Thanks to all who have been in touch since the last letter. Thanks too for Seasonal greetings proffered in great abundance and for all your support during the recent run of gigs. Some interesting talk about venues on the site recently. I like it when we get your impressions of various gigs and venues. Michael Hayes (no relation to The Farmer) wrote from England about different venues. It started a train of thought. By now I may have played 30-40 different venues in the City of London. My first gig there was in The Troubadour Club for Martin Windsor and Redd Sullivan back in 1967. After that came The Singers Club with Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger. The Hammersmith Folk Centre, The Peelers Club, The Fighting Cocks in Kingston, Wood Green club… later I played Cecil Sharpe House, Albert Hall, Half Moon Putney, Shaw Theatre, The Swan in Stockwell, The Roundhouse, The Marquee Club, Ronnie Scott’s, Queens Hall, The Palladium, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, National Kilburn, Gaumont State Kilburn (with Doc Watson), Forum Kentish Town, Electric Ballroom, Dominion, Hammersmith Odeon, Hackney Empire, The George Robey, Royal Festival Hall… all these from the top of my head without delving into old diaries… such an array of rooms. As I write this The Forum Kentish Town comes out on top and Albert Hall at the bottom. The former because of some great gigs there, the latter for the unfriendly vibe I experienced there which still lingers 20 years on.
Where I end up playing depends on a host of very different factors. It’s somewhat different from 45 years ago when this tour began. Back then I got most of my gigs through hanging around Folk Clubs, meeting organisers, doing floor spots at singers’ nights. I travelled very light, guitar case and sleeping bag. Overheads were extremely low. I basically lived hand to mouth.
These days it’s a very different world. We first decide, about 18 months in advance, when we might cross the water. My colleague in Lisdoon then contacts our Agent in London. He in turn makes contact with various promoters and venues around England, Scotland and Wales. They begin to get the bones of a tour together. When the gigs are in place it is time to plan production, accommodation, flights, ferries and publicity. All this takes a lot of time, work and attention to detail. I am fortunate to have work colleagues who take great care and pride in their particular part of the operation.
It’s not always possible to play where I would wish. I look forward to playing Leeds for its been nigh on 20 years since. It just has not been possible in the interim. I hoped to play Buxton having heard such great reports about the venue there. It simply has not worked out, maybe some day it will. For years I have wanted to play Cornwall but it has not worked out. 5 years ago I played Torquay, in my ignorance I thought I was in Cornwall but the Devon audience soon put me right on that one. Someone else suggested Cecil Sharp House in London. I played there in1973 with Planxty. Currently our London Listeners are sufficient in numbers for us to do 2 nights in the RFH so that’s where I like to play. Who knows, maybe in another few years I’ll be back at The Half Moon, Putney… I cherish the thought.
It is 40 years this week since Bloody Sunday.
I was 26 years old and back living in Dublin after 6 years working the Folk Clubs of England, Scotland and Wales. Planxty was in its infancy. We were rehearsing daily and playing small clubs in Dublin. I was in my element. I was reasonably aware of the situation up North. I knew a bit about the N.I Civil Rights Movement, (played a few fundraisers); I knew what happened at Burntollet, about
B Specials, Gerrymandering, Religious Sectarianism and class struggle but it was all a bit at arms length. Bloody Sunday changed that. I remember the day clearly, how the news began to filter through (news travelled at a different pace back then). As we realised what was happening on the Streets of Derry, many of our lives began to change. Everyone knew as the word spread and people took to the Streets. I was among the many thousands who marched to the British Embassy. It was my first time to witness violent street protest. Police baton charged us on Merrion Square, skulls were cracked. Eventually the British Embassy went up in flames. Subsequently I became more interested, and later involved, in what was happening “Up North”. Songs were written, gigs were planned and performed, and funds were raised. I became familiar with what life was like in Ballymurphy and The Bogside, in Bellaghy and The Bone. I visited The H Blocks to learn more about The Blanket Protest and over the subsequent years my work as a singer was imbued with songs and stories from The Six Counties. 40 years later and I returned again to Derry (Jan 25th) where I was invited to launch the book “Setting the Truth Free” by Julieann Campbell. It tells the inside story of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign. May the healing process continue, may we live in Peace
We cross over to Manchester next week for the BBC Folk Awards. Kevin Littlewood’s song “On Morecambe Bay” has been nominated for an award and I have been invited to sing it on the night. It is such a powerful song. I am looking forward to playing in the new Lowry Theatre in Salford, the town that Ewan McColl described in his classic song “Dirty Old Town”. It was his home town. I have been blessed in my working life to have had access to so many great writers across the water. From Ewan McColl on to Dave Goulder, Peter Hames, Mike Waterson, Sandra Kerr, Dave Cadwell, Bill Caddick, Harvey Andrews, Ian Prowse, Peter Cadle to name a few. All those writers, singers and musicians who shared so generously, who swapped songs and chords, shared gigs…
I have also been invited to perform on the BBC’s excellent Sunday Morning Programme The Andrew Marr Show. My choice was to perform “On Morecambe Bay”. I was perplexed and disappointed when the editor decided it was not suitable for their TV show. My first thought was to pull the gig but instead I have decided to proceed. Maybe there will be a change of heart. If not I will find another song to sing. Recently I have performed this song on Ireland’s most popular TV show; also on many of our top Radio Shows (with Pat Kenny on RTE Radio 1, Tom Dunne on Newstalk FM, Gerry Anderson on BBC Radio Foyle and with Mick O’Brien on Dublin City FM). Small wonder that Folk Music exists in the mainstream of music in Ireland. “On Morecambe Bay” has become widely known here over the past 3 months, it is an achingly beautiful, well crafted, relevant and controversial song. Yet it has sadly been deemed unsuitable by the editorial suits of the (very fine) Andrew Marr Show.
I received a very powerful album last week. I first met Helen Brennan in the early 70s. We both frequented The Traditional Club which ran in Slattery’s of Capel St., Dublin every Wednesday night for over 20 years… Her album “Mirrors of the Soul” is a very fine collection. Helen tells me that it is available from Claddagh records…CD World…Celtic Note…iTunes
The visit to the Sin é Radio Show was a gem. My third visit in 12 years it was one of my most enjoyable radio experiences ever. Mick O’Brien was master of ceremonies, Lar Flynn was “fear an tí ” and we had three 4711er’s in as guests who doubled on backing vocals (Adam, Graham and Olivia). It was more like 6 friends sitting about shooting the breeze (with the added dimension of friends dropping in from all around the globe on text, facebook, flitter, scutter and twatter) Lots of songs, banter, tea, tart and simple downright bonhomie.
Some new dates added to this year’s schedule. Currently in place are gigs in Mullingar, Kilkenny, Drogheda, Enniscorthy, Killarney, Cardiff, Leeds, London, Liverpool, Newcastle, Charleville, Castlebar , Derry, Carrickmacross, Tullamore, Cork… details for these gigs are on the gig page.
Later in the year we hope to play, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Galway, Lecky Picky and Donegal amongst other. Details will be posted when available… both Declan Sinnott and myself may do some solo gigs towards the end of the year. Happy Listening. Keep in touch and let us know what’s going on out there…
PS…Just received “Speech Project” an album by Gerry Divers…Very Highly recommended to anyone interested in music innovation. Trad. Irish with contemporary and classical flavours. In fact it is impossible for me to define or categorise this music except to say that I am finding it riveting, spellbinding and (in the case of the Margaret Barry tracks) very emotional… it will be released in the coming week on One Fine Day records.