We started back in Dingle on August 24th. A great night in The Hillgrove, first time back there in 22 years and it’s still as lively as ever. Moving Hearts did a few stints there, most memorably the night of Cid’s 40th birthday back in1981.We performed what turned out to be quite a pagan ritual. Keith and I played the high priests, Donal and Eoghan shared patten and thurible. Later I did regular solo gigs there and had some memorable escapades round Dunquin, Ballyferriter, Ventry and, on up over then down into Brandon.
After Dingle it was back up the Midlands for the Electric Picnic for a lash in the big tent. It was great to meet the anti-frackers there. We agreed to support the campaign with a gig in the near future. It’s a very good festival. Something for everybody. Some anecdotes; one bewildered lad stumbled into the tent but could not figure out whether we were Ed Sheeran or Sigur Ros. We did a version of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, Bob Dylan’s 40 year old classic. We dedicated it to the victim of a recent sexual assault. One who’s assailant was given a 6 month sentence. Not everyone approved.
This film came my way recently…it’s a beautiful piece that illustrates the music of the time. Lovely to see so many of the participants again. Enjoy and share some feedback.
Watch it HERE
I also happened upon Planxty’s 1981 Timedance on YouTube. I had not realized that the opening sequence contained moments of pure Spinal Tap. Seeing it again I was reminded of how bizarre it felt to be in such a fit up. At the time we found it difficult to reach a consensus upon our participation, but once we made the decision Donal Lunny and Bill Whelan wrote and arranged a beautiful suite for us to perform. It has been said that Timedance was the precursor of Riverdance. Certainly that may have been the case with the music. As for the dancing, that’s a different story. When Michael Flatley and Jean Butler exploded onto the stage a new phenomenon was created, one that still reverberates around the world.
Watch it HERE
There was a great night in Vicar St. on Sunday the 7th of October as we celebrated the music of Steve Cooney. It was one of those very special nights. Many turned up to honour Steve’s contribution to our music over these past 35 years. It was Conor Byrne who organized the event and I was very happy to get the invitation to participate. I have been a fan of Steve’s unique style of playing for many years. He remained centre stage for the entire evening during which time he accompanied Tommy Sands, Tony McMahon, Iarla Ó Leonard, Mary Black, Luka Bloom and myself. He also introduced us to his new band ÉINÍNÍ. I look forward to hearing them again. They have an original and unique sound featuring Steve on acoustic and electric guitars, Joe Csibi on Bass, Odhran Cassadaigh on fiddle and uileann pipes, Vinnie Kilduff on whistles, Dermot Byrne on accordion, Rob Harris and Rob Perry both on percussion. This band really cooks, rocks and dye dills in a seductive groove. Steve leads with great style and knowledge of everyone’s part, he also sang and recited his own writing… this is a band to watch, catch ’em if you can.
So much has happened since we last spoke that I can hardly remember any of it. It’s an interesting time of life, this 68th year. As a younger man I never thought I’d make 41 which was the age at which our Daddy was taken from us. Now I observe the slowing down process of the various systems that go to make life worth living. I cherish many things now, that for decades I simply took for granted. However, all this observing is not a full time occupation. So much remains to be done… At the moment I am in Lisdoonvarna in The Royal Spa Hotel. I’m here with Mairtín O Connor, Cathal Hayden, Shamie O’Dowd and Jimmy Higgins. We are rehearsing for a couple of gigs this weekend. I get a great buzz from singing with a Trad. Ensemble. It brings me back to sounds that have been a central part of my life. Back to Prosperous, to Fulham Broadway, to Planxty, to all those times of my younger life when I was so entranced and enchanted by this music.
