February 7th 2012
I’m back in Manchester again 45 years on. Back then I went from club to club doing floor spots and trying to pick up a gig anywhere I could. Pickings were lean, but for my Auntie Kathleen out in the Lancashire town of Bury, I might not have survived my folk apprenticeship. She often put me up and fed me. Kathleen ran a lovely old-world country pub called The Pack Horse Inn in Birtle which lies in the hills between Bury and Rochdale. It was off the beaten track and could always be relied upon for a good late night session. I recall nights there with Hamish Imlach, Billy Connolly, Gerry Rafferty, Packie Manus Byrne, The Grehan Sisters, and Mike Harding. We’d roll back there after gigs in the City and sing ’til dawn…
This time round I’m back here for The BBC Folk Awards and there is protest in the air. I’m told that the gig (at the new Lowry Theatre) may be picketed tonight. There has been furore in The Mudcat Forum about the Folk awards and some of the controversy has made it through to the National papers. A number of disgruntled Folkies are calling for more transparency in the voting process. There have been accusations of “bribery and corruption”. I get the whiff of sour grapes…
Later… It was an interesting evening. I heard some great performances particularly from Brendan Power, Tim Edey and June Tabor. We played “On Morecambe Bay”, which was one of 4 nominated songs. I got to meet the author, Kevin Littlewood for the first time. I was invited to present an award to Bill Leader. Bill was honoured for his work in recording a huge legacy of Folk Music. His early work with Topic and Transatlantic Labels yielded great recordings by artists as diverse as Pentangle, Hamish Imlach, John Martyn and Bert Jansch. He then went to form his own label and he came to Ireland in 1971 to record the “Prosperous” album. Planxty came about as a direct result of Bill Leader’s recording prowess. He arrived with a Revox reel to reel recorder and two microphones and set to work getting us four into shape, encouraging us and teaching us too. Many of Bill’s Albums have become classics through time. I think of Nic Jones, Tony Rose, The Dransfields and Martin Wyndham Read to name but a few. Also honoured at the Folk Awards was Ian Campbell who wrote songs such as “The Old Man’s Song” and “The Sun is Burning”. His band, The Ian Campbell Folk group, were very popular in Britain in the 60s and 70s. Many fine musicians served their apprenticeship with Ian. He ran The “Jug of Punch” club in Birmingham and I still recall the excitement I felt when I first played there. At the awards I also met Mike Harding, Ralph McTell, Maddy Prior and The Dubliners. A great night was had by all.
We travelled down to London half expecting snow to intervene but we arrived at the BBC where I did an interview with Janice Long for her BBC Radio 2 programme to go out in March. I last met Janice in 1991 when I was promoting the “Smoke and Strong Whiskey” album. She is a true songster. We had a grand chat and I sang a few songs. On Friday I hooked up with both Acoustic and UNCUT magazines and also met with Martin Chilton of The Daily Telegraph. Before he began writing about music Martin used to be a football writer and he shared some great yarns from The English Premiership. Stories about players I have watched and managers I have listened to. Next morning we returned to Broadcasting House for Saturday Morning Live which was presented by Anita Anand. She coaxed poems from Matt Harvey and wrestled down the line with the wonderful Willie Daly (He is Ireland’s number one Matchmaker and works his magic in Lisdoonvarna every September).
On Sunday Morning we had a pre dawn call to get ourselves over to BBC TV in Shepherds Bush for an early encounter with Andrew Marr. He hosts an excellent programme on BBC2 on Sunday mornings. He interviews Prime Ministers, World Famous Film Directors, Ministers of Culture and luminaries from many walks of life. That Sunday Morning I was invited to sing a song and decided upon “Sweet Thames Flow Softly”. Regrettably I failed to deliver a good performance. Andrew gave us a glowing intro, I hit the opening chord and the guitar was completely and inexplicably out of tune. In horror I glanced over at Declan who instantly abandoned the prepared accompaniment and gave me a solid rhythm to work upon. It was a disappointing affair for us but every one was generous in the aftermath. A number of our regular listeners were critical of Andrew Marr but I disagree with them entirely. I found him to be a gracious host, enjoyed meeting him and marvelled at his ability to interact with such diverse subjects and guests in a one hour programme.
