Brand New Day caps an evening of high emotion
Sons and Daughters. Ebrington Square, Derry
The talk is over, and the serious business of the Derry-Londonderry City of Culture 2013 celebrations has finally started.
Preparations were, predictably, not without controversy, some of them surrounding The Venue, a temporary performance space constructed with £5m of public money at Ebrington. That's where Sunday evening's curtain-raising Sons and Daughters concert happened, featuring artists born or bred in the city.
Initial impressions of The Venue were mixed. From the outside it looked like a furniture warehouse, and there was no on-site parking — a major inconvenience in winter weather. Inside, however, the spectacle was truly impressive.
A large, split-level set accommodated an onstage band of 24 musicians. Above them a criss-cross, industrial-style gantry of spot-lighting raked the performing area, back-framed by a triptych of video screens projecting photographic images of the Maiden City. A further two screens flanked the platform, transmitting live shots of the performers.
The concert started emotively, as Derry songwriter Phil Coulter delivered a moving rendition of his classic ballad The Town I Loved So Well to a backdrop of monochrome historic footage and clips from the Troubles.
In an evening packed with quality vocal performances, several stood out.
The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon delivered a stunning, soaring performance of Sunrise, self-accompanied on a Steinway piano. By comparison, the crystalline clarity of 16-year-old Soak's Sea Creatures was touchingly unaffected, while Eurovision heroine Dana rolled back four decades with a sepia-tinted All Kinds of Everything.
The jazz-classical axis was strongly represented by the extraordinary saxophone virtuosity of Gerard McChrystal, while Damien McGinty (of Glee fame) and Girls Aloud star Nadine Coyle flew the flag for a younger generation. Inevitably, perhaps, the noisiest ovations were reserved for Derry's biggest ever band, The Undertones, introduced by actor James Nesbitt. Their Teenage Kicks and My Perfect Cousin rocked the house, drawing the phalanx of Stormont politicians present to their feet to clap along.
Even that was trumped, however, by the reappearance of Phil Coulter, premiering a new song, Brand New Day, a rousing composition destined to become the 2013 City of Culture anthem.
It brought the evening to an emotional conclusion, setting the bar high for the dozens of events to follow between now and December. Be sure to catch the highlights on network television this coming Saturday.