Not everyone gets this music, nor hears it, nor likes it, but that’s understandable. It’s such a broad canvas, such a huge landscape of sound and colour cascading in from all sides. Today, in the course of our playing, we referenced Mary Bergin’s first tin whistle album. We talked of Tom McHale, that young whistle player from Tulsk, taken so tragically and so young all those years ago. We remembered the whistle music of Mick McGuane and Sean Potts, the former gone, the latter still to the good. I thought sadly of young Michael Dwyer whom I knew In London in 1966. As we rehearsed today, Mairtín and Cathal celebrated his memory with a rendition of Michael Dwyer’s Jig, it was joyful and heartbreaking. Michael was the lonesomest whistle player I ever heard. I told them of Mickey Carroll from Allenwood who silenced many nights with the sheer controlled madness of his glorious playing. We spoke of Christy Barry and the style of his playing over the years. The tin whistle – such a simple humble instrument yet capable of producing such exquisite music when in the hands of the gifted few. We also talked of box players, fiddle and flute players, we referenced pipers, harpists, guitarists and singers- Singers who possess the “sweet note”. But not everyone gets this music and what matter? … Let there be no panic! It has come through the hardest of times, the most desperate of situations, it has survived penal times, rome ruling it to be devil music, wrath and ridicule from “betters”… it has survived all this and more, yet it still flourishes… it is all there in the simple turn of “The Silver Spear”…..it was there in Barney McKenna’s music and tonight, at this very moment, it is on the fingers and lips of a thousand practitioners.
I keep returning to this Spa town, to its well of Spring Water. I first arrived in Lisdoonvarna in the winter of 1965. I returned in 1978 and have been here every year since. The battery that drives this rhythm gets charged here… it’s not a definable charge; it is made up of many elements. The Doherty Family; Paddy, Chris, Anne, John, Tiarnan, Cian and all the team in this venue are at The Hearth of it… over the years this fire has been stoked by legions of players, singers, listeners, publicans, restaurateurs, goboys, hacksaws, hayknives, Skippy, The Sheriff, Eoin O’Neill, Tommy and Tony McGann ,Micho, Willie… I could be here all night recalling the half of them. Played a “Smash H Block” gig here in 1980, Moving Hearts played here on our first foray outside The Black Lagoon in 1981. We held a 4711 gathering here some years back with guest spots from Wally Page, Doug Lang and Small Town Talk…took “the waters” here once and had the seaweed bath… (I was drinking at the time and thought it might cure my jitters …it only pointed up my thirst, I was soon back up the hill festooning myself with large bottles of loose porter) When Planxty reformed in 2004 we gathered here to nail the parts together. Each time Paddy Doherty and his family made it possible. They enable us to focus upon the essence of the music. There is no better place on earth to find the turn of a tune.
Things change much quicker these times. Items become redundant at an alarming rate. We master a device only to discover that it has become obsolete. I tried a smart phone once, the worst 3 days of my life… got sucked into an iPad there a while back, even used it on stage once – then I lost the buckin thing! Truth is I don’t miss it. I have become reliant upon THIS device. It is wonderful to wake up at three in the morning and with 2 clicks access a lyric, write a chat and before you know it zzzzzzzzzzzzz …
Its 3 hours from gig time now. The sound check has commenced. People are gathering around the town. Many have travelled a long way. The sun is shining out over The Atlantic as evening descends; it’s that time once again…
Royal Spa Lisdoonvarna, Oct 19th…19.45 – 15 mins to go…
The nerves don’t get any easier. I hear the buzz below. Excitement as curtain up approaches. one more time I close my eyes and think of those who have gone before… it’s being part of a continuous thread that constantly renews itself with each new song, with every singer and every tune that starts to blossom… just a small part to play. I have never yet been let down; tonight will surely be no different. I bow my head and hand it over to the power that sustains us all.
Black is the Colour
Lakes of Pontchartrain (For our dear comrade Skippy… R.I.P.)
