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
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
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