... He wowed us all
Ah, the luck of the Irish, and oh, the luck of those who lack a green bit of Irish blood but were there in Memorial Hall last Saturday for a long night of song, story and fun with Tommy Makem and his three handsome sons.
Tommy Makem is a sure draw for an audience that enjoys Irish ballads, old and new, all with a tale to tell about the old sod, plus Makem's wonderfully relaxed manner of mesmerizing his viewers with stories both funny and touching, and sure-response jokes. He's an old pro, no doubt about it,
His baritone voice is still flexible and dark as good Irish stout, and though most of the songs of the evening were peppy and upbeat, he can enthrall his listeners to an awed hush in a serious ballad about a mother's mourning of sons lost in fighting, long a sad tradition in Ireland. So "Four Green Fields" held the audience taut with his honest yet dramatic rendition.
Talking to us viewers as if we were close friends or children in a schoolroom, he urged us to sing along in many of the numbers -- then chided us -- "That was terrible!" He taught us some of the melodies, but many loyal fans knew words and music, and if it wasn't our turn to sing, many could not keep their hands from clapping the spirited rhythms or a few times from stomping their feet to the beat.
Father Makem plays a mean guitar, adding the entrancing high-pitched brightness of the tin whistle to his selections.
Youngest son Rory in the background kept up guitar accompaniment for his father, adding impact for the stirring stories. He and brothers, Shane and Conor, opened the program with vigorous guitar work, swaps of barbs and solos and amiable chatting with their audience. Center stage, Rory assumed the primary role of host, and often ducked back for a change of instrument the banjo or the bouzouki, a Greek stringed instrument resembling a mandolin. In the grim story of wartime battle, "Bonnie Blue Bonnets," two of the brothers struck intricate, ominous rhythms on attractive Irish drums.
The sound system may have been at fault for some difficulty in catching all the words, spoken or sung. Those Irish followers who could eagerly sing along with "Black Velvet Bands" had less trouble than the rest of us. But when the voice into the mike blasted too loudly, words and vocal quality were lost. In his solo parts, Connor displayed a lyric softness that was distinctive in sentimental songs.
What was irresistible was their energy, never flagging, and sense of camaraderie and fun. Their father's sons!
Tommy Makem, making his grand entrance after intermission in a simple brown shirt, was welcomed with a great surge of clapping and cheers. His sons, raised in New Hampshire, have no Irish accents, but Tommy retains the winning lilt of his native land's brogue, adding color to his stories. He had the audience singing most of "Waltzing With Bears", and stilled the crowd with his memory of the throngs singing his own song of freedom once at the Berlin Wall.
He has a bit of grey at his temples, and wears glasses, but his warmth of voice and personality lasted until a minute after 11 p.m. Many in church the next morning must have passed on his account of the man who arrived in heaven and insisted on seeing St. Paul, not St. Peter. He just had to ask St. Paul, "Did those Corinthians ever write back?
The concert was staged to benefit the Melrose Youth Ballet, and brought an almost full house to Memorial Hall.