Rocking with Irish pride

2007-10-31 00:00

As I pick my way through the pizza boxes and beer bottles in the aftermath of the previous night's Celtic Rock show at the Barnyard, I battle to put the perfectly poised couple who are posing on the now empty stage in to the tap shoes and leprechaun hat of the night before.

They are just two of an 11-strong cast in a show that features an eclectic mix of music from the Emerald Isle - including the Corrs, Van Morrison, Thin Lizzy, Chris De Burgh, U2, Wilson Pickett, The Commitments, The Cranberries and Simple Minds. The Barnyard publicity puts it best - “Celtic Rock combines elements of folk and pop and a good dose of pub songs washed down with an abundance of rock.”

Look forward to Sunday Bloody Sunday, Don't You Forget About Me, Lady In Red, Brown Eyed Girl and wash these down with the likes of Wild Rover, The Leaving of Liverpool and Whiskey In The Jar.

Real life, Guiness-loving Irishman Ciaran Fox is the frontman responsible for ongoing banter with the audience and trademark Irish humour. He handles vocals along with Lee Paver, Liezel Pieters and Jessica Yallup. The show also features Lorna Martin, who has toured the world as a dancer in The Spirit of the Dance. The band comprises Calli Thomson on keyboards, Josh Thatcher on guitar, Juan Smit on drums, Donovan Thatcher on bass guitar, the masterful Dianne Neil on violin and Colin Mairs on saxophone and flute.

But back to centre stage where Fox and Martin are facing the camera backed by the set with its pub decked out in the Irish flag. The green glitter costumes have been stashed back stage and the only sound is the tinkle of glasses being stacked for washing.

Fox good-naturedly informs me that the early morning interview is really a night time chat for the couple who only recently stopped over in South Africa in the midst of successful international careers. Every night is a late night, butt hey are enjoying a show that is as much a party as it is an opportunity to share Irish musical tradition.

“I love this show. I don't have to pretend to be anyone else. I have the freedom to have fun with the audience in an Irish pub setting. I was brought up in Ireland [County Clare] and this is much like sitting in the pub with my friends - only I have a mike in my hand,” he says.

In all other shows over the past seven years he has played a specific character and had to follow scripts closely. This time round, he lends an authentic note and not only are audiences spared a phoney Irish accent, but treated to mischievous humour and superbly delivered Irish quips.

South African-born Martin, his fiancée, who added the Irish dance steps the night before, steered Fox to Cape Town so that the two could work together.

They met in Portugal and have work-ed in shows from England to Taiwan.

For Martin, the show offers a number of firsts - including her first Barnyard show and a graduation from dancing to backing vocals, under the wing of musical director Calli Thomson.

“For me, this is a very different environment. Up until now, all my shows have been big extravs. This is fun and much more relaxed. I'm enjoying singing. I like the challenge. Every year I try to do something different,” she says.

It is also the first time the two have performed in Durban and they say they are sharing the stage with the very best.

“Neither of us could ask for better. There is a lovely rapport between us. Everything gels. I guess the people you work with make you feel comfortable. It is a security thing. When you're up front, its good to know that you have good people behind you. Hopefully this all comes across in the show,” says Fox.

Fox and Martin agree that one of the highlights is the U2 tribute delivered by Englishman Lee Paver. Fox points out that he has a smooth voice and has up until now stuck to R&B and soul. He had to transform his voice to do more mainstream rock and really “lives it.”

For his own part, Fox is also a masterful and versatile vocalist who can move from Try A Little Tenderness to Mustang Sally. Then there's the unforgettable rendition of Danny Boy that he believes is largely due to the rearrangement of the old favourite by Thomson. This slowed the tempo and added a special tear-jerker element. He admits he gets goose bumps whenever he sings it - and the same goes for the sing along Irish Call at the end of the show - his bit of “patriotism.”

Because of their diverse backgrounds and experience in the entertainment industry worldwide, the two don't necessarily run the risk of being type cast. In fact, they have auditioned for mainstream musical theatre and are “open to all avenues”. Ultimately, they'd like to own their own performing arts company.

“But, if it wasn't for Lorna, I wouldn't be here today,” Fox adds. He was doing pubs and clubs in Portugal when they met.

“She told me to try to push myself and made me go for my first audition for musical theatre.” He ended up as the lead vocalist in this UK show and hasn't looked back since.

His entry into the Barnyard was also an accident, he says. Working as a singing waiter in the Stardust restaurant in Cape Town just weeks after his arrival in South Africa, he met one of the Barnyard's sax players.

“He said he'd get me a job with the Barnyard. I'd never heard of it and told him I didn't know anything about cows!”

Fox says he likes the Barnyard concept because it appeals to audiences who wouldn't ordinarily visit mainstream to theatres.

Celtic Rock runs from September 25 January 6 and will be staging lunchtime shows preceding Christmas for corporate entertaining.

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