Riverdance team Fuse flamenco and fiddlers in new show
‘Heartbeat of Home’, a new dance show from the creators of ‘Riverdance’, with lyrics by Joseph O’Connor and music by Brian Byrne, is drawing a new musical map of Ireland
Last year Doherty and McColgan put on a promo presentation of Heartbeat of Home for promoters from all over the world. The promoters “had been begging for a dance show, because Riverdance has an amazing following”, says Byrne. “John and Moya resisted for years and years. So we did this 40-minute warts and all version, with just a tiny little band . . . All the promoters bought it up.”
O’Connor and Byrne don’t seem intimidated by the expectations. “There’ll always be a comparison with [Riverdance], because it’s from the producers of Riverdance and there are Irish dancers in it and at some stage they’re going to come out in a line,” says Byrne. “We pay homage to that.”
Here, ensconced in the studio, they’re happy to chat away about music and art. O’Connor talks about the music in Irish writing: “William Trevor to me is like a beautiful chamber music. Beckett has a minor-key sadness”. Byrne talks about jazz: “I snuck in a lot of jazz,” he says guiltily.
They discuss misheard song lyrics: “My brother thought ‘Ghostbusters’ was ‘Those Bastards’,” says Byrne. He says they have left some room for improvisation in the score. “The bass player for Cats in London played the same score for 25 years.” He shakes his head in wonderment. “Twenty-five years playing Memories.”
O’Connor says things have changed since Heartbeat of Home’s groundbreaking predecessor. “In the 20th century, Ireland did what all post-revolutionary societies do: we concentrated on what was special and unique about us,” he says. “Maybe the time has come to celebrate commonalities rather than differences. I spent six months in Nicaragua in 1985, and I was very struck by the emotional similarity between their music and ours. And on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua you hear English Victorian music-hall songs played with a kind of calypso sensibility. The Lambeth Walk is a big traditional song on the east coast of Nicaragua. They’ll tell you it’s a traditional Nicaraguan song, but your Irish granny in Kilburn would also sing it. I was always struck by this. So when John started talking about this stuff, I wished he would invite me to get involved.” O’Connor laughs. Later, he says: “For me [Riverdance is] the four-minute mile. No one will ever again be the first to break the four-minute mile, but Roger Bannister leads to Usain Bolt, and Gene Vincent leads to Imelda May, and the Dubliners lead to the Pogues.
“Riverdance was a wonderful thing coming out of Ireland at that time. This is coming out of Ireland now.”