It was an intimate affair. About thirty discerning souls in the back room of Beckett’s Bar in Budapest on a cold, rainy, rather miserable Thursday night. Given the week that was in it, it’s probably not surprising that more didn’t venture out. Denial can do that to you. But tonight was all about the love. And the man on stage, resplendent his three-piece suit and spats … he was all about the love, too.
No one quite knew what to expect and those sorts of expectations can be difficult to manage. The audience was a global one with Hungary, Scotland, England, Ireland, Norway, America, and Australia (and possibly more) ready for whatever the wee man with the funny accent (a heady vocal cocktail laced with traces of Glasgow and Donegal) threw at us. Some, concerned that their English mightn’t be up to it, relaxed when Little John Nee admitted that his English wasn’t great either. We were in safe hands.
We’re used to being technically entertained – the lights, the amps, the pageantry that come with modern productions. But last night, we could have been in a town hall in the back-end of anywhere. It was just him and us. He had his array of instruments neatly lined up on the stage behind him; we had our appreciation and our wonderment on tap, ready to pour.
A storyteller who uses music and drama to tell his tales, Little John Nee took us on a journey through rural Ireland, popping over to Scotland on the Derry Boat for a look-see and then back again. He introduced us to people we’d never met but would know ten years from now if we ever ran into them. As we listened to his songs and stories, it hit me that what we were seeing bordered on innocence. No bells and whistles. Just pure, honest-to-goodness entertainment … from the heart.
Storytelling is about holding the audience’s attention, about having them hang on your every word, about painting a picture that makes the sights and sounds and smells you describe come alive. And we were there. Everywhere Little John Nee went in that 90 minutes, we went with him. He gave us a gift: the opportunity to use our imagination, to let it take flight. Those of us born and reared in Ireland had no trouble at all reading volumes into the nod of his head, the tip of his chin, the roll of his eye. Those who had visited were back in the land of the familiar. And those who’d yet to make the journey started planning their trip.
His is a rare talent. He has a way with words, an innate ability to extract the best of stories from a combination of words like androgynous, brobdingnagian, cantankerous, and daffodils. We rode a wave of emotion with him, the peaks and the troughs. And afterwards, we felt good, better than we had a couple of hours earlier. Everyone was smiling. Reflective smiles that come with having been privy to something special.
Come back any time, Little John Nee. Next time, stay longer.
[Photo credit to Declan O’Callaghan]