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  1. When are you coming back to Ireland Don ? I was almost due my fourth baby last time you played in Castlewellan and even though I live quite close, was unable to attend your concert. Everyone said it was amazing.I would be really delighted to get the chance to see you over here again…. Just LOVE your music ! God Bless xo

  2. After the great Glasgow show I spent the Friday catching up with family and friends before setting off at the crack of dawn on Saturday to catch the first flight of the day to Belfast. This meant leaving my parents house at 5.30 am…I planned to take a taxi but my good old mum got up at that unearthly hour to drive me to the airport…no wonder we love ‘em!

    I had booked a cheap £12 flight with Easyjet, one of our discount operators. In order to streamline things, no seat numbers are allocated. Boarding is in order of a number given on arrival…first 30, second 30 etc. Now here is the odd thing…in all the times I have travelled with them, even arriving at the airport well before the flight, I don’t think I have ever made the first 30 and rarely even the second 30. This morning I managed 108!! What time do these folk get up for goodness sake!

    Somehow, by knocking over a few smaller and weaker travellers, I still managed to grab a window seat for the short flight across the Irish sea on a pleasant if hazy morning. The trip was so quick, less than 30 minutes, that Easyjet didn’t even have a chance to serve their overpriced snacks and coffee, which was probably a relief to the cabin crew.

    Before I’d woken up I was in Belfast’s bijou ‘International’ airport having a coffee in a vain attempt to kick my body into some kind of operational state. I went to pick up my pre booked hire car. The guy asked me if I was on my own and would mind taking a small van as they were short of cars. I decided this would be ok, but negotiated so that I didn’t need to refuel the vehicle. I learned a lot about barter when I visited my cousin in New York last year…those guys try to make a deal for everything!

    I wandered to the car park and found that the van was rather bigger than I had imagined….sort of Transit sized. When I drove off I found that it was a diesel with all the acceleration capacity of an ageing tortoise. However, I decided I wasn’t going far and was in no hurry so could live with it…it was only costing me £30 for the day after all.

    It’s only a 50mile journey to Castlewellan, so I had a ton of time on my hands it being still only 9 am. So I pulled in at the first roadside café I found and had a full Irish breakfast whilst I planned my route (s). Irish breakfasts are proper breakfasts with soda bread and (my personal favourite) potato scones. Lovely!

    Suitably replenished, and a little heavier, I set off on an increasingly sunny morning towards my target. I had little choice but to take my time and look at some of the marvellous scenery in this area. The only awkward thing about driving the van was that although there were windows in the back, and a clear line of sight to them, the van did not have a centre mirror. This made it difficult to see cars close behind…a disadvantage on narrow roads where other vehicles are looking to pass. In daylight it was ok….but the drive back was a different tale!

    I reached the pretty town of Castlewellan at about 11am. As I knew that the gates didn’t even open till 3.30 I continued the few additional miles to the seaside town of Newcastle and spent some time there wandering along the front and generally doing the seaside thing. A call of nature made me search out the public toilets in a carpark….these were very odd with individual doors into the urinals ..not seen anything quite like it before!

    Feeling a lot more comfortable, I did some more aimless meandering before my mobile phone rang. I was greeted by the dulcet tones of Bob Gregg calling from Australia. He had actually got his days wrong and thought we would all be together in Dublin so the conversation was a bit confused at first. Anyway when we did finally manage to get our days sorted out we reminisced about Hong Kong and talked about Don’s upcoming Aussie tour. Great to hear from you Bob, look after Don when he’s down under.

    Finding only a limited amount to do in Newcastle, as I had somehow omitted to pack my bucket and spade, I jumped in the van and drove back to Castlewellan and directly to the Forest Park which is right beside the town. I paid the rip-off £4 parking fee and wandered down to the concert site.

    The location was beautiful…..there is a picture elsewhere on the review page. A small castle stands on an elevated point leading down to a natural amphitheatre backing on to a lake.

    However, the organisers had decided (no doubt in case of inclement weather) to erect a huge blue tent at the bottom of the amphitheatre. Apart from not adding much to the view, it was immediately apparent that if you wanted to watch the live acts you would need to be inside the tent where the ground was flat and the grass dampish. The more attractive alternative was sitting on the slope outside in the sunshine, the disadvantage being that this meant watching the stage on a large video screen.

    At this point there were few people around, other than security staff and a few people enjoying a sunny walk in the park. I sat down and read my Sunday paper whilst hearing the occasional sounds of other acts going through sound checks. Finally, somewhere after 2pm I saw Don and the band arrive in a minibus. I wandered up the slope outside the fenced off area in the hope that they would be testing the cameras during the sound check and I could watch it on the big screen. However, this was not to be, so it was sound only.

    There was a lot of general fiddling around, testing of levels etc before Don sound checked with most of Mountains of Mourne (what a surprise!). At this point a rather odd guy with a camera spoke to me and asked if they were checking the sound with a recording. He was surprised to find out that it was Don singing live! He wandered away and started taking pictures under the security fence before coming back and boring me with details of F-stops and other photographic nonsense. Curiously he then asked if he could take my picture before thankfully taking his leave!

