10th September 2015

Dear Listeners,

It’s been a while. This chat has been 3 months in the writing and may be a bit chaotic but that’s the way it has been. Currently in Tralee about to leave for Glengarriff. Gigs are going well.

I will meet Marian Finucane on her Radio Show at RTE 1 next Saturday Morning (12th September). I have been invited in to sing a new song from Mick Blake, a marvellous songwriter from Leitrim. Some of you may recall the song he sang at last years gig for Children of Gaza. I had an interesting talk with Iarla Ó Lionáird which was transmitted on Lyric FM recently as part of the Vocal Chord series. Click HERE to listen.

I will perform 2 songs with The Homeless Choir next month for release later on this year. This project is being led by David Brophy and is a follow up to last years TV series with the same choir. Already this year I have met and sung with choirs in Dublin and Waterford.

This month marks the beginning of year 50 on the road – a journey that commenced in 1966 when I got my first gig as a full time singer. Filming has commenced on a documentary that will chronicle the years of song, gigging and recording. As I reached my 70th year a few documentary makers showed an interest in marking the work. I am working with Mark McLoughlin, a filmmaker whose work I admire. There is talk that it will be transmitted next spring, if all goes well. This project is leading me back to some very interesting places.

I have commenced work on a new album which I hope to release in about 6 months time. Also work is underway on an album with The Trad. Outfit (Martin O’Connor, Cathal Hayden, Seamie O’Dowd and Jimmy Higgins) which I’m hoping will see the light at the end of 2016.

That’s my latest news – here is the rest of the chat;

May 9th 2015 – Back on the boat to Holyhead.

All packed up and ready to go. One more time into the belly of the boat as Michael Devine and I start out at 7a.m.  on this fine summer’s morning.

Its 54 years since I first crossed the Irish Sea. Back in 1961 Pat McGowan and I set out for London to work the summer months in Walls factory at Hayes in Middlesex. We were 16 years old and full of excited anticipation. Within days we had jobs and lodgings. Overtime was plentiful; we worked long hours and made good wages. Our sojourn lasted 8 weeks before we returned home to continue our studies in Newbridge. Half a century later it’s a very different story. The 2015 Club Class Lounge on Irish Ferries is a long way from 3rd class steerage on the old Holyhead Mailboat (or the Liverpool Cattle Boat). It should be said that there was a lot more crack on the old boats. Particularly in the late 60s and on into the 70s when music had become the purpose of my travels.  It’s hard to beat ballad sessions on the high seas. Bottles of stout appearing from all directions as fellow travellers showed appreciation for the impromptu sessions. This morning I’m surrounded by Macs, iPads and iPhones, large TV screens, tasty morsels, tea and coffee dispensers – not a bottle of stout or a bit of crack to be seen. If I got my guitar out now and tore into “Rosin the Bow” the Master at Arms would have me in the hold before we reached The Kish!

I find it increasingly difficult to leave home as the years pass by. However, I’m a working singer and this is what I do. I enjoy the challenge of playing “over the water”.  England Scotland and Wales have always been welcoming and provided a different atmosphere in which to perform. It gives me a necessary jolt, all the more so since I’ve ceased long haul gigging. Heading for Bristol now and I must assume a different frame of mind towards the work ahead. I will draw from the same Well of Songs but the delivery will be different.

We are billeted in Cheltenham for the first two nights of this week-long tour. My last time here was in 1968 when I played the Sunday night Folk Club. That gig was located in a Hall attached to the local Conservative Party HQ. It was a “serious” club with a tendency towards the Trad end of the Folk spectrum. I did two 30 minute sets and was paid the handsome fee of £10. Back then my repertoire would have included:

The Spainish Lady

The Ballad of James Larkin

The Cliffs of Dooneen

Come by the Hill

Bridget and the Pill

Take it down from The Mast

The Galway Races

The Little Beggarman

The Curragh of Kildare

Mary from Dungloe

Seth Davy

The Rocky Road to Dublin

O The Water O The Water – after the air we breathe it’s our most precious resource and we’ve been taking it for granted and misusing it. In my childhood I recall my grandparents drawing water from the well. How they cherished that Well. For farmyard purposes they gathered rainwater from every roof around the yard. Not a drop was wasted. They drank the well water, cooked and washed with it, always using it frugally. We have come a long way in 60 years – car washes use drinking water, Industry and Industrial farming use it on a mammoth scale with no thought (that I know of) towards efficiency. We water our lawns, flush our waste, sprinkle golf courses, and shower incessantly. My father’s people never had running water, shower or bath or water closet but they had the greatest respect for this precious resource. I too am guilty of waste – we’re all in this together. Water is life. We must prevent it falling into the ownership of the Denis O’Briens and other like minded capitalists, some of whom appear to hold elected representatives in their greedy palms. We need to keep a very close watch on what is happening. It would seem that we cannot rely upon our politicians to safeguard our water. Given free reign, they seem prepared to sell it off. It is not yet too late but if we don’t face up, it soon may be

May 13th

Half way mark of tour achieved last night at The Anvil Theatre in Basingstoke. It is a lovely room for sound and comfort. It kicked off solid with Yellow Furze Woman turning up after a lay-off. Well Below Valley also re-appeared this time with fresh harmony vocals that were followed by a grand bit of Bowrawn Bashing by Jimmy and I.  Declan’s guitar outro after Quinte Brigada was the best ever since we first played it in 1985. Sweet Thames and Curragh of Kildare also appeared out of nowhere and had me mesmerised. Then the M3 was closed on the way to Cambridge and we lost an hour on detours but there was a good side; Jimmy and I started a little Ballad Session in the back of the van. We sang The Nightingale, The Maid from Dungannon, Cúnla, The Rocks of Bawn, Sam Hall, Dunlavin Green and Carrickfergus and before we knew it we were driving up the main street in Cambridge with neither don nor bicycle to be seen.

Free days on the road are essential, that’s when we get to rehearse. Recently we have introduced Tony Small’s “Mandolin Mountain” and John Spillane’s “Ballad of Patrick Murphy” into the set.  We are currently working on Paul Doran’s “The Gardener” and Peter Gabriel’s “Wallflower” .They are almost ready. I’m also working on a poem from Dave Lordan called “The Lost Tribe of The Wicklow Mountains”. Wally Page and I have been writing a song called “The Bundle of Sticks”. New songs are essential to keep fire in the belly of the singer – the excitement of hearing it all begin to gel, the tension as first public airing comes close, the joy of getting a new piece into the repertoire. It still exhilarates this auld singer.

It was good to return to St. Davids Hall is Cardiff.  Afterwards we sped Northwards through the night. After the gig is the best time to travel – The roads are quiet and good time can be made. Watching movies on the computer with the headphones on is like being at the old picture house in Newbridge. I Watched American Sniper and Fury on the trip to Manchester and arrived shaking and shell-shocked.

June 26th – Glastonbury.

This is my fifth time to play on Michael Eavis’s farm. What a privilege it has been. My first visit was 30 years ago. Back then Michael Eavis himself was very involved in the programming. I was told that he liked the idea of putting a solo folk-singer on the Pyramid Stage and there I was that Sunday afternoon. I opened my set with a long Bodhrán solo dropping various lyrics in along the way. About 6 minutes in Jim Donohoe pressed the sub-bass button and the audience began to swell to the old drum – that’s what I remember from that year. I returned 6 or 7 years later with Jimmy Faulkner. We both played a set together in the acoustic tent. For whatever reason it did not gel. I did a solo set again on The Pyramid and gave the old drum another rattle. This time we managed to record it and it surfaced many years later on an album called “Traveller”

Visit 3 was in the early noughties when I played with Declan Sinnott and Donal Lunny. I’m a bit hazy on this one but it must have been alright because 7 or 8 years later the call came again. On Visit 4 I played the Acoustic Stage with Declan Sinnott. We had a real good time under canvas with a very enthusiastic audience

So it’s on to Visit 5 tonight and I’m really looking forward to it once more. This time I’m with Declan Sinnott, Jimmy Higgins and Vickie Keating. We had a good 2 hour rehearsal last night running through a bunch of songs that may get played tonight. This is VERY different to our usual performance – no sound check, a stand up audience who will have been revelling around the festival all day, a gaggle of 8,000 sunburnt, gambolling, expectant, happy listeners all gathered to hear and sing songs. I love this kinda gig – couldn’t do it all the time but when it comes around I embrace it. Going to have another rehearsal this morning and then lie low ’til gig time

July 11th – The morning after Waterford.

It was great to be back in a room last night. After Glastonbury, The Cork City Marquee and The Groove of Kilruddery it was like being back on Terra Firma. An audience of 100s rather then 1000’s makes for a very different performing experience, one that I much prefer. At our regular gigs we can play as quietly as we wish, we can bring it right down before soaring back up with foot to the floor. There is an interaction that is simply not possible at large events. I feel I have reached a significant milestone these past 2 weeks. I believe its time to reassess the tack to take for the remainder of this journey. There is an energy required for big festival gigs. It’s an energy that crushes the very life out of certain songs.  It’s an energy that I need to consider. Watch this space!!!

Rumours were rife about my joining Ed Sheeran on stage in Croke Park. Ed did make contact a few months back and invited me to join him at HQ.I thought long and hard about it but decided to decline his generous invitation. However we did get together for a few hours and swapped a few songs. I love his singing and playing, his attitude and focus, his down-to-earth-ness.We hope to meet again….


PS … A couple of things worth checking out …

Bogmans Canon – a piece about the writings of Pádraic Pearse – Click HERE to read.

A poem called Cúchulainn by Stephen Murphy – Click HERE to watch.

PPS … At the moment I am concerned about (and involved with) a local issue here in my hometown of Dun Laoghaire. You might consider reading the following. You might even consider adding your voice.

The  Harbour Company (an unelected body)  are proposing to build a berth for Super Cruise ships in the harbour. They are trying to sell the idea to the community as a positive development which will bring much needed business to the town of Dun Laoghaire but this is simply not true. If it is allowed to go ahead it will do nothing but destroy the beautiful Victorian harbour which serves as a wonderful amenity for generations of Dubliners. It will be of little or no benefit to the town.

Please consider signing and sharing Save Our Seafronts petition against the proposed Cruise Liner berth in Dun Laoghaire. Save Our Seafront are a voluntary group whose aim it is to protect the foreshore of Dublin and maintain it as a public amenity so that local people have safe access to the water/seafront.

Find out more about Save Our Seafront and the proposed cruise berth by clicking HERE

You can Sign the petition by Clicking HERE

Please access, like and Share the Save Our Seafront facebook page by clicking HERE

Lyric Documentary & Extra Show …

Dear Listeners …

Just a short note to mention an interview and performance on RTE lyric FM on Friday 14th August at 7 pm. I recorded it with Iarla O’Lionáird as part of the Vocal Chords documentary series. Click HERE for a link to the lyric FM website.

Also, an extra show has been added next week in The Palace Theatre, Fermoy, Co. Cork on Friday 14th August. Tickets are available now from The Palace Theatre Box Office on 025 32042.

I am working on a chat which will soon be posted

All the best,


Killarney Folk Festival 24th – 26th July …

Good Listeners…

There is a bit of confusion in the air over the upcoming Folk Festival in Killarney. It will take place July 24th -26th. (Click HERE for details of the festival)

An event  was cancelled in Kerry two weeks ago. That unfortunate cancellation had nothing to do with next weeks Festival. I should declare an interest; The Festival features many of my favourite Bands and Conor Byrne, my nephew, is the main organiser of this event.

Moving Hearts have reunited after many years. Both Declan Sinnott and I were in the original line-up back in 1981. It will be great to hear them again. Liam O’Flynn will perform with his new quartet. Liam’s music resounds daily in my mind since I played with him in Planxty all those years ago. Recently I have had the pleasure of playing with both Moxie (http://www.moxiemuso.com/) and Lynched (http://lynchedmusic.com/) – I love the music that both these bands are making and both bands are Killarney bound next weekend. I have been gigging these past few years with Mairtín O Connor’s band and hope to record with them before too long, they will shake The Mangerton Mountain. The younger Brother, Luka Bloom, also features and has a brace of new songs to sing. Aldoc (http://www.aldocmusic.com/) are heading for the Kingdom too. I catch them any time I can, I love the wizardry of Alan Doherty.

Other acts include Kila, Sharon Shannon, The Unthanks, Tinariwen, Begley and Cooney in what promises to be a great celebration of music. I wish everyone a great time

All the best,


On Friday 22nd May …

Dear Listeners,

Just been gigging away out foreign for the past 10 days. I have arrived home to this referendum hotbed. It would seem that new protagonists have entered the fray in recent days. I dont wish to intrude upon you, I merely ask you to consider using your vote. It is easy NOT to vote. I urge you to avail of this hard earned opportunity to express yourself at the polling booth come Friday – it will be an hour well spent and you never know who you’d meet…

Ride On….


I Never Met Bob Dylan But I Sang With The Pecker Dunne

2 Vicar St Dublin Gigs re-scheduled from Christmas cancellations

20th April –   2 hours 8 mins 21st April – 2 hours 13 mins
After the Deluge After the Deluge
Matty Go Move Shift
Natives Matty
Missing You Gortatagort
Dunnes Stores Missing You
Folk Tale Black is the Colour
Casey Delirium Tremens
Farmer Michael Hayes Magdalene Laundry
City of Chicago Casey
Hattie Carroll Where I Come From
Ruby Walsh Viva La Quinta Brigada
Motherland Ride On
Ordinary Man Biko Drum
Beeswing Easter Snow
Hiroshima Dunnes Stores
Easter Snow City of Chicago
Go Move Shift Little Lightbox
North & South Ordinary Man
Contender Hattie Carroll
Two Island Swans Companeros
Viva La Quinta Brigada Voyage
Little Light Box Joxer
Quiet Desperation Smoke & Strong Whiskey
On the Mainland Shovel
Back Home in Derry Beeswing
Time Has Come Lisdoonvarna
Joxer No Time For Love
Ride On
Fairytale of New York

Delirium Tremens


The rescheduled Christmas gigs went very well. Again, regrets for any inconvenience caused but the poor auld Lungs were wracked with infection.

On Monday night we had MOXIE in. This young band of bowsies has been making great sounds this past while. I caught them in Whelans last year at The Liffeybanks Sessions. I like their sound, energy and dedication. Their next gig is in The Sugar Club, Dublin on Thursday May 21st. It promises to be a Hot Night on Leeson Street – Click HERE to watch Moxie video.

On Tuesday night in Vicar St. we had a visit from Johnny McEvoy whom I first heard sing way back in 1966 in Leeds. It was great to see him again, looking fit and still singing the songs. My erstwhile colleague Bill Whelan from Planxty (mark 4) also dropped in. We reminisced about our work together on Timedance (Bill composed the suite with Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine, I played Bodhrán) we recalled fun and capers as we travailed around Europe. The Planxty line up at that time was Liam O’Flynn, Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Bill Whelan, Nollaig Casey and myself. We recorded an album “Words and Music” and also performed the Timedance suite during the Eurovision Interval – when 600 million people around Europe got off the couch, put on the kettle and made a few sambos! Click HERE to watch Timedance YouTube.

Maurice Cassidy also came to the gig the other night. I first met Mossy in 1972 when Planxty did their first UK tour. We had just been signed to Polydor Records. Some executive put us out on the road with a band called Iguana. Maurice was the tour manager and it can’t have been an easy task. The gigs were utterly unsuitable and we were all disillusioned by the experience. We made it back to Dublin where Planxty soon regained a “head of steam”. 43 years later and Maurice is still a gig man. Thankfully, all us Planxty sailors are still making our own individual music. Others who played in various Planxty line-ups include Johnny Moynihan, Paul Brady, Matt Molloy, Noel Hill, Tony Linnane, and (I think) Arty McGlynn, John Kelly, Dolores Keane…

April 22nd

Declan Sinnott is in the UK to perform some gigs with Vickie Keating and promote his second solo album “Window on The World”. They will play a gig in Whelan’s of Dublin on Sunday May 31st. He has a great bunch of new songs. Click HERE to see video for Declan’s song “Time to gather in”.

I’m looking forward to re-joining the Trad Outfit in Loughrea, County Galway and Spanish Point in West Clare. We will play two concerts and also prepare for our Ulster Tour in June when we play Belfast, Derry, Enniskillen and Dungannon.

After that I will catch up again with Declan and we’ll head over to play Glastonbury on Friday June 26th when we will be joined by Jimmy Higgins and Vickie Keating. This is my 5th time to play Glastonbury since first playing there in the mid 80s.Over the years I’ve played before (and after) a huge diversity of musicians. Met quare hawks, thirsty ducks, hard chaws, high priests, dodgy dealers, hardy christians and cold cats there over the decades. I experienced the highs and lows associated with such mammoth events, got to hear Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, The Housemartins, James Brown, and Robert Cray. My abiding memory is playing a bowrawn solo on the main stage one Sunday afternoon in the mid 80s… When Jim Donohoe added Sub Bass to the Bowrawn the audience quadrupled in a matter of minutes. (I subsequently used this solo on the “Traveller” album in 1999) Farmer Michael Eavis’s best Jersey Herd looked up momentarily but soon returned to green pasture.

I have so many great Festival memories from across the decades – Sherkin Island with Norman King, Randall’s Island with the NYPD, Leeds with Moving Hearts, hearing Fairport Convention, Cambridge with Diz Dizley, Blairgowrie with The Marsden Rattlers and Jeannie Robertson… Krumlin nr Halifax with Elton John sharing Brandy as the heavens opened and the entire festival was washed down the mountain at Barkisland. The Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival with Red Ken in London. Watching Sting do an interview backstage at the London Fleadh was interesting. Chuck Berry at Ballisodare, Seamus Ennis at Lisdoonvarna, Rory at Macroom, Philo in Mullingar. Singing “A Pair of Brown Eyes” at Dranouter. Planxty at Lorient ……

The Lift arrives at the 70th floor this month … May 7th 1945 (VE Day), Nancy Power and Andy Moore made way for their first born. Andy was in The Irish Army; Nancy had been working in The Majestic Hotel in Tramore. I was born in Dublin. They brought me home to Newbridge where I lived until 1963. Andy, our beautiful Dad, died tragically in 1956, Nancy re-joined him in 1992 .She spoke of him lovingly every day in the interim. I am sometimes amazed that this journey continues and I’m always grateful to all those of you who share it. You create the space and the air in which the songs breathe. I am one of six all of whom, thankfully, live on The Island. Most of the family are involved in, or connected with, music in some way. Nancy instilled that in us while Andy, for the short time we knew him, could hold a tune and sing a song …. “I’ve got a lovely Bunch of Coconuts”

My Brother Luka Bloom has a new Band. They are called O’Sahara and I’m hoping to hear them at the Junefest in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. Click HERE to see the Junefest programme.

My sister, Anne Rynne, took up the guitar 4 years ago. After a life of singing “for the crack” she has buckled down to working at her music, the results are wonderful (keep it up Sis!)

May 1st

Writing this paragraph in The Armada Hotel, back again on The West Coast of Clare. Great fun last night in Spanish Point, the music was leppin, the songs reverberated, listeners from many quarters, soldiers home from The Leb, confectioners from the land of Toten Hosen, Emissaries from the land of parlez vous, one Miltown-Malbay resident extremely challenged by the bar being closed –  the last of the thirsty ducks… There were good requests too, Butterfly, Brendan’s Voyage, Gortatagort, even Casey got a mention. My sister Anne was in the room, I could hear her voice singing gently along… when I sang of Barronstown, of Bridie, Frank and Nan I could sense her emotion as we remembered our roots…

Two great nights with The Trad Outfit in Loughrea and Spanish Point … good rehearsals and gigs as we look forward to June when we play Belfast, Derry, Dungannon and Enniskillen… our sets were;

April 29th – Loughrea 2 hours 1 min April 30th Spanish Point 2 hours 7 mins
Beeswing Beeswing
Missing You Missing You
Go Move Shift Go Move Shift
Easter Snow A Pair of Brown Eyes
Ordinary Man Farmer Michael Hayes
Farmer Michael Hayes Mountains of Pomeroy
A Pair of Brown Eyes Where I Come From
Honda 50 Honda 50
January Man Easter Snow
Mountains of Pomeroy St Brendans Voyage & The Armada Reel
Where I Come From Matty
Inagh Valley & Cooley’s Reels Inagh Valley & Cooleys Reels
McIlhatton & Far From Home Gortatagort
Nancy Spain Shovel & Duke of Leinster
Joxer Butterfly
Black is the Colour Delirium Tremens
Motherland Ride On
Lisdoonvarna & Richie Dwyers Raggle Taggle & Whatever
Voyage Cliffs of Dooneen
Shovel & Duke of Leinster Lisdoonvarna & Richie Dwyers
Ride On If I Get an Encore

It’s such a buzz to sit amongst “the music” again. Mairtín O’Connor and Cathal Hayden are players of the highest order. Both are accomplished and immersed in the Tradition of our Music. Seamie O’Dowd and Jimmy Higgins have spent their lives in the engine room of accompaniment. They are totally focused on where the tunes lead and how best to travel with them. All four have the added attraction (for me) of being songsters. Not all trad players have an antenna for songs.  Similarly not all guitar players have a natural antenna for following Reels and Jigs. Personally I have always needed guidance on chord patterns when trying to accompany Irish Music. Seamie calls out chords for me in rehearsal just as Donal Lunny used to do in Planxty days. These past nights, listening to Cathal’s “ Mountains of Pomeroy”, to Mairtín’s “Inagh Valley”, I have been carried away to that special place where music takes many of us… I’ll be practicing my chords between now and our Northern Tour in June …

On Sunday we attended “The Night before Larry Got Stretched” – A monthly gathering of singers and listeners in the Cobblestone, Smithfield.  As advised, we arrived early and got 2 good chairs. The room filled rapidly to full capacity and the singing began. Over the next 3 hours we heard (perhaps) 40 singers sing 40 songs. Fergus Russell kicked it off with a powerful version of Paddy Galvin’s “Where is our James Connolly”. The session was on. Singers young and old followed. Songs old and new, mainly unaccompanied got the greatest respect and attention. We met and spoke with many friends. The general consensus is that unaccompanied singing is enjoying a glorious revival amongst a new generation of singers and listeners. Songs of love, woe, laughter, bawdiness, subtlety, sneakiness, loyalty and betrayal. Song Sessions are on the rise – unpublicised, the listening continues to gather momentum.

