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)
Curragh of Kildare.
Mary from Dungloe
Galtee Mountain Boy
Verdent Braes of Skryne
Dark Eyed Sailor
The Spanish Lady
Rocky Road to Dublin
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.