Rock and Roll in Macroom

MACROOM, a sleepy Munster town, twenty four miles west of Cork, is an unlikely candidate as the Irish Wooddstock, but that is what it has become as the serene grounds of Macroom Castle are now the established venue for the country's greatest annual open-air rock concert.

Eight thousand rock enthusiasts thronged in there on the last Saturday in June to join the improbably named mountain dew festival at which Ireland's most famed musical export - with apoloogies to the BrendanO'Dowds and Boyer - Rory Gallagher makes his annual obeisence to his origins - actually he was born in Ballyshannon but spent most of his life in Cork.

The thousands of the youthful visiitors accommodated themselves in a make-shift camping site, with late comers literally taking to the hills. Irish weather conditions are hardly conducive to such outdoor events, and would cerrtainly be prohibitive usually in the abbsence of a raw fanaticism which is immune to inclemency. Such fanaticism there was in abundance and it was tested from time to time as squalls came and went. .

Hot Guitars opened the show. They are a local outfit two of whom were formerly members ~f the now defunct Sleepy Hollow. Front man Joe O'Callaghan served his apprenticeship with the Dave Prime Band and though his vocal delivery lacked punch, the groups renditions of classics, such as "Oh Carol" and "Route 66" (the BBside of their first single "Nasty People") was sufficiently dynamic to wake the crowd from a lethargy induced by over exposure to a short and limited tape of somewhat dated material which was played again and again throughout the afternoon during equipment changes on the stage.

Stepaside are a Dublin outfit who've been around for longer than I care to remember and who, on this display, show little sign of broadening their musical horizons sufficiently to earn a long-awaited cross-channel recording contact. Their style is too deeply enntrenched in the late sixties soft rock sound to register in the harsh and abrasive world of present day rock and roll with the same impact as, say, the Radiators .from Space or the Boomtown Rats.

Jenny Haan's "Lion;' provided wellcome relief from the tedious mediocrity of what we had been treated to so far. For years her powerhouse vocal deliivery was the identifiable trade mark of Babe Ruth, a group which released half a dozen worthy albums which never achieved critical acclaim outside of a strong cult following. As she launched into "Are You Ready", the crowd were on their feet and clapping. Haan's voice bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Janis Joplin and with some exciting guitar breaks from Chris Wade and the pulsating rhythm section of Layton-Bennet on drums, and Dave Hewitt on bass, she provided us with a veritable feast of muscular rock'n roll.

Apart from Rory Gallagher and his band, the group most people had come to see was the Cimarons, a Londonnbased reggae outfit which came on a short introductory tour here only a few months back. Reggae has never been a particularly popular form of music in Ireland, but the Macroom audience response suggests that the Cimarons will be back here soon.

Things were running late and Joe O'Donnell's Vision Band had to suffer the not inconsiderable misfortune of having to take the stage around the time when Gallagher should have been makking his appearance. The crowd were restive, and anxious for the highlight of the afternoon. The band sensed this and indeed O'Donnell himself sounded nerrvous and almost apologetic introducing the few riumbers they did perform.Their particular fusion of folk and jazzzrock deserved an attentive ear with the weaving of keyboards of Dave Lennox and Thedore Thunder's precision drummming highlighted during "The Battle", providing rich accompaniment for O'Donnell's searing violin. Unfairly the Vision Band were the only ones not called for an encore.

The rain began again just before Rory Gallagher took the stage. Almost miraculously it ceased as he launched into "Shin Kicker" a new song with thundering drums, resonant bass and the inimitable Gallagher guitar. That song Rory Gallagher furiously played and with the lead notes re-echoing off the hillsid-e in the disstance, set the tone for the Corkman's hour and a half performance. The audience hardly ceased a rhythm of clapping, gyrating and dancing as Gallagher played his way through a succcession of time-honoured favourites, including "Moonchild" and "Western Plains". It was the debut performance for his new outfit featuring Jim McKenna on drums and Gerry McEvoy on bass. But the broad grin on Gallaggher's face throughout the performance, suggested that he was enjoying himself enormously and well satisfied by the contribution from his back-up musiciians.

Darkness was falling as the crowd filtered out through the archway of 15th Century Macroom Castle into the narrow streets, there to search in vain for a pub with more beer or queue for hours to partake of dubious hamburgers and warm minerals. But the night was still young and the crowd's spirits were up. We were happy. It was that sort of occasion .•