This article on The Commitments appeared this week in the Maltese version of The Times newspaper…

What a commitment!

by Herman Grech

When Ken McCluskey was asked to audition for Alan Parker’s film The Commitments, he pounced on the idea.

He was, after all, working as a butcher and part-time guitarist in Ireland, struggling to make ends meet. At the time Ireland was going through economic strife and youngsters in general had no money.

Mr McCluskey could only pray and hope to land a part in the film steered by Mr Parker, the man who directed classics like Mississippi Burning and Midnight Express.

The 24-year old walked into a room only to find “thousands” auditioning for the part in the film about the rise and fall of a band in the poor part of Dublin.

“Out of the blue they called and offered me the part. They asked me to be the bass player and ‘here’s lots of money,'” Mr McCluskey told The Times, laughing.

There was one problem – Mr McCluskey didn’t own a bass guitar but the film producers soon fixed that when they bought him one.

The rest is history. The cult film The Commitments was such a runaway hit upon its release in 1991 (winning even an Oscar nomination) that the cast and crew decided to take it on the road.

In the meantime, the soundtrack to the film sold some 12 million copies and the film has been seen by an estimated one billion people.

Mr McCluskey has been instrumental in keeping The Commitments alive since. Though the band has often seen exits and new recruits, it has been lauded for retaining the soul and sound that made them famous in the first place.

Known as Derek “Meatman” Scully in the film, Mr McCluskey has been pivotal in The Commitments‘ electrifying and interactive stage performance for 15 years.

“Yes, it’s very bizarre that we’re still on the road. I think The Commitments is the present, not the past – and that’s amazing,” says Mr McCluskey, who is also one half of the band’s management.

The Commitments helped a new generation discover soul music and the work of artistes like James Brown and Wilson Pickett.

What makes the music so timeless, considering most of the repertoire was penned years ago?

“It’s the tunes, the harmonies, the instruments… the music’s just good. We’ve been lucky to capture that music and add some spice to it.

“When people listen to the sounds of The Commitments, they listen to the instruments in their pure form. A guitar sounds like a guitar, without any distortion or special effects. The vocal harmonies especially – we have three girls singing ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ with no effects. And it sounds so good,” he says.

Renowned as the soul of Ireland’s musical working class, The Commitments will be playing at Notte Magica in Valletta on Saturday.

The show is expected to provide classic songs like Mustang Sally, In the Midnight Hour and Try a Little Tenderness.

Mr McCluskey is looking forward to performing in Malta, hoping it will provide an encore of the warm, vibrant audience that TheCommitments enjoyed when they played in neighbouring Sicily.

“The Europeans are exciting and exuberant – and we can’t wait to play in Malta. It’s going to be an honour to play for you.”