Some New Dates for your consideration

The Groove Festival in Kilruddery, Co Wicklow  –  July 5th.

Waterford Woodlands Hotel – Fri July 10th

Claremorris Town Hall – Sat July 18th

Tralee Ballyroe Heights Hotel – Fri Aug 28th

Clifden Arts Festival – Fri Sept 25th


See you along the Way,




PS …

Click HERE to listen to Dave Lordan’s Interzone – a groundbreaking live arts cabaret show broadcast at 8pm on Monday nights on Garden County Radio… Click HERE for the Garden County Radio website

Click HERE to read a nice review of the Spanish Point gig by one of our Antipodean listeners, Bob Singer.




Some more gigs …

A bit of Gig news.
These dates have been added.Full details on Gig page at Website.

April 29th…..Loughrea, Co Galway
April 30th…..Spanish Point, Co Clare.

Oct 24th Philharmonic. Liverpool.
Oct 26th. The Sage.Gateshead

Just heard that I’m to play Glastonbury on Fri June 26th.

Vicar Street April 20th & 21st

April 20th  & 21st  @ Vicar St Dublin – Some seats are still available for these two gigs.I will be gigging with Declan Sinnott and Jimmy Higgins.

Gradam Ceol – Sunday 22nd February

Mairtín O’Connor is to be honoured on GRADAM CEOL on Sunday February 22nd on TG4 at 9.30 PM. (next Sunday)   “GRADAM” is the highlight of the year within the Traditional Music community. This year it will be transmitted live from Cork Opera House. It’s a not-to-be-missed programme for anyone who likes the tradition. I have been fortunate in recent years to share stages with Mairtín O’Connor. He is a consummate player and a sensitive accompanist of songs. I have been aware of his playing for almost 40 years. It is wonderful and fitting, that his contribution is being honoured and recognized. TG4 are to be congratulated and supported for their ongoing endeavours to feature Traditional Irish Music and Folk Song.

Bob Dylan’s MusiCares acceptance speech – Well worth a read …

Here is the full transcript, via L.A. Times:

I’m glad for my songs to be honored like this. But you know, they didn’t get here by themselves. It’s been a long road and it’s taken a lot of doing. These songs of mine, they’re like mystery stories, the kind that Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far. They were on the fringes then, and I think they’re on the fringes now. And they sound like they’ve been on the hard ground.

I should mention a few people along the way who brought this about. I know I should mention John Hammond, great talent scout for Columbia Records. He signed me to that label when I was nobody. It took a lot of faith to do that, and he took a lot of ridicule, but he was his own man and he was courageous. And for that, I’m eternally grateful. The last person he discovered before me was Aretha Franklin, and before that Count Basie, Billie Holiday and a whole lot of other artists. All noncommercial artists.

Trends did not interest John, and I was very noncommercial but he stayed with me. He believed in my talent and that’s all that mattered. I can’t thank him enough for that. Lou Levy runs Leeds Music, and they published my earliest songs, but I didn’t stay there too long.

Levy himself, he went back a long ways. He signed me to that company and recorded my songs and I sang them into a tape recorder. He told me outright, there was no precedent for what I was doing, that I was either before my time or behind it. And if I brought him a song like “Stardust,” he’d turn it down because it would be too late.

He told me that if I was before my time — and he didn’t really know that for sure — but if it was happening and if it was true, the public would usually take three to five years to catch up — so be prepared. And that did happen. The trouble was, when the public did catch up I was already three to five years beyond that, so it kind of complicated it. But he was encouraging, and he didn’t judge me, and I’ll always remember him for that.

Artie Mogull at Witmark Music signed me next to his company, and he told me to just keep writing songs no matter what, that I might be on to something. Well, he too stood behind me, and he could never wait to see what I’d give him next. I didn’t even think of myself as a songwriter before then. I’ll always be grateful for him also for that attitude.

I also have to mention some of the early artists who recorded my songs very, very early, without having to be asked. Just something they felt about them that was right for them. I’ve got to say thank you to Peter, Paul and Mary, who I knew all separately before they ever became a group. I didn’t even think of myself as writing songs for others to sing but it was starting to happen and it couldn’t have happened to, or with, a better group.

They took a song of mine that had been recorded before that was buried on one of my records and turned it into a hit song. Not the way I would have done it — they straightened it out. But since then hundreds of people have recorded it and I don’t think that would have happened if it wasn’t for them. They definitely started something for me.

The Byrds, the Turtles, Sonny & Cher — they made some of my songs Top 10 hits but I wasn’t a pop songwriter and I really didn’t want to be that, but it was good that it happened. Their versions of songs were like commercials, but I didn’t really mind that because 50 years later my songs were being used in the commercials. So that was good too. I was glad it happened, and I was glad they’d done it.

Purvis Staples and the Staple Singers — long before they were on Stax they were on Epic and they were one of my favorite groups of all time. I met them all in ’62 or ’63. They heard my songs live and Purvis wanted to record three or four of them and he did with the Staples Singers. They were the type of artists that I wanted recording my songs.

Nina Simone. I used to cross paths with her in New York City in the Village Gate nightclub. These were the artists I looked up to. She recorded some of my songs that she [inaudible] to me. She was an overwhelming artist, piano player and singer. Very strong woman, very outspoken. That she was recording my songs validated everything that I was about.

Oh, and can’t forget Jimi Hendrix. I actually saw Jimi Hendrix perform when he was in a band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames — something like that. And Jimi didn’t even sing. He was just the guitar player. He took some small songs of mine that nobody paid any attention to and pumped them up into the outer limits of the stratosphere and turned them all into classics. I have to thank Jimi, too. I wish he was here.

Johnny Cash recorded some of my songs early on, too, up in about ’63, when he was all skin and bones. He traveled long, he traveled hard, but he was a hero of mine. I heard many of his songs growing up. I knew them better than I knew my own. “Big River,” “I Walk the Line.”

“How high’s the water, Mama?” I wrote “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” with that song reverberating inside my head. I still ask, “How high is the water, mama?” Johnny was an intense character. And he saw that people were putting me down playing electric music, and he posted letters to magazines scolding people, telling them to shut up and let him sing.

In Johnny Cash’s world — hardcore Southern drama — that kind of thing didn’t exist. Nobody told anybody what to sing or what not to sing. They just didn’t do that kind of thing. I’m always going to thank him for that. Johnny Cash was a giant of a man, the man in black. And I’ll always cherish the friendship we had until the day there is no more days.

Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Joan Baez. She was the queen of folk music then and now. She took a liking to my songs and brought me with her to play concerts, where she had crowds of thousands of people enthralled with her beauty and voice.

People would say, “What are you doing with that ragtag scrubby little waif?” And she’d tell everybody in no uncertain terms, “Now you better be quiet and listen to the songs.” We even played a few of them together. Joan Baez is as tough-minded as they come. Love. And she’s a free, independent spirit. Nobody can tell her what to do if she doesn’t want to do it. I learned a lot of things from her. A woman with devastating honesty. And for her kind of love and devotion, I could never pay that back.

These songs didn’t come out of thin air. I didn’t just make them up out of whole cloth. Contrary to what Lou Levy said, there was a precedent. It all came out of traditional music: traditional folk music, traditional rock ‘n’ roll and traditional big-band swing orchestra music.

I learned lyrics and how to write them from listening to folk songs. And I played them, and I met other people that played them back when nobody was doing it. Sang nothing but these folk songs, and they gave me the code for everything that’s fair game, that everything belongs to everyone.

For three or four years all I listened to were folk standards. I went to sleep singing folk songs. I sang them everywhere, clubs, parties, bars, coffeehouses, fields, festivals. And I met other singers along the way who did the same thing and we just learned songs from each other. I could learn one song and sing it next in an hour if I’d heard it just once.

If you sang “John Henry” as many times as me — “John Henry was a steel-driving man / Died with a hammer in his hand / John Henry said a man ain’t nothin’ but a man / Before I let that steam drill drive me down / I’ll die with that hammer in my hand.”

If you had sung that song as many times as I did, you’d have written “How many roads must a man walk down?” too.

Big Bill Broonzy had a song called “Key to the Highway.” “I’ve got a key to the highway / I’m booked and I’m bound to go / Gonna leave here runnin’ because walking is most too slow.” I sang that a lot. If you sing that a lot, you just might write,

Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose Welfare Department they wouldn’t give him no clothes He asked poor Howard where can I go Howard said there’s only one place I know Sam said tell me quick man I got to run Howard just pointed with his gun And said that way down on Highway 61

You’d have written that too if you’d sang “Key to the Highway” as much as me.

“Ain’t no use sit ‘n cry / You’ll be an angel by and by / Sail away, ladies, sail away.” “I’m sailing away my own true love.” “Boots of Spanish Leather” — Sheryl Crow just sung that.

“Roll the cotton down, aw, yeah, roll the cotton down / Ten dollars a day is a white man’s pay / A dollar a day is the black man’s pay / Roll the cotton down.” If you sang that song as many times as me, you’d be writing “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more,” too.

I sang a lot of “come all you” songs. There’s plenty of them. There’s way too many to be counted. “Come along boys and listen to my tale / Tell you of my trouble on the old Chisholm Trail.” Or, “Come all ye good people, listen while I tell / the fate of Floyd Collins a lad we all know well / The fate of Floyd Collins, a lad we all know well.”

“Come all ye fair and tender ladies / Take warning how you court your men / They’re like a star on a summer morning / They first appear and then they’re gone again.” “If you’ll gather ’round, people / A story I will tell / ‘Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, an outlaw / Oklahoma knew him well.”

If you sung all these “come all ye” songs all the time, you’d be writing, “Come gather ’round people where ever you roam, admit that the waters around you have grown / Accept that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone / If your time to you is worth saving / And you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone / The times they are a-changing.”

You’d have written them too. There’s nothing secret about it. You just do it subliminally and unconsciously, because that’s all enough, and that’s all I sang. That was all that was dear to me. They were the only kinds of songs that made sense.

“When you go down to Deep Ellum keep your money in your socks / Women in Deep Ellum put you on the rocks.” Sing that song for a while and you just might come up with, “When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Easter time too / And your gravity fails and negativity don’t pull you through / Don’t put on any airs / When you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue / They got some hungry women there / And they really make a mess outta you.”

All these songs are connected. Don’t be fooled. I just opened up a different door in a different kind of way. It’s just different, saying the same thing. I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary.

Well you know, I just thought I was doing something natural, but right from the start, my songs were divisive for some reason. They divided people. I never knew why. Some got angered, others loved them. Didn’t know why my songs had detractors and supporters. A strange environment to have to throw your songs into, but I did it anyway.

Last thing I thought of was who cared about what song I was writing. I was just writing them. I didn’t think I was doing anything different. I thought I was just extending the line. Maybe a little bit unruly, but I was just elaborating on situations. Maybe hard to pin down, but so what? A lot of people are hard to pin down. You’ve just got to bear it. I didn’t really care what Lieber and Stoller thought of my songs.

They didn’t like ‘em, but Doc Pomus did. That was all right that they didn’t like ‘em, because I never liked their songs either. “Yakety yak, don’t talk back.” “Charlie Brown is a clown,” “Baby I’m a hog for you.” Novelty songs. They weren’t saying anything serious. Doc’s songs, they were better. “This Magic Moment.” “Lonely Avenue.” Save the Last Dance for Me.

Those songs broke my heart. I figured I’d rather have his blessings any day than theirs.

Ahmet Ertegun didn’t think much of my songs, but Sam Phillips did. Ahmet founded Atlantic Records. He produced some great records: Ray Charles, Ray Brown, just to name a few.

There were some great records in there, no question about it. But Sam Phillips, he recorded Elvis and Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Radical eyes that shook the very essence of humanity. Revolution in style and scope. Heavy shape and color. Radical to the bone. Songs that cut you to the bone. Renegades in all degrees, doing songs that would never decay, and still resound to this day. Oh, yeah, I’d rather have Sam Phillips’ blessing any day.

Merle Haggard didn’t even think much of my songs. I know he didn’t. He didn’t say that to me, but I know [inaudible]. Buck Owens did, and he recorded some of my early songs. Merle Haggard — “Mama Tried,” “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive.” I can’t imagine Waylon Jennings singing “The Bottle Let Me Down.”

“Together Again”? That’s Buck Owens, and that trumps anything coming out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard? If you have to have somebody’s blessing — you figure it out.

Oh, yeah. Critics have been giving me a hard time since Day One. Critics say I can’t sing. I croak. Sound like a frog. Why don’t critics say that same thing about Tom Waits? Critics say my voice is shot. That I have no voice. What don’t they say those things about Leonard Cohen? Why do I get special treatment? Critics say I can’t carry a tune and I talk my way through a song. Really? I’ve never heard that said about Lou Reed. Why does he get to go scot-free?

What have I done to deserve this special attention? No vocal range? When’s the last time you heard Dr. John? Why don’t you say that about him? Slur my words, got no diction. Have you people ever listened to Charley Patton or Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters. Talk about slurred words and no diction. [Inaudible] doesn’t even matter.

“Why me, Lord?” I would say that to myself.

Critics say I mangle my melodies, render my songs unrecognizable. Oh, really? Let me tell you something. I was at a boxing match a few years ago seeing Floyd Mayweather fight a Puerto Rican guy. And the Puerto Rican national anthem, somebody sang it and it was beautiful. It was heartfelt and it was moving.

After that it was time for our national anthem. And a very popular soul-singing sister was chosen to sing. She sang every note — that exists, and some that don’t exist. Talk about mangling a melody. You take a one-syllable word and make it last for 15 minutes? She was doing vocal gymnastics like she was on a trapeze act. But to me it was not funny.

Where were the critics? Mangling lyrics? Mangling a melody? Mangling a treasured song? No, I get the blame. But I don’t really think I do that. I just think critics say I do.

Sam Cooke said this when told he had a beautiful voice: He said, “Well that’s very kind of you, but voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth.” Think about that the next time you [inaudible].

Times always change. They really do. And you have to always be ready for something that’s coming along and you never expected it. Way back when, I was in Nashville making some records and I read this article, a Tom T. Hall interview. Tom T. Hall, he was bitching about some kind of new song, and he couldn’t understand what these new kinds of songs that were coming in were about.

Now Tom, he was one of the most preeminent songwriters of the time in Nashville. A lot of people were recording his songs and he himself even did it. But he was all in a fuss about James Taylor, a song James had called “Country Road.” Tom was going off in this interview — “But James don’t say nothing about a country road. He’s just says how you can feel it on the country road. I don’t understand that.”

Now some might say Tom is a great songwriter. I’m not going to doubt that. At the time he was doing this interview I was actually listening to a song of his on the radio.

It was called “I Love.” I was listening to it in a recording studio, and he was talking about all the things he loves, an everyman kind of song, trying to connect with people. Trying to make you think that he’s just like you and you’re just like him. We all love the same things, and we’re all in this together. Tom loves little baby ducks, slow- moving trains and rain. He loves old pickup trucks and little country streams. Sleeping without dreams. Bourbon in a glass. Coffee in a cup. Tomatoes on the vine, and onions.

Now listen, I’m not ever going to disparage another songwriter. I’m not going to do that. I’m not saying it’s a bad song. I’m just saying it might be a little overcooked. But, you know, it was in the top 10 anyway. Tom and a few other writers had the whole Nashville scene sewed up in a box. If you wanted to record a song and get it in the top 10 you had to go to them, and Tom was one of the top guys. They were all very comfortable, doing their thing.

This was about the time that Willie Nelson picked up and moved to Texas. About the same time. He’s still in Texas. Everything was very copacetic. Everything was all right until — until — Kristofferson came to town. Oh, they ain’t seen anybody like him. He came into town like a wildcat, flew his helicopter into Johnny Cash’s backyard like a typical songwriter. And he went for the throat. “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”

Well, I woke up Sunday morning With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt. And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad So I had one more for dessert Then I fumbled through my closet Found my cleanest dirty shirt Then I washed my face and combed my hair And stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.

You can look at Nashville pre-Kris and post-Kris, because he changed everything. That one song ruined Tom T. Hall’s poker parties. It might have sent him to the crazy house. God forbid he ever heard any of my songs.

You walk into the room With your pencil in your hand You see somebody naked You say, “Who is that man?” You try so hard But you don’t understand Just what you’re gonna say When you get home You know something is happening here But you don’t know what it is Do you, Mister Jones?

If “Sunday Morning Coming Down” rattled Tom’s cage, sent him into the looney bin, my song surely would have made him blow his brains out, right there in the minivan. Hopefully he didn’t hear it.

I just released an album of standards, all the songs usually done by Michael Buble, Harry Connick Jr., maybe Brian Wilson’s done a couple, Linda Ronstadt done ‘em. But the reviews of their records are different than the reviews of my record.

In their reviews no one says anything. In my reviews, [inaudible] they’ve got to look under every stone when it comes to me. They’ve got to mention all the songwriters’ names. Well that’s OK with me. After all, they’re great songwriters and these are standards. I’ve seen the reviews come in, and they’ll mention all the songwriters in half the review, as if everybody knows them. Nobody’s heard of them, not in this time, anyway. Buddy Kaye, Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh, to name a few.

But, you know, I’m glad they mention their names, and you know what? I’m glad they got their names in the press. It might have taken some time to do it, but they’re finally there. I can only wonder why it took so long. My only regret is that they’re not here to see it.

Traditional rock ‘n’ roll, we’re talking about that. It’s all about rhythm. Johnny Cash said it best: “Get rhythm. Get rhythm when you get the blues.” Very few rock ‘n’ roll bands today play with rhythm. They don’t know what it is. Rock ‘n’ roll is a combination of blues, and it’s a strange thing made up of two parts. A lot of people don’t know this, but the blues, which is an American music, is not what you think it is. It’s a combination of Arabic violins and Strauss waltzes working it out. But it’s true.

The other half of rock ‘n’ roll has got to be hillbilly. And that’s a derogatory term, but it ought not to be. That’s a term that includes the Delmore Bros., Stanley Bros., Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashley … groups like that. Moonshiners gone berserk. Fast cars on dirt roads. That’s the kind of combination that makes up rock ‘n’ roll, and it can’t be cooked up in a science laboratory or a studio.

You have to have the right kind of rhythm to play this kind of music. If you can’t hardly play the blues, how do you [inaudible] those other two kinds of music in there? You can fake it, but you can’t really do it.

Critics have made a career out of accusing me of having a career of confounding expectations. Really? Because that’s all I do. That’s how I think about it. Confounding expectations.

“What do you do for a living, man?” “Oh, I confound expectations.”

You’re going to get a job, the man says, “What do you do?” “Oh, confound expectations.: And the man says, “Well, we already have that spot filled. Call us back. Or don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Confounding expectations. What does that mean? ‘Why me, Lord? I’d confound them, but I don’t know how to do it.’

The Blackwood Bros. have been talking to me about making a record together. That might confound expectations, but it shouldn’t. Of course it would be a gospel album. I don’t think it would be anything out of the ordinary for me. Not a bit. One of the songs I’m thinking about singing is “Stand By Me” by the Blackwood Brothers. Not “Stand By Me” the pop song. No. The real “Stand By Me.” The real one goes like this:

When the storm of life is raging / Stand by me / When the storm of life is raging / Stand by me / When the world is tossing me / Like a ship upon the sea / Thou who rulest wind and water / Stand by me

In the midst of tribulation / Stand by me / In the midst of tribulation / Stand by me / When the hosts of hell assail / And my strength begins to fail / Thou who never lost a battle / Stand by me

In the midst of faults and failures / Stand by me / In the midst of faults and failures / Stand by me / When I do the best I can / And my friends don’t understand / Thou who knowest all about me / Stand by me

That’s the song. I like it better than the pop song. If I record one by that name, that’s going to be the one. I’m also thinking of recording a song, not on that album, though: “Oh Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”

Anyway, why me, Lord. What did I do?

Anyway, I’m proud to be here tonight for MusiCares. I’m honored to have all these artists singing my songs. There’s nothing like that. Great artists. [applause, inaudible]. They’re all singing the truth, and you can hear it in their voices.

I’m proud to be here tonight for MusiCares. I think a lot of this organization. They’ve helped many people. Many musicians who have contributed a lot to our culture. I’d like to personally thank them for what they did for a friend of mine, Billy Lee Riley. A friend of mine who they helped for six years when he was down and couldn’t work. Billy was a son of rock ‘n’ roll, obviously.

He was a true original. He did it all: He played, he sang, he wrote. He would have been a bigger star but Jerry Lee came along. And you know what happens when someone like that comes along. You just don’t stand a chance.

So Billy became what is known in the industry — a condescending term, by the way — as a one-hit wonder. But sometimes, just sometimes, once in a while, a one-hit wonder can make a more powerful impact than a recording star who’s got 20 or 30 hits behind him. And Billy’s hit song was called “Red Hot,” and it was red hot. It could blast you out of your skull and make you feel happy about it. Change your life.

