A Night in the Key of 8 was another step in the quest for bodily autonomy in Ireland; an evening of laughter, tears, music and above all else, heroism. Following an intense weekend at the Citizen’s Assembly which ultimately resulted in a landslide victory for women’s rights campaigners following a complicated voting process, it would have been easy for this night to simply descend into a victory parade. Nothing could be further from the truth – if anything tonight was a half-time team talk; a stark and compelling reminder that yes, the Citizen’s Assembly was an important step, but it was only a step. It wasn’t an end game.
A capacity crowd laughed, cried and applauded the comedy of Tara Flynn, and the courageousness of Ann and Roisin Ingle as the latter pair welcomed us into the intimacy of their mother-daughter relationship, as mother (Ann) divulged information of her backstreet abortion to her daughter (Roisin). It was a deeply moving, intimate exchange that would shake the stoniest of hearts.
Compelling stories also came from Panti Bliss, who explained how at the age of 17 he hid a friend who had fell pregnant in a damp basement flat in Dun Laoghaire at her mother’s bequest until she was pregnant enough to reside in a Mother and Baby Home near Drogheda – how he journeyed in secret to visit her every weekend until finally baby was born and baby was whisked away. Almost in tears, he described this process as the biggest stain on his existence.
As the night unfurled women from every socio-economic group offered up their varied stories, each as poignant as the one before. There was pause too for international bodily autonomy covering the issues facing immigrants to Ireland and those in the international spectrum.
There was also reflection for those who lost their lives needlessly during childbirth, and for babies who had been stolen by the state and lost to the world through forced abortion. A Night in the Key of 8 cradled each individual experience with respect, dignity and equality. When one speaker said that she couldn’t personally have an abortion there were no boos or disdain from the crowd, there was respect for her right to choose her own destiny.
With such emotive themes, it seems strange that there was a place for song amongst the sorrow, but those who came to perform approached the night with the same appetite as the speakers. With a packed schedule of performers and speakers the running order was cleverly executed, with each giving seamlessly away to the next.
Loah and Roisin O delivered powerful individual performances armed solely with their voices and acoustic guitars. Charity events can often feel a bit haphazard in this regard, but tonight was about getting things into the open, so it felt entirely appropriate for these performances to be given by artists with nowhere to hide.
Lisa O’Neil delivered a palpably poignant a cappella rendition of The Butcher Boy which was worth the entry fee alone. Paul Noonan dedicated Bell X1’s The Upswing to #twowomentravel and his performances with Roisin O and in particular Camille O’Sullivan were also early highlights. O’Sullivan’s hazy, sensual vocal proved the perfect foil for Noonan’s lilt as they investigated Henry Lee, a murder ballad in a June and Johnny Cash style. When Noonan gave way to O’Sullivan things got even better as she wowed the room with an enthralling off-mic performance.
Mary Black proved that the tree has to be good enough for the apple to fall from in the first place with a rousing performance of A Woman’s Heart that segued into No Woman No Cry, before a wholly unexpected and triumphant version of Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror silently pointed the audience’s collect ire towards Enda Kenny.
Le Galaxie delivered their most accomplished performance to date since they assimilated Fight Like Apes’ MayKay into their ranks, with MayKay shining in particular on the group’s hit single, Love System. The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon delivered a brave speech for the son of a Bishop, before delivering a fine version of fan-favourite Tonight We Fly.
David Gray reminded us why ‘White Ladder’ remains the biggest selling album of all time in Ireland with a show-stopping performance of Babylon, his voice surprisingly robust, filling every inch of the Olympia Theatre.
A Night in the Key of 8 was a complete triumph without a hint of triumphalism – a welcoming, thought-provoking occasion which reflected upon women’s place in Ireland and the world, reminding all in attendance that inequality should never, ever stand.