“Folk music is really great music because it’s real life, it tells real stories.” –Richard Smith
And great music, real life, and real stories are exactly what the patrons of the Owl n Thistle Pub, in Seattle, got when they settled in for an evening of music, food and drinks with Glasgow’s George Donaldson. A 20-year veteran of performing in pubs over the continents, as well as a star of the chart-topping show Celtic Thunder, George took the stage and had the audience in the palm of his hand within moments.
“This is not a Celtic Thunder show,” though, was his warning as he finetuned his guitar before beginning. There was no orchestra, no background singers. No choreographed swanky blocking or men in suits. But there WAS a talented musician, a guitar, and some of the most passionate and powerful vocalizing I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy.
There were songs from George’s debut CD, The White Rose. “Beeswing”s tale of love and loss filled the room, the lyrics tumbling over one another in a light sound that was just enough different from what fans know from George’s CD to make it new and interesting. “The White Rose,” the CD’s title track, is a powerful song that tells the story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Nazi resistance movement in WWII Germany. I was so taken with the intricacy of George’s guitar-playing that I almost forgot to listen to the singing!
But, it was not just a night of CD promotion, though I heard there might have been CDs available at the bar. George touched the heart with beautiful ballads that wrenched at the soul. He performed a more traditional version of “Caledonia” which was so beautiful that I spent most of it in tears. “Ordinary Man” established George as an everyman’s folk singer in a song that was both passionate and powerful. In fact, it was George’s passion throughout the entire night that had me so taken and wishing that we could get more of this in Celtic Thunder shows. It wasn’t just this one song… it was the entire setlist. George infused every song with so much emotion, alternating from passion to tenderness sometimes so quickly and effortlessly that I hadn’t even realized that he had done it. It was the passion that made you really feel the stories being told.
And to appease the ladies in the front who wanted “happy songs,” we had some of those, too! After many requests, George regaled the crowd with a rousing “Red Rose Café,” taking every minute opportunity to roll as many R’s as could be rolled. He played a fun rendition of “Whiskey in the Jar,” that left the pub laughing and clapping along. Not to be undone by young Keith Harkin (also of Celtic Thunder), George set to work on his own version of Seven Drunken Nights, in which he not only proved that the Derry-born whelp was naught but a R-rolling novice, but that he could do a pretty fine impression of a drunk Ryan Kelly as well. In a few instances.
George is a wonderfully engaging performer… whether that be by the beautiful and powerful music that filled our ears, or by the many funny stories with which he peppered the night. From the moment he took the stage, comfortable in jeans and a Henley, to the moment I walked out the door late that night, it was a night of happiness to remember.
Thank you, George. I hope to see you perform like this again… very soon.