He did it with style and grace. You won’t find him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s not there. Metallica is. Abba is. Mamas and the Papas — I know they’re in there. Jefferson Airplane, Alice Cooper, Steely Dan — I’ve got nothing against them. Soft rock, hard rock, psychedelic pop. I got nothing against any of that stuff, but after all, it is called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Billy Lee Riley is not there. Yet.

I’d see him a couple times a year and we’d always spent time together and he was on a rockabilly festival nostalgia circuit, and we’d cross paths now and again. We’d always spend time together. He was a hero of mine. I’d heard “Red Hot.” I must have been only 15 or 16 when I did and it’s impressed me to this day.

I never grow tired of listening to it. Never got tired of watching Billy Lee perform, either. We spent time together just talking and playing into the night. He was a deep, truthful man. He wasn’t bitter or nostalgic. He just accepted it. He knew where he had come from and he was content with who he was.

And then one day he got sick. And like my friend John Mellencamp would sing — because John sang some truth today — one day you get sick and you don’t get better. That’s from a song of his called “Life is Short Even on Its Longest Days.” It’s one of the better songs of the last few years, actually. I ain’t lying.

And I ain’t lying when I tell you that MusiCares paid for my friend’s doctor bills, and helped him to get spending money. They were able to at least make his life comfortable, tolerable to the end. That is something that can’t be repaid. Any organization that would do that would have to have my blessing.

I’m going to get out of here now. I’m going to put an egg in my shoe and beat it. I probably left out a lot of people and said too much about some. But that’s OK. Like the spiritual song, ‘I’m still just crossing over Jordan too.’ Let’s hope we meet again. Sometime. And we will, if, like Hank Williams said, “the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.”


Guitar… Sleeping Bag … Travellin’ Light …

This is Year 49 of the  Ballad Lounge Tour – taking in Kips, Concert Halls, Bordellos, Picture Houses, Arts Centres, Pubs and Conveniences, Detention Centres, Dry Houses, Treatment Centres, Guards Barracks, R.A.F Stations, Officers Messes, Royal Albert and Carnegie Hall, plus many other centres of excellence and debauchery)…’Tis great to be alive…

Although there were a few gigs previously, I consider this current tour to have started in The Old House At Home (Wilson’s Ales), Blakeley, Manchester in The Winter of 1966. A Sunday night Folk Club run by Mike and Patricia Harding was where I got my first full Folk Club Gig (i.e. first time I was the main turn). I played 2 x twenty minute sets. (Photo from Mike Harding)


The Old House At Home


Curragh of Kildare.

Enniskillen Dragoon.

James Larkin.

Mary from Dungloe

Little Beggarman

Galtee Mountain Boy

Blackleg Miner

Verdent Braes of Skryne

Dark Eyed Sailor

The Spanish Lady

Rocky Road to Dublin

Galway Races

Unquiet Grave

Master McGrath

Back then I was dossing around anywhere I could get the lie down. After this particular gig I stayed with Mike and Pat Harding and their young family. Sleeping (very comfortably) in my sleeping bag behind their couch. I travelled by thumb, bus and train, I frequented Yates Wine Lodges, used Public Baths to clean up before seeking out the next venue. I was starting to hear the great variety of Folk Singers who were gigging around Britain in 1966. – The Watersons, Hamish Imlach, Alex Campbell, Martin Carthy, Tim Hart & Maddy Prior, Martin Wyndham-Read, Noel Murphy, Cyril Tawney, MacColl & Seeger, The High Level Ranters, The Marsden Rattlers, The Yetties, Diz Disley, Johnny Silvo, The Young Tradition – these  were just a few of the  performers  that I got to hear. I was absorbing songs and singing, getting my foot in the folk club door, making new friends, getting farther and farther away from what I’d left behind; That world fashioned by John Charles McQuaid and Eamon De Valera.  I was learning about Rogan Josh in Bradford, Hashish in Moss Side, Nuclear Power in Thurso and General Franco in Aberdeen. I was on a roll, everything I owned was in my guitar case – no fixed abode, irresponsible, at my own University, in my own gap years, hoovering up verses.  I heard Jeannie Robertson in Blairgowrie, Fred Jordan in Keele, Hamish Henderson in Auld Reekie, Freddie Anderson in The Scotia. The Beatles and The Stones were all the go but I hardly noticed. Martin Carthy was gigging with Dave Swarbrigg, Billy Connolly was gigging with Gerry Rafferty, I heard Pentangle in Kircaldy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee in The MSG, I met Dominic Behan and Ralph McTell, swapped my Spanish Guitar for a Yamaha FG180, learnt a new chord, I was in clover. then I settled down a bit, had keys to my own gaffs in Fallowfield, Cheetham Hill, Rochdale, Bury, Causeway Foot, Mixenden.  I got a manager in 1967.  He lasted 4 weeks.

Meantime back here in Ireland there was upheaval in the Music … The Dubliners – Luke, Ronnie, Barney, Ciaran and John were flying through a gap created by Liam, Paddy and Tom Clancy with Tommy Makem. Sweeneys Men were adding new flavours to the pot. The Irish top 20 chart was being frequented by Folk-Singers and Ballad Groups. The likes of Al O’Donnell, Maeve Mulvanney, Johnny McEvoy, The Ludlows, Emmett Spiceland, Anne Byrne & Paddy Roche, The Johnstons and Jessie Owens were all gathering followers of song. The “ballad scene” was flourishing – a cultural phenomenon unheard of a decade previously. At the same time Sean Ó Ríada was creating sounds that still reverberate around the world. He gathered a group of the finest musicians around him. Together they played the music of Séan’s vision, his dream.

The Fleadh Ceols (of the 1960s) were our Electric Picnics. These festivals were a lot more spontaneous then today’s gatherings. They were looser, cooler events. No need for security firms nor glampers, wristbands nor headliners. We had some good “messers” (anyone remember the “Red Messer” or the “Long Messer”?) The music throughout the Fleadhs  was sublime… word would spread that Willy Clancy was playing in Hennessey’s, Seamus Ennis might be in Friels, there’s a session at the campsite, Ciaran Burke in the middle of it all, Mairtín Byrnes is in Grehans (go round to the back door, knock on the window) the Gardaí were chilled, a Sergeant  playing a fiddle on The Square, two beatniks dancing on top of the telephone kiosk, exotic mots, rusty crusties, clean-cut buacaills and well manicured cailins, farmers and fishermen, flutes and fiddles … we slept in haybarns and old railway carriages. We lived on beans and burnt sausages. We went to Mass if only to get in out of the rain. Some even “received”; others thought that was going a bit far!  The PPs tut-tutted, disapproved and frothed from the pulpit. The Legionnaires of Mary had heartburn but the cat was out of the bag. We didn’t give a shite as we gloried in our new found cultural rebellion. Liam Clancy was “the man to lead the van”. We’d crawl home on Monday or Tuesday from  Boyle, Clones, Thurles, Portarlington, Scariff, Strokestown or Bunclody with music still ringing in our ears.

(Perhaps a slight touch of euphoric recall here, but nobody wants to read about hangovers.)

Out of all this emerged a Band called Clad which we subsequently renamed Planxty in 1972. Irish music was changing slightly, sometimes subtly. Around the same time Horslips were doing their thing. There was Spud, Mushroom, Mellow Candle, Dr Strangely Strange and Jon Ledingham. There were some bits of cross pollination going on…Gary Moore, Rory Gallagher ,Eric Bell, Philip Donnelly and Jimmy Faulkner were bending the notes. I started playing with Jimmy Faulkner in 1974, then we were joined by Declan McNelis and Kevin Burke. Paddy Spillane of The Meeting Place offered his function room and I began a residency there on Monday nights and then started doing Saturdays too. Over the following years it became The Hub of Folk, Trad, and Blues and sometimes beyond. I heard Wally Page there for the first time (I think with The Tara Band) Heard Declan Sinnott there with Southpaw – Jimmy MacCarthy was the singer in that Band, heard Rob Strong, De Danann, Red Peters and The Floating Dublin Blues Band, Clannad, The Bothy Band. Planxty played there once. I marvel to think that in that wee room, which held 140 people, all those musicians played there in the white light of Dorset Street. The “lock-ins” were legendary. Shay Spillane and his wife Hanna would pour the finest of pints til Dawn. The three Spillane brothers Paddy, Shay (Skinnier) and Sean (The Badger) ran the most colourful pub in Town. Downstairs was the Casbah, Beirut, The Khyber Pass, El Paso, the basement of Mountjoy, all rolled up into one, upstairs was sweetest music in town…

Then there came the 80’s,90’s and noughties but I gotta get out of this reflective groove, gotta get into the here and now – peel some spuds, assemble some muesli, work  the new songs, plan this years recording … gotta get back into Declan Sinnott mode. Next up are our re-scheduled gigs in Vicar Street. It seems like ages since we last played together and I am looking forward to catching up with him and to hearing his new album. He has been working on his second solo album. I think he is planning some solo gigs in the near future – check his Facebook for details.

It’s good to have the sister site back up at 4711ers.org. Since its inception it has become a meeting place for songsters, linnets, gig goers and gagglers. My special thanks to those few friends who look after 4711ers.org Since I first got this here site up and running it has given me a connection with listeners that I had not experienced before. The sister site has been a great addition to that phenomenon.

Great programme on TG4 the other night on Na Píobairí Uileann. The revival of the Uileann Pipes was lovingly mapped on this excellent documentary.

I am going to hear Sweeney’s Men this week – A band that greatly influenced my own journey. Andy Irvine, Johnny Moynihan and Terry Woods who recorded the first Sweeneys album back in 1968. Hearing that album led me to return home. Their sound led me towards the sound that emerged on the Prosperous album of 1971. Soon going to hear the band “Lynched” – I’ve wanted to see them live for a few years.  Heard The Bonny Men a few times recently on TV and Radio and hope to catch their gig. I see that Aldoc are due back in Dublin soon. Another very interesting band fronted by Alan Doherty. Also want to hear Ye Vagabonds. There are Lots of good grooves knockin’ about these days.

I have recorded a piece for “The Works” on RTE. The project is to find Ireland’s favourite poem. I have been asked to speak on behalf of Paula Meehan’s  “The Statue of The Virgin at Granard “. I would not consider myself at all to be a poetry person but there are a few Poets whose work I love dearly. Paula Meehan is one such. I am indeed very happy to talk on behalf of her vital work.  At school they tried to bate Wordsworth, Keats, Shakespeare, Milton into us. I never had a clue what they were on about. It was decades later before I encountered poetry that spoke to me.

There Ye Have It


PS.  Some Seats available for Vicar Street on Feb 17,18, April 20, 21… also for Castlebar Feb 28th… the UK Tour in May also includes Warwick Arts Centre on May 11th

PPS. I was delighted to hear of a return to Tipperary Town. I’ll play a solo gig there on Saturday 21st March in the Excel Theatre. Details will shortly appear on the gig page.
Red Peters once sang “I had my breakfast in Mississippi and my dinner in Tipperary Town”.
The late Red Peters, a proud Tipperary Town man, was Dublin’s leading blues singer through the 70’s and 80’s. Recently his family released a memorial double CD “Red Peters – Rare Recordings 1968 – 1989”. It’s a gem. If you are a blues fan you may be interested. It’s on the Blue Navigator Label and is available on www.redpeters.ie

PPPS. Just saw this clip this morning on Youtube … I have been watching a series of different programmes commemorating the holocaust. It was 70 years yesterday since Auschwitz was liberated. I thought that it would be an appropriate time to share this clip with you. It contains some very disturbing footage … I’d like to thank Joasha156 for taking the trouble to visualise the song. Click HERE to watch.

In Kilkenny It’s Reported…

Dear Listeners,

I wish you all peace of mind in the coming year.

Thank you for your messages these past weeks. 2014 ended in a most unfortunate manner with the cancellation of four gigs in Vicar Street Dublin. Your messages of goodwill by email, website, text and phone were appreciated. Some of you gallant Shelmaliers even put pen to paper. There was Carrigeen Moss, Manuka, Cloves, Garlic, Lemon and Honey comin’ at me from all sides in various concoctions. I was submerged in Olbas laden steam, sweating, coughing and spluttering with the benylin exputin’ from out of my every orifice … but t’was only worse that I was getting. Finally I surrendered and, barely able to breathe, I went to the Doc.

He looked me up, he looked me down, at me he looked with a frown – “Drop your trousers and cough” sez he checkin’ under the bonnet for oil and water. “Say Agh” sez he, assessing me points plugs and tappets.  He sent me home with Anti-Biotics, Steroids, Mucadyne, Nasal Spray and Codeine. He also gave me a go on his Nebulizer. Here I am 2 weeks later, finally able to say thanks to everyone. Thanks to my family for their love and forbearance. Thanks too to all the crew for leaping into action with news of cancellations. Crossroads, Aiken Promotions and Ticket Master got the word out rapid to as many as possible. Paddy Doherty showed up at all cancelled gigs to meet anyone who had not heard of cancellations.  Approx. 25 people showed up over the 4 nights – A phenomenally small number out of approx. 4,000 ticket holders. I also had to postpone the first gig of 2015 in Castlebar which has been re-scheduled for February.


Vicar Street:December 22nd – rescheduled to Tuesday, February 17th.

December 23rd – rescheduled to Wednesday, February 18th.

December 29th – rescheduled to Monday, April 20th.

December 30th – rescheduled to Tuesday, April 21st.


Rescheduled to Saturday 28th February.


One of my favourite gigs of 2014 was the John “Jacko” Reilly gig in Boyle on June 26th. This raised Funds for the commemorative bronze plaque since unveiled on the Square in Mainistir na Búille. There is a review of this gig on the website. There were many great gatherings across the year in a huge variety of venues. I enjoyed the different line-ups (6 in all) across a year that brought a variety of sounds and atmosphere to the music. The Greyhound Workers Strike Support Gig at Liberty Hall on August 16th was a belter. The Gaza Gig in Vicar St on October 12th was unique in many ways. Contributions from Mick Blake, Vickie Keating and Paula Meehan still resound. Visits to Kavanagh House in Inchicore, Keltoi in The Phoenix Park and The Hospice at Harolds Cross were occasions of special sharing. Iveagh Gardens, right in the heart of Dublin City, saw a great gig on July 11th. I’m hoping for a rerun next summer and have ideas for a bit of a knees-up. I can’t forget Johnny-Forty-Coats collapsin’ with the heat in Kiltimagh. Sitting with Val at the Cork Film Festival watching “Come All You Dreamers” was a lovely hour on November 9th. I was a bit paranoid at the prospect but soon as the lights went down I got lost in the songs. It was like watching someone else.

I am working on some new projects. I have a collection of songs coming together. At the moment I’m interacting with songs, enjoying the challenge. Wondering how I might record them, where I might record them and with whom. Sounds are developing in my head, I may keep it sparse … I feel something different is required.

Another project has been discussed for years. The record label would like me to gather all of my  most popular songs together in a collection of new recordings…I’ve not been able to get my head around this until now. Playing the songs with The Trad. Outfit has developed into an enjoyable process. The four men – Mairtín, Cathal, Jimmy and Sheamie have brought fresh colours to the hardy perennials of the last 40 years…looking at trying to tie that down.

There have been a number of film/doc proposals about documenting the work. (As the lift approaches the 70th Floor!) Some blow smoke, others seek the tried and tested but one proposal is very interesting. They seek to take a radical approach and appear enthusiastic to (rather then phased by) ideas. Also, they are familiar with the work, always a good starting point.

Big Dee sent me this set list from 31 years ago. I recall this Italian tour but not this Roman gig (I was giving the Chianti a bit of a lash)… of the 23 songs 6 were performed at the last gig in 2014… others have occasional outings whilst 11 have not been around for manys the year. Thanks BigDee, a grand flashback.

Cinema Espero, Rome 22.3.84

1 – Before The Deluge
2 – Black Is the Colour
3 – The Good Ship Kangaroo
4 – The Peoples MP
5 – Go move shift
6 – El Salvador
7 – All I Remember
8 – Lanigan’s Ball
9 – The Well Below The Valley
10 – Irish Ways And Irish Laws
11 – Don’t Forget Your (Zappa) Shovel
12 – Viva La Quinte Brigada
13 – Faithful Departed
14 – Sacco & Vanzetti
15 – The Wicklow Boy
16 – Nancy Spain
17 – Jesse James & Jesus Christ
18 – Back Home In Derry
19 – Only Our Rivers Run Free
20- Hiroshima Nagasaki Russian Roulette
21 – No Time For Love
22 – The Least We Can Do
23 – The Crack Was Ninety In The Isle Of Man

Have a look at this, my favourite video for manys the year, (posted by chanter Dylan Walshe who plays at The Harbour in Bray, Thanks Dylan); Ye Vagabonds got the marrow here – great video, great performance. Click HERE to watch

Started back in Kilkenny, what a night in The Marble City, we were all mad up for it. I was gaggin’ for a gig. The feckin Christmas after-shave and perfume had the room smellin’ like a Stena duty free! Traudel posted the set on 4711ers.org – our sister site is now back on line. Great room, 900 listeners, some good requests, vinyl flashbacks, people down from Coolcullen, over from Goresbridge, from Germany, France, England, The 4 corners of Bognia, Coolnacupogue, great to be back in front of the lamps

1 January Man
2 Ordinary Man
3 Ruby Walsh
4 Nancy Spain
5 Lovely Young One

with MOC Band:
6 City of Chicago
7 Butterfly
8 Missing You
9 Black is the Colour
10 Farmer Michael Hayes
11 Bright Blue Rose
12 Mattie
13 The Tulla Set – Instrumental
14 Gortatagort
15 Honda 50
16 Back Home in Derry
17 John O’Dreams
18 Go Move Shift
19 They Never Came Home
20 Beeswing
21 Joxer
22 Tippin’ It Up to Nancy
23 Voyage
24 Quinte Brigada
25 Ride On
26 DTS
27 Cliffs of Dooneen

28. Lisdoonvarna

That’s it for now … See you along the way,




Rescheduled Dates …

Vicar Street:
December 22nd – rescheduled to Tuesday February 17th.
December 23rd – rescheduled to Wednesday February 18th.

December 29th – rescheduled to Monday April 20th.
December 30th – rescheduled to Tuesday April 21st.

Rescheduled to Saturday 28th February

Happy New Year to all,


Castlebar Gig Postponed …

My gig  at Royal Theatre Castlebar on Friday  Jan 2nd has been postponed as a result of a continual viral infection.  I am improving, but  not 100% just yet. Sincere apologies for the inconvenience this has caused.
A rescheduled date of Saturday 28th Februaru has now been confirmed, and all tickets will be valid for the new date, or alternatively, refund is available at point of purchase.
Please view Royal Theatre.ie for further updates, or call 0949023111, and all Ticketmaster outlets nationwide.

Christy will not perform his scheduled concerts at Vicar Street on 29 and 30 December due to an ongoing severe lung infection. Sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused.


Message from Christy …

Dear Listeners.

I was shattered to have to cancel gigs in Vicar Street. Knowing that listeners are going to be let down is a horrible feeling. I had no other option.

What started out as a “bit of a cold” turned into a severe bronchial lung infection. When I went to my GP last Friday I was still confident about being able to perform. Then come Friday and Saturday nights, my lungs literally closed down. I got no sleep and was struggling to breathe. I went to out patients in my local hospital on Sunday Morning, they put me on a nebuliser and now I’m on Steroids, Anti Biotic, Mucadyne, Nasal Spray and Olbas Oil inhalation. Still not sleeping too well but getting good air supply into the lungs again. Thankfully I am healing but that is all I can say for now.

I love my work and the connection built up over the years with you listeners. I deeply regret any inconvenience and disappointment caused by these unavoidable cancellations.

Very Best Wishes.


22nd & 23rd December – shows to be re-scheduled…

Due to a severe lung infection Christy cannot perform his scheduled concerts at Vicar Street tomorrow Monday 22nd December and Tuesday 23rd  December.
Rescheduled dates will be announced shortly.
Sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused.


December 18th Show Cancelled …

Dear Listeners,

We have run into an unforeseen problem regarding our December 18th Gig at Vicar Street. We have had to cancel this performance.

Anyone holding tickets for this gig will be offered seats at the remaining Vicar Street dates  on December 22nd,23rd,29th,30th, or alternatively, at The Bord Gais Theatre on January 16th,17th The number to call is 01 648 6015.

We regret any inconvenience caused.


More Shows Announced …

The following shows have just been announced …

Friday February 20th 2015 – Mullingar Park Hotel – on sale October 30th
Thursday February 26th 2015 – Riverside Park Hotel, Enniscorthy – on sale October 30th
Friday March 6th 2015 – Clonmel Park Hotel – on sale November 6th
Friday March 13th 2015 – Kilronan Castle, Roscommon – on sale November 6th
Saturday March 14th 2015 – Radisson Blu, Athlone – on sale October 30th
Saturday April 4th 2015 – Nuremore Hotel, Carrickmacross – on sale November 6th
Saturday April 18th 2015 – INEC, Killarney – on sale now.
Friday/Saturday June 6th/ 7th 2015 – The Waterfront, Belfast – on sale November 6th
Thursday June 11th 2015 – Killyhevlin Hotel, Enniskillen – on sale November 6th
Friday June 12th 2015 – Dungannon Leisure Centre – on sale November 6th
Friday/Saturday June 19th/20th 2015 – Forum, Derry – on sale November 6th
Saturday July 4th 2015 – Live at the Marquee – not on sale yet.

