Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

The Commitments: A little less tender, a lot more soul

Everything has changed, but nothing has changed, since 1991.

That's when 'The Commitments' took us by storm in the Hollywood production of Roddy Doyle's lively book.

Ireland was in a deep recession and just about everyone seemed to be broke and on the dole. Twenty years on, and Ireland is once again in a deep malaise. We're broke and even more people are on the dole.

Back in the day, a baby-faced gang of unknowns promised to bring a little soul to the people in Alan Parker's hit film.

Yesterday, a tad older, greyer and heavier, the gaggle of nonetheless familiar faces renewed the promise with confirmation of a deeply nostalgic musical comeback.

"Sure there's a lot of different music you can get off on but soul is more than that. It takes you somewhere else.

"It grabs you by the balls and lifts you above the shite," Jimmy Rabbitte, the band's manager had said in the smash film.

Yesterday he and his bandmates showed glimpses of why 'The Commitments' still remains for so many a joyful memory. Putting it simply, they've still got it.

A balding Andrew Strong (loudmouth Deco Cuffe in the movie) with backing singers Angeline Ball (Imelda Quirke) and Bronagh Gallagher (Bernie McGloughlin) sang the pants out of 'Mustang Sally', the eponymous tune which gave the film its heart.

Other faces at the Liberty Hall Theatre included Robert Arkins (Jimmy Rabbitte), who will feature as a singer in the reunion concerts, a series that will earn the Irish Cancer Society a portion of the proceeds.

There was also Dick Massey (drummer Billy Mooney), Felim Gormley (Dean Fay), Ken McCluskey (Derek Scully) Dave Finnegan (Mickah Wallace), Michael Aherne (Steve Clifford) and 'Outspan' Foster, played by singer and 'Once' Oscar winner Glen Hansard.

He, perhaps more than most, was able to articulate just how much water has flowed under the bridge since 1991, when the film deftly captured the struggle of making ends meet in a recession.

"It was a really good thing in our lives. In some ways Dublin is now going back to being a much nicer city to be in . . . it developed a touch of arrogance during the last few years and I'm really glad to see that gone," said Hansard.

The only missing characters yesterday were Maria Doyle Kennedy (Natalie Murphy) and Johnny Murphy, who played Joey 'The Lips' Fagan. He is ill and will not take part in the concerts.

But there were plenty of rock 'n' roll Hollywood moments; security guards with ear-pieces, PRs all about the place, flunkies shouting "no filming, no pictures" and access all areas just for the "stars".

Strong, the rambunctious teenage surprise of the 1991 movie (he was just 16 when filming began) was brought fluffy white towels so he could mop his sweaty brow.

When cajoled to move to the front for a photograph, the now 37-year-old singer muttered an expletive as he shifted place.

"Good God almighty," marvelled a veteran photographer.

"He hasn't changed a bit."

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