Thursday, 29 January 2015

Hanz Araki and Colleen Raney come to Muff.

During 2014 I had the great honour to interview 'an Irish music phenomenon in West Coast America', Hanz Araki. When I was asked to do the interview I did recognise the name of Araki but must admit to not being very familiar with his music. However within a few short hours I was literally 'a dedicated follower of fashion'...the music fashion of Hanz Araki that is!! The son of Irish and Japanese parents, Hanz is an outstanding flute player and traditional singer. His most recent album 'Foreign Shore' was about to be launched at the time and I was immediately transported into a new world of Irish traditional music.

I listened to the new album, thanks to Little Sea Records and was privileged to then interview the man himself. A true gentleman he turned out to be. Shortly after the feature was published in Irish Music Magazine Hanz contacted me and said he would like to come to Muff and visit with myself early in 2015. Of course I agreed but never imagined himself turning up in Muff. But true to his word, Hanz kept in contact and earlier yesterday evening we met in the heart of Muff......none other than the Squealing Pig bar.
Hanz not only brought himself to Muff, but also his equally talented and gifted partner Colleen Raney. Colleen is a gifted traditional singer who has recently released her fourth album, titled “Here This is Home”. She has been referred to as 'among the best in her genre'.
On arrival in Muff yesterday evening the folks arrived in the 'Pig wee bar' and enquired where they might eat. They were directed to The Border Cafe where Colleen assures me she had one of the 'best hot chocolates' she's had in a while. 

These two amazing people are passionate about all that is Irish. And in particular real Irish culture. It was a sheer delight to engage in good old Irish banter about real Irish tradition and what it really means. A true appreciation of Irish culture is hard to find in the present world. How apt that these two Americans (Irish Americans) come to our village and teach me and my family about the reality of keeping our traditions alive.
The folks enjoyed the resident 'Thursday band' in The Squealing Pig and I'm assured they will certainly make a return trip in the near future.
Sometimes the North West of Ireland gets lost among the cities nationwide, but tonight this wee village of Muff was alive with all that is traditional Irish music folk. I can honestly say that I met these two folk last night as strangers. I left them a short time ago as friends. What an honour that really was (and is). Here's to keeping the true tradition of real Irish traditional music alive.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Titanicdance and Raymond Sweeney.

I was very fortunate to catch up with Raymond Sweeney, Creative Director, Producer and Lead Dancer from Titanicdance earlier today. Raymond hails from Donegal and has toured the world with the world famous Lord of the Dance. He spent 15 years with Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance and is now heading up his own show, Titanicdance.
Launched in Belfast last year, Titanicdance is returning for 3 shows to  The Millennium Forum Derry next weekend and it promises to be mindblowing in every sense of the word.
I was curious to know how Raymond first got into dancing. He told me 'my sisters were all going to Irish dancing classes and I began picking up steps from them. It was only a matter of time before I joined the class'. He said that at first he was attracted to the dancing alone and then as he matured the girls there also attracted him!!
After auditioning for Lord of the Dance over a number of weeks, which he said 'resembled the X Factor minus the public voting and viewing' he then set out to tour the world with Lord of the Dance. 'My first show was with Michael Flatley at London's Hyde Park'. From there it was on to the United States and now he is back in Ireland and ready to showcase his Titanicdance to a home audience once more, and then it is hoped the show will go global. 
Raymond said that this experience is 'every dancers dream. I never thought I'd do this but with the right team around me it has come together'.
Just talking to Raymond Sweeney, I can tell that he is super excited about this production. His passion shines through in his body language and his talk. 'I see potential in this and am really excited about it'. If rehearsals are anything to go by, I'm really excited about seeing it on stage next Thursday night.

Surely with such a history of world class touring behind him, his defining moment must be Las Vegas or New York. But no, Raymond admits that one such moment was last year 'on the Oddessy stage in Belfast. Dancing lead in my own show was a very proud moment and especially as it was to an Irish audience. This audience is one of the toughest to perform for. Dancing is so prominent in Northern Ireland and there are so many great dancers out there.' He is so respectful of the Northern Ireland dancing that he has some local dancers in the show.

Raymond Sweeney is Donegal to the end. He speaks fondly of his home townland of Drumkeen and how many of the ideas for the show were put together in a prefab near his home there. 'We gathered there and played around with a number of ideas and many of them came together in that prefab in Drumkeen'.
This farming chap has come a long way from running after sheep, to dancing on a world stage and now to headlining his very own show in it's infancy. 

'Titanicdance tells a heart-gripping love story as the great ship makes its maiden voyage across the Atlantic. This epic tale is enacted by a cast of 24 of the world's top Irish dancers and 6 of Ireland's leading musicians, making Titanicdance an unmissable spectacular of live music, song and dance, along with amazing costumes and set design. Visually Titanicdance is something you'll never have experienced before. The original choreography is sure to set your feet tapping and emotions running high as the story unfolds - you're guaranteed to want more ad more.'

Raymond assures me that this show is not only entertainment but gives a real insight into the reality of the Titanic experience. 'Throughout the show, the audience can follow facts on the large screens.'
For more details and booking information contact The Millennium Forum, Derry. If it's one show you see this February this might be just the one to set you talking for many months to come.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

TITANICDANCE returns to Derry.

I've only just realised that Titanicdance is to return to our very own premier venue The Millennium Forum, Derry, for a limited run next month. The smash hit show from 2014 is to perform again from Thurs 5th - Sat 7th Feb 2015. This will certainly be one of the showstopping events in the North West during the first quarter of this, the new year. Tickets are currently on sale from the Box Office at the Millennium Forum, Derry. I was unfortunate not to catch this show last year due to unforeseen circumstances, but I won't be making that mistake in 2015. All reports and reviews were simply outstanding. The show played to a capacity audience in the Forum last year and it is certainly expected that it's short run in February this year will sell out prior to opening night on Feb 5th.
David McLaughlin, Chief Executive of the Millennium Forum and Co-Producer of Titanicdance, has said: "Titanicdance took audiences in the Millennium Forum by storm during its first performance, selling out our venue in May and leaving many people disappointed when they couldn't get tickets. The reception it received from local audiences was phenomenal."
Titanicdance is an Irish Dance sensation that tells the story of the world's most famous ship from its beginning in the Belfast shipyard to its tragic end in the Atlantic Ocean. It embarked on an emotional journey of hope, aspiration, love, heartbreak and sadness that left audiences wanting more and bringing them to their feet. A cast of 30 world class Irish dancers and musicians set the scene for a breathtaking romantic performance that's led by and choreographed by Principal Dancer and Creative Director, Raymond Sweeney. Sweeney brings a wealth of experience to Titanicdance having performed with Michael Flatley's groundbreaking hit, Lord of the Dance for over fifteen years. Joining him onstage and assisting with choreography is Louise Hayden and James Keegan. The show also stars Nikita Cassidy, who, along with James, has danced principal roles in some of the world's most famous dance shows and who currently stars in Michael Flatley's new show, Dangerous Games, in London's West End.

Titanicdance performs at the Millennium Forum from Thurs 5th Feb to Sat 7th Feb. Tickets are currently available from the Forum Box Office. Tel: 02871264455 or visit for bookings.
If it's one show you go to this first quarter it really should be Titanicdance!