Celtic Thunder In The Valley

By Dennis Tkach. Neil, Keith, Colm, Ryan, Damian and Emmett… six names that, by themselves, mean little to any of us. But put them all together under the sobriquet of Celtic Thunder and behold, you have world-wide recognition!

On Tuesday, March 10, 2015 the Abbotsford Entertainment Centre welcomed the long anticipated return visit to the Fraser Valley of Celtic Thunder. Chosen as the first Canadian stop on their marathon 2015 North American tour.

A brief history: Celtic Thunder exploded like a summer storm on a stage in Dublin, Ireland back in 2007. As their fame spread like wildfire the original troupe of singers and musicians began touring to sold-out houses across Europe and eventually around the world. However their biggest meteoric rise to fame came when PBS television brought the Celtic juggernaut to America. Incorporating successful elements of groundbreaking productions such as their Erin big brother, (a little show you may remember called Riverdance,) producers Sharon Browne and Phil Coulter created an true entertainment diamond. In seven years that jewel has evolved into a crown.

You do not have to be Irish, Scottish, or Welsh to love, appreciate and enjoy the songs and music from the lands of the Celts. Ethnic music in origin and evolution will always be with us and an evening with Celtic Thunder drives home the fact that it was the Irish, Scottish, and Welsh immigrants who brought to North America the wellspring from whence sprang all generations of folk and country music.

Celtic Thunder has for the past seven years achieved record setting sales with eleven albums (hopefully, with many more to follow). Billboard named Celtic Thunder ‘Top World Selling Album Artist in 2008, 2009, and 2011. Their first three albums are in the top ten best sellers of all time.

As an amateur drama director I admire and applaud the psychological recipe that went into the creation of Celtic Thunder.
Celtic thunder 1
Start with the main ingredient: Five good looking young men with exceptional voices. Add a song and music repertoire of heart stirring, toe-tapping classics, old and new. Stir with a talented on stage orchestra incorporating everything from a penny whistle to bagpipes. Viola, violin, harp, keyboards, drums, bodhran, acoustic and electric guitars, all under the gifted musical direction of Glasgow University educated David Monro. Set this mélange of ingredients on an eloquently simple multi-tiered stage with variable mood setting lighting and special effects. Add a pair of beautifully gowned dancers, garnish with a refreshing touch of comedy and several invitations to sing along…. how can you not have success?

We have seen many PBS performances over the years and this particular tour was entitled “The Best Of Celtic Thunder.”
Gaelic classic “Galway Girl”.( It spawned the colonial American dance known as the Virginia Reel.)
“Danny Boy” Classic tear jerker known and loved the world over.
Music for all ages continued, selected ‘best of’ pieces strung together like a diamond necklace.
One of my new favorites (never heard until that night) was a foot stompin’ song about farm animals called ‘All God’s children got a place in the choir’. ( The melody? Used by John Denver to create his huge hit “Grandma’s Feather Bed”.)
“Desperado”, first recorded and made famous by Linda Rondstadt (This is one of my all time fave country ballads).
Second half opener: Six male voices belting out the soaring lyrics of “Only To Be With You”.
Next? A beautiful ballad entitled “Katie”.
Then came Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluja” followed by a far end of the song spectrum. Neil Sedaka’s 60’s boppin’ “Breakin’ Up Is Hard To Do.”
Semi-classical mesmerizing ballads, “A Woman” and “Mi Amore”delivered with operatic perfection and aplomb.

Highlight of the evening: The entire cast offered a special tribute for George Donaldson, the only Scot, longest tenured member, and most endearing vocalist in the show’s history. In talent, charm, and appeal, smooth domed ‘Big George’ was head and shoulders, Thunder’s undeniable leader. He composed some of the most beautiful and popular songs in the show’s anthology. His ever popular “Life With You” with words like ‘I want to spend my life with you. I don’t want to live alone, I am nothing without you’… Ah, tears flowed like the river Liffey through Dublin as the bittersweet memory of his sudden passing at the age of 46 drew the biggest applause of the evening.
Celtic thunder 2

It was indeed a fine evening of rare musical fare. The three quarter full house sat totally fixated from first song to the last. Ah… and those last two songs we carried away in our hearts and minds… long after the music faded into the night. There is not a Scot alive, including Ruth, my dear wife from Fife, who would not be emotionally fraught with conjured homeward thoughts of the land of Bruce and Wallace by the haunting words and music of “Caledonia”.
‘Let me tell you that I love you, and I think of you all the time….”

And then came the finale. So fitting as we approach St. Patrick’s Day. I watched a man with a bright green sweater sporting the single word ‘Ireland’ across his chest as he wept… shoulders bowed and shaking. He was not alone. The cast had changed into their trademark gun metal gray kilts, voices lifted in a militant stirring rendition of “Ireland”.
‘Together we stand, shoulder to shoulder, as we listen to Ireland’s call…”

If the reader of this column has never seen Celtic Thunder perform, I would urge you to find a DVD at your local library. PBS should be lauded and applauded for bringing such a musical joy into our homes.

‘Erin Go Bragh! Scots Wha hae!’ now THAT’S Dentertainment!

Leave a Reply