A Tribute To Tony Small

We were EXTREMELY lucky to be part of an amazing tribute to our dear friend Tony Small in Galway last Sunday night as part of ‘The Galway Sessions’. The concert was @ The Town Hall Theatre and was presented by myself (Pauline) for the night. There was an amazing array of performers and the President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina were among the guests for the night. Lumiere opened the night with 4 of Tony’s well knows songs that he wrote or taught to us, one of those being ‘My Dearest Dear’. Éilís sang a song called ‘Gortnamóna’, which in my head is the song I associate most with Tony. Fair play to her for getting through it and singing it so beautifully as I can assure you there wasn’t a dry eye in the house! The very Wonderful Seán Keane took to the stage after that and sang ‘Galway’ which has been recorded by many people including a wonderful version by Tommy O’Sullivan who also performed the Guy Clarke song ‘Dublin Blues’ with his wife Saundra on the night. It was a favourite of Tony’s. Bernie Pháid sang ‘Rye tearnin’ and ‘Ghosty Ryan’ both songs Tony wrote about travellers and wanderers much like himself. Bernie and I started singing with Tony together when we were only young girls, he was so good to us really and we had so many day and nights of songs and singing that really shaped me into the singer I am today. I’m not sure I’d be a singer at all if I hadn’t had such encouragement from Tony. He showed me that I could just throw myself into it and that I didn’t have to take a ‘regular job’ if I didn’t want to. I never imagined you could make a living and support yourself from music. That realisation was a gift.

Tony’s long time pal and associate Seán Ryan took to the stage with Kathleen Loughnane and Alec Finn after Bernie and they had the audience in stitches with their shenanigans! Seán plays some amazing music on Tony’s album ‘Galway’ which also features Éilís on harmony vocals on some of the tracks.. it’s beautiful. Inishboffin super-star Dessie O’Halloran sang one of the songs off Tony’s new album ‘Mandolin Mountain’ and brought the house down followed by Pádraig Stevens who did the same! Pádraig Stevens and Tony were friends for a long time and Pádraig has so many stories about Tony. He reckons Tony was the first person he knew of who wrote his own song start to finish!

Helen Lane sang a beautiful song she wrote about Tony, she’s so graceful and funny and I can see how her and Tony had such a great friendship when I meet her. she’s a cool character! The mayo contingent sang and played tunes, Tommy Hodgins I met 20 years ago in Dingle when he visited with Tony and his voice is as exciting t listen to now as it was then. Aoife and Deirdre Granville played a gorgeous set of tunes and sang the Merle Haggard song ‘If I could Only Fly’. I can still see tony throwing his head back and belting out the chorus in my mind.

Eoin Duignan was next up.. the representative from ‘The Wild Geese’ days. He played an amazing air and I could see he was so moved my the occasion. Eoin has been living in Dingle since the 70s and he and Tony have played music together since then.

Christy Moore was up next.. he started off with ‘An Bonnán Buí’. What a song to sing on such a night! The song is about the yellow bittern who died of thirst on a frozen lake, so fitting for the occasion as poor old Tony struggled with alcohol for a long long time. Christy sang it amazing sensitivity. He also sang a Woody Guthrie song and Tony’s song ‘Mandolin Mountain’ on which I joined him. I loved singing with Christy, he really is so vibey and engaging. Christy wrote about the night in his Blog which you can get here.

Next up was Dolores Keane. I have never seen anything like it!! Before she even got to the microphone the whole audience  – who had been in the room for 3 hours at that stage jumped to their feet and gave her a well deserved standing ovation which must have lasted 10 minutes. It was so moving, she was so humble and it’s easy to understand why people love her like they do. She sang Tony’s song ‘Galway Bay’ and she sounded amazing. She invited her sister Christina up for the second song which turned out to be Caledonia and he whole house sang along with them. It was something to behold. Donogh Hennessy and Anna Falkenau provided accompaniment for the night and they were utterly flawless, everybody loves playing with them!

We finished the night with Tony’s song ‘The Welcome’. The love in the room, on the stage and I’m guessing up in the stars where Tony hangs out these days was palpable. I’ll never forget the night we all shared, it really was one of the most special to date. Here’s a clip of the finale.. if any of you would like to hear Tony Small.. his CD ‘Mandolin Mountain’ is available here.. it’s a must really!

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