|TOMMY Sands is one hell of a musician, storyteller and raconteur and his recent show at the Baby Grand Opera house was a potent demonstration of all three facets of the Mayobridge man's repertoire.
This show, Ballad of a Songman, has been put together in collaboration with Belfast playwright Martin Lynch, a long time friend of Sands and is a mixture of songs, stories, poems, archive footage and reminiscences.
And when the raw materials is so rich, as it is in Sands’ case, simplicity should be and is the watchword here. The stage in the intimate surroundings of the Baby Grand contained stands for a banjo, a guitar, a mandolin and a large screen. That was it.
Until the man himself rambled on and removing his jacket, literally threw it on the floor. It was indicative of what was to come for Sands is as easy-going and carefree as a soft breeze across the foothills of the Mournes.
Some people are born for the stage and Sands, with a touch as light as a feather, is such a one. The show is effectively a conversation and a tour through the highlights of a remarkable musical career and life.
by Colin O'Neill
And so the musician held us spellbound with tales of his growing up on the Ryan Road in Mayobridge, where music, storytelling and craic were as integral to life as the farm on which the famous Sands musical family grew up.
He told us stories of going to school, of neighbours, of friends and, of course, tragically of the onset of the great cataclysm of the Troubles which eventually saw Sands in much later years invited to Stormont to play.
It was at a critical point during the talks in 1998 and Sands, with other musicians, played and children sang. It was shown on the big screen with Gusty Spence, Gerry Adams, David Trimble, John Hume and company looking on.
They were urging the politicians to find a way forward and, as we were reminded of Seamus Mallon's comment that the singing of the children had galvanised the leaders, were were in turn reminded of Sands' exhortation at the outset of the concert. About the power of music and of music not
merely being incidental to our lives but about it being life itself.
And from the mouth of a troubadour like Sands, this does not sound trite or affected it is clearly genuine and heartfelt. For his has been a life dedicated to music, to reaching out, to empathising.
The high points of the show were numerous as Sands wove effortlessly between speaking and singing, playing and joining us to watch some of the priceless, beautiful footage projected on the screen. But for this audience member, his rendition of his own song, There Were Roses, was quite simply, stunning. And heartbreaking and evocative and comparable to any of the best songs written about the Troubles in Ireland.
Tommy Sands is a national treasure and those who have been lucky enough to catch this show are lucky people indeed.