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From Schubert to Beatles, The Priests hit the spot

By Terry Blain

IT was an evening of anniversaries: 25 years since Feile an Phobail was first mounted in west Belfast and five since The Priests released their debut album, which has since shifted three million copies.

Unsurprisingly, the serried pews of the magnificent Clonard Monastery were packed to capacity, the air buzzing in anticipation of the Fathers' appearance.

The Ulster Orchestra launched the evening with the overture to Mozart's Idomeneo and later played Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, but the rest of the first half was vocal, with a strong ecclesiastical focus.

Opening with a Laudamus Te by Vivaldi (a priest himself), The Priests immediately demonstrated why they're different from so many other acts who rocket to global stardom on the back of perceived novelty value – all three of them are genuinely excellent singers.

A beautifully poised version of Schubert's Ave Maria followed.

Franck's Panis Angelicus, then, confirmed the trio's ability to take material with a dangerously high saccharine content and put it over unsentimentally, with genuine sincerity.

There was space for fun, too, however, in a Spanish comic song where brothers Eugene and Martin O'Hagan convincingly aped the village gossips, a black fan was waved around, and sombreros were mimicked.

Part two commenced with a surprise, The Priests raiding the back catalogue of The Beatles.

Eleanor Rigby was the number chosen, because (quipped Father Eugene) it mentioned a church, a priest and a funeral.

It worked well in this three-part arrangement, the string quartet of the original recording tastefully expanded for full orchestra.

Other highlights included Father Martin's moving solo in Stephen Sondheim's classic Send In The Clowns, and Father David Delargy's plaintive rendition of the Bette Midler standard The Rose.

Amazingly, this was The Priest's first appearance at the Feile. It surely won't be another quarter-of-a-century until the next one.

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