WITH 20 dancers, five musicians, three singers and a road crew, there’s a lot to handle with Rhythm of the Dance – but producer Kieran Cavanagh is not fazed by much.
He put together the Irish dancing extravaganza 15 years ago and has taken it to 59 countries, but he already had a history of handling music legends like Johnny Cash, James Brown, Van Morrison and Jerry Lee Lewis. The Dublin-based impresario hit the big time when – at the age of 28 – he headed to America to try and persuade US country legend Cash to visit Ireland.
He said: “I’d cut my teeth bring over British pop bands like The Dooleys and Mud, but my favourite music back then was American country music and I just got it into my head at 28 that I had to bring Johnny Cash to Ireland. I flew to Nashville to see his tour promoters and I was so naïve,” recalls Kieran.
“They said they didn’t do international tours and I’d have to speak to his manager, Lou Robin… in LA. “So I flew to LA and just turned up on his doorstep. What he must have thought of me I don’t know but I decided I wasn’t going home until I had a deal. He must have thought ‘This guy is nuts’ – but maybe he admired my enthusiasm or possibly he just thought I must have the money to put on the shows.
“Anyway, he said he’d ask John and the next day he shook on a deal.” It was the start of a series of Irish tours for Cash, and Kieran got to know the man behind songs like I Walk The Line, Ring Of Fire and Man In Black very well.
“He was a nice man but you had to pick your moment to talk to him,” he recalls. “You had to approach the bench when the temperature was right, let’s say. He could growl at you or be extremely nice. I remember going to his room while we were in Cork to ask him to do a radio interview to promote a show. He was cleaning his teeth and through the toothpaste he said ‘Isn’t this a day off?’
“He had wonderful presence though. With some artists you just realise you’re in the presence of greatness and with Cash you really felt you were in the presence of someone a little bit special. He was tall and, of course, he wore black but whenever he was around you realised this was not a normal guy.”
Kieran also managed rock ’n’ roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis, who turned up on his doorstep in Dublin with his wife. “They were penniless because the IRS (American tax authority) had confiscated his house and cars and memorabilia,” he remembers. “I got my lawyer and accountant on the case and realised how serious it was and they thrashed out a deal. I then had to sit Jerry Lee down and, again, pick my moment.
“He was on a methadone programme and wasn’t always lucid. But I explained that he’d have to do two or three shows a month and give the proceeds to the IRS and then, after a year, they’d give his house back. We toured Brazil and all over Europe and paid off the bill and he got his house back.”
After dealing with temperamental icons, Rhythm of the Dance – which features Celtic step as well as Sean-nós dancing along with traditional Irish music and three tenors singing – must be a breeze to organise. But Kieran says it’s among his favourite productions. Excitement “There’s a huge appeal for Irish music and dance globally,” he explains.
“It’s in the excitement that you get from the stage when Irish dance is in full flight. “There are lots of different forms around the world – Spain, Russia…a lot of countries have their own traditional dances – but not many can sustain a whole show. With Irish dancing, it’s exciting, it’s sexy, it’s energetic… it oozes energy from the stage. The syncopation is incredible – if you have 20 feet hitting the floor in unison and in rapid succession, it’s just so exciting.”
THE National Dance Company of Ireland bring Rhythm of the Dance, featuring The Young Irish Tenors, to the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, on Sunday, August 10.