Percy French: Poetry and Song

Percy French: Poetry and Song

Review by George Fleeton 

George Fleeton

Attending the Percy French Evening of Poetry and Song in the Saint Patrick Centre (October 19) was like being immersed in a radox bubble bath at exactly the right temperature for total revitalisation.

The Edwardian palm court tea dance ambience was enhanced by potted plants, a faux-Persian rug, four first-class chairs appropriated from the Great Northern Railway, an antique upright piano, a banjo and a cello, any number of boaters and a barbershop quartet  of one female and three male  voices in evening dress, members of the Percy French Society from Bangor.

There was no escape once they swung into Phil the Fluter’s Ball against the five-screen cyclorama of the auditorium, with its (somewhat hesitant) slide show of the Mourne Mountains and, what appeared to be, some of Percy French’s own watercolours.

From then on it was genuinely clap-and-sing-along for a very receptive audience, recalling the BBC’s Good Old Days of music hall and vaudeville.

There were recitations too: French was a poet, of sorts, not unlike Robert W. Service (who was writing theShooting of Dan McGrew and the Cremation of Sam McGee at that very time) nor indeed Thomas Moore and his poems from an even earlier period.

A medley of Stephen Foster’s minstrel music and a bit of soft-shoe shuffle were also thrown in to what was essentially an animated, melancholic, nostalgic  Percy French song book which even included a request, for Eileen Oge, the Pride of Petravore.

None of the French classics was overlooked: Slattery’s Mounted Fut, Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff, Are You Right there Michael, The Mountains of Mourne plus several lesser-known pieces. And by evening’s end ‘the stream of good will would’ve turned a mill’ as Percy French sang himself.

George Fleeton writes independently on arts and culture.