Here is some info about October 2015 – Scotland and England – tickets are not on sale yet…

Friday October 23rd 2015 – Buxton
Saturday October 24th 2015 – Liverpool
Monday October 26th 2015 – Gateshead
Tuesday October 27th 2015 – Edinburgh
Thursday October 29th 2015 – Glasgow RCH
Friday October 30th – Glasgow Barrowland

October – November 2014

Dear Listeners

Some New gigs for your consideration. Full details on the Gig Page on the website …

Friday February 20th 2015 – Mullingar Park Hotel – on sale October 30th
Thursday February 26th 2015 – Riverside Park Hotel, Enniscorthy – on sale October 30th
Friday March 6th 2015 – Clonmel Park Hotel – on sale November 6th
Friday March 13th 2015 – Kilronan Castle, Roscommon – on sale November 6th
Saturday March 14th 2015 – Radisson Blu, Athlone – on sale October 30th
Saturday April 4th 2015 – Nuremore Hotel, Carrickmacross – on sale November 6th
Saturday April 18th 2015 – INEC, Killarney – on sale now.
Friday/Saturday June 6th/ 7th 2015 – The Waterfront, Belfast – on sale November 6th
Thursday June 11th 2015 – Killyhevlin Hotel, Enniskillen – on sale November 6th
Friday June 12th 2015 – Dungannon Leisure Centre – on sale November 6th
Friday/Saturday June 19th/20th 2015 – Forum, Derry – on sale November 6th
Saturday July 4th 2015 – Live at the Marquee – not on sale yet.

Here is some info about October 2015 – Scotland and England – tickets are not on sale yet…

Friday October 23rd 2015 – Buxton
Saturday October 24th 2015 – Liverpool
Monday October 26th 2015 – Gateshead
Tuesday October 27th 2015 – Edinburgh
Thursday October 29th 2015 – Glasgow RCH
Friday October 30th – Glasgow Barrowland

Recently I decided to try and further my computer skills. In doing so I encountered some problems. I accidentally erased a lengthy chat and also lost 83 separate documents containing ongoing work, thus the brevity of this chat. Life goes on … new lyrics and songs are beginning to emerge from the enforced fresh start.

Today MECA received €27,871 – the proceeds of our recent Gig for Gaza. Thanks to everyone who contributed. We received the following communication today;

We thank you very much for your all of your efforts – not just your practical support but your show of humanity. Through your music and concert, you conveyed a message to the world and to the people in Gaza that we are not alone or forgotten.

Your funds will help the traumatized Palestinian children in Gaza who went through a very difficult time during the latest Israeli attacks. We are trying to help them overcome the traumatic experiences through our project “Let the Children Play and Heal” which uses drawing, writing, singing, drama and other creative games. These creative outlets are always needed for children in Gaza living under siege and occupation but they are even more vital now with so many children suffering after the horrors of 51 days of Israel attacks from the air, sea and land.

From Gaza, with love,
Dr. Mona El-Farra
Director of Gaza Projects for the Middle East Children’s Alliance

Josie Shields-Stromsness
Middle East Children’s Alliance

The Cork Film festival will screen “Come All You Dreamers” at the Cork Opera House on Sunday November 9th at 6pm. Click HERE for tickets …
It will be followed by a Q&A with myself and Philip King. They are also screening the 1990 Film “Christy” later the same evening. See Cork Film Festival for further details – click HERE for the film festival website.

Mick Blake performed at the recent Gig for Gaza. Below are some of his songs;

1 Oblivious – Click HERE to listen
2 Heaven – Click HERE to listen
3 The Giveaway – Click HERE to listen
4 Martyrs – Click HERE to listen
5 Mr Tepper – Click HERE to listen
6 Catch Cries – Click HERE to listen
7 Another Child Another War – Click HERE to listen
8 Leitrim (a brief history) – Click HERE to listen

See you along the way …


Anyone for the last few choc-ices …

Here are some dates, recently confirmed, for your consideration


Wednesday 10th           Christy with Máirtín O’Connor band – Ardilaun Hotel, Galway – now on sale

Monday 22nd                Christy with Declan – Vicar St. Dublin – on sale Thurs Oct 9th

Tuesday 23rd                Christy with Declan – Vicar St. Dublin – on sale Thurs Oct 9th

Monday 29th               Christy with Declan – Vicar St. Dublin – on sale Thurs Oct 9th

Tuesday 30th                Christy with Declan – Vicar St. Dublin – on sale Thurs Oct 9th


January 2015

Friday 2nd                     Christy with Máirtín O’Connor band – Royal Theatre, Castlebar – on sale now

Friday 9th                     Christy with Máirtín O’Connor band – Lyrath Estate Hotel, Kilkenny – on sale Oct 1st

Friday 16th                   Christy with Máirtín O’Connor band – Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin – on sale Thurs Oct 9th

March 2015

Friday March 20th       Christy with Declan Sinnott – University Concert Hall, Limerick – on sale now

May 2015

Sunday 10th                      Christy with Declan – Colston Hall, Bristol, UK – on sale now

Monday 11th                Christy with Declan Sinnott – Warwick Arts Centre, Warwick UK – not on sale yet

Wednesday 13th          Christy and Declan Sinnott – Anvil Theatre, Basingstoke, UK – on sale now

Thursday 14th              Christy with Declan Sinnott – Corn Exchange, Cambridge UK – on sale now

Saturday 16th               Christy with Declan Sinnott – St. Davids Hall, Cardiff, Wales – on sale now

Sunday 17th                 Christy with Declan Sinnott – Venue Cymru, Llandudno, Wales – on sale now


Thursday 26th June – John “Jacko” Reilly Concert – Community Hall, Boyle, County Roscommon.

Gerry O’Daly set the ball rolling. He was the main organizer of this worthy event. He was ably assisted by a committee of loyal aides all devoted to commemorating the life and songs of John “Jacko” Reilly. My knowledge of John’s life and circumstance is very sparse. I met him but a handful of times always in Mrs. Bridie Grehan’s pub above in the town of Boyle. What drew me to Boyle was the music of The Grehan Sisters who played in their mothers’ pub. Late one night John began to sing and that was the start of it all. 52 years later and we gathered to celebrate the songs of John Reilly – Songs which are now known by many the world over.

Helen, Francie and Marie Grehan opened the concert with the following set;


1. Uncle in The Dáil
2. The Wind That Shakes The Barley
3. Orange and Green
4. The Captain
5. Francie’s Frolics
6. The Engineer.
7. Where Soldiers Go.1848.
8. Save The Old Homes
9. Banks of Marble
10. Miner’s Song
Sheamie O’Dowd came across the mountains from  Sligo and together we played;
11. Lord Baker
12. Raggle Taggle Gypsy
13. The Well Below The Valley
14. Blue Tar Road. (sung by Gerry O’Reilly of The Góilín Club in Dublin)
15. Go Move Shift
16. What Put The Blood?
17. Pat Rainey. (sung by Fergus Russell Who also spoke about Traveller Tradition)
18. Travelling People.
19. Johnny Connors.
20. Broomielaw
21. Ludlow Massacre
22. Cliffs of Dooneen
23. Where I Come From
24. Ballinamore
25. Black Hair.
The Grehan Sisters the joined Sheamie and I for a finale of;
26. Cricklewood
27. Reels.
28. Tippin It Up To Nancy.

There is a review of the gig written by Davoc Rynne … Click HERE to read it.

Then I played two gigs with Mairtín O Connors Band in the Marquee, Cork on July 5th and the Iveagh Gardens, Dublin, on July 11th …

MARQUEE CORK                                                                     IVEAGH GARDENS

  1. How Long
How Long
  1. Ordinary Man
Ordinary Man
  1. Banks of the Lee
Giuseppe Conlon/Away You Broken Heart
  1. Delirium Tremens
Delirium Tremens
Here joined by Mairtín O’Connor,Cathal Hayden,Seamie O’Dowd & Jimmy Higgins  
  1. City of Chicago
City of Chicago
  1. Nancy Spain
Nancy Spain
  1. The Larry Set
The Larry Set
  1. A Pair of Brown Eyes
A Pair of Brown Eyes
  1. Missing You
Missing You
  1. I Pity the Poor Immigrant
Well Below the Valley
  1. Matty
Viva La Quinta Brigada
  1. The Contender
Yellow Triangle
  1. Johnny Jump Up
  1. Gortatagort
  1. North & South
  1. Where I Come From
Ride On
  1. Biko Drum
  1. Ride On
Black is the Colour
  1. Yellow Triangle
Biko Drum
  1. Black is the Colour
On the Mainland
  1. McIlhatton
Back Home in Derry
  1. On the Mainland
  1. Back Home in Derry
Humours Set
  1. Well Below the Valley
  1. Joxer
Smoke & Strong Whiskey
  1. Voyage
  1. Lisdoonvarna
  1. Cliffs of Dooneen
Molly Malone

No Time For Love

July 16th Westport

Three successive gigs constitutes a tour in 2014. Back in 1969 I played over 300 folk club gigs. Such was my life back then. I was a 24 year old singer living loose and travelling light. Everything I needed was carried in a big green guitar case (it’s on the cover of Paddy on The Road). It was a simple and basic way of life. I gathered songs along the way, made new friends and sampled different ales in every region. 45 years on I remember the very taste of Cameron’s Strongarm, the cream of John Willie Lees Keg, and the treacle sweetness of Newcastle Brown Ale (who needs Diageo!) Light and Double Diamond was a favoured quaff in The Finsbury Park Tavern. I knew a Scrumpy Bar in Earls Court where very few novices could last the pace. I should add that for every decent brew there were many that tasted of bitter vinegar and piss. Alkies are seldom choosey. There was a great network of camaraderie amongst all those who made up that 60’s folk circuit. A bit of me still floats around those far off days. In the air of Todmorden, Brighouse, Mirfield, Keightly, Bradshaw, Causeway Foot, Hull and Halifax and Hell… (O good Lord Deliver me). No microphones or follow-spots back then. Just songs and singers. No FEU or VAT, just good company and chat.

However I am equally happy these times.  I feel most fortunate to be still in the game. I think of all those troubadours who sadly passed before their time Nick Drake, Christie Hennessy, Hamish Imlach, Mary Asquith, Johnny Keenan, Luke Kelly, Sandy Denny and Jo-Anne Kelly, to randomly name a few. But the show goes on. There are new generations coming along who will keep the process in motion. For every one instrument that was played in the 60’s there are a thousand instruments in ownership tonight. The technical standards of the playing have improved greatly. There will be hundreds of sessions in Ireland tonight taking place in a great variety of locations. The Folk/Trad/Ballad scene thrives. At the very centre of it all are those few exponents who reach into the very heart of the music…this is a gift that can neither be bought nor learnt. No App will ever reveal the soul of music, no SatNav can  guide us to the heart  of the matter… this is something akin to the colour of hair, to the shape of a nose…  no stylist nor publicist, no life coach nor personal manager, no Svengali nor music degree can reveal the key to the core. If we think we got it, it probably means we don’t. I witnessed this light in John Reilly, in Frank Harte and Fred Jordan, in Jeannie Robertson, Seamus Ennis, Raymond Roland, Liam O’Flynn, Mary Bergin, Nic Jones, The Watersons, Micho Russell, Anne Briggs and Martin Hayes – these few names spring to mind at the time of writing

Kicking off in Westport was a great buzz in July. The Town was hopping. It has grown to become a primary holiday destination without losing neither its flavour nor its charm. I was looking forward to hooking up with my old Planxty shipmate Matt Molloy but he was off to Spain to play with The Chieftains. I love to tap the old drum as Matt flakes into a brace of reels. After years of working hard in The Bothy Band, The Chieftains and Planxty, Matt has settled into Westport where Matt Molloy’s Pub has become a landmark for Irish Music. The venue for the nights gig was The Castlecourt Hotel. The room was rammed with keen listeners from Texas, Arizona and California, From Barr Na Cúige, Toureen and Castlebar. Tom Tuohy came back from Switzerland on his Honda 50. There were kids and parents; there were grannies, aunts and uncles. We had good sport…good to be back beside Declan again. We played 32 songs and it just flashed past. (For me at least!)

July17th Coillte Mhach

Here I am in Kiltimagh. By now I’ve played most towns across the Island but this is my first time to play in Kiltimagh. Renowned as the home of “Rafteirí an File” who was an 18th century blind Poet. His poem “Anach Cuain” was on the syllabus back in my school day. Kiltimagh is the anglicized spelling of  Coillte Mhách. I believe it may have been the origin of the word “Culchie” (which I’m proud to be.) Another noted citizen of Kiltimagh is Louis Walsh, Irish Pop Supremo known the world over for his opinions and for his insights into the darkest corners of Irish Popular Music. A great musician from this town is Vinnie Kilduff, a man whose music I love to hear. It’s exciting to be here. I just arrived into The Park Hotel with its comfortable accommodations.  The crew are hard at work building the stage. It’s a hot and humid evening, its gonna be sticky tonight, just the way we like it…

Hot, humid, clammy and sticky it was (it’s now 5.30am after the Kiltimagh gig) it was a cracker of a night. From the off the gig just flowed, one of them real special nights. During the very first song a lad took weak in the front row. As we launched into “Yellow Furze Woman” he began to fall out of his chair… turns out he was wearing 3 sweaters and an overcoat and the room was like a sauna in a Turkish Baths in Qatar during the World Cup. He was well attended to by a nurse from Tralee, Dr Devine from Palmerstown and 3 crowd control executives from Kiltimagh. By the time we finished “Nancy Spain” his excess wardrobe had been removed and he was sitting, well hydrated, by an open door… the panic was over. We had 5 lads from Syria in the front row. Aziz asked me to sing “Black is the colour of my True Love’s Hair”. When it came to Declan’s solo part, I swear to God, he injected Syrian notes into his melody. Natasha Casey and Thad Duhigg were in the room having flown in from Chicago. Madge Boyle was there celebrating her 89th Birthday. I got to meet Madge after the gig and, amazingly, she recounted a story from 1966. Madge described going into The National Bank in Ballyhaunis the very day that the Bank Strike commenced. I cashed her Creamery Cheque that day. This may very well have been my very last act as a distressed bank clerk. I left the Bank later that day and never returned.

July 18th, Lough Rynn, Mohill, County Leitrim

This beautiful place has bloody history behind its walls. Once the home of Lord Leitrim – as vicious a Landlord as ever terrorised tenants. Click HERE to see Mick Blakes song “A Brief History of Leitrim. It was a beautiful journey from Kiltimagh to mid Leitrim. One of those cross country travails that brought us along B roads, through villages and crossroads I’d not previously encountered. Our wonderful new network of  Motorways are ideal for getting  home late at night but  these by-roads  provide wonderful viewing of a bright Summer’s day. Just as Mayo has its own particular landscape, so too does verdant Leitrim. Carrick-on-Shannon seemed afloat with Shannon Cruisers and hordes of inland yachties. We passed many tractors drawing home precious trailer-loads of the black sod. Good people laying in their winter firing. No hay to be seen anymore. The grass is either gone to silage or else the hay lies concealed in plastic roll-ups. Old hay sheds stand empty and rusted. Near Drumsna I saw a man, older then myself, driving an ancient Ferguson tractor slowly along the road. He was focused entirely upon a 99 ice-cream cone as he sauntered along that Leitrim by-road. It was a pleasure to drive slowly behind him.

Suddenly it’s all over. The first half of the year has flown. Its summer break and all the crew have scarpered to the glens. It takes days to wind down. To realize that there aint no gigs for nigh on 6 weeks.

Friday July 25th the Mansion House Dublin. (This is not a gig!)

The Deputy Lord Mayor, The Rt Hon Larry O’Toole invited The Góilín Singers Club to host a night of song in The Lord Mayor’s splendid residence. There were singers there from 7 different Singers Clubs around the City and it was a memorable gathering for those of us who attended. Val and I arrived in at 7PM and the room was thronged with singers. Fergus Russell was the ” fear an tí ” for the night as Larry welcomed us all. We heard 43 different songs from 42 different singers. Had time permitted we could have heard the same again. The tradition of unaccompanied singing is stronger now then ever before. Here are the songs we heard;

  1. Barry Gleeson
Have You Been To Avondale – Dominic Behan
  1. Angela Murray
Salonica – Traditional
  1. Ian O’Loingsigh
The Banks of Pimlico – Traditional
  1. Roisin Gaffney
The Mullingar Recruit – Traditional
  1. Jack & Angela Plunkett
Kisses Sweeter Than Wine – Howard Richmond
  1. Michael McDonncha
Come all You Stetson Wearers & Fans of Cowboy Boots – Garth Brooks Ballad
  1. Rita Hogarty
Keep Your Eyes off Red Haired Mary – Traditional
  1. Eugene McEldowney
Freedom Come All Ye – Hamish Henderson
  1. Caoimhe Hogarty
Donal Óg – Traditional
  1. Teresa & Tony O’Murchu
  1. Peter Byrne
Stewball – Traditional
  1. Brenda Ni Riordan
The Flower of Magherally – Traditional
  1. Mick Keeley
The Wedding Above in Glencree – Traditional
  1. Anne Buckley
Rickety Tickety Tin – Tom Lehrer
  1. Mick Dunne
The Musical Genius – Garth Brooks Song – Mick Dunne
  1. Niamh Parsons
John Condon – Laird,Starret, McRory
  1. Willie O’Connor
The Wild Raparee – Traditional
  1. Megan Day
A Thousand Times a Day – Patty Loveless
  1. Diarmuid O’Cathasaigh
Sliabh na mBan & Planxty Davis – Tunes
  1. Mick Fowler
Alexander – From the singing of Eddie Butcher
  1. Radie Peat
Down in the Willow Garden – Trad./Charlie Monroe
  1. Tony Fitzpatrick
Shift & Spin – Ewan McVicar
  1. Mary Kenny
Farewell to Dublin – Brian Warfield
  1. Alan Stout
The Serendipity Waltz – Alan Stout
  1. Barbara Coates
Amhrán na Bealtaine – Thugamar Fein an Samhradh Linn
  1. Luke Cheevers
Muldoon the Solid Man – Edward Harrigan
  1. Ken Kenny
The Pontiffs Eye – Poem by Charlee Marshall
  1. Nellie Weldon
Via Extasia – Liam Weldon
  1. Shay Weldon
The Lags Song – Ewan McColl
  1. Brendan Kennedy
Smile in Your Sleep
  1. Mairead Clifford
Dancing at Whitsun – Austin John Marshall
  1. George Henderson
St Kevin Of Glendalought
  1. Lynched
Sweet Daffodil Mulligan – Harry O’Donovan
  1. Tony McGaley
The Butcher of Gloster Diamond – Dominic Behan
  1. Linda Keogh
Peggy Gordon – Traditional
  1. Fergus Russell
Bonny Light Horseman – Traditional
  1. Christy Moore
The Well Below the Valley – From the singing of John Reilly
  1. Larry O’Toole
The Glendalough Saint – Traditional
  1. Malachy O’Reilly
In the Town of Ballybay – Tommy Makem
  1. Jerry O’Connor
Shining down on Sennen – Mike O’Connor
  1. Robert Kelly
Down Where the Drunkards Roll – Richard Thompson
  1. Pat Burke
Isolde’s Chapel – Tribute to Frank Harte – Pat Burke
  1. Niamh Parsons
Here’s to You and Our Time Together – Alan Bell

We left the hallowed surroundings of that room in The Mansion House where the first sitting of Dáil Éireann took place. I love music sessions, I love going to gigs, I love musical soirees, ceilidhs, festivals and all gatherings of all sorts but, as a singer, events like these are a rare treat. A Gathering where every performer gets the same order and respect. To hear 42 different singers, all of them passionate and imbued with a love of songs and singing, makes for a rare and memorable night

Sunday 27th July

IFI Cinema Dublin and the premiere of the film “An Unfinished Conversation”- the life and death of Mairéad Farrell. (For whom I wrote “On the Bridge”) This film will be shown at the West Belfast festival next month and on TG4 later in the year. Recommended viewing for any one with an interest in the History of Struggle in Ireland.

Monday 28th July

“Boyhood” is a perfect holiday movie…nearly 3 hours long with very good music. It unfolds beautifully. We brought provisions and a flask of coffee and had the entire cinema to ourselves. Unusually, I did not nod off even once.

Friday August 1st

We celebrated autumn’s arrival by attending Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill’s performance at The National Concert Hall. To a packed Hall they performed two new suites from David Flynn with the National Symphony Orchestra and The West Clare Quartet all conducted by David Brophy.

The annual unease is setting in. After two weeks I begin to feel a lack of confidence creeping up on me. Will I remember how it’s done? Today I must commence serious practice for upcoming gigs lest all be wiped from memory. Its daily revision for the next few weeks!

Saw a film today “Finding Vivian Maier”. Vivian was an Artist Photographer whose life’s work was uncovered purely by chance. Anyone interested in photography, obsession, disfunction, beauty or documentary biopics will enjoy this.

On Saturday August 16th I returned to Liberty Hall Dublin to perform a concert supporting the workers of the Greyhound Lockout Dispute. I was joined by Seamie O’Dowd, Don Baker and Eric Fleming.

