I’m writing this in The Riverside Hotel in Enniscorthy. Amazed to hear that it is 6 years since we played here as I have very clear recall of the last time. Jimmy McCarthy came to that gig and joined us afterwards for a mug of tea in the Bridle Suite. Having the writer of a song in the audience is always an interesting phenomenon; I am certainly affected by it. This venue is in a lovely location. It is on the bank of the River Slaney with a grand 5K walk at the front door. It is the sort of venue that I like… always hot and welcoming, always full, relaxed and inspirational, without any of the haughty vibrations to be found in some of our more refined centres of creativity. (Is it Folk or is it Art, does anybody know? Can someone please tell me where the Blarney Roses grow?)
Recently I read a small number of reviews from disgruntled listeners complaining about gigs not starting on time. Understandably, they aimed their arrows at me. Just a few things to say; Declan and I have a rehearsal and sound check at 5 o’clock before every gig. We then return to the dressing room at about 6.30 and wait to be called to the stage. Looking back over last years starting times it is very seldom later then 8.10. Starting Time is totally outside our remit, Declan and I are always in the dressing room ready and raring to go… the decision to start lies with those running the gig… no point Declan and I commencing at 8 sharp if there are hundreds of people still seeking entrance. People can be delayed for many reasons, parking difficulties, trying to get to the gig after work, getting an extra glass before the gig, finding the bleddy kip, losing a cufflink or ear-ring. Our crew will have been at the venue since mid-day setting up the stage, they too will be standing by… sometimes we all simply have to wait a little longer. Best for everyone to assume that the gig will begin at the advertised time… if the show is a bit late, for whatever reason, try and relax and not get your keks in a twist… suck a gobstopper, look around, (I always love watching the audience from behind the curtain), phone a friend, listen to Cal, say the Serenity Prayer, eavesdrop on adjacent listeners, make new friends, strike up conversations, kiss your partner on the lips, share your gig with total strangers… if none of this works and your blood begins to boil, write to us here and give out shite, we will always listen to you…
President Michael D. and Sabina O’Higgins got quickly into their stride upon assuming residency at Áras an Uachtaráin. I feel relieved “that tis them that’s there”. I wish them both peace of mind and every happiness above in The Park. I met them recently at a gathering of artists in The Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Poets, Painters, Musicians and Writers invited there by Paula Meehan and Theo Dorgan to support the Commission for Prison Reform. Afterwards The President and Sabina greeted us all in The Green Room. It was heart-warming to see him give so generously of himself but that has always been his way. Over the years I have encountered Michael D. on a number of occasions and he has always been a remarkable man to meet. Most recently I heard him read his poetry at Féile na Laoch in Coolea Co Cork. It was 2 in the morning when he stood beneath the stars in that open field where we had all gathered to celebrate creation itself. I recall another time many years ago when he was The Minister for Arts and Culture and he took time out to present me an award in Galway. I consider our President to be a true man of the people. He also possesses skills of diplomacy and a long honed understanding of our constitution. I feel confident that he will do his utmost to safeguard and lead the nation during these difficult and fraught times. I salute President Michael D. Higgins.
A few months back I wrote about a gig at the Grand Social Club in Dublin. The gig, with Mairtín O’Connor’s band, was superb and the venue itself was really good. Subsequently I attended some powerful gigs there, one by Andy Irvine and another from Four Men and a Dog. It seemed that, once again, we might have finally a good venue for Folk music in the capital city. There certainly is a need for one. When I began playing in Dublin in the 60s there were many good venues run by people who loved music. I recall gigs in The (old) Embankment run by Peggy Jordan, early days in The Abbey Tavern Howth, Rathmines Folk Club, Parnell House and of course Slattery’s of Capel Street. In the late 60’s we had Betty McDermott’s Coffee Kitchen in Molesworth Street and Gerry O’Grady’s Auld Triangle. In the 70s The Meeting Place emerged and in the 80’s and 90’s Mother Redcaps came to the fore. Sadly any hopes of The Grand Social becoming a good venue have faded. It would appear that the main ingredient for a successful Folk Music venue is missing from this ideal location. Once more we live in hope.
Declan Sinnott has recorded his first Solo Album. It will be released later in the year when he will also perform some solo gigs. Details will be posted here in due course. I am looking forward to this release. He has performed 5 of the songs so far and I have enjoyed hearing each one of them. We will work separately for the first 6 months of 2013 so that he can promote his album. It will also afford me the opportunity to do some solo gigs again… dust off some old songs and give the Bodhrán a good rattle. This has been, by far, the longest time that either of us have spent in a band, albeit a 2 man combo… my longest period prior to this was 3 years in Planxty – first time round in ’72,’73,’74. I still look forward to every gig that Declan and I play. He is a true comrade in the playing of the music. Always ready and willing to rehearse, full of ideas and strong opinions but also patient with my limited chords and forgiving of my errors in live performance. He has coaxed me into learning a few new riffs and often makes subtle changes to old accompaniments that give them a new lease of life. I will keep you posted on this site when his gigs are in place.
