The last four columns I have written demanded quite a lot of research and thought. So, I decided I would spare both myself and my readers this month and simply pen a few thoughts on a recent happening. This operation does not involve either research or deep thought. It engages only the memory. As a kid is supposed to have said, “Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I only sits.” “Sometimes I types and thinks and sometimes I only types.”
How it all came about
Some months ago, Chris O’Toole, the President of “O’Toole Enterprises” phoned us and asked if we would be interested in getting Hal Roach and John MacNally for a concert in aid of Campaign Life Coalition. Needless to say, we were very interested and arranged for a meeting with Chris. Chris is the Canadian agent for quite a number of well-known Irish artists. Arranging for people of the caliber of Hal Roach and John MacNally is well beyond the scope of ordinary people like myself. It involves international contacts. Hal Roach worked out of Ireland, Florida and New York and John MacNally lives in Melbourne, Australia! So we handed over the preliminary arrangements to Chris and we set up a concert committee under the chairmanship of Jim Hughes.
Before I got engaged in organizing concerts some years ago, I though it was child’s play. You just booked the artist and the hall and that was it! But its not! First of all you have to contact the theatre – in this case Massey Hall and get suitable dates for the show. Then you agent has to get in touch with the agents of the artists and ask them to contact the artists – in Dublin, or Florida or New York or Melbourne, to see if the dates will sit them. All this involves a great deal of phoning, writing and telexing. How much will the advertising cost? Will it be worth it from a financial point of view? In arranging the date for the show it is very important to find out what other performances are on in the city around that time. Two or three Irish shows in the same week naturally cancel each other not – at least to some extent. So, it is a big operation which involves a tremendous amount of organization and expertise.
When the major arrangements have been made – the hall booked, the artists engaged, the financial commitments agreed on – we had to get down to what I might call, the local involvement. How much would we charge for the tickets? In what papers would we advertise? What lists of patrons do we have? What about setting up a phone committee? What about radio and television commercials? Who will look after the tickets? Different people were allocated to these various jobs.
Dolores Toth and Catherine Becket volunteered to take over all the ticket arrangements; Jim Duffy agreed to look after the advertising and phone committee; Winifride Prestwich was asked to prepare a precise for the papers; Vladimir – our artists – produced a wonderful brochure; Jim Hughes supervised all the activities and I promised to pray for everybody! We held a meeting every Tuesday morning to make sure that all were doing “their thing.” Chris O’Toole was our “front man” for all arrangements regarding travel and hotels for the two artists. Hal Roach and his charming wife, Mary stayed at the Sheraton, John MacNally has cousins in Mississauga who were more than delighted to look after such a famous relation.
We had some anxious moments. The tickets were not going as quickly as we would have liked – would the whole thing be a flop? Had we bitten off more than we could chew? We spent some worried weeks. Then things began to move. Friends appeared as if from nowhere. Tom Gallagher, who organizes the St. Patrick’s Annual Mass at St. Cecelia’s Parish every year, kindly agreed to hand out brochures at the Church to some tow thousand Irish people; Pat Quinn arranged to have the brochures put into the programmes at a concert “The Dubliners” gave at Roy Thomson Hall; Brian Kearney and Frankie Benson gave us great publicity on their radio shows and Ray Sonin had Hal Roach o his CFRB “Calling All Britons” on the Saturday before the event; and Jerry O’Dowd supplied the limousine service with compliments to and from the airport. In the last week or so, the phones began to bounce off the desks and Dolores and Catherine worked over time to keep up with the demands of tickers.
A superb artists
At 8 p.m., on Monday, April 11th, Hal Roach walked onto the stage and looked out at a sea of two thousand expectant faces. Hal has been called by many complimentary titles – The funniest man in the world; the King of Blarney; The Bob Hope of Ireland; A missionary of humour; The cleanest comedian ever. Perhaps the last title is the one he likes best. Hal has never stooped to vulgarity. He has never been known to tell a “blue” story. You could take your Aunt Belinda to his shows and know that you would never be embarrassed. From the moment he walked on stage, he has the audience in his hands.
His tapes are sold all over the world and his stories are repeated at concerts, banquets, dinner, business luncheons and parties in every corner of the globe. I am sure I have heard most of them times without number. But, when Hal tells them, the tears run down my cheeks. He is a consummate artist with an extraordinary gift, the exact nature of which it is difficult to pin point. I think it may be that Hal Roach is “everyone of us.” Because of this he can help us to – as he says himself so often – laugh at ourselves and see the world through his eyes. And in over forty years as an outstanding performer, Hal Roach has beheld every aspect of the human race. Hal is not just a “comedian.” He is a missionary of humour who spreads joy wherever he appears. The times I spent with him, before during and after the concert, are etched forever in my memory.
If Hal is a missionary of humour, his partner, John MacNally, is a missionary of song! What a voice! The only thing I wondered about was why he used a microphone. He is gifted with a glorious tenor voice which filled every corner of the vast hall with an effortless ease. But john’s gifts are not completely wrapped up in his voice. From the moment he emerges from the wings he establishes a rapport with his audience which develops as the evening proceeds and reaches it climax with a standing ovation as he brings the audience to its feet with the last ringing notes of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”
The concert was an excellently balanced performance presented with a perfectly honed finesse, as these two superb Irish artists thrilled an enthusiastic and appreciative audience with a memorable display of exceptional talent. I am always proud to be Irish, but sometimes I am just a little prouder. And Monday April 11th was one of those occasions.