Once again we have returned to the “Masters of The Tradition” Festival in Bantry, County Cork. Let me commence this wee report with praise for Martin Hayes, the Musical Director of this annual event. This is our Eleventh Masters in 12 years and every year Martin has assembled the finest exponents of our unique Tradition. Take night 4 as an example. The programme kicked off with Máire Ní Chéileachair. Máire is a fine sean-nós singer from Ballyvourney. That night she performed two beautiful songs in Irish which set the right atmosphere for what was to follow. Then came Mary Bergin whom many regard to be the greatest living exponent of the Tin Whistle. I first heard Mary play 42 years ago. Planxty were playing in Teac Furbo and Mary had just moved from her native Dublin to settle in Connemara. Mary’s legendary album “Feadóg Stáin” (from 1979) is still available on the Gael Linn label. She was accompanied that night by Mick Conneely on Bouzouki. Next came The Boruma Trio who performed what was perhaps my favourite set over the 12 years of this festival. Andrew MacNamara, Eileen O’Brien and Geraldine Cotter are a new trio. I had heard each of them before but their coming together has brought about the most wonderful music. I was deeply moved by their set last night and left the gig with their album “Gléas” snug in my Póca. They wrapped up the first gig and we went out into the night as the stage was being prepared for the late night gig which featured new music. Ensemble Eriú played an interesting set – very hard to put a label upon them apart from their being innovative, exciting, reflective and extremely accomplished. They delivered a really balanced sound with each instrument resounding clearly in the ambiance of Bantry House. The seven musicians played Concertina, Fiddle, Guitar, Marimba, Clarinet, Bass (plus Flute) and Drums. Their first album has been released (Ensemble Eriú). I’m still wondering how to label them….perhaps a touch of Pentangle with Concertina Fiddle and Marimbas. Really enjoyed the opening night too. Great to hear the Brock-Maguire Band again. After a tight and magical set they were joined by Ricky Scaggs, Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill and Cleek Schrey. We had some night of it. Wafts of East Clare and Appalachia, Breezes from Chicago, Sligo and the Black Lagoon. As always, Frances Humphries and his Legionnaires produced the gigs impeccably while Matt and Daire Purcell amplified the sound with love and affection.

Ah but Poor Old Bantry. Our favourite town in Cork, this sweet place is not at its best. It has been left looking beleaguered despite all its wonderful vistas. I see Skibbereen and Clonakilty and what they have achieved with lesser attributes. Bantry, for some time now, seems to have lacked a guiding light. It has its very own magnificent Bantry Bay, it is surrounded by such natural beauty, it is the home of West Cork Music which next year will host its FIFTIETH international festival in 22 years, Bantry Square is one of the finest squares in the Country. The Crowning Glory must be Bantry House. Some find it difficult to overlook its founding history but surely the time has come for all to recognise the beauty of this House and what an attribute it is to Bantry. Two fine Hotels in the Town lie empty, closed and sad. Vickery’s was a lovely old Hotel in its day, always special to visit. We were very surprised to see The Bantry Bay Hotel under lock and key. It always seemed to be a vital part of life upon Bantry Square.  By all accounts, another victim to our recent history of excess and crazed expansion.  It would be great to see a smile back on the face of Old Bantry Town once again.

Since Then I have gigged in Sneem, Charleville and Carlow, marvelled at Donegal v Dublin and Kilkenny v Tipperary in Croker, visited Burtown House in County Kildare and walked The Pollardstown Fen. I’m working on some songs, starting to think about recording. Some days I feel like I’m really on top of it, other days I’m wondering is it that time yet. The voice feels fit for purpose, the gig still buzzes me up big time and audiences appear and seem to be connecting with the work. I think I’ll keep going for as long as I can. In the past 12 months I’ve gigged in 4 different formats and enjoyed each in a different way. I’ve never had such variety in my work before. I’m looking forward to Armagh Newry and Newcastle in the next week; it’s been a long time since… I hope to walk The Silent Valley…

See Ye along the Way



Review by Davoc Rynne – John “Jacko” Reilly Gig – Boyle, Co. Roscommon – 26th June 2014

When I first heard John “Jacko” Reilly sing 50 years ago I was with Davoc Rynne from Prosperous. Davoc (who subsequently became my brother-in-law) wrote the following lines after attending the recent “Jacko” gig in Boyle, Co Roscommon …

We head off up the country on the morning of the 26th June 2014. A good dull day and mostly dry. We stop off at Mother Hubbard’s in Kilcolgan (nice and quiet and no sign of the “…swarm of truckers”!). I get a long overdue fast haircut and away we go to the town of Boyle in the county of Roscommon. ………..At last we are relaxing in Mary Cooney’s comfortable B&B. I am sitting on the window sill looking out and admiring the great stone Cistercian monastery of Boyle Abbey. I am wondering about these strange French monks arriving here… 853 years ago now! What did the locals think of them, with their austerity, prayers, contemplation and hard manual work! Did they get planning permission to build that huge abbey? And come to think of it, only 41 years after building it the dreaded Anglo-Norman Lord William de Burgh, with his gang of thugs, spent three days ransacking it “…..No structure in the monastery was left without breaking and burning…” Heavens above sure they were still only building it! The church was not even completed. The mud was hardly dry on the walls!!……….Ah …but our memories are much more recent and relaxed and they come flooding back.
Early 1960s Fleadh Ceoils…Oh the youth of us and the fun we had! Not to mention a honeymoon night in the Royal Hotel with the flowing river Boyle right below our bedroom window!
But I think none of this period can be waxed as lyrically as Christy Moore does in his book “One Voice” There is no doubt in my mind but Christy gets this whole period sublimely. Sometimes reading some tracts from this amazing book I get emotional with nostalgia and gushing with sentiment (steady on Dabra sez the editor!).
“We were in the back of Mick Curran’s Fleadh Express Bedford Van. There was a trap door for watching the tarmac, and if things got claustrophobic you could always ride up on the roof rack for a spell! There was Mick, Donal, Francis, Tex, Brendan, Sean, Andy, Davoc, Óg and Peter around that day and we struck out for Boyle in Roscommon for to Fleadh for the Easter. Sally had come from Richmond in Surrey to visit Eire, and ended up on the floor of a railway freight carriage half full of black turf with Anne, Brigid and Catherine. We had two guitars and three tin whistles one flute and a dozen songs between us. Not a heap of money either. The heavens opened and we were drenched and broke and miserable but young and in love with life. ……..There were two women in the corner of Grehan’s pub, exotic mots dressed entirely in black drinking tumblers of raw whiskey and smoking Players full-strength. I’d never seen the like before and I’ve known them ever since and they’re still as mad as then – slightly fading exotics. John Reilly sang “Lord Baker” and purred as he paused every three verses to silk his throat with porter as he basked shyly in his new-found acclaim. Tony Grehan did tricks with the sweeping brush and his sisters silenced the pub with “On the Galteemore Mountains So Far, Far Away”. We all fell in love and then fell around the place gambolling in the dark, fumbling and flustering in the early hours of the Sunday morning trying to get comfortable amid the turf and empty bottles, chattering, freezing and laughing manically for the jokes seemed so funny, and the crankiness of the love makers as they realised that the wagoner’s would never sleep and that their love could not be made! Andy Rynne sang “As I Roved Out” maybe six times a night over the weekend and I’ve never been able to forget it since.” (The following night)…..The woman of the house called for “Silence for the singer” and this little man cleared his throat nervously and began to sing. Stillness descended upon the room as he sang “There were Three Old Gypsies Came to our Hall Door” and on he went. We were a bunch of crazy youngsters out for fun but we all knew we were hearing something special. He looked like a man in his 60s but he was, in fact, only in his early 40s. He had lived a very hard live and neither his living conditions nor his diet would have been adequate. I guess he was 5 foot 7inches or so and was of slight build. He loved a few pints of porter and also loved to smoke tobacco. He was very friendly and shy and he loved to sing. He was in awe of the fact that people simply loved listening to him. For most of his life he would not have received much attention. Apart from his wonderful songs what I remember most is that he was a simple and beautiful man and he had the “smell of the fire” about him. He wore an old army longcoat and a well worn cap”.
A few years ago I also wrote down these memories of this exciting period:
“When it comes to music, singing, fun and craic from the early 1960s on, of all that arrived at Pat Dowling’s pub in Prosperous, the most prominent families without doubt were the Moore’s and the Lunny’s from Newbridge. The first time I met Christy was not in Prosperous but in Graham’s pub in Boyle at a small county Fleadh Ceol – I guess around 1964. I was with the usual Newbridge crowd of bone players, plumbers, whistlers and ragamuffins. This sweaty young fella gets up in the middle of the crowded pub and in a strong voice sings “The Galtee Mountain Boy”. Mick Curran had driven us up in his old Bedford van and I could see he was wildly interested – “Who’s your man?” I ask excitedly. “Ah sure that’s Christy Moore – he’s one of our own” – says he with great pride. Christy was working in England at the time – sure wasn’t everybody, half of Ireland seemed to be perpetually over there. I am not too sure what he was doing in London, maybe swinging a shovel or maybe swinging the lead – but he was definitely doing the folk club circuit.
Christy and meself became good buddies. We drank the same kind of porter, chased the same kind of young ones and followed the same kind of music. We slept in the same kind of haybarns, disused railway carriages, backs of vans, creaky brass beds and once or twice in ditches. Strange – but at this time Christy was not really known in song or musical circles in Ireland. In fact I knew the Lunny family before I knew the Moore’s. Old Frank Lunny senior many a time sang “The Flower of Sweet Strabane” through the thick cigarette smoke of Pat Dowling’s. “If I had you lovely Martha away in Inisowen……”
But no mention of John Reilly there?! Well I do of course remember him. And everybody in Grehan’s pub had the height of respect for him. But I was much more interested in the gorgeous singing and playing of the sisters and their antics. In my mind I can see him. He is sitting under the big window that was facing the street. Old John Reilly was part and parcel of the furniture of the pub. Always there and always willing to sing a song – at the drop of a hat! The place would be empty and lonesome without him. That was the way it was in those days. Like Micho Russell and his brothers in the famous O’Connor’s pub of Doolin and indeed Patrick Kavanagh who was moulded into the fabric of famous McDaid’s pub off Grafton street.
Fintan Vallely in “Irish Traditional Music” has an excellent entry from Tom Munnelly that starts – John Reilly (“Jacko”) (1926-1969) Singer. Born to a travelling family at Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim….
And the final sentence gets Jacko, and the times he lived in, to a tee. Tom is referring to a 1978 LP called “The Bonny Green Tree” where 12 of John’s songs are availably:
“…a selection archaic and mesmerising, loaded with all the more importance because of the indifference in which his world dismissed this transmitter of the art of past centuries.”
The sleeve of this rare LP also tells a remarkable story of Jacko and his songs.
Again the great folk song collector Tom Munnelly has written this sleeve. And I quote:

“A remarkable rebuttal came from the President of a University Folk Song Club when I suggested booking John……..”We don’t go in for unaccompanied songs; we are more interested in folk singers”. This was paralleled by the comments of an official of the National Music Organisation, Comhaltas Cheoltoiri Éireann on hearing John. “He is not a traditional singer, he doesn’t sing in the sean-nos manner”. This genius still adjudicates singing competitions at a national level.

A chance of luck came in 1969 when D.K.Wilgus Professor of Folk Songs at the University of California in Los Angeles came to Ireland. When told about John and his songs he immediately appreciated their value and that same weekend he and I set off for Boyle to record him. We met John walking the Main Street with a few newly made buckets in his hand and as usual, John was more than willing to oblige. So the recording equipment was set up in the back room of Grehan’s pub and John sang away to his heart’s content. Between Saturday and Sunday morning John sang about 36 songs and ballads. This, in spite of the fact that he was suffering from a heavy cold, which resulted in a racking cough on much of the recordings. Though John would have sung more at the time it was thought better not to overtax him. We promised to return the following month when his cold had cleared up.
A month later Tom, and the Californian professor, are in Boyle again looking for John. They can not find him around Boyle in his usual haunts. They call to his house in Green Street and under a pile of old overcoats they find John. Poor Johns’ cold had developed into pneumonia and he was very ill. They call a doctor and John is taken to Roscommon hospital. The following Thursday he is discharged. So when the weekend comes round Tom and D.K. again make to trip to Boyle to visit John. They find that John had collapsed in the street and that he was once again back in hospital. This time he is in the local hospital in Boyle. He is severely ill and in a coma and the poor man does not even recognise them. The following week Tom, on making a phone call to the hospital, discovers that John Reilly was buried in Ballaghadereen along side his mother on the previous day.
And as Tom says in the last paragraph of the “The Bonny Green Tree”:

So we had lost one of God’s gentry. For John Reilly was indeed a gentleman. Shy but social, fond of a pint but not addicted to it, a man who did not read or write but was one of the most learned men to grace the roads of Ireland.

So let us talk for a moment about John’s songs. I suppose we have to at this stage put Lord Baker as the number one. Even John himself is quoted as saying:
Lord Baker……”My poor father would always sing Lord Baker. It was his most favourite song when he’d be drunk”. Taken from the sleeve of the LP “Bonnie Green Tree
Ahh but what do I say about “Lord Baker”?
I phone the great man himself for inspiration.
“Christy I can’t make up me mind about this song!
Well OK I can let myself drift into it and sway to the flow of it, just let my mind wander away into to some mediaeval historical place… But the words have me confused and a bit bothered…”
Christy just laughs at me and says you have contradicted yourself there! Sure just write all that down.
OK, OK but I still have problems. Who is this Lord Baker guy anyway and who does he think he is! .

Of course as usual I am not thinking straight when I lashed into a criticism about this Lord of high degree who owns all Northumber and the houses, not to mention the linen! And of course I was also forgetting that this is Christy Moore’s all time favourite song. Sure for heavens sake, as he says himself “I stuck at it for over a period of four to five years, trying to absorb every nuance and variation… it was always a labour of love, and this has grown to become the most important song in my repertoire.”

Well of course for starters – I do not have great staying powers for long songs. Although I am getting a little better now with old age!!
I always remember Ciarán Bourke way back in the late 1950s. He would start into “The Cruise of the Calibar” but only got as far as the first two lines. A great song all about horse drawn barges and canals…
“Come all ye dry-land sailors bold, and listen unto my song,
There’s only forty verses, so I won’t detain you long…..
But of course it was only a slag… The first two lines would scare the living daylights out of you! Now there are 18 verses in Lord Baker and it takes 12 minutes for Christy Moore to sing them. And that is according to himself! It took old John much longer… what with supping the pint… Well in fairness one would have to! If there is a big pint of porter in front of you, well one just couldn’t be waiting 10 minutes to take the next sup…sure it would all go flat! And of course one has to also have an odd cigarette!
Google Lord Baker and all sorts of stuff comes up. One of the most interesting is an English folk singer singing a song called “Lord Bateman” in 1970. Same amount of verses and basically the same tune and story line. Lots of entries – some putting the song back to the mid seventeenth century. Nobody has attempted as far as I could gather to analyse the story line. So OK here I go.

This young wealthy Baker runs away from home hops on a ship and is a stowaway. He wants to see the world and find strange countries east and west and so on. In fairness who would blame him for that! It seems he eventually landed in Turkey and by all accounts not a very good place at the time. He gets discovered and bound up and thrown in prison “Until his life it was weary!” So the poor fellow was also a wee bit tired! I’d say he was! But anyway this young one suddenly appears out of nowhere. She seems to be kind of important – an only daughter of Turkey bold. Spoilt I would say and a bit bould as well! So she steals her father’s keys to the harbour. And indeed in some versions of the song the keys of the prison are also stolen. She must have got wind of the word that there was a bit of a VIP in town. We are only at the fourth verse and we have her singing on about his houses, land and flipping linen. She is dangling the keys in front of Lord Baker tantalising him with “What would you give to Turkeys daughter if out of prison she’d set you free?” Had she no sympathy for the poor fellow and he all bound up and weary! Sure what could he do but promise her everything. EVERYTHING – the LOT! All of Northumber, including the land, houses, and all the old linen again. Anyway they sneak off down to the harbour – mind you there are no verses telling us how that was done. They start boozing away “And every toast that she would drink around him ‘I wish Lord Baker that you would remain’ Or I wish Lord Baker that you would be mine! I suppose depending on how many drinks she had. God knows what went on that night! But they did make some kind of vague seven year vow like “If you don’t wed with no other woman I am sure I’ll wed with no other man”
Anyway away he goes and they make a load of promises that they meet again in seven years time. I would say he was happy enough to get out of there and seems to have promptly forgotten about the whole incident. Of course she did not forget. I would say she was constantly dreaming away about all the lands, linen and houses. Anyway about eight years later she can’t handle it any longer so away she goes to look for him. “..She bundled up all her gold and clothing” Of course, money and clothes would be kind of handy for a long journey. Now she is away “For she travelled east and she travelled west” Had she no map? Was there no one to tell her that Northumber is in England slightly north/west of Turkey?
Before we know it – it takes up only one verse – she has arrived at his house and is knocking away at the palace door. We have no idea how she got there. The young bold porter gets very excited when he sees her. Well I suppose she must have made a bit of an impact with all the gold she was flashing! “She wears a gold ring on every finger. And in the middle one where she wears three” Apart from all the gold on her fingers… “She has more gold hung round her middle” Lordy Gordy but she must have been a quare sight to behold!
The next couple of verses start to explain maybe the real reason for the poor porter’s excitement and dilemma! Of all the days of the year she had to pick to come knocking on Lord Baker’s door! “This very day he took a new bride in” And not only that, but his future mother-in-law was also there. Well in fairness I suppose she had to be. There was a wedding going on after all. Now smart aleck Baker has to do some very quick thinking. Not to mention some very quick mathematical sums. He has a new wife after all and she only arrived with “….one pack of gold” and there is another woman at the door who appears to have a lot more gold around her middle and everywhere. His also has this new mother-in-law to contend with. Anyway he draws out his sword and “cuts the wedding cake in pieces three” as the poor mother of his bride is whining away about “Oh what will I do with my daughter dear?” This should really have been a very tense moment and lots of negotiating not to mention heart break, sadness and tears. But no the last verse seems to cover all this drama up in just the two last lines “Your daughter came with one pack of gold. I’ll revert her home, love, with thirty three”
Mind you, in fairness to Christy, in his version he has an extra last verse that has Baker running down the stairs to his new darling “… of twenty one steps he made but three” But at least he ends up “.. And kissed his true love most tenderly”
OK I suppose, but I cannot help but think of what was also going through his mind! Was he not also thinking of all this gold she had “hung around her middle” as he was of love and romance!
Am I am being too cynical?! Maybe behind all this obsession with gold, houses and linen lies some hidden romantic story. Could it possibly be that in spite of, or because of, all the near obscene focus on wealth that true love shone through?
I give up. But I firmly believe that this song should have more verses. The ending is way too abrupt for my liking. Maybe they just got lost in time.

Gig for the Children of Gaza

I will be accompanied by Declan Sinnott – All funds will go directly to aid traumatised children in Gaza.
Tickets are priced at €40 and are available from  www.ticketmaster.ie & outlets nationwide

Myself and Don Baker will play a Benefit for the Locked Out Greyhound Workers on Saturday, 16th August in Liberty Hall. Tickets from www.ctb.ie

Myself and Don Baker will play a benefit for the Greyhound Workers on Saturday, 16th August. Tickets fom www.ctb.ie

Myself and Don Baker will play a benefit for the Greyhound Workers on Saturday, 16th August. Tickets fom www.ctb.ie

The Night Before Larry Was Stretched

“The night before Larry was stretched”

INEC Theatre Killarney 24th May.

It’s 30 minutes before show time in Killarney – In the dressing room my head is full of flashing thoughts; I need to look at Brendan’s Voyage, I haven’t sung it since Dingle last year… must run through the Contender with the Trad. Outfit (aka Mairtín O’Connor Band) before we go on… I remember the lady that took ill at last year’s gig here; I hope she recovered well and I wonder is she here tonight. Thinking back to the 1980’s when I used to do Summer residencies next door in the old Gleneagle Hotel. I’d stay out in Fossa at The Europe Hotel. I remember a strike there once. The staff were picketing the front gate and I wanted to go in and get my guitar before my gig in the town. They agreed to let me through if I’d sing a verse for them (“O Mrs Grojen, you’re only cat melojin”)… I sometimes imbibed all nighters after the gigs in The Gleneagles. The late Joe (Drifters) Dolan and I gave the vodka a right lash one night. Michael gives the 15 minute curtain call – time to get the duds on and stretch the keks one more time. At the 5 min call I receive a note from a man who last came to the gig in 1973.He wrote about a Planxty gig at Birmingham University and asked me to play John O’Dreams for a friend sadly missed. Notes like this give the work a great sense of continuity. Momentarily I feel connected to this man whom I have never met; we are two Leaves floating on the Lake of Song. Michael announces that its time to go… time to face the music once again.

Hilton Hotel, Belfast. 29th May.

6 hours to show time next door in The Waterfront Theatre. I’m staying at The Hilton Hotel. (No sign of Paris) My first gig here on the Bog Meadow was in 1972. It was a Very different time. It was at the other end of this journey. I had different ways of working back then – more distractions, and shorter sets. Drink was a big factor in my life then, hashish too. Now I sing about those days rather then relive them. Sobriety is the real high, all I have to do is gain it, and then hang onto it. Back then I played McMordie Hall at Queen’s University with Planxty. We did a short tour with John Martyn, all of us traveling together in a Ford Transit. Six of us plus all the PA and instruments. We had a few hairy moments, one late night checkpoint sticks in my memory. I had a good rehearsal last night as we prepared for the next leg of our tour (with Mairtín O’Connor’s Band). I love this time back among Traditional Players. Hearing the reels reverberate and the jigs shimmy… listening to these players as they go deep into their treasure trove seeking melodies that will enhance the songs. “Last Nights Fun” “Rodney’s Glory” “Ships in Full Sail” and “The Sailor on The Rock” are all tried and tested….I sing “The Trip to Jerusalem” and Mairtín O’Connor segues into “Grogan’s Favourite”. It feels like they were made for each other. Cathal Hayden rips into “Far from Home” after I sing “McIlhatton”. I think of Bobby Sands writing these words over the road in Long Kesh. Sheamie O’Dowd is forever picking up different instruments, last week he produced a mandolin, the week before that he blew into a Hohner, Jimmy Higgins sits behind the traps glued to the rhythm, keeping us all locked to the beat.

