There’s now less than a month to go to Theme Night #22 in Vicar St, Dublin. The theme this time is “The Story So Far” and hence I thought I’d start a weekly series in the blog for the next 5 Tuesdays – which looks back at various Theme Nights from over the years.
And where better to start than at the start.
Theme Night #1 took place on 22 Dec 2011 in Source Sligo. It came about on the back of a weekly residency I had started in a new wine bar/restaurant in Sligo called Source. There was a nice baby grand there, and the man in charge – Joe Grogan – had kindly allowed me free reign to put together weekly Thursday gigs with different guests each week.
It allowed me to invite musicians I had long admired but never played with to come in and try some stuff out. I played my first gigs there with the likes of Gerry Grennan, Cathy Jordan, Seamie O’Dowd, Eoin Troy, Jane Tansey and Maev Gallagher and many others with whom I have since enjoyed long and fruitful musical relationships.
Anyway the thought had been in my head to put together a gig at the end of the year featuring all of these musicians, and when Cathy approached me with the same idea, that gave me the push I needed to actually organise it.
The theme, unsurprisingly, was Christmas Songs, and it’s interesting to look back at the setlist from that night.
There are some people who sang that night that I never played with again, and others who have been part of almost every theme night since. Unlike now, some people had to sing two or even three songs to make up a full evening’s entertainment.
But I have three people to thank for making that night memorable, and possibly ensuring that the theme nights didn’t become another great idea that faded away after a while.
Let me set the scene for you – we’re in a wine bar, not a theatre, and some people are chatting, others quietly listening to the music. There are 50-60 people there and so there is a hum of conversation accompanying the music throughout the night, until Eoin Troy stands up and begins singing his contribution to the night – Joni Mitchell’s River.
Now Eoin is a regular on the pub circuit in Sligo – a great guitarist and entertainer who always picks an interesting set of songs to sing. But when he stood up without his guitar that night and hit the high notes on River, people really took notice. He sang it beautifully, and inadvertently created the first really memorable theme night moment.
Joe Hunt and his Dad rounded off the night with another winner – performing the Bing Crosby/David Bowie Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth duet, and between that, Eoin’s song and the general community vibe of the evening, it ensured that people told their friends about the night, which in turn ensured that a crowd showed up for Theme Night #2 – The songs of Tom Waits – a week later (something else that would never happen now).