Still keeping the customers satisfied

The Blarney Brothers. From left are Paul McIlroy, Tony Fisher and Damien McIlroy.

STAGE: The Blarney Brothers – Rhumbelow Theatre, St Cyprian’s Church Hall, 603 Umbilo Road, Durban

THEIR performances in Durban this weekend mark a milestone for The Blarney Brothers, the Irish singer-musicians who have long been loved countrywide for their fun fare meshing Emerald Isle ballads and singalongs, novelty numbers, audience participation elements, requests and golden-oldie chart favourites.

On Thursday, February 1, the amiable trio – comprising brothers Paul and Damien McIlroy and longtime pal Tony Fisher – notched up their 44th year as a group, albeit that Danny Fisher spent some years filling in for Damien when he opted to go solo for a while some time ago.

Damien announced the anniversary news from the stage, to loud applause, at what marks the first production of the year for the Rhumbelow Theatre’s Umbilo branch, which is using the St Cyprian’s church hall in Umbilo Road for the next few months while the usual hall, in Cunningham Road, undergoes urgent roof repairs.

The Blarney Brothers, which started out in Johannesburg in 1974, may see its members greyer and more lined these days, and the energy levels not quite where they were in the band’s late-’70s and ’80s heyday. However, they did a mighty fine job at their opening on Friday –  a particularly hot night, when even the venue’s many high-speed ceiling fans battled to cut through the humidity.

There is no denying this team has still got what it takes to keep the customers more than satisfied, an ample audience getting into party mode from the first song, enthusiastically joining in singalongs and performing “choreography” and many being moved to dance in a large open area to the right of the table seatings.

The Wild Rover, The Music Man, Delilah, Crackling Rosie, Galway Bay, Hippy Hippy Shake, 500 Miles, Danny Boy, The Leaving of Liverpool, The Court of King Caractacus, Superman, Drunken Sailor, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, You’ll Never Walk Alone… all were among the repertoire on opening night. Along with lots of other standards.

Appearing on stage in matching sequinned waistcoats, The Blarneys constantly flit between lead vocals and instruments, with Tony handling lead vocals, fiddle, bass and pennywhistle; Damien (father of funnyman Aaron McIlroy) performing centrestage on lead vocals and guitar; and Paul on keyboards and banjo (yep, Duelling Banjoes is on the programme).

The hall, where car guards are on duty, is a great temporary replacement for the one in Umbilo’s Cunningham Road. The bar is close to the seating area and a plus with this production, being a pub-styled show, is that the bar remains open during the performances.

Another plus is that the stage is wider and bigger, and Rhumbelow Theatre manager and entertainment co-ordinator Roland Stancell has organised black stage-backdrop fabric as well as red curtains for the hall windows. Food is also on sale, with stalwarts Derek and Kevin offering their usual fare of burgers, chips and cake.

The Blarneys are playing up to five shows a month these days, compared to up to seven nights a week in their heyday, when they played every country in Southern Africa, as well as Taiwan, China, Singapore England and Australia.

Roland couldn’t have picked a better show to open the year for the Rhumbelow. Lend support and treat yourself to a night full of smiles and toe-tapping.

Final performances are at 8pm today (Saturday, February 3) and 2pm tomorrow (Sunday, February 4). Tickets cost R150 each and booking is by phoning Roland Stansell at 082 499 8636.

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