The Orange, the White, and the Green

by vpundir | March 18th, 2008

Dia daoibh! Howaya?

Sunday at Trafalgar Square was an all-Irish day – right down to the weather. There were light showers all day long, and the sky was overcast without being dark.

I had expected the square to be jam-packed when I reached there about 1 hour into the programme schedule of the St. Patrick’s Day Festival. To my surprise, it was relatively empty. So I checked the schedule again, and it seemed that the 12 Irish tenors and Ann Scott should have completed their respective performances. I checked with one of the security guards, and she confirmed that that was indeed the case.

So where were all the Irish folks? Could it be that they were dissuaded by the gray skies?

I forgot the questions for what turned out to be a very short while as the Celtic Masters took stage for their impressive but ridiculously short-lived clogging performance.

So, again, where were all the Irish? Turned out that they were in the parade that starts at Hyde Park Corner and culminates at Whitehall. It was probably the arrival of the parade that had cut the Celtic Masters’ gig short.

As people started pouring out of the parade and into the square, it started to feel more like a Trafalgar Square festival. That said, I have to say that there weren’t nearly as many people in the square as there were at the Russian Winter Festival.

There were droves of teens and tweens: the most I’ve seen in one place outside of a school. And of course, there were the infectiously enthusiastic and completely dressed up old folks.

It took a while, but as the people started settling in with their beers and whiskey, it was time for speeches.

Mayor Ken Livingston was greeted and treated with such enthusiastic cheers that made me wonder where exactly his opponent Boris’s lead in the opinion polls is coming from.

Ireland’s minister John Gormley observed, “As the minister for environment, I am happy to see so many green hair in the audience”, referring to the lengths people had gone to in order to dress-up for the event.

“10% of people in the world are Irish”, he said, “and the remaining 90% want to be Irish!”

He closed his spiel by inviting all the non-Irish people in the square to be Irish for a day, and have a good crack. And that was something everyone was ready for.

To mark the official opening of the festival, balloons with the Irish flag’s colors were released. While the orange and white ones flew off smoothly, the green ones had a rogue element among them. This one balloon took the net with it and flew towards the stage with the result that the net got literally stuck in spotlight. When trying to pull the net down didnt help, someone had the bright idea to cut the net. But that left half the net hanging, so ultimately a ladder was pressed into service, and the net was untangled and the baloon released. The lucky Irish indeed!

Joe Brown, celebrating his 50th year in show-business, took the stage with classics like “A Picture Of You”, “It Only Took A Minute” and “That’s What Love Will Do” as well as his newer works like “I’ll See You In My Dreams”. He started off on the acoustic guitar, but quickly changed over to the ukulele, and stuck with that through to the end. After every song he’d shake his hands vigorously – it was evident that he was cold and playing the strings with cold fingers was taking a toll. That didn’t stop him from performing with all his heart and he even went on to do some interesting country numbers, which isn’t surprising since he started off fronting the likes of Johnnie Cash and Billy Fury.

A bunch of teens on my left took out a bottle and a flask of whiskey; while a sign at the gates advised everyone to pour any alcohol into glasses before entering in an obvious attempt to check teenage consumption, whoever has ever been able to stop teens from doing what they want to do? They hadn’t even started downing their whiskeys to Joe’s music when a security guard noticed and told them to at least keep it under wraps and be discreet about the consumption.

About midway through his gig, Joe was joined on the stage by John Devine with uilleann pipes and Orlaith McAuliffe with a flute. This brought in the sweet, rustic Irish touch to the proceedings, and quite a few traditional Irish songs followed, with the crowd joining in on many occasions.

To add to the fun, a bunch of kids behind me started to have their own clogging crack.

Joe’s act was followed by the performer known as Luka Bloom (Kevin Barry Moore), whose name reminds one of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Luka used his electro-acoustic strumming to good effect in songs like “I’m not at war with anyone”. Clearly he doesn’t shy away from being political. In fact, most of his songs were about his world view – about harmony, world-peace, environment, and putting a stop to hatred and warmongering.

While the gig was in progress, an old lady tore through the crowd and reached right for the front. She was at least 70 years old, if she was a day and intriguingly had made her way through the crowd with surprising agility for her age.

And then, she mooned Luka. Thankfully, both the singer and the cameras took no notice, and she went back without being manhandled by the security folks.

The next act was Roísín Murphy. Murphy, now a solo act, used to be part of Moloko (which name, incidentally, is the Russian word for Milk, молоко, and is the term used in A Clockwork Orange to refer to milk mixed with narcotics).

She enthralled the crowds with several of her popular numbers, including “Ramalama Bang Bang”, “You Know Me Better”, “Let me know” and “Overpowered”.

Roísín is evidently a major hit with Irish men, and I’ve heard people say that she is one of the greatest vocal talents of our day. While I do like “Sing It Back” a bit, I have say that I was unimpressed by her performance in the square. To me, she seemed more interested and, frankly, more proficient in changing hats and attire than in singing.

The last act of the day was the Dublin-rockers Aslan (Aslan means Lion in Turkish), who probably take their name from the lion in C.S. Lewis’s chronicles of Narnia. They were energetic and peppy, and the crowd evidently knew their songs. The audience sang along during almost all their songs, with a smattering of shouts of “IRA, IRA”.

One of the little tweens tapped on my shoulder and asked, “I am unable to see Aslan, and they are my favorite band. Could I please climb up your shoulders for a song or two?”

“Uhh…yeah, sure! Why not? Hop on”.

For the finale, all the performers came together on the stage and sang along with the crowd traditional Irish ballads including “The fields of Athenry” and “When Irish eyes are smiling”.

Click here to check out my pictures from St. Patrick’s Day Festival in Trafalgar Square of 16 Mar 2008.
P.S. – There are two pages in this album! If you’re not running the slideshow, don’t forget to check out the second page 🙂

2 Responses to “The Orange, the White, and the Green”

  1. I don’t know you Maverick but I wanted to thank you for putting up the poems. I have been looking online for my favorite poem from school days and could never find it (Ogden Nash’s Confession of a born spectator). You made me happy today.

  2. Maverick says:

    Nidhi, you are very welcome. Indeed, thanks for your kind words.

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