We played:
How Long
Ordinary Man
On The Mainland
Back Home in Derry
Nancy Spain
Michael Hayes /The Races of Clonmel
Natives / Enniskillen Dragoon
The “Larry” Set.
Yellow Triangle
Missing You
I pity The Poor Immigrant
My Little Honda 50
Tyrone Boys
Brown Eyes
McIlhatton / Far From Home
First Time Ever I saw your face
Smoke and Whiskey
Ride On
The Time has Come
Biko Drum
Where I Come From
The Humours of Tulla/Last Nights Fun/Cooley’s Reel/The Wise Maid
2 hours and 15 minute

Early morning, Belfast – 30th May

Not enough sleep. Buzzing after last night’s adrenalin, I did not drop off til almost 3 am. It’s now 7 am and Belfast is on the move. The trains are stirring nearby. The early birds are moving round the city. Business has commenced. Can’t sleep. Then I recall being on the back of a Wimpey lorry at 7 am in Chiswick back in 1966 – That was hardship. There’s a building site down on the Riverside beneath the hotel. A dumper has just spluttered to life. There goes a kango hammer kicking off. Steel pipes are being lifted from a truck. Here comes an early plane flying into George Best Airport. There’ll be no more sleep in The Hilton this morning. (Still no sign of Paris – Ronaldo must be in town). Some do wonder why I write these chats. I sometimes wonder myself how many might read them. Truth is – it matters little. It helps me survive idle hours like these – Times when an unoccupied mind might start playing tricks inside this auld alkie head. It gives me focus as I share my rambling thoughts with whoever might peruse these chats. Years back I realized the comfort to be gained from the simple act of sharing. I know little about the results that prayer might yield but I do know that great comfort can be gained from the very act itself.
Show time looms once more. We had a good rehearsal followed by the sound check (attended by some long-haul listeners). The Lads went off for dinner. I cannot eat before a gig. I like to sing on an empty stomach. It’s very still backstage. In the distance I’m aware of the crowd gathering. The dressing room window looks out over The River Lagan. The Titanic centre looms upon the skyline. People are walking to and fro along the far bank of the River. The crew are down the corridor in the chuck room. I busy myself preparing prompts, doing warm-up stretches, getting dressed, trying to treat a bad throat and blocked nose. Then its time to go and Michael leads me to the side stage area. David lowers the music and makes his pre-gig announcement, Geoff lowers the lights and the show begins…

“When you look into a child’s face, you are seeing all the human race.
The endless possibilities there, where so much can come true
You think of the beautiful things a child can do.
How long can a child survive?”

(Jackson Brown)

Sunday, 1st June, Allenwood GAA Club. Co. Kildare.

“There is a beautiful Bog near Allenwood where Johnny Doyle is King”
We travelled right into the heartlands of Kildare last night where the people of Allenwood were marking the retirement of Johnny Doyle from Inter-County Football. I felt honoured when his family invited me to be part of this celebration. I believe every county in Ireland has its own unique attributes. In my eyes, Johnny Doyle has that unique Kildareness about him. The Hall was thronged as he arrived. I could sense his discomfort at being the centre of all this attention but, as always, Johnny was graceful and humble in acceptance. Later he said “it’s the kind of night I’d love to attend -provided it was for someone else”. All his family and neighbours were gathered round as were players from far and near. We were enthralled to hear the story of Johnny’s life playing Gaelic Football. GAA Players recounted playing with him at Schoolboy level and we followed the story through to the great heights he later attained. Amongst many who shared reflections were Ronan Sweeney, Dermot Early, Kieran McGeeney and Glen Ryan. There were video links to Sydney, Melbourne, Boston, New York and London, far off places where young Allenwood players now seek their livelihood. That said the young lad skyping from Bondi Beach did not appear to be suffering the pain of exile! It was lovely to be part of this event. I sang “Where I Come From” and “Ride On” for Johnny Doyle. We wish him and his family long life, happiness and good health.

Monday, 2nd June – the Curragh of Kildare.

We had a great walk across The Curragh Plains today as part of the annual June Fest. We left Herbert Lodge with about 150 walkers and made our way around the race course, over the gallops, across the motorway, on to the old Internment camp and we learned as we walked. There were 7 stops en route where different aspects of The Curragh were explained. Old Historical sites, Mythical tales, the History of Horse racing, the different Raths we passed, the old Geology of The Plains and The History of The Curragh Camp. We had a little circular Dance along the way to help allay anxieties. Our last stop was The Gibbet Rath, a historical place of Gathering, where in recent times (1798) there was a mass murder of 360** United Irishmen by the forces of occupation. I was invited to sing a song. I thought that “Dunlavin Green” might be appropriate.

In the year of one thousand seven hundred and ninety eight.
A sorrowful tale the truth unto you I’ll relate.
Of 36 heroes to the world they were left to be seen.
By false information, they were shot down on Dunlavin green

Bad luck to you Saunders their lives you sold away.
You said a parade would be held on that very day.
The drums they did rattle and the fifes they did sweetly play.
Surrounded we were and quietly marched us away.

Quite easy they led us as prisoners through the town.
To be shot on The Green we then were force to lie down.
Such grief and such sorrow in one place it was ne’er before seen.
As when the blood ran in streams down the dykes of Dunlavin Green.

There is young Matty Farrell has plenty of cause to complain.
Likewise the two Duffys who were shot down on The Plain.
And young Andy Ryan who’s Mother distracted will run.
For the loss of her own darlin’ boy…her Eldest Son

Some of our lads to the Hills they have gone away.
More of them have been shot and some have gone to sea.
Michael Dwyer of the mountains has plenty of cause for the spleen.
For the loss of his own brave comrades, shot down on Dunlavin Green.

I first heard this sung by Andy Rynne of Prosperous back in 1968. I have heard many versions of it since most recently from Gerry O’Reilly at The Goilín Club in Dublin. I have heard it said that this song still arouses friction in certain quarters round Dunlavin.

Friday 6th June.

We are back in Newbridge, Co. Kildare again for more of the June Fest. Tonight we attended a gig from The Voice Squad. We love this acapella Group which features Phil Callery, Fran Mc Phail and Gerry Cullen. This genre of music emerged from “The Young Tradition” and “The Watersons”, two English Groups of the 1960s, both of whom created wonderful acapella albums. It’s a singing style that was initially influenced by The Copper Family. The Voice Squad sing in close (and perfect) three part harmony. Fran occupies the summit, Phil holds the middle ground while Gerry patrols the bass end with his rich and mellow tones. The Concert was held in the Protestant Church on the Moorefield Road of my native town. This church is but 300 yards from the house where I spent my childhood. This was my first time to pass inside the gates. 60 years ago we were forbidden to enter these grounds. Bishops deemed it to be an (almost) unforgivable Mortal Sin. Old neighbours died and we were forbidden to attend their funerals. As young children we were terrified by threats of The Eternal Fires of Hell should we pass inside the gates of this beautiful old church. It was wonderful to sit there in the summer of 2014 and to listen to beautiful songs being sung by good people of unknown persuasion.

Saturday June 7th. Patrician School Hall. Newbridge, Co. Kildare (June-Fest closing concert)

I was joined on stage by Paul Keogh from Hawkfield and Lennie Cahill from Piercetown. They are two of Newbridge’s finest musicians. I first heard them with their Band, King Modo, at The RTE Music Train Gig. I was taken by their harmony singing and the feel of their playing. We hope to do some more gigs along the way. Keep an ear out for The Hometown Boys, also for King Modo who have some tasty cuts on YouTube.

Tuesday, 10th June – John Murray Show Radio 1

Doing live unscripted radio is a challenge that I enjoy. Doing it with John Murray is like sitting down for a chat. I got to know many of John’s family when I was a young lad working in Clonmel. I got up at 6 a.m. and sang for about an hour to try and warm up the vocals. I always have a fierce croak early in the day. It takes time to break down the frogs and get some tone into my singing voice. John and his team decided that we would do the programme “on the wing”. Listeners phoned in requests and reflections. I had written a guide list of about 20 songs. In the end I only sang one of them. I sang Tony Small’s beautiful song “Mandolin Mountain” for the first time in public – Straight in at the deep end.
Click HERE for a podcast of the show.

Bogie’s Bonnie Belle
Lord Baker
Ruby Walsh
Honda 50
Mandolin Mountain
Curragh of Kildare
Raggle Taggle Gypsy
John O’Dreams

Wednesday, 11th June – Irish Traveller Pride

David Essex and I at the Traveller Pride awards

David Essex and I at the Traveller Pride awards

Each year the Irish Traveller Movement holds an award ceremony. The Traveller Pride Awards Ceremony was held in The Pillar Room of The Rotunda Hospital, Dublin. I was invited this year to present the Music Award. It was a wonderful event sponsored by The Department of Justice. Awards were made in 8 different categories and the atmosphere was one of pride, happiness and positivity. Very different from what is written in the media week in week out. I met David Essex there. He was recently awarded an O.B.E. for his work as Patron of the Gypsy Movement in the UK. His Grandfather was an Irish Traveller and he spoke about the pride he holds for his Traveller Heritage. Michéal Ó Muireacheartaigh presented the award for sport and was his usual eloquent self. He sets a great example to us. Life is always enhanced when meeting him. Three stark facts have stayed with me since this event; That Child Mortality rate among Travellers is much higher than that of Settled People. That the Suicide rate among young Traveller Men is 7 times that of settled young men. Life expectancy within the Traveller Community is 15-20 years shorter then that of settled people. These three awful statistics were burned into my mind. But also I cherish the great welcome Valerie and I received from all the people we met there. Pecker Dunne’s son Stephen provided the opening music. Anne Cassin compered the event with grace and humour and is obviously committed to supporting the movement towards Traveller’s Rights – A Movement which still has a long way to go. It was a privilege to be there.
Click HERE for a clip.

Friday, 13th June, Cavan. Slieve Russell Hotel.

Always a great County for songs, singers and listeners, once again, Cavan did not disappoint. It was great to hook up with Declan Sinnott again after a 3 month break. We both travelled different music roads for the duration. Soon as we began to play everything fell back into place. We had the added attraction of Jimmy Higgins making a trio and nailing down the rhythm…

Saturday, 14th June

We had a grand cross country drive from Ballyconnell to Letterkenny and Arrived at Clanree right into the muddle of a huge wedding party. Dive for cover! Then it’s Sound check, Rehearsal, and Gig. There was a Great Saturday night vibe in the thronged room – Great listening and rapport with the audience. A few wags putting in their oars. To my right there is an ongoing shemozzle that eventually stops the gig momentarily. But this gig is really rockin’ along. When it’s like this songs seem to pick and play themselves. I don’t have to choose what comes next, the gig evolves seamlessly. Declan is putting out all the sweet notes and Jimmy has us locked together. I hear “Faithfull” uttered and the audience buy into it like never before. Then I’m talking about Chevron and the opening notes of “Dark End” are emerging. Marty tells me on the guest page that its Rory G’s 19th anniversary and we mark it… word comes of the passing of John Sands and we pay tribute. Guitars are more or less playing themselves, pitch sounds perfect and lyrics bubble up thoughtlessly. For us, this is one of the great nights … thanks Lads and Lassies

How Long
Ordinary Man
Missing You
North and South
Rory is Gone
Where I Come From
Delirium Tremens
Burning Times
Ride On
Mainland … abandoned
Nancy Spain
Duffy’s Cut
Brown Eyes
Mainland … resumed
Stitch in Time
Faithfull Departed
Dark End of the Street
(2 hours 25 minutes)

Wednesday, 18th June

Last night in Dublin Bob Dylan was a joy to behold. He moved around the deck like a Sea Captain. What a joy it was to watch him as he steered his Ship of Fame towards some distant horizon. It was perhaps our 12th time to see him in almost 40 years. He sent the pair of us home last night feeling real good. His path is well worn now. He ambles around centre stage to and fro from microphone and piano stool. He pauses at a lectern to shuffle the cards, always resuming with another precious gem from the Treasure Trove of Song. His band was real tight. I always need and love to hear lyrics. Sometimes I become traumatised when I cannot hear every word. But this is different. This is Himself – Dylan is the only one (in my book) who can get away with indistinction. Jasus I could barely make out a word. Yet I drank it all in. The pure abstraction of it all, yet I love every picture painted, every line imagined. I am happy to go home after the gig and peruse the lyrics of last night’s setlist. I come to witness the Bard, to pay homage to the Songster, to watch The Master at work. Thanks for a great night Doctor Bob. We wish you a safe and contented voyage, forever onward toward that distant shore. “I Pity the Poor Immigrant who wishes he’d stayed at home”.
His Set;
Things Have Changed
She Belongs to Me
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
What Good Am I?
Waiting for You
Duquesne Whistle
Pay in Blood
Tangled Up in Blue
Love Sick
High Water (For Charley Patton)
Simple Twist of Fate
Early Roman Kings
Forgetful Heart
Spirit on the Water
Scarlet Town
Soon after Midnight
Long and Wasted Years
All Along the Watchtower
Blowin’ in the Wind

Sunday, 22nd June. A Night for Tony Small (Galway Town Hall)

A great crowd gathered last night to celebrate the life our brother, friend and songster, the late Tony Small. Tony spent his life gathering, writing, nurturing, re-arranging, sharing, living and singing his songs. Before the gig, dressing rooms resounded with Tony’s verses as we warmed before going out to share songs and memories with those seated out front. Tony’s siblings Jackie, Loretta, Angela and Rene sat with The President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins (himself an auld butty of Tony’s), Sabina (our First Lady), The Lord Mayor of Galway and a galaxy of balladeers, listeners, retired porter sharks and respectable people. Pauline Scanlon, Diva of Dingle hosted the gathering. Pauline spoke about the generosity of Spirit she found in Tony when, at a very young age, he took her on board and mentored her singing career. That was to be the story of the night as we all shared our experiences across the years. I met Tony in 1969 in a small Folk Club in Tooting Bec, London. Later I spent time with him and his family in Finsbury Park.’Twas a time when we were all finding our way in the world. He introduced me to Woody Guthrie’s songs and also played Dylan’s “Tribute to Woody”. Ever since then we have been in touch over the decades. I always loved receiving his recordings as we both travelled on to wherever our songs took us.
For Tony I sang “The Yellow Bittern”, “Hard Cases”, “The 1913 Massacre” and “Mandolin Mountain”.

That’s it for now good listeners. The summer is upon us. Catch up with you along the way. What’s the story?


PS. Some fresh Dates:
September 19th Armagh
September 20th Newcastle
September 24th Newry
September 25th Newry
October 17th Great Northern Hotel, Bundoran
October 18th Inishowen Gateway Hotel, Buncrana



New Dates Added …

3 New Dates just in…

July 17th – Castlecourt Hotel – Westport,Co Mayo

July 18th – Park Hotel – Kiltimagh,Co Mayo

July 19th – Lough Rynn Hotel – Mohill Co.Leitrim

Ticket details will be posted on the gig page in the coming days…


The Nightingale Sings …

May 6th 2014

“As I went a walkin’ one morning in May
I spied a young couple who fondly did stray
One was a young maid so sweet and so fair
And the other was a soldier boy, a bold grenadier”
(From “The Nightingale”)

When I first started singing ballads, this song was all the go. Back then, I got an old guitar for £3 at a fleadh in Portarlington. Donal Lunny started me off with the chords C and G7. Later he taught me the F and G chords and my Nightingale began to sing.
(Lest our overseas readers be confused – In Ireland, at the time of the 1960s Folk Revival, Folk Songs were always described as “Ballads”, Folk Singers were known as “Ballad Singers” and venues were described as “Ballad Lounges”)

“And they kissed so sweet and comforting as they clung to each other.
They went arm in arm along the road like sister and brother.
They went arm in along the road til they came to a stream.
Where they both sat down together love to hear the Nightingale sing”

I loved the staccato rhythm of this lyric. The imagery and the story unfolded and the chords felt huge and vital. The great chorus, which everyone seemed to know and love, would raise the rafters. My eyes were closed tight from the very beginning. At first verse, beads of perspiration flowed, by the last chorus beads had turned to rivulets. I recall a Fleadh in Thurles way back (I was 17 or 18) when a man called “lets have another song from the fella who sweats”. I had just learned “Mary from Dungloe” from Colm O’Lochlainn seminal book “Irish Street Ballads”. I used to do it as an up-tempo song. I’d give it loads, lashing into it as I quaffed the Bulmers. There were not many guitars around in 1963. If memory serves there were 3 guitars in Newbridge. Donal Lunny’s, Tony Murphy’s and my own. I had the fewest chords but my collection of songs was expanding. By now I also had chords D and A. Then, when those precious minor chords came my way, life would never be the same again. “The Rambler from Clare”, “The Enniskillen Dragoon” and “Curragh of Kildare” were all gleaned from the PW Joyce Collection (a wonderful reference Book) which I borrowed from the Newbridge Library. With my guitar and sleeping bag life seemed to have no problems. With a bunch of songs to sing – “The Jug of Punch”, “Rosin the Bow”, “The Bard of Armagh”, “Brennan on The Moor” I always had the entrance fee. Sometimes I’d even gain the doss and the dinner. I heard “Spancilhill” in John Minogue’s Hotel in Tulla, “Scariff Martyrs” up the hill in Teddy Murphy’s Pub, “Galtee Mountain Boy” in Hillview Clonmel. Frank Lunny Junior sang me “The Unquiet Grave” and from his Father I learned “Father McFadden”. I was gaining a repertoire. I practised every spare hour. My life was spent in the pursuit of songs. These days everything seems to be a click away. I had the fun, the camaraderie and all the experiences gained in the chase. Today, I too have succumbed to “the click” but I relish the memories of that youthful chase.

Somehow, along the way, I had mistuned my guitar – 6th string up to F. To this day I still suffer the pain of this faux pas. A few times over the last 50 years I have sought to correct this flawed tuning but impatience always got the better of me and I reverted. It’s the way it is now; I give thanks and accept it. Anyway, for better or worse, no one else in the world tunes their guitar this way! I was 52 before I got comfortable with what I had been given. I no longer wanted to play like X nor sing like Y. Such peace of mind was hard achieved but I’m grateful to have found it.

May 7th.
Thank You All who sent birthday greetings. I was born on V.E. Day, 7th May 1945. 69 years later I had a lovely day with my family around me. There were candles, cards, pressies, fun, lovely hugs from my grandson and a Toblerone from Wicklow.

What a shame our sister site (4711ers.org) has been locked down. Over recent years it has been a friendly and purposeful visiting place. A quiet corner where questions were answered, help sought and received, friendships made and sustained. All this activity took place beneath the banner of song. Closing it down, on whatever whim, was quite a brutal act. No explanation was offered. Perhaps a new forum may emerge.
I am aware that the world of social media is changing rapidly. Fewer of us engage with websites. I still prefer this old fashioned mode and will carry on thus for the foreseeable. Although I do engage with Twitter and Facebook it is solely for the purpose of getting information out to listeners. I do not engage on an interactive basis. I am comfortable with this forum.

May 8th.
The recent tour of England and Scotland went off very well. Everyone pulled together. Management, Agency and Promoters set the ball rolling, all the venues welcomed us and were thoroughly accommodating, our road crew played a blinder, Declan Jimmy and myself were given the kid glove treatment and we responded accordingly and gave it all we had to give. Thousands of listeners thronged to hear the songs in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and London. I got to walk by The Clyde, climb up to Arthur’s seat from The Meadows, walk by the River Irwell and then along The Thames. I stayed around London at the end of the tour and visited The Commitments in the West End where we had mighty fun… Then Shakespeare’s Globe where we momentarily joined a mile long queue (we had unknowingly chosen The Bard’s 450th Birthday to visit) until the heavens opened. To escape the rains we dived into the Tate Modern where there was a 3 hour delay to see the Matisse paper cuts so we wandered around the permanent collections with the Easter crowd.

This month marks the onset of gigging with the Trad Outfit which features Mairtín O’Connor, Cathal Hayden, Sheamie O’Dowd and Jimmy Higgins. We kicked off in Roscrea last week and we are really enjoying this new noise. Heading for Lisdoonvarna today for further rehearsals and then on to Ennis for 2 Gigs in Glór. Over the coming weeks we will blast out in Galway, Belfast, Killarney, Cork (Marquee) and Dublin (Iveagh Gardens). Subsequent to that normal service will be resumed with Declan Sinnott. I love this new experience. In the past I have played in a number of traditional bands. It’s enthralling to be back in the mix again.