Rugby… It was Thursday 16th March as we assembled in Co Kildare. Our purpose was to play a gig for the Ireland Rugby squad, a pleasure I have enjoyed on 7 previous occasions. It was less then 48 hours before they were due to take to the field in Twickenham and face England once again. Previous gigs had always taken place a week before games so this time round there was an understandable tension in the room. As Declan and I took to the stage the sound system went awry with distortion which added to my nervousness. I likened it to an opening kick-off going straight into touch. My response was to go into an acapella song that was entirely unsuitable as an opener. I was like a fox caught in the headlights. Things settled down after we got off to a shaky start but soon settled into a groove. Declan’s electric was not working but the gig began to turn for me as some of the players came up and shared the stage with us. First up was Damien Varley who sang and played “Bright Blue Rose” and ‘”Faithfull Departed”. Donnaca O’Callaghan gave a great rendition of “All I Remember”. he is garnering a grand repertoire and never sings the same song twice. Kevin McLaughlin came from the blind side and delivered a lovely “Ride On”. Felix Jones came flying up from the full back position and showed a great pair of hands on the Bodhrán with McIlhatton and Quinte Brigada… It was great to be meeting these new players at close quarters. The new team manager Mick Kearney came up a tore into “Tell Me Ma” (a bit like Tommy Bowe, he is a one verse operator). This opened the floodgates and they were suddenly coming from all sides. Donnaca Ryan rose high and gave us a heart felt rendition of ‘Black is The Colour”, then Gordon Darcy came right thru the middle of the room with “City Of Chicago”, Rala O’Reilly took on “The Contender” and did justice to Jimmy Macs tender ballad (Dennis Leamy did a great version 3 years ago). Fergus McFadden then came on and stumped both Declan and Myself with “Rock and Roll kids”; neither Declan nor I could play it. I did not realise that Fergus was a nephew to my old friend Austin O’Donnell from The Curragh. Austin was a grand ballad singer… we often passed the guitar around back in the sixties, 3 chords and a dozen stout as we sought to serenade Red Prender’s beautiful daughters. Declan Kidney then spoke briefly and Rory Best thanked us for the gig. It was apparent that they were all focused on Saturdays Mighty Clash as we left them and drove for Killarney for the following days gig. (Alas they suffered a heavy defeat; it was terrible to witness their disillusionment. However most of the squad will wear the green again and have another day… time now to put the International caps away and focus upon the European Club semi-finals)
What a joy it is to meet up with songs that shine. Early on I was attracted to the entire repertoire of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. At 16, almost everything I sang came from The Clancy’s. then I got Waltons blue book of ballads back around 1962 and learned songs that were original to my hungry ears; “The Bard of Armagh”, “Rosin The Bow” and ” Down by the Liffeyside”. That same year I got the PW Joyce Collection in the Newbridge Library. There I found “The Rambler from Clare”, “The Enniskillen Dragoon” and, best of all, “The Curragh of Kildare”. I still remember working out the melody of “The Curragh” with Donal Lunny at our piano in Moorefield Terrace. We then took 2 lines from Verse 3 and used it as a chorus. Sometime after that, maybe 1964 I got my hands on Colm O’Lochlainn’s Dublin Street Ballads. That, and its successor, became the bible, reference books and sat nav of many the budding Balladeer. My first song from O’Lochlainn was “Mary from Dungloe” which I used to do as an up-tempo song. I still remember singing it at the Thurles fleadh with an auld battered 30 shilling guitar with binder twine as strap. Other songs from these yellow books included “Come by The Bower”, “James Larkin”, “Dublin Jack” “Carnloch Bay” and “Bold Rake”. To this day they remain 2 great reference books. Then I finished with the books and I began to encounter songs from singers. Patsy Halloran sang the “Galtee Mountain Boy “in Clonmel in 1963. I heard Robbie McMahon sing “Spancilhill” in John Minogue’s Hotel upon the windswept hill of Tulla in 1964… such exciting times I enjoyed as I travailed the country searching out songs. It was a time of nil technology and none the worse for it. We had to work to gain songs, we had to travel search and wait. After I moved across the water in ’66 the songs began to come towards me more regularly – Mainly because I went to Folk clubs every night of the week. I heard Tony Downes sing “Plane Crash at Los Gatos” in Manchester, Jackie and Bridie singing “Seth Davy” in Liverpool in 1967. Shortly afterwards Hamish Imlach taught me “Black is The Colour”. I was surrounded by songs and infatuated by those who sang them. Mike Waterson sang “The Lakes of Pontchartrain” to me in 1968. I heard “John of Dreams” from Bill Caddick in Wolverhampton. The same year I flew to St Helier to play in the Jersey Folk Club. There I met Barney Rush. I was transfixed when he sang “Nancy Spain” and he then followed it with “The Crack was 90 in The Isle of Man “… that was all of 45 years ago. In between I have been seduced by hundreds of songs and here I am still listening and learning. Beautiful songs still come my way; “Listen” from Hank Wedell, “Gortatagort” from John Spillane, “Magdalene Laundries” from Joni Mitchell, and “Motherland” from Natalie Merchant. I hear new songs and “new” traditional songs around every corner. All that said, we singers need you listeners too, it’s when we sing them out to you that they truly come to life… Only then does the circle of song become complete.
The Spoken Word session with Janice Long is available by clicking the link here.
We are now preparing for the first leg of our British Tour. It commences in Leeds on April 1st and continues in Cardiff, London, Liverpool and Newcastle. The second leg in November takes in York, Manchester, Edinburgh, Stirling and Glasgow.
See you down the road…
PS. Recently we have added dates in Newbridge, Mountmellick, Galway, Electric Picnic, Tullamore, Charleville, Castlebar, Sligo, Derry, Carrickmacross, Cork and Cavan. We will play Dublin in December.