    Sound checking continued with ‘Nobody Loves You when You’re Down and Out’ which Don didn’t sing in the concert there but did the following night in Dublin. ‘Run,Diana,Run’ also figured. Don and the band left, obviously to return to a local hotel since it was still 5 or 6 hours till their performance.

    I went for a wander around the park, and then had something to eat in the park café (yes again!!). I returned to the concert area at about 4.45 and exchanged my ticket for a plastic wrist bracelet which allowed me to move in and out of the concert area at will. I went into the tent and tried to sit down but there was no way to get comfortable on the flat surface so I went out and sat on the bank in the sunshine.

    The first band came on a little after the advertised 5pm start. There were 4 or 5 people with the main performer being a bagpipe player. I was intrigued to see that on the main set of pipes he used he filled the bag with air not in the conventional way by blowing in a tube but rather by operating a bellows located in his armpit. Seemed a definite design improvement to me! They played for an hour and were ok, though after a while one bagpipe tune began to sound pretty much like another. Still, Celtic it definitely was so I couldn’t have complaint based on the festival title.

    The piper was followed by my favourite of the three support acts. This was Irish singer Eleanor McEvoy who performed an acoustic set backing herself on guitar, like a Don concert from the 70s! I’m a words person much more than a music fiend so this was more my cup of tea and I even ventured into the tent to get a better view. Whilst in there I noticed Ralph Childs and Jerry Croon wandering in, closely followed by Tony Migliore and Pat Severs. I had a chat with Tony and Pat who remembered me from Hong Kong…Tony joked that I had been to more Don concerts than he had! I asked if they were looking forward to Australia…Tony seemed to have mixed feelings because it would mean leaving his wife and young child for 3 weeks.

    Tony and Pat left to get ready, and the third act came on. Lunasa were described as ‘the hottest Irish acoustic band on the planet’ in the concert brochure. And they probably are. Certainly the Irish crowd seemed to enjoy it and lots of young girls and boys (and others not so young!) were ‘gieing it laldy’ as we’d say in Glasgow with the Riverdance style dancing. Even the Clancy Brothers had come to see them apparently. However, as I said before my thing is mainly words and rather like the piper before it all became much of a muchness to me. Maybe its because I’m not built for that dancing. (s)

    I watched most of Lunasa from outside and at the back of the tent where I could lean against something. When Don was due on I moved close to the front….it wasn’t too busy in there…many folks were still enjoying the sunshine outside. The band came on as usual and you could see Don stood at the back, looking impatient to get started. However, there seemed to be a problem, I think it was with Ralph’s set up and a few moments passed with Don looking a increasingly agitated.

    Finally, the compere who was also called McLean came on resplendent in the McLean tartan. However, he then spent 2 or 3 minutes rabbiting on before finally introducing him. Don did not look best pleased to me!

    The set that followed was a surprisingly normal Don concert of recent years. I had imagined that there might have been some quirky and unusual stuff in there in deference to the ‘Celtic’ title but it was essentially rock and country with very little acoustic content. Indeed Don himself commented that if this was the Celtic fusion festival, he must represent the fusion!

    For me overall the show didn’t really work. I’m not quite sure why as the content wasn’t unduly different from Glasgow. But festival crowds are different…they are made up much less of fans who have specifically come to see Don, there more for the overall day out and sometimes to see other acts. Don works best when he plays in intimate surroundings (Dublin felt like another world!) and to fans who are there specifically to see him. However the crowd seemed satisfied enough at hearing the Mountains of Mourne and of course AP when lots ran inside the tent.

    There was an amusing mix-up at the end of the night. I knew from a posting here that a pipe band was due to play at some point. What happened in fact was that Don finished American Pie and went off to the usual cheers. The organisers however didn’t seem to allow for the inevitable encore. Suddenly there was a barrage of fireworks from the castle battlements and a searchlight lit up the pipe band.

    However, in the meantime Don had returned to the stage. From there he couldn’t see the castle or (probably) hear the pipe band. We then had the extraordinary combination of a pipe band and Run Diana Run blasting out simultaneously. It was unfortunate because the fireworks and band made an impressive sight. However it wasn’t Don’s fault that nobody told him the plan. It all worked out in the end as the crowd stayed to watch the pipe band play at the top of the hill after the encores concluded.

    All that was left was for me to drive back to Belfast…really hard work on dark narrow roads with a van you cant see out the back of and headlights it seemed almost always in the mirror. I ended up going a slightly extended route too (no Hannah I didn’t get lost…men don’t!) so I didn’t get back to my hotel at Belfast airport till after midnight.

    It had been a long day and in retrospect I probably wouldn’t attempt it again. It was far from a total disaster…..a lovely day out in a beautiful spot. But the setting and environment didn’t really suit Don’s style, a fact he effectively acknowledged in Dublin the next day when he talked about the intimacy of that theatre and ‘smashing and bashing’ at the festival the day before. That’s overstating it a bit, but I won’t be rushing back to see Don outdoors.

  3. What a fantastic gig! Don seemed to enjoy it as much as the audience! His voice seemed in great shape. The highlight for me was ‘Everyday’, one of the best performances I’ve seen for a while, wipes the floor with Dylan in Belfast, June.

  4. What an emotional thrill it was to hear you sing the Mountains of Mourne at the foot of those very mountains ! Enjoyment beyond belief !

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