irishman who no doubt shares my philosophy, never letting the grass grow under his feet, Kerry grass or otherwise. You see, the already accomplished actor is currently extending his thriving thespian career into the musical arena with the release of his first CD, "Mondo Bazaar," a wonderful eclectic blend of jazz, regg’, country and dance music, a touch of Scott Walker meets Barry White with a nod to Enigma and a handshake for Bowie.
I was treated to a sneak preview in the Shelbourne-adjacent Keystone Studio, where Bergin and his co-producer, Ken Kiernan of Ceoil Productions, were busy fine-tuning an already fine piece of work. Also there was Larry Kirwan of Black 47 and Frank Cassidy, brother to composer extraordinaire Patrick Cassidy, a critical team seeming nicely impressed by the musical medley. As for me, I was cozily ensconced in the soft black leather armchair which Bergin, being the absolute gentleman that he is, insisted on sacrificing the moment I entered the room. And then I listened. And boy, was I impressed. I found myself charmed by his Sinatra-esque "Crazy" number, romanced by his Parisian "Chanson D’Amour" and seduced by his enigmatic "Fur," the Bergin voice bearing distinct echoes of Bowie.
Of course, he has also chosen a superb body of musicians, among them Earl Gill on the trumpet, Nigel Warren Green on the cello, and frequent accompanist to Van Morrision Liam Bradley on the drums, with Greg Boland and Anto Drennan on guitar, the latter being somewhat of a legend, having accompanied such artists as Chris Rea, Genesis, and Moving Hearts.
So what was the inception of Bergin’s musical inclination? Well, like all good Irishmen, it began with his mother. They would play a word-music game whereby Mom would give him a word about which he would then sing a song. He had a tremendous interest in the ballad form and remembers being so affected by his favorite song, "Let Mr. McGuire Sit Down," that he changed his own name to Ben McGuire, causing endless confusion all round.
Follow us on social media
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo
By the age of 17, he was taking off on a busking adventure across Europe, through Germany, Holland and France, singing and playing guitar. He insists with great humility that he cannot really play the guitar, yet he and his girlfriend survived Paris pretty well. He fondly recalls lots of great park benches in the French capital where the amorous couple would perch a "Money for Lovers" sign, earning them 15 to 20 francs a night. "Enough for supper," he said smiling.
Next port of call was London, where he spent the 1970s running a theater group, as well as performing in provincial and regional theater. Then he branched out into film, starting with a student film entitled "No Man’s Land," in which he played a comic character smuggling back and forth between Northern Ireland and the Republic. No doubt this role would have impressed his father, also a Patrick and a senator in the labor movement, not to mention his godfather’s grandfather, the historical figure James Connolly. Certainly, his performance caught the eye of Irish director Pat O’Connor, which in turn led to his representation by the prestigious Caroline Dawson agency, still his agent to this day. The movie credits just rolled — "Sleeping With the Enemy," "Mountains of the Moon," "Map of the Human Heart," "Patriot Games," "Eye of the Beholder" and most recently John B. Keane’s "Durango," and the list goes on. Over the last 10 years, he has performed in about 45 to 50 movies and garnered many awards including a BAFTA for "Morphine and Dolly Mixtures" in which he played an abusive father, and an Australian Best Actor Award for Nick Evans’s "Act of Betrayal."
Of course, none of this worldly success goes to the performer’s head, who, by the way, is even more attractive in person than in celluloid. He simply continues to make a difference in the arts, just like his ancestors did in politics, accepting with great humor his potential tag of "actor-turned-singer." Patrick Bergin is a man with the confidence and courage to do what he loves, exercising his talents and turning those ever-winding corners with as much ease as he croons those tunes.