Review: Ancient Rain

This collaboration between Paul Kelly (co-creator, guitarist, singer), Camille O’Sullivan (co-creator, singer, sound effects) and Feargal Murray (co-creator, pianist), with the help of many others, is a moving chronicle of a century or so’s worth of Irish poetry and music, and it’s a remarkable achievement, if, just occasionally, a little bewildering for the unprepared.

With no explanation, Kelly, O’Sullivan, Murray and band took to the stage and began with a pair of Seamus Heaney pieces, Digging and Act Of Union. The themes of the night became apparent quickly: love, loss, the sheer power of the Irish landscape (and weather) and the many battles of its people.

Songs, poems set to music, spoken-word sequences and even a little acting followed, as O’Sullivan intermittently seemed almost moved to tears, Kelly at one point strikingly stood on a chair in the spotlight, confetti (standing in for snow) fell and the performers restlessly moved about the stage, as if nervous at all the emotion.

Particular highlights included: Patrick Kavanaugh’s stirring In Memory Of My Mother and, later into the second half, In Memory Of My Father; three W.B. Yeats offerings, Easter 1916, An Irish Airman Sees His Death and September 1913; Jimmy McCarthy’s almost rocking (and certainly loud) titular tune; and the savage Paula Meehan piece The Statue Of The Virgin At Granard Speaks, which sent us off to interval somewhat stunned.

Although we’ve come to expect great things from the brilliant Kelly (a sort of unofficial Oz poet laureate for over 30 years now), he was more than equalled by O’Sullivan, whose sometimes raspy voice and fire suggested a long-lost Emerald Isle cousin of Patti Smith. When the end finally came, along with final bows and another dynamite refrain of Ancient Rain, it was obvious that she was simply delighted and, by this point, so was the audience.

Ancient Rain was performed at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Thursday, June 15