Here I am back again in The Royal Spa Hotel, Lisdoonvarna to rehearse in advance of upcoming concerts. Arriving here has always had a sense of homecoming. I first came here in 1964. I was a junior bank clerk working in The National Bank, Ennistymon. Once a month a sub-office travelled by hackney car to Lisdoon so there I was, a lowly, lonely, frustrated, miserable bank clerk longing for the open road. It was soon to come. My next visit to “The Spa”was in 1979 when Paddy Doherty launched his first Lisdoonvarna Music Festival (I still celebrate it nightly!) I returned there again with Moving Hearts in 1981 when we played “The Hall”. Since 1981 I have gigged here almost every year. It’s a lovely room. It holds 150 at a squeeze and there have been some great gigs here. Over the years this legendary room has hosted John Martyn, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Stockton’s Wing, De Danann, Matt Molloy, Mick Hanly, Damo, Natalie Merchant and Planxty. One of my favourite memories was hearing Doug Lang duet on “St. Gabriel” with Declan Sinnott when we held our gathering there in 2010. The Royal Spa is a small family run hotel with comfortable quiet rooms. Anne Doherty is the “Bean an Tí”. The food is second-to-none Irish cooking with all ingredients produced locally. There is a splendid coffee shop and nearby lies The Burren, The Cliffs of Moher and Fanore Strand. It has an historical aspect too in that Eamon De Valera stayed there when
campaigning for the first Free State election before he was elected as the Member for Clare. Each time I have come here to rehearse, sweet notes seem to flow our way. Tonight we return to the Glór Theatre in Ennis refreshed, well tuned and rehearsed. We are raring to go…

May 9th
Twas a damp and dirty evening as we pulled into Glór for last nights fun. Arriving into Ennis, I’m always mindful that here lies the heart of it. The county town lies right between the East and West of Clare. Those two regions from where two very distinct strands of our tradition have emerged. From the East I have heard the likes of Paddy Canny, Martin Rochford, Vincent Griffin, Martin Hayes, Robbie McMahon and “The Tulla”. Over to the West I have closed my eyes to the sounds of Willy Clancy, Mrs Crotty, Micho Russell, Tony Linnane, Noel Hill and “The Kilfenora” to name but a few. We all had memories to share of “Banner Days” as we prepared for last night’s concert. We rehearsed and warmed up in the dressing room as the listeners came through the evening rain to gather in the warm comfort of Glór. At ten past 8 we hit the boards and away with us into the night. Two hours ten minutes later, sated and content we got back to the dressing room having played;

How Long.
Ordinary Man
The Ballad of Ruby Walsh
City Of Chicago
A Pair of Brown Eyes
Where I Come From
Jigs… Larry the Beer Drinker/Scatter the Mud/ unknown
Faithfull Departed
Delirium Tremens
Missing You
On The Mainland
Back Home in Derry
Tippin it up to Nancy / Ship in Full Sail
Biko Drum
Cliffs of Dooneen
McIlhatton / Far From Home
Ride On
Reels…The Humours of Tulla / Last Nights Fun / Cooley’s Reel / The Wise Maid
Sonny’s Dream

Then back out west to Lisdoonvarna where supper laid out and we rawmaished well into the night …

May 10th
I recently read “Singing from The Floor” by JP Bean. It is an account of the Folk Scene in the UK from the late 50s up to the present time. For anyone with an interest in Folk revival, it’s a great read. The book was extracted from interviews with performers, club organisers, producers and fans. If your interest is only slight, this book may not be for you.
I’ve also been reading Frank Connolly’s new book about the life of Tom Gilmartin (Gill MacMillan). Last week I was invited to discuss the book on a Late Late show panel on RTE TV. (Click HERE to watch) The revelations in this book are shocking. If anyone is interested in either book, try your library or support your local bookshop

May 15th.
Just back to my billet in Salthill after the first of two nights in Leisureland, Galway. It was a special night on many fronts. Mairtín O Connor’s family were in tonight as were Jimmy Higgins Mam and Dad. Des Kelly was also present with members of his family. Des (of The Capitol Showband) was the first manager I ever worked with. He took Planxty under his wing back in 1972. He recorded us on his label, Ruby Records, where we had two hit singles – “The Three Drunken Maidens” and “The Cliffs of Dooneen”. When he secured an international record deal for us we were on our way. More then that he became and remains a dear friend. It’s always a joy to meet him.
Also in last night were Mike Harding and his wife Pat. Mike gave me my very first Folk Club gig in Crumpsall, Manchester back in 1967. I stayed with Mike and Pat until I established my own accommodation over in Moss Side. Mike went on to become one of the most popular entertainers in Britain. He has been a prolific writer, musician, poet and rapscallion these past 40 years. He is also a very popular broadcaster of Folk Music. He hosted the very popular Folk Music Programme on BBC until he got shafted where upon he commenced his own Independent on-line programme which now attracts over a million listeners. (To listen click HERE) He has always been a great friend to Irish Music. Mike and Pat now spend a lot of time in Cleggan, and it was a great pleasure to have them at last night’s concert. Kenny O’Connor (of the famous Salthill Singing House) came from Hamburg to be at last nights gig. I sang with his Dad many years ago. I also played rugby for Corinthans with his Dad Christy and his Uncle Benny back circa 1964-65. We used to train on Large Bottles once a week and tog off in The Skeffington. We got to a Connacht Senior Final but lost 3-0 to UCG. The session after match was worth all the training. The Porter flew.

On June 7th I will play a gig in Newbridge with King Modo as part of the Newbridge June Fest. It’s a community based festival run by friends of mine in my home town. All proceeds from the concert go towards funding the festival. They have a good week of events lined up – click HERE for more details.

On June 26th 2014 there will be a very special Concert in Boyle, Co. Roscommon, celebrating the songs of John (Jacko) Reilly. I look forward to singing some of John’s songs and to hearing the legendary Grehan Sisters who are reforming specially for this concert. Francie, Marie and Helen Grehan blazed a trail across England and Scotland in the mid 60s. They recorded two albums on the Transatlantic Label before returning to Ireland in the 70s. They were the first to sing the praises and songs of John Reilly who was a regular patron of Bridie Grehan’s pub on The Square in Boyle. Proceeds from the concert will be used to erect a commemorative bronze plaque to John in the town. Here are the details…


St Josephs Poster


May 19th
We went into Whelan’s of Dublin last Sunday night where my nephew, Conor Byrne, put on a one day Festival of Music. We had a great night and heard an almighty blast of new music from Riona, New Road (with Lisa O’Neill guesting), Moxie, The Whileaways and Aldoc. From start to finish we were engrossed in the sounds and particularly blown away by Moxie and Aldoc who were full-on, no-holds-barred and exciting. It was a revelation to hear Alan Doherty’s Band (Aldoc). I last heard him play over 20 years ago when he was a young boy. He has fulfilled all the promise he showed back then. He is now based in East Germany. Last night he assembled a nine piece band which, on paper, should not work, but on stage they were scintillating. He drives it on flute and low whistle, he raps sings jousts and boogies and his German, Danish, English, Dutch and Waterford comrades follow him gallantly wherever he leads. On Whelan’s small stage last night there was Alan and 3 piece brass, (plus two Apple Macs) Drums, Bass and two Guitars. There was lots of instrument swapping going on. We left Whelan’s dazzled and dazed by Last Nights Fun…

That’s it for the merry month of May. I wish you all happy days ahead. Maybe see you in some auld kip along the way…Up Down!


PS. The following is a website post from Petra and Uwe, two listeners who came from Germany and travelled to Roscrea and Ennis to hear the songs. I include it here to pay tribute to our crew

The weather was lousy most of the time, but the music kept our spirits high. After 3 gigs in Roscrea and Ennis and some travelling in Clare and Westmeath in-between Uwe and I are on our way home and we would like to thank the lads on stage and behind for these marvellous concerts.
Last night was definitely the highlight and we appreciated the new appearances on the setlist – well done with the rehearsal! “North and South”, “Black Is the Colour”, “Johnny Connor”, “Where I Come From”, “Gortatagort”, and “Smoke and Strong Whiskey” were absolute highlights for us. One wouldn’t think this can be topped, but exactly this happened with beautiful versions of “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, “Hurt” and “Spancilhill”. “Beeswing” got an amazing guitar solo by Seamie, and all songs sparkled like new with all the box and fiddle background. The jigs and reels made the Clare crowd whoop, holler and stamp that the floorboards trembled.
Special thanks to the sound and lighting crew that did a great job as always. These three concerts proved that it doesn’t matter whether the gig takes place in a renowned music venue, a hotel ballroom or a community hall – light and sound of your gigs are always flawless. Good luck for the remaining May gigs with Maírtín, Cathal, Seamie and Jimmy – sweet music roll on! … Petra

My reply …
Thanks Petra for taking the trouble to comment upon and to praise the good work of our crew. This crew has been together now for over 10 years and have developed into a tight unit that run the technical end of our gigs. They are forever seeking to improve production. Our sound, lighting, staging and monitoring are, for me, the best that I have encountered in my working life. Having Davy at the sound desk is akin to having an extra band member. He is also a musician and he plays the sound desk like he was playing an instrument. Geoff runs the lights. He never knows what song is coming next (nor do I). As the next number begins Geoff responds intuitively. Each night he creates fresh lighting plots on the hoof. Dikon provides us with consistently good on-stage sound. He keeps a keen ear to each player. Johnny is our ringmaster – forever diligent to what is taking place. He keeps a keen eye on every aspect of the gig and is out like a shot at the first sign of a problem. In the wings and around the room we have Paddy and Michael who oversee all aspects of our life on the road. they insure that nothing gets in the way of the gig and that everyone and everything is focused towards those two vital hours when we all pull together to make the gig happen. These six colleagues are the inner crew, beyond that there are many others who help create the broad spectrum of gigs we play – Agents and Promoters( and their reps), Venue Staff, Trevor who provides staging, Ciaran who transports lights, security staff, lifting crews who provide help at get-in and get-out time. It’s a wonderful privilege to work with such a diversity of talented and focused practitioners. Very seldom do we meet “trickies”. The well tuned antennae of our advance party insure that we avoid dodgy venues and troublesome Johnnies. Needless to say, none of this would take place were it not for all those thousands of listeners who gather at our gigs. We appreciate the support and encouragement you provide. Without our listeners, none of this would happen. The late Jim Aiken was Ireland’s foremost music promoter and his mantra was “let us all remember that, without this audience, none of us would be here tonight”…

Stop press!
3 New Dates just in…

July 17th – Castlecourt Hotel – Westport,Co Mayo
July 18th – Park Hotel – Kiltimagh,Co Mayo
July 19th – Lough Rynn Hotel – Mohill Co.Leitrim

Ticket details will be posted on the gig page in the coming days…


Extra date added …

Dear Listeners,


We have added an extra show in Leisureland Galway on Thursday May 15th.

My nephew Conor Byrne is running a one day folk music festival in Whelans of Dublin on Sunday 18th May, Click HERE for a  link to the facebook page…

I am also including a link to last Fridays Late Late Show item. I joined Frank Connolly to talk about his new book on the late Tom Gilmartin. Also on the panel was Thomas Gilmartin Junior. He described how his Father and Family suffered from the corrupt practices in Irish Government, practices that eventually brought the country to its knees. Click HERE to watch.


All the best,



I wonder what the year will bring…

Wednesday February 5th, 2014

“Remembering Anne Lovett” was an event held in Maynooth University to commemorate this young girls passing, 30 years ago. I felt privileged to be part of this memorial. We must never forget Anne Lovett. It happened in the middle of our Island. It could have happened in any town.

Thirty years later it was Savita Halappanavar. How many more suffered and died in the intervening years. Let us remember, let us change, let us be not be browbeaten any longer by those who are righteous and cruel.

You can click HERE to watch a recording of the event.


February 21st Mullingar, County Westmeath

“The Rain was lashin’, The Sun was risin’, The Wind was whippin’ through The Trees, The Madness from the mountains crawling when I saw you first my Aisling” (Shane McGowan )

Nature is having her say. It’s payback time. There is a price to pay for the last century of technical and scientific progress, for the enormous increase in consumption of resources, energy and raw materials. Almost every known labour now has an automatic device. We can travel anywhere in an inst. A dinner can consist of ingredients from all 5 continents – in my father’s time all food came from local fields. Today we use devices for almost every activity. Fossil fuels that took millions of years to form will soon be gone. Our precious drinking water is squandered and misused as we go from floods to drought in a matter of months. On and on it goes, rain forests destroyed to grow crops to feed animals that will be butchered and flown around the world for (relatively) small profit. I imagine 747 freight planes passing in the skies both laden with bottled water being transported in opposite directions. Flood waters rise. I am powerless in my addiction to electricity. I’ve got the flat screen, the computer, the phone, the central heating, the gas guzzler outside the door, every gadget around me here sucks constantly from the grid. Electricity is so cheap that we waste it every day and night. The wind howls. Trucks get bigger and bigger to carry “our stuff” transcontinental. They roll on and off ferries that are as big as small towns, they burn oceans of fuel while sailing endlessly around this poor old lousy old earth. The rain is lashing. I know, I know, yes I know, but I am powerless. As asbestos roofs fly round the marble city, electric cars are being crushed by falling cedars, homes engulfed by rising Shannon waters. Our pathetic collective response will be to consume more, to comfort ourselves with new things, more devices, more meat, more, more, more. Santa Claus, Valentines Day, Fathers day, Mothers Day, Arthurs Day, Foreign Holiday. The sun shimmers through the rain, slates fly and frightened children cry as their cheap portacabin schools are smashed to smithereens. But it’s a beautiful day; it’s a great day to be alive, Thanks Be, long life to all you songsters out there in the four corners. Let’s enjoy ourselves, it’s later then we think…

Brian Maguire is an Irish Painter. His recent work, made in Mexico, is powerful. His process was captured on the film, BLOOD RISING, which is about to be shown in Dublin and London. Brian is a unique artist with deep commitment in his work practice. An emotional and moving film it examines Brian’s journey to Mexico and his involvement with bereaved families of the “Disappeared” young women of Juárez.

For Details of the London Screening on 2nd April click HERE

For Details of the Dublin Screening on 4th April click HERE

You can also find details on FACEBOOK and TWITTER (just click on bold print)

Click HERE to visit the website …


March 22nd Kells, County Meath.

Back here in this Independent Community Arts Centre for the second time in 4 years. I’m flying solo again tonight. I did two solo gigs last year so I am nervous at the prospect. Thinking about it last night I realised that over the last 48 years of gigging, 28 years have been solo and 20 have been spent in a variety of different Bands. I have been trying to do more solo gigs these past few years but, in the end, I tend to reach out for the comfort of playing with others. I need to push myself a bit on this. I deeply love ensemble playing. That said, Solo gigs have a certain quality that cannot be achieved within an ensemble. The reverse also applies. I hope to do at least 6-8 solo gigs this year as well as my work with Declan Sinnott and my May -June gigs with Mairtín O’Connor’s band. 2 hours later and I am back in the dressing room sated, sung out and satisfied. a hot mug of tea awaits me and a grand supper. I usually don’t eat for 4-6 hours before a gig so invariably I’m leppin’ when the job is done, I find it’s much better to sing on an empty stomach.

Here is the set list just performed

How Long

Missing You


Delirium Tremens

Yellow Furze Woman


On The Mainland

Back Home in Derry

Morecambe Bay

Where I Come From

Honda 50


Farmer Michael Hayes

City of Chicago


Ordinary Man

Well Below Valley


Ruby Walsh


Dunnes Stores




Ride On


John of Dreams


Black is The Colour

2 hours and 5 minutes


Last year I did an interview for the Documentary Film “Skin in the Game”. It was made by Donald Taylor Black who has sent me details of some upcoming screenings in Ireland and America. It will be shown by Maynooth Film for All in NUI, Maynooth, Co. Kildare on Wednesday, 9th April at 8pm. It will also be screened at the Irish Arts Centre in New York on Tuesday, 6th May. You can click HERE for details of the New York screening.


Frank Connolly has written a book on the late Tom Gilmartin – The man who brought down a Taoiseach and exposed corruption at the heart of Irish Politics. It is being published by Gill Macmillan who have invited me to “cut the ribbon” on Thursday April 3rd. I first met Frank Connolly in 1978 as the Irish Anti-Nuclear movement began to assemble. We worked closely together on the first Carnsore Point Gathering. We were both part of a radical and exciting collective which organised the Anti-Nuclear Road Show and subsequent Carnsore gatherings. In 1982 Frank edited my first song book for Brandon Press. 32 years later that book is still in print.  Frank’s subsequent work led him to become one of Ireland’s leading investigative journalists. He was foremost amongst those seeking to reveal levels of corruption that eventually brought our economy tumbling down. Elements within Government took it upon themselves to shoot the messenger as they sought to bring Frank’s work in journalism to an end. Some of these elected politicians subsequently left Government in disgrace. Thankfully, Frank continues with his lifelong work.


Gig News…


We have added a 2nd show in Galway on May 15th. I’m happy to be returning to Armagh, Newcastle and Newry in September. All these gigs are up on the gig page.

The Box set 1964-2004 has been deleted after 10 years. I am hoping that a scaled down version can be produced that would keep the songs available. The idea would be to have simple packaging with the booklet available for download.


See you along the way…




Ralph McTell Irish Tour

My good friend Ralph McTell will be playing some gigs around Ireland  in May – Derry on 7th, Belfast on 8th, Dublin on 9th, Waterford on 10th and Cork on 11th.

You can click HERE  to see his webpage for more details …

Catch him if you can…Christy

Remembering Bobby Sands

Today marks the 60th birthday of Bobby Sands. His name we’ll always remember, his sacrifice we’ll never forget. Today, I think of his parents and his siblings, his son Gerard and his grandchildren. I remember too his comrades, all of whom held Bobby in such high esteem. His smiling face is known the world over and his fight for freedom remains an inspiration wherever people rise up to face injustice. His poetry and songs still resound. Let us remember…

“Two of them where the Angels lie at the Well Below the Valley”

The passing of Pete Seeger made headline news here in Ireland. For many of us he has been present for most of our lives, his work constantly referenced, and his songs reverberating through our soundscape. The Folk Revival, as I know it, emanated from America where the Coffee House Folk Clubs gave a stage to a new genre of music and songs. This gradually spread to London and from there in all directions in Western Europe. Pete Seeger was an important player in the birth of this concept. When this wind wafted back to Ireland it carried The Clancy Brothers whose style and repertoire were honed on these same stages. Back here it melded with our Traditional Music and Song (which had survived historical forces of occupation and subsequent oppression of Church and State.) When it landed here it was soon taken up by an excited youth movement and it blossomed into what was known back in the day as “The Ballad Scene”. Pete Seeger played in Dublin in the early 60s (something I did not realise until yesterday). He had a “soft spot” for Irish Songs and Music and championed The Clancy’s and Joe Heaney back in the early days. In my innocence I sent Pete an early recording of mine back in the mid 70s. (An album called “Whatever Tickles Your Fancy”). He was generous enough to listen to it and send me some encouraging words.

It has been heart-warming here in Ireland these past days to encounter so many people talking about Pete Seeger, his songs, his politics, how he fought oppression all through his long life. His sister, Peggy Seeger sent this to Mike Harding in Lancashire who passed it on to me.

As most of you will know by now, my beloved brother Pete died peacefully, surrounded by close family members, at the Presbyterian Hospital (Columbia), New York City, on January 27th at 9:17 pm. His daughter Tinya, who had been caring for him for some time, was lovingly holding his hand. I was still in mid-air making a frantic attempt to get there from New Zealand.  I arrived four hours too late. I take solace from our last phone calls where much was said but unspoken.  I know many of you will be saddened by Pete’s death but we must remember that he led a very full and productive life.  He leaves a prodigious body of work for us to enjoy, a legacy the enormity of which will continue to grow. He touched so many people’s lives, from children to the golden oldies like myself. As for me, I have lost the last person who has known me from birth and who has always been there for me. I cannot express how heavy losing Pete lies with me. My thanks to all for your kind and thoughtful condolences. Peggy.

Jan 30th 2014…
Luke Kelly was well remembered on the 30th Anniversary of his passing. His voice still resounds around us and his legend lives on. I still see his partner Madeline Seiler from time to time. Madeline runs The Headline Agency which represents many Irish musicians (including Declan Sinnott and my brother Luka Bloom) it was always a pleasure to visit Luke and Madeline in the beautiful home they created together. I met Damien Dempsey on the day and we spent an hour talking about Luke, about his singing and his life. It was special to share stories and memories of Luke with Damien who grew up listening to Luke’s recordings. The Dubliners were so good in their heyday. They gave Catholic Conservative Dublin a good kick up in the arse and we loved them for it. They took them Up To Monto Monto Monto, they took them up to Monto Langaroo. They Rattled Rosaries, lit up  lounges, had us hitching to Fleadhs, learning 3 chords, binning Gillettes, creating crack, sleeping in hay barns, listening to Seamus Ennis and Joe Heaney, chucking jobs… I salute Luke, Ronnie, Ciarán, Barney and I wish long life to you John….

Jan 31st 2014…
On this day it will be 30 years since the awful death of Anne Lovett. Anne died at the Grotto of “The Blessed Virgin Mother” outside a small town in the very heart of Ireland. Alone, Anne Lovett and her baby both perished as we all got on with our daily routine. Kids at school, shops at business, people chatting on the street, farmers at creameries, bishops at breviaries, nuns at their beads. At the centre of all this, in the middle of this island young Anne had nowhere to go except to this cold deserted Grotto. There she lay down and delivered her baby. The death of Anne Lovett was a turning point for many of us on this Island. Today, very few under the age of 40 know her name but there are also many among us who will never forget her name for it is sacred to us.

Nigel Rolfe wrote the lyric of “The Ostrich” which subsequently has been called both “The Middle of The Island” and now “Anne Lovett”. I have been asked to sing it in The University of Maynooth on at an event simply called “Remembering Anne Lovett”. This event takes place in the John Hume Building, Lecture Theatre 4, NUI Maynooth on Wednesday 5th February at 6.30pm.The panel will be Catriona Crowe (Head of Special Projects at The National Archives of Ireland), Ailbhe Smyth (Feminist), Dr. Anne Mullhall (Department of English UCD) and Justine McCarthy (journalist with The Sunday Times).

