ARTS AND FEATURES — 03 September 2014

Essence Of Ireland (4) (2)

Ged Graham joined Essence of Ireland five years ago as creative director and co-writer in a bis to create an electrifying entertainment spectacle of all things Irish.

The Dublin born Manchunian says that as an Irishman who spent most of is adult life away from the country, he wanted to give people an insight into his heritage.

The show goes on tour around the UK early next year, with tickets on sale on Friday September 5.

“When I joined Essence of Ireland, it was pretty much a music and dance show with no story line and we were looking at a way to differentiate ourselves from the Irish shows that were out there,” he says.

“There were none that captured immigration or what the essence of being Irish is, so we created a story around two fictional characters to make sense of the songs we were singing.

“Sometimes when you are singing an Irish song, it makes more sense singing them abroad, rather than if you are in the middle of Dublin and not really missing home.”

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It’s this sense of immigration that bears truest with Graham’s own back story, he and his family moved from Dublin when he was ten years old.

“We were always around traditional music, my mum and dad sang, and he didn’t return to Ireland at all for 17 years after he moved, and we were only about 50 miles from Holyhead.

“If you’ve got Irish roots in Manchester you don’t really feel like you’re away from home, I mean my two sons play football with Oisins and my daughter dances in feiseanna, she’s preparing for the Opens now as well.

“I arrived in Manchester with this thick Dublin accent and then within a few days I was a Manchunian, you had to assimilate very quickly.

“But it does pass down generations, and that’s really what Essence of Ireland is all about, people come to the show and they may not have been to Ireland for years, but they recognise their own, or their mother’s or their grandmother’s story.

“The storyline gives more context as not only have these songs passed down, the stories have too, and it creates a bit more context than just a show of classic songs.”

And the storyline is one that many of their UK audience will be able to identify with, with its reference to Cricklewood back in the 1950s and 60s.

“When you’re singing Wild Rover or songs like that, it can be so generic if it’s not done in the right way.

“But we’ve set it in Cricklewood, workers gathering in pubs like the Crown, to get the start for work the next day to make it more authentic.

“It then goes on to America and it’s very much about bringing your own culture into a strange environment and making that area your own.

“It’s just a great fun show. If you’re not Irish and if you don’t know anything about the culture of Ireland, you can still come along and have a night out. We kind of designed that on various levels, so your kids can come alond and enjoy it.”

He feels the mix of drama and music is what sets it apart from other prominent Irish shows, and allows it to crossover to an international audience.

Essence Of Ireland (11) (1)“We get compared to the likes of Lord of the Dance and Riverdance, which is fantastic, they are phenomenal shows. But there’s definitely this fourth wall when you go to see those shows, you’re not invited in.

“But, whereas we invite people in to sing along once we get to the second set. We don’t want people to feel that it’s not their show, that they’re not part of it.

“If you go to any city in the world, you’ll find an Irish bar, and normally that’s where people head when they want a good night out, and we want people going away thinking they’ve had a great night.

“It’s a fun show, it’s not like a historic museum show. It’s a night out, it’s Irishness, it’s the craic, it’s enjoyable, it’s a spectacle. You’re supposed to go out of the show hopefully having laughed a lot, having cried a lot.

“I mean 70 per cent of our audience in South Africa were black, and they really got into it. And we played in Qatar at the Arab Games a few years ago to a 99.9 per cent Arabic speaking audience, yet they got it and had a great time. It travels really well.

“It brings me total satisfaction. I feel very proud of my Irish heritage. I feel like a rugby player walking out on stage to represent my country every night. The enthusiasm we bring really hits the audience and every night we get standing ovations.

“The BBC said that every show is like St Patrick’s Day when we’re in town, and that’s what we try to do. We condense that day of celebrations into two hours.

“We’re having a good night and we’re honest and hope that ultimately you come away thinking “wow, that was a great night out,” the same way you would after visiting a pub for the first time.

“I’m just the luckiest guy in the world. I get to sing Irish songs as a profession, which I’d be doing anyway, and I’m able to wake up every morning, just about to pay the bills, and just love what I do.”

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It’s a career that has spanned forty years for Graham who started as a teenager, having been inspired by the musical greats that surrounded him as he grew up.

“I had my first paid gig forty years ago when I was 14. I was terrified really, but I always wanted to be a musician and a performer since I was four years old, I can remember being that age and knowing that this was what I wanted to do ever since.

“I was really lucky because I grew up in The Liberties on Dublin’s south side, our neighbours were the Chieftans’ Potts family, and then the Fureys’ father lived close by and you could walk down the street and see Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew from the Dubliners and it didn’t feel strange.

“The show band scene was big at the time, and Dublin was more like a town back then, everybody knew everyone else, it was a vibrant place.

“I just feel like we were the luckiest generation then in the 60s; we had the Beatles and the Stones and Irish bands would all be on the TV or the radio in real time.

“As a six year old you couldn’t help but want to be Paul McCartney or John Lennon, and I think I probably have some of that hippy nature about me now!”

Tickets for Essence of Ireland go on sale this Friday via their website

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