Stitch in Time
Flickering Light (for our young 4711ers Colm and Róisín)
Bright Blue Rose
Then I was joined by Mairtín O’Connor, Cathal Hayden, Shamie O’Dowd and Jimmy Higgins…we slipped into;
Pity the Poor Immigrant
The Crossroads Set
Butterfly (So Much Wine)
As I roved out
Farmer Michael Hayes
City of Chicago
Fairytale of New York
Back Home in Derry
Cliffs of Dooneen
Reels of Good Fortune
It’s been a long day, time to let the shutters down…
Lisdoonvarna, Saturday 20th October
The sun has been shining all day on the tranquil town. We rehearsed again this morning… a very different energy now that we have last night’s gig under our belts. These are four great men with whom to play music. A couple of songs literally appeared out of the ether this morning and we nailed them in one go, they simply fell into place. Jimmy Higgins is a beautiful percussionist. He listens very closely to the song, not just the rhythm but the essence. His beats simply meld everything together. Shamie O’Dowd has a unique style of playing. He seems to know every song I have recorded inside out. His accompaniments also seem to reference the original recordings without submitting totally to them. His approach is fresh and inspiring. Mairtín O’Connor and Cathal Hayden are two tunesmiths who bring all their colour and mastery to the ensemble. In the great broad world of Irish Traditional Music it is rare to find players who are comfortable in the accompaniment of song. Many of our greatest players struggle with the very concept. I sympathize totally with their dilemma for I myself am hopeless as a spontaneous accompanist. If I have the time to learn and if someone writes out the parts for me, then I can play along. However spontaneous accompaniment has always eluded me (except when the auld drum is lying about). Mairtin and Cathal are exceptional in that they hold on ’til they find a groove… when they arrive into the song they are like welcome visitors coming in through the hall door, you feel so happy to see them.
That Saturday feeling is coming down like a warm glowing mist. The listeners are gathering once more. Car doors open as they clamber out, tickets in hand, murderin’ the last cigarette before entering “The Hall”. I’m peeking from an upstairs window. There’s Gerry Brady, my auld companero of 45 years ago. We soldiered the ballads around Manchester. We hit The Pennine Way and The Ho Chi Minh Trail. There’s Hilary from Tralee rounding up a few stragglers… I see my sister Anne Rynne coming across the park with her fancy man, young Davoc Rynne. He busks out at The Cliffs these times and will shortly release his first album. We all played on it. I see a couple of Backpackers coming up the street. They will have a job getting their 2 rucksacks into the gig. Hope they have their tent pitched, me thinks tis gonna be a late night tonight! There’s after-shave in the air and a nice bouquet of 4711… it’s dark and lonely work but someone has to do it…
Black is the colour
In praise of Mullaghmore
Then Mairtín’s Band came out and we played;
As I roved out
The Plane Crash at Los Gatos
Tippin it up to Nancy
The Well below the Valley
Fairytale of N.Y.
City of Chicago
Cliffs of Dooneen
Then it was all over in an inst… I found myself back in the dressing room, still mesmerized by the 2 hours of sharing… it seldom gets as good as this for me. It’s so long since I sat in a Trad. Ensemble. Sweet notes coming at me from both sides….low trembling notes from accordion, the sweetest riffs from Pomeroy’s fiddle, Sligo’Dowd givin me bits of Tex Mex one minute, Django and Mícheal O Domhnaill the next… then from the wing some beautiful crosses sailing over from the skin and bone man himself. Just like “Klaus in Continental Ceilí” Jimmy can play a slow air on the Bodhran. After three such intense days the parting feels a bit bereft but lives must go on. Those 3 boys are heading off in the morning to play in Stockholm and Berlin. Jimmy H has work to do with The Walls…..I’m heading home with Michael Devine up the M7. We are listening to Tony Smalls superb new album Mandolin Mountain (for copies of the album contact; firstname.lastname@example.org )
Gonna spend some time at home now, lie low with my loved ones… peel spuds, hold our grandson, catch up on sport stuff, gotta a few new songs cookin on the back burner…turn my gaze onto Waterford and Clonmel this week. Get ready to meet up again with Doctor Sinnott – bit of catchin up to do …
Sending good juju to all you songsters out there on the Highways and Byways…
love to Kaiserslautern, Wollongong, Cutbush, Ashby de la Zouché, Moscow (in Fife) Aberystwyth, Brest, Bergen Op Zoom, greetings to Princess Nora Von Lichtenstein, Lord of The Todge and The Mangled Badger,