Committed to recreating steamy soul train
“OH Mr Pit, oh Mr Pit, Mr Pitiful/ Who let you down?/ Who let you down? Who let you down?/ You still don’t believe, you still don’t believe…”
The ghost of Otis Redding was exhumed right there on the stage of the Royal Theatre, Castlebar, last Monday night. The Commitments reincarnated. Twenty years older, smokier, huskier. Even more soulful and sexy. Welcome back Andrew Strong, Angeline Ball, Bronagh Gallagher, Glen Hansard, Robert Arkins, Michael Aherne, Felim Gormley, Dave Finnegan, Ken McCluskey and Dick Massey.
Missing was acclaimed actor Johnny Murphy who played ‘Joey the Lips’ in the award-winning Alan Parker film, based on the Roddy Doyle novel, also entitled The Commitments. But news that he has beaten the cancer that had prevented him from joining the tour ensured the line up of 15 musicians and singers were going to hit all the right notes for this short reunion tour.
“I’m gonna wait till the midnight hour/ That’s when my love comes tumbling down/ I’m gonna wait till the midnight hour/ When there’s no one else around.”
Just two nights after the Mayo Messiah, Enda Kenny, electrified the stage of the state-of-the-art Castlebar theatre, The Commitments filled the auditorium for the inaugural gig of their reunion tour. And for this fan of soul, the entire two-hour concert reached deep into the bowels of aching heartbreak, resolute recovery and dramatic drollery of that thing called love. I Can’t Stand the Rain and the ‘sweet memories of the way things used to be’.
Shame, however, the young whipper-snapper with the over-active neck sitting right in front of me – in the front row of level two of the south balcony – spent the entire gig chatting up his pretty girlfriend. Her very impressive eyelashes seemed more like car window wipers as I ducked and dived between their bobbing heads. Fortunately for them, the extravaganza of percussion and brass, strings and vocal chords, rhythms and rollicks ultimately won out.
Down at ground level the packed crowd swayed and swooned to the saxophonic sounds and raunchy riffs of Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Wilson Pickett classics. The packed venue transformed into a soul-train and pulsing melting pot of every vintage, from wide-eyed teenagers to silver-haired soul fans.
Jimmy Rabbitte (aka Robert Arkins) was right. In a memorable quote from the movie, Rabbitte, the band’s manager, said: “Do you not get it lads? The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once, and say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.”
Wow, can Andrew Strong challenge any black soul singer. Man, can he gyrate and jump on that stage. “Mustang Sally, guess you better slow that Mustang down./ Mustang Sally, now baby.” But it wasn’t just the raunchy timbre and passion of his voice that seduced the crowds. Backing singers, Angeline Ball and Bronagh Gallagher took charge of the main mike for a number of sensuous renditions.
“Chain, chain, chain/ Chain, chain, chain … Five long years I thought you were my man/ But I found out I’m just a link in your chain/ You got me where you want me/ I ain’t nothing but your fool/ You treated me mean, oh you treated me cruel/ Chain, chain, chain/ Chain of fools.”
The Commitments also played the INEC in Killarney on Tuesday last, the Odyssey Arena in Belfast on St Patrick’s night and the O2 in Dublin last Saturday night. A percentage of the revenue from the tour will be donated to charity.