That done we scuttled back to Broadcasting House for a meeting with Cerys Matthews who hosts a music programme on BBC Radio 6 . Cerys sat in with Declan and I for a grand auld natter. We played “On Morecambe Bay” and “Voyage”. Many of you will be familiar with Cerys’s work. She is a fine singer and musician, a proud woman of Wales and it was a pleasure to sing for her. Then I moved to a different studio to meet up with my old buddy John Walker and do an interview with him for his Sounds of the Seventies broadcast. We also spoke at length for his podcast. That was a good morning’s work for a Sunday morning. Contented, Michael Devine and I set sail for Holyhead while Declan and Paddy took off for Heathrow.
I’ve seen some great movies lately; The Station Agent, an Unfinished Life, Jack goes Boating, Descendants and Hereafter. For anyone slightly interested in Irish Music I recommend Gerry Diver’s “Speech Project”. He has delivered a unique recording which was years in the making. I played a small part in it. I particularly like the tracks featuring the voice of the late Margaret (Maggie) Barry. Other tracks include the voices of Joe Cooley, Martin Hayes, Shane McGowan, Damien Dempsey and Danny Meehan.
We went to see Janis Ian in Vicar St recently. She delivered a stunning gig. The room was packed and there was an air of expectancy as she took the stage. I have seen some great gigs at this venue and, for me, Janis equalled the best of them. We have previously heard Paul Simon in Vicar St with a luxurious Big Band, Bob Dylan and his band too. Janis Ian, with her lone acoustic Martin Guitar, filled that space with sound and lyrics and held us spellbound for 2 hours after which she met and signed for the hundreds who wished to meet her. She was as large and encompassing as any big band. We simply loved her gig.
I must admit that I am missing the guest book these days. We have to rebuild the site as it has been vandalised too often in recent months. I have a certain amount of sympathy for these intruders. Although it is annoying when the site is vandalised, such inconvenience pales when in comparison to the mind set of those creative instincts that are so senselessly employed. I miss the daily banter, the feedback, the queries, the assistance offered. I have come to enjoy it over the past 5 years. I hope that we all re-engage when the team have the site re-opened.
We returned to Cork today Feb 17th. We organised a gig in The Triskel Arts Centre in support of the workers at Vita Cortex who are still occupying their factory work place in Cork. Declan Sinnott and were joined by Greenshine and Tana O’Brien. 30 of the workers were at the gig. I realise it was but a drop in the ocean but when I saw them on TV recently I simply wanted to offer them my support. Everyone I approached agreed immediately to stand with me. The Triskel, Declan Sinnott, Paddy Doherty, Michael Devine, David Meade and Frank Connolly at SIPTU gave their full support. A lot depends upon the outcome of this strike. If Jack Ronan and his associates get away with their mean scheme, a blueprint will exist to deprive long serving workers of their hard earned redundancy payments. Let us support the Vita Cortex Workers any way we can.
I received the following letter recently. It is heart warming to hear of the song being sung at a commemoration where so many Brigadistas lost their lives.
I found myself in the meso El Cid in Morata, which was the Republican HQ of the 15th Brigade then, after a hearty meal, listening once again to Spanish musicians singing your “Quince Brigada” in both English and Spanish yesterday, and thought of you and Bob Doyle, who began these commemorative walks with local school-teacher Seve Monteroback in 2003, on a rainy miserable afternoon.
Now the event has grown to become a large occasion, with dozens of cars and three full buses heading out from Madrid to cover a part of The battlefield and we had a sunny day this year, Lay a few flowers, listen to some history and a few local veterans, and unveil a statue in the local museum of that battle.
And after the lunch, in a cheerful crowd of British, Irish, Spanish and the odd other nationality, to sing the songs of the war, and this of course includes yours!
On October 8th 2011, there was a gathering of men and women who had been “On the Blanket” in Armagh Prison and in the H Blocks of Long Kesh. I was invited to sing with them but a prior commitment (gigs in Germany) prevented my being there. I recorded this 18 minute video at home in my work room and it was played to the gathering on the night. You can view it by clicking on here
Declan Sinnott did an interview with Mick O’Brien on SinÉ radio in 2009. I did not get to hear it until Olivia (From 4711ers.org) passed it on. You can listen to it by clicking on here (Declan’s interview starts around 11 minutes in)
I attended an Andy Irvine gig in Dublin last night. He was enthralling. Many new songs since I last heard him. Check out his dates (www.andyirvine.com) and catch him if you can.