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The Dubliners arrive in Norwich on 50th anniversary tour

PUBLISHED: 09:56 12 March 2012

The Dubliners

The Dubliners

Archant

Legendary Irish folk band The Dubliners are on their 50th anniversary tour. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH talks to John Sheahan ahead of their Norwich date.

They may have been going for 50 years now but The Dubliners still manage to play some 60 to 70 gigs a year.

Violinist John Sheahan says none of the five current band members have any plans to slow down – as long as people turn out to hear them, they will keep playing.

“I have always said that if I stopped enjoying what I do then I would pack it up.

“You can’t fake enjoyment – that is the motivation to play,” he explains.

“People have been coming to see us for years. In Norwich, we have been playing at the Theatre Royal since the days when it was run by Dick Condon, for example.

“When we play there, we get people who are as old as ourselves turning up – around the 70 mark – but what is great is that those people have been passing our music down the generations as well.

“So not only are they turning up, but their kids are turning up – and their kids’ kids are turning up too.”

John’s memories of Norwich go back to the 1970s, when Dick, a fellow Irishman, was at the helm of the Theatre Royal, but the musician and composer became part of the folk band as far back as 1964.

Initially known as The Ronnie Drew Ballad Group, the band was formed in 1962 and first made a name for themselves playing in Dublin.

The original line-up was Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly, Ciarán Bourke and Barney McKenna but over the years members have come and gone. When Luke Kelly left in 1964, John and Bobby Lynch joined for “a couple of concerts”. When Luke returned after a year, Bobby left but John stayed on.

“What is amazing is that even when the line-up has changed there has always been something magic going on when we play,” says John, 72.

“There is something about us – we have become more than the sum of the individuals. There is always a certain chemistry between us.”

The band’s major breakthrough came in 1967 when their song Seven Drunken Nights, which was recorded in one take, was snapped up by a pirate radio station and played along with the likes of The Beatles, The Mamas and the Papas, The Who, Kinks and Jimi Hendrix. Suddenly, The Dubliners were playing all over the world, hitting the charts, and receiving gold discs.

Since then they have frequently been described as pioneers of Irish music across the world. They gained popularity with the likes of Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison, and influenced those coming behind them, most famously perhaps The Pogues, with whom they had a top 10 single, performing The Irish Rover.

“The music has changed over the years,” says John. “If you look back to the original line-up with Ronnie Drew and Luke Kelly, they were very, very good singers and had this unique sound.

“Then the likes of Jim McCann and Paddy Reilly brought a new dimension and it has evolved constantly since then.”

The music may have developed as the years passed but with more than 70 gigs lined up on the 50th anniversary tour, the band is clearly as popular as ever.

“There is something about Irish music that has universal appeal,” he suggests. “It is very rhythmic and makes you feel like getting up and dancing.

“There is also such a wide variety of songs – songs about peace, war and love, songs with all sorts of stories. People identify with the songs but they also enjoy the atmosphere.”

The tour will see Eamonn Campbell, Barney McKenna, Seán Cannon, Patsy Watchorn and John play many of the old favourites. Clips of performances from decades gone by will be shown on a screen and, at times, the present group will play alongside past band members.

“It will be nostalgic but this is a nice way to remember those who have been with us,” John says.

It may be an important year for The Dubliners but, he stresses, this is certainly not a farewell tour.

“We have no long-term plans – we just go from year to year. Going back 10 or 20 years, we never, ever imagined we would be doing a 50th anniversary tour.

“But we blinked – and here we are,” he laughs. “And, while we all still enjoy playing, that is what we will do.

“After all, says Barney McKenna, our banjo player, it is too late to stop now.”

t The Dubliners, Norwich Theatre Royal, March 12, £22.50-£5.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

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