Sunday, 16 December 2012

Carols By Candlelight

Si's Sights And Sounds revives some old memories and makes some new ones at a Christ Church charity service

Remember when, as a child, you looked forward to both watching and performing in Christmas concerts along with and in front of the rest of your family? Carols By Candlelight is a great excuse for this writer to feel young again by joining in congregational hymns, and to be enlightened by a series of very talented performers, some more familiar than others. It's an intriguing mix of earnestness, joviality, professionalism and all round musicality, ideal for warming the cockles on a chilly weekday night.

Children of all ages from the Hickey School Of Music offer a punchy, gutsy and varied selection of Christmas carols, with their brief but bouncy "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" impressing most of all. No jazzing up here, just an exceptionally determined "what you see is what you get" performance from everyone involved – and the Christ Church audience truly appreciate this. Even more appreciated is the presence of Derry tunesmith Eoin O'Callaghan, aka Best Boy Grip, and a rendition of "Monster And Me".

Alas, the acoustics of the church aren't really suited to his strong piano ballads, but the congregation don’t mind. It’s clear that even if O’Callaghan hasn't quite got a grip on this venue, he's still one of Derry's best boys in the eyes of us all – and in the season of goodwill, little else matters.

More novel and interesting is Anne Marie Hickey & Caroline Millar's duet, "Silver Bells". Hickey's understated tone dovetails nicely with the strident, controlled operatics of Millar.

If the Foyle U3A singers, conducted by Jim Goodman, aren't quite as vibrant as Hickey's "children", they succeed in their own professional manner. To Derry eyes, it's a case of playing "spot the voice", with the past and present (and future?) of the Londonderry Musical Society – including Denise O'Boyle, Rionach McGlinchey, Caroline Millar, Colin Clarke, Richard & Elizabeth Charlesson and Donald Hill – lending a helping hand, with Hill's booming, reassuringly recognisable voice leading the way on at least two of their three songs.

Eireann Hickey's harp solo, "A Christmas Lullaby", is beautiful enough that the music speaks for itself – gorgeous in its deceptive simplicity. It's followed by Meabh McGinley's strikingly soulful performance of "The Night Before Christmas", a song that is definitely worth listening out for. McGinley, who shot to fame during the successful City Of Culture campaign of 2010, is clearly back in the limelight with a bang. If only she had picked a better song than Robbie Williams' "Angels" to play next – years of overplaying have turned what once seemed like a classic pop tune into something extremely irritating. To McGinley's credit, though, she warbles with a regretful, world-weary feeling (a sign that she's as weary of hearing the song as I am, perhaps?), ensuring that one sort of warms to it as it goes along. Her jazzy vocals and passionate piano playing elevate the rendition.

A gentler tone is required after McGinley's energetic musical displays, and we get it thanks to both another pitch perfect Rionach McGlinchey solo (this time, it's "In The Bleak Midwinter"), and a soothing collective performance from St Eugene’s Cathedral Choir, featuring the talents of event organiser Denise O'Boyle. Her solo vocals for "O Holy Night" pack quite a punch.

After a final congregational carol, it's home time for all. It's been a calming, ceremonial, charitable affair, and everyone's spirits have been raised for the holiday season.