It would be easy to be a bit sniffy about Daniel O’Donnell and his legion of fans. He gives them music at the softest edge of popular, with gentle lyrical unchallenging versions of songs popular mostly before we were born. His rock and roll lifestyle would appear to consist of regular church attendance and wearing grey suits. He sings rather anodyne versions of some 1950s and 60s rock hits, sometimes in a medley format which cannot challenge even the shortest of attention spans.
When Daniel was a youngster he was considering a career as a banker, but early days in the church choir got the music in him and the rest is history. On stage he and his band do rather look like bankers, dressed in formal grey grace with waistcoats and ties.
Daniel works hard to charm his loyal audience, and there is clearly a strong and personal relationship between his band members and many of the regular attenders. At one point he even jumps down from the stage to deliver a personal birthday greeting to a 96 year old in the audience, still just managing the rather athletic leap back onto the stage.
He is certainly a capable and hard working showman, on stage for nearly three hours of constant music, interspersed with a few ‘Paddy’ jokes and some personal and family anecdotes and tributes. He brings the audience into his family, slowly but inexorably. His singing duties are shared with Mary Duff, who brings a classic country music tone to their duets. Daniel O’Donnell likes to dance a little on stage, and from time to time gives his hips a wiggle in a decorous nod to the sexuality of Elvis, but nothing he would need to mention to the priest.
The show is full of gentle humour, with some physical japes with various band members as they occasionally indulge in a little line dance or pranks upon each other. The fiddle player, Damian, is a big lad, about twice the size of the man on the slide guitar, so they are juxtaposed to comic effect. The seven piece band are all skilled on their many instruments and voices, and are quick to follow Daniel’s lead when he flips into a new and unexpected song, possibly after a shout out from the fans below.
If fame is the reward for effort then O’Donnell certainly deserves his status – he is relentlessly charming and engaging to his audience. If you like your music soft and gentle, he is your man. A few hours to forget the trials and tribulations of real life, to set aside the aches and pains of getting old and allow yourself to enjoy a picture of a rural romantic idyll of simple life and love and death. Passing away is a theme through this show, which tonight included a tribute to recently lost Irish country superstar ‘Big Tom’. Daniel O’Donnell paces the stage throughout, giving the follow-spot operator a tough job, but that crewman is generously named and credited as are they all. The night finishes with a sung prayer as he thanks his Creator for his voice.
In a cynical modern world O’Donnell might be easy to snipe at, but he does what he does very well, and is amply rewarded in the continuous loyalty of a small army of completely devoted followers. If you like his music he is at the Theatre Royal again tonight, but you will be lucky to find a seat for sale now – Daniel O’Donnell sells out!
© Julian Swainson 2018
Daniel O’Donnell, Monday 30 April-Tuesday 1 May at 7.30pm. Tickets £10-£45. Discounts for Friends.
To book, log onto www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000.