“We will travel along on the wings of a song,
With a mind that is open and free,
If we close our eyes to the other side
We’re just half of what we could be.”

“Let the Circle Be Wide.” Tommy Sands

     For more than half a century, the quintessential Irish folk singer Tommy Sands has had many accomplishments and a fine career to look back on in not only the world of Irish music, but also as a respected peacemaker in the north of Ireland and around the world.
     But it is refreshing to know that for the artist who will turn 70 at the end of this year, there are still some firsts that can be achieved. I and about 100 other people were fortunate enough to witness one of them recently in New York City.
     A week after coming off Joanie Madden’s Folk’ N Irish cruise, he gave his first full-fledged performance of a new multi-media touring show called Ballad of a Songman at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan. It was a tour de force, providing one of the more powerful evenings that I have spent at the center — and there have been quite a few as readers of this space know — over its 40 years of existence.
     Pauline Turley, the center’s vice chair, realized a long-time dream in welcoming her Co. Down compadre to the cultural home she has been nurturing for a long time.
     But the night belonged to Sands for a well-paced and thoughtful walk through his amazing career, bringing to life and stage many of the stories told a decade ago in 2005 when his autobiography The Songman was published.
     The show opened dramatically with some simple home movie type footage of Sands walking in the Mourne foothills overlooking his native Mayobridge, synched to the chanting of one of his endearing compositions, “Let the Circle Be Wide Round the Fireplace” delivered live behind the screen as we discovered when he came out in front of it.

by Paul Keating
From the Hob, fromthehob@aol.com
The Irish Voice, IrishCentral.com
June 10-16, 2015

     Thus began his beguiling presentation of song and story about life along the Ryan Road and the families and people who inhabited it.
     They were like so many in Northern Ireland whose lives were turned upside down during The Troubles so drastically for a score of years.
     Twenty years ago the historic Good Friday Agreement at Stormont was one long in Sands’ sights as a peace activist who reached all sides. He used that as a fitting bridge in the show to attach his stories and songs leading up one of Ireland’s most important achievements.
     The tale of the RUC officer on the road as he tried to get to Stormont, the bus to Newry Town along the Ryan Road and the heart-wrenching story behind “There Were Roses” all put in a context that kept people on the edge of their seats with emotions close to the surface. They were all masterly delivered along with the history of the Sands family in music and song.
     As we know peace and justice are not a done deal in the North, and while it is far worse in other quarters around this troublesome world, it is people like Sands who provide hope and inspiration.
     Jump at the chance to see Ballad of a Songman if you ever can, and to learn more about the extraordinary human being that is Tommy Sands visit tommysands.com where you can order CDs and his book.