It’s that time of summer again. Paddy is gone to the Boston Fleadh. Johnny’s at the hay in Rossnowlagh. Geoff at the lights on Sandymount Green. Mick with the Dubs on Hill 16. Dickon at the Black and Decker hammer and thongs. Davy at the mixer mixing Altan songs. Decky on the roads with The Grateful Dead and me diving for the Crack down the old Sheepshead …
Its a few weeks now since I sang with Coldplay at Punchestown, Co. Kildare. It was an interesting experience. Chris Martin contacted me and asked would I consider joining them on stage at Oxegen Festival. I thought about it for about 11 seconds. It probably began about 20 years back when drummer Will Champion (then 14