Watching the film Llewyn Davies was an interesting experience. It brought back so many memories. A lifestyle I’d forgotten for many years. Trying to get floorspots, doing the odd few songs anywhere I’d be let. Hoping to be offered a support gig at some folk club. Hitching to some distant town, absolutely skint, wondering would I get the doss, would the club still be operating, would the organizers give me a chance to sing? All my early attempts were in and around Manchester, England. There Mike Harding gave me my first proper booking back in late 1966. I began to gain some gigs but still struggled to make ends meet. I remembered auditioning for an agent who booked acts for The Workingmen’s (sic) Club Circuit, an audition that, thankfully, resulted in but one gig. (Where I died the death) The singers club (open mike) was at the MSG every Monday where legendary “Jenks” ruled his Jazz and Folk Empire. I got in there early every Monday and got my name on the list. Gradually my confidence grew and I began to get spots round the suburbs of Manchester that I got to know so well. I got my first van in Bury in 1967. A minivan bought from a plumber called Reggie. It cost me £40 and I’ve never been as proud of a vehicle since. I lived and travelled, partied and played in that wee van ‘til swopping it for an old ’56 VW Beetle after a gig in Sheffield. With guitar, sleeping bag and tooth brush, me and a bunch of songs, heading on down the road…

I am enjoying these few weeks at home after the recent Dublin gigs. It’s a time to rest and to reflect but also to rehearse for the year ahead. See you along the way…

A message from Peggy Seeger about the passing of her brother, Pete Seeger

As most of you will know by now, my beloved brother Pete died peacefully, surrounded by close family members, at the Presbyterian Hospital (Columbia), New York City, on January 27th at 9:17 pm. His daughter Tinya, who had been caring for him for some time, was lovingly holding his hand. I was still in mid-air making a frantic attempt to get there from New Zealand.  I arrived four hours too late. I take solace from our last phone calls where much was said but unspoken.  I know many of you will be saddened by Pete’s death but we must remember that he led a very full and productive life.  He leaves a prodigious body of work for us to enjoy, a legacy the enormity of which will continue to grow. He touched so many people’s lives, from children to the golden oldies like myself. As for me, I have lost the last person who has known me from birth and who has always been there for me. I cannot express how heavy losing Pete lies with me. My thanks to all for your kind and thoughtful condolences.


There’s Gonna Be Good Times When All Our Dreams Come True

We bade Farewell to Nelson Mandela. Last Thursday night, his fine old heart stopped beating. His voice will reverberate and his spirit will be renewed every time his name is remembered. His compassion and forgiveness, his humanity and dedication, his love and human kindness have filled the hearts of countless millions who have looked to him and listened out for him. I am thankful to have lived in his time.

Nelson listen to the people sing, Nelson Mandela, the Peoples King

27 years lying in that Jail

27 years they couldn’t make him say

The renegades sing all the renegade songs

The ones that know hope they’re doin wrong

The Blacks and the Coloureds play The Biko Drum

The Coloureds and The Blacks play The Biko Drum

(From Wally Page’s “The Biko Drum” 1986)

“Where I Come From” was finally released on Nov 1st and went out to face the music. Thank you for all your feedback. A few listeners did not notice the booklet in the sleeve – A design flaw which I overlooked before signing off.  It’s not obvious but there is a wee booklet there.

It has been an interesting month with widespread response to the recordings.  I have been working to help publicize the release. It was very different when “Paddy on The Road (my first recording) “escaped ” in 1969. I still remember the excitement of getting that first LP into my hand. When I began this journey, any thought of recording was so far removed that it did not even seem a possibility. That all changed when I met Dominic Behan in London in 1969. He took me under his wing which led to my first recording experience. 44 years later it’s a different experience.

To promote the album I did a number of print media interviews. These flow easier when the interviewing journalist has had the time to hear the work beforehand.  There have been good reviews too. ( only one bummer, as far as I am aware ) Some performers never read their reviews. I understand this reticence but I must confess, I read every single one. Then I retreat to my eyrie, purring or weeping depending upon the outcome. Needless to say I have never harboured even the slightest resentment!  Some Radio Stations invited me in and allowed me play live. I love the challenge of performing live on radio. Occasionally, magic moments are created that linger on over the years.. I Had a chat  with Marian Finucane on RTE Radio 1 and another with Pat Kenny on Newstalk. I realise what privilege it is to get to talk about the album on such high profile shows. I  got to play a couple of TV gigs too –  met Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Show and performed for Tristan Rosenstock on TG4’s Art Show “IMEALL”.

The gigs are flying past far too quickly. In the blink of an inst gigs come and go as we race towards the end of yet another diary. Flying high across the Foyle to Derry/Derry (always a City of Culture) we met Gerard Sands and his family, bumped into Sam Shepherd with Stephen Rea and the entire ensemble of Sam’s new play. We also met Martha McClelland who was the source of “Burning Times” 3 decades ago. Then we crossed the River Boyne at the Historic town of Trim. There The Knightsbrook Hotel buzzed as ballads filled the air and Meath’s harmonious chanters lustily sang their Royal Hearts out. Back then to my Heartland. 5 miles across the fields from my hometown lies Killashee (Cill na Sí). An historic house once the home of ascendency until it later became a convent and school. When the Sisters ran out of steam it was developed into a big hotel and leisure centre where concerts are sometimes performed. Right there in the front row sat Johnny Doyle with his wife Siobhán. Our long standing, top scoring, Kildare wing-forward is also a keen songster. It was a pleasure to sing for them both.

At recent gigs Declan and I have been joined by Jimmy Higgins on percussion. I first encountered Jimmy when he played in Eleanor Shanley’s Band over 20 years ago. Since then he has worked with Riverdance, The Stunning and The Saw Doctors. He is currently in The Máirtín O’Connor Band. We are enjoying his company and the rhythms he brings to our sound. This band is by far the longest time I have spent in any band. Declan and I have been a two piece for 12 years now. We were a 3 piece for a while with Donal Lunny.

My first full time band was Planxty. Between 1972-4 we performed for about 2 years. In later years we had some short revivals. Our music can still be heard on 7 albums.  In the mid 70s I had a band with Kevin Burke, Jimmy Faulkner and Declan McNelis. That also lasted about 2 years and we played together on 2 albums. Next came Moving Hearts where again, my own involvement was for two 2 years and that line up also recorded two albums. After that came a long period of solo performance from 1983 to 1998. During this time I recorded with many musicians. After a 2 year lay off I met up with Declan Sinnott again in the year 2000. Thus began this recent leg of the journey. We were joined by Donal Lunny for a period but these past 8 years we have been a two piece Band and, by far, my longest Band.

(Over the years there were a few combos that came together for short periods…in the early 60s I played with Frank and Donal Lunny in a short-lived trio called “The Rakes of Kildare”. We played 2 gigs as I recall; One was a 50th commemoration of the 1916 Rising. This was held in  Hugh Neeson’s Lounge Bar – my favourite watering hole of all time.  It was a great day for all porter patriots. The same year, we played a Fianna Fail dinner dance in the Town Hall in Newbridge. Our fee was £3 and a crate of stout. Later the 60s there was a brief line up that featured Ralph McTell, Steve Benbow and Denny Wright. We recorded a series of programmes for The Sam Costa show on BBC Radio. In the late 70s there was the “The Early Grave Band” which came together for the Anti Nuclear Roadshow. It featured Donal Lunny, Jimmy Faulkner, Johnny Moynihan, Declan McNelis and myself. In The 80s I toured for a while with Sharon Shannon, Steve Cooney and Eoghan O’Neill. I’m sure there were other “curious combinations” along the way.

This very night I am here upon the broad majestic Shannon in the beautiful town of Athlone. I am rehearsing and gigging here with Mairtín O’Connor, Cathal Hayden, Seamie O’Dowd and Jimmy Higgins. We are an occasional 5 piece as we develop what is, for us, a very enjoyable collection of music. We are having mighty crack as we tentatively make our way, (at full speed), towards a tour next year. It’s great for my head to be in a Trad. ensemble once more. Máirtín, Seamie, Cathal and Jimmy have spent their lives immersed in the music and I feel at home in their midst.

I’ve been listening to Andy Irvine’s new album PARACHILNA. It was recorded by Andy’s son Cian during a trip they made across Australia. They travelled hard and slept beneath the stars. It is a lovely recording. Andy’s voice is sounding really good and, as always, his accompaniments are sublime. It’s great to see my old Planxty colleague still treading the boards.

Home from last night’s gig in Athlone safe and sound. Everyone scattered in different directions. Such a coming together. Glancing around the room in Joxer’s light I spotted listeners from many parts. George from Lumville quoting match results from bygone days, Hilary from Kerry swaying to the rhythms, the Donegal contingent spreading their good vibrations… listeners in from Bremen and Brooklyn, Patsy from Moate (keep coming back Mark), Johnny Hoban from Castlebar travelling the Grand Funk Railroad, a cousin I’ve yet to meet properly in from Boyne banks….our combo clicked in Athlone. This was our 6th outing and we are moving into a second gear. We got in under the music last night and the crowd came right in there with us. Philip Chevron’s “Ballad of The Faithful Departed” is taking new wings. We played it in Whelans at his tribute gig….he wrote a few days afterwards “heard your Hairy Bowsies version of my song”. His last note to me days before he moved on was poignant and beautiful….

An invite came from the South African Embassy asking would I sing Wally Page’s “Biko Drum” at Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I did not have to think twice. This was an honour I had not anticipated. The Ambassador requested this song having heard it previously at a commemoration for the Dunnes Stores Strikers. The Cathedral was buzzing when I arrived with Valerie and Michael Devine. There were many familiar faces there and many hands to shake. Old friends from different campaigns and new friends all brought together by the passing of Mandela. There was powerful singing from Acoustic Soul and the Dexi Gospel Choir. There were poems from Theo Dorgan, Ruth Rosen and Dolores Walshe.  Steve Shiang of the ANC spoke as did Joan Burton, Oisín Quinn, David Begg, Gary Kilgallen and Rafique Mottiar. There were prayers and readings too. Ambassador Jeremiah oversaw the entire proceedings. When he called upon the Dexi Choir to sing the National Anthem great joy and sadness echoed around the old Cathedral.

We’re at the tail end of 2013, year 47 of this great tour. All that’s left to do now are the annual Dublin Gigs. We kicked off in Vicar St last night with a belter. The audience were well up for it from the first chord (G major). We played non stop for 2 hours 20 minutes and came off stage grinning like 3 Cheshire Cats. We played the following songs:

Biko Drum Wally Page
How Long Jackson Browne
Dunnes Store Sandra Kerr
City of Chicago Luka Bloom
Arthurs Day Moore/Page
Delirium Tremens Moore
Beeswing Richard Thompson
Johnny Connors Moore/Page
First Time Ever I Saw Your Face Ewan McColl
Fairytale Of New York S. McGowan/J. Finer
Puckane Christmas Morning Moore
16 Fishermen Raving Wally Page
On The Mainland Moore
Back Home in Derry Bobby Sands
Farmer Michael Hayes Trad./Arr. Moore
Ordinary Man Peter Hames
Blood Through These Veins Declan Sinnott
Nancy Spain Barney Rush
Weekend in Amsterdam McCormack/Rush/Moore
Magdalene Laundries Joni Mitchell
Missing You Jimmy McCarthy
Wicklow Boy Moore
Allende Don Lange
Where I Come From Bloom/Moore
Faithful Departed Philip Chevron
Ride On Jimmy McCarthy
No Time For Love Jack Warshaw
Voyage Johnny Duhan
Joxer Goes to Stuttgart Moore
Cliffs of Dooneen Trad./Arr. C. Moore
Viva La Quinta Brigada Moore

Fair play to you, the listeners. Those Vicar Street Chairs can be hard on the arse. (The balcony is a bit easier)  It’s a challenge to sit there for best part of 3 hours but ye were there till the very end (and brought us back for 4 encores). It is pure privilege to have such listeners. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – You create the atmosphere in which these songs come to life. You inspire us to play our hearts out and we are very grateful for your on-going support and feedback.  Míle Maith agaibh go léir ag deireadh an Bhlian 2013.

I hope you have a peaceful and happy time. Let us not forget those less fortunate then ourselves.



The Commons Team 1957

The Commons Team 1957


Left to Right – Tom Breen, Vincent (Giant) Thorpe, Myself, John Hall, Christy Whiteley (RIP) Paddy Geraghty, Michael Cronin, and Shay Cash.


Left to Right – Paddy Behan, Niall Roche, (———–), Tom Keogh, Michael Dinneen, Jimmy Burke, Jim Cuddy, Christy Higgins

Thanks to Vinny Brady of Rowan Terrace for the Photo …

A signed album to the first one who can provide the missing name.

We won our “Premiership” in 1957. If memory serves we were all in 5th class of Newbridge Primary School when we won the internal school league. We were called “The Commons” even though very few of us were natives of that Townland. Three or four of the above team went on to play with the 1959 team that won the Kildare Under-14 Championship. Later, two went on the play for Kildare at Senior County level. I have such distinct memories of each of these lads yet find it hard to recall what I was doing yesterday! The only one I’ve seen recently is the man holding the ball. Tom “The Rubber” Keogh was a classy footballer who went on to have a fine football career. Tom has also played music all his life. His son Paul Keogh is the lead singer with King Modo. They are a really good band who work the circuit. I would love to play with them some day. Paul also plays solo around his hometown of Newbridge.




Signed copies of  new album “Where I Come From” are available from the shop and are priced at €24 including postage and packaging … Christy

“November Man sees Fire and Mist, Wind, Rain and Winter Air “. (Dave Goulder)

“November Man sees Fire and Mist, Wind, Rain and Winter Air “. (Dave Goulder)

Thank you for the feedback you offered after the last Chat. Many replied by email so I could not respond. Among those were Henriet in Holland, Justin in NZ, Brenda in Dublin, Awyer out there somewhere, Frances in Glasgow (and young Christopher), John Phelan (great memories there, I remember every gig you mentioned) Paul in Brooklyn and Dingle, Tricia in Boston, Robert and Effie in Southsea, Gerry McCarthy in Africa, Craig in Poole, Declan O’Donovan in Poulaphouca, Bridget in Sussex, John Joblin in Northumberland. I have already responded to those of you who contacted the guest page. I was beginning to wonder if anyone was reading my rambles. As I said before, much as I enjoy communicating random thoughts on songs, gigs, travels and whatever else comes up, your replies encourage me to continue the practice. When feedback is posted on the guest page, everyone gets to share which was the intention at the outset of this site

New Release.

“Where I Come From” is the title of the forthcoming 3CD collection. On the Columbia Label (at Sony Music) it will be released on November 1st 2013. Since my first album in 1969 most of my repertoire has been gleaned from the Tradition or from the work of other writers. I have never been a prolific songwriter. My songs (and those co-written) have been thinly spread on albums across many decades. For years I considered gathering them together into a collection. Last year I decided to get singing and to record the songs while I’m still able. 18 months on and it’s ready to go. There are 43 songs recorded at various locations around the Island. Studio recordings from Dalkey, Ballymountain, Monkstown, Blackrock and The Factory plus live recordings from The Waterfront in Belfast, The Hall in Knocknagoshel, The Royal Spa in Lisdoonvarna and Whelan’s of Dublin.

It was an interesting process. I recorded most of the songs solo, stripped back and bare. Most of them flowed, a few struggled and some did not make the cut. Tim Martin engineered the recordings. He has recorded everything I’ve done this past 15 years so we have a good working relationship. Tim is focused and thorough and has a mighty pair of ears on him. That done Declan Sinnott came on board and began to lay his notes across the verses. I always enjoy this part of the job. Sitting back as Declan brings his palette of colour to the songs. Then we invited friends in to finish off the job. Happy hours spent in the company of Neil Martin, Jimmy Higgins, Cathal Hayden, Winifred Horan, Vickie Keating, Pat Crowley, Mairtín O’Connor and Seamie O’Dowd as they contributed to the songs.

I called upon Gary Farrelly to consider the songs and create art work for the sleeve. I have been a follower and collector of Gary’s work for the past decade. I feel the cover he has created connects with the work.  Then there was the tweaking of all the various elements – Sleeve notes, mastering, sleeve design, packaging, promotion. I choose to be part of all these different processes. This makes for a busy time but it is a challenge I enjoy. When the package arrived from Columbia (or perhaps I should say “when the album arrived from Sony”) that was the final part of a two year process. When the album is in my hand, the job is done. All that remains is to place it on the shelf beside its predecessors. I always cherish this moment. I pick up the guitar, hit me a Minor Chord and wonder…what’s next!!


CD 1 CD 2 CD 3
Where I Come From North & South of the River Lisdoonvarna
Arthurs Day Welcome to the Cabaret The Two Conneeleys
Veronica Guerin Giuseppe /Away Broken Heart (Live from Belfast Tyrone Boys
Scallcrows 2 The Ballad of Ruby Walsh Strange Ways
Derby Day Easter Snow (for Seamus Ennis) Yellow Triangle
Delirium Tremens Viva La Quinta Brigada The Boy from Tamlaghtduff
The Stardust Song Song for Anne Lovett Haiti
Johnny Connors Riding the High Stool Yellow Furze Woman
The Time Has Come On the Bridge Lovely Young One
The Birmingham Six Casey In Praise of Mullaghmore
St. Brendans Voyage Whacker Humphries The Wicklow Boy (Live from Lisdoonvarna)
On the Mainland Knock Airport Joxer goes to Stuttgart
Barrowland Boning Hall Ballydine
Minds Locked Shut Encore Me and the Rose
Song For Imelda Riney Arthurs Day (Live from Chevron’s gig, Whelans, Dublin Where I Come From (Live from Knocknagoshel)

Signed copies will be available from the shop on my website from 1st November. They will be priced at €24 including postage and packaging. Later I hope to do an online Q&A with anyone interested.  I have not yet figured out how best to do this… I’ll keep you posted

Where I’m heading for….Some dates to ponder… (All details on the gig page)


1st – Late Late Show – RTE1 (Television)

7th – Cork Opera House

15th & 16th – Derry

22nd & 23rd – Trim

29th & 30th – Naas


7th – Athlone

15th, 16th, 22nd, 23rd, 29th, 30th – Vicar Street, Dublin


24th & 25th – Bord Gais (Grand Canal) Theatre, Dublin


21st – Mullingar

28th – Clonmel


Drogheda – Date to be confirmed

28th – Kilkenny


10th – Edinburgh

11th – Glasgow – Barrowland

13th – Glasgow RCH

15th – Manchester

17th & 18th – London RFH


9th & 10th – Ennis

16th – Galway

24th– Killarney

29th & 30th – Belfast


5th – Marquee, Cork

We hope to add some more gigs in due course. Keep an eye out and, hopefully, we’ll turn up in a venue near you along the way.

The Meeting Room.

A documentary to which I contributed. Click HERE to watch

Arthurs Day

What a debate. Getting to sing Arthurs Alcoholiday on the Prime Time Television certainly stirred it up! Most respondents were positive, some were incensed and a few were downright hostile.

What a contrast was Arthurs Day to RTE’s Music Train. It arrived into Newbridge, County Kildare on Monday Morning, September 30th. Thousands came out to welcome the arrival of this great initiative. A brilliant parade from the Railway Station down past Rathfield, into Charlotte St. left at The Bank Corner on down Main Street.  At the head of the parade were the Army Band and a thousand school children from various schools. All were dancing and singing, laughing and jousting as they crossed The Liffey Bridge to turn in to The Patrician Secondary school where the performance began.  Miriam O’Callaghan received a rousing Newbridge welcome as she mounted the rostrum. Introducing each performer she charmed the thronged Assembly. The concert featured Tammy Browne, Celine Byrne, King Modo, the Wednesdays, Luka Bloom, Paul McCormack and Frankie Laine. I sang The Curragh of Kildare accompanied by the entire audience. After that came Tea, Sangwidges and sweet cake before the Music Train puffed off to Carlow to do it all over again. Great praise is due to all those who put this project together. There were months of pre-planning by the RTE team. Local organizers in each town brought their communities together as the train moved on during this 6 day celebration of Irish music and song. I hope that The Music Train will roll again.

I’m here in the Town Hall, Leeds tonight. It is October 16th 2013. I’m thinking of all the Folk Clubs that were here when I first landed in this great City. My first gig in Leeds was back in 1967. John and Rita Wall ran Club Memphis in an R.A.O.B. Hall. They treated me very well, fed me, gave me a bed and paid me £6. I started to cross the Pennines frequently to play gigs at The Grove Folk Club (which is  still running), at Bob and Hazel Spray’s club  at The Adelphi on Leeds Bridge,  at John Rennard’s who ran a bluesy/folk club, Bob and Carol Pegg ran an ultra Traditional Club and went on to form a band called Mr. Fox. I recall many great nights with a host of old friends. Singers like Jim Potter, Alma Ford, Roger Sutcliffe, Alan “Spud” Taylor, Geoff Woods and Brian Senior all contributed to what was the unique Leeds Folk Scene. The surrounding areas all had their own local clubs. I puttered around in a 1956 VW Beetle with guitar and sleeping bag in the back. I was happy as the day was long. Places like Pudsey, Headingly, Wakefield, Barnsley, and Bradford were all on my diary back then. If I did not have a gig I would turn up to hear whoever did. In 1968 I played in over 150 Folk Clubs and fondly remember most of them.

Leeds Town was the last of a 4 gig trip to England which also took in Liverpool, Newcastle and Warwick. It went very well. Declan Sinnott and I along with Paddy Doherty, Michael Devine, Dikon Whitehead, David & Johnny Meade played 4 very successful gigs. The local crews at each venue were excellent and the audiences were welcoming and inspirational. Declan and I are both very happy with the way the gigs are going. We seem to be finding the right notes these nights. I am still finding new things to do with my voice, new ways to play this instrument. Some old songs have resurfaced, “First Time Ever” “Dalesman’s Litany” “Van Diemen’s Land” all got a turn. After the Leeds gig Michael and I made a dash for Holyhead and boarded the SS Ulysses arriving home in time for porridge. We hope to return “over” again next April when, if all goes well, we will visit Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and London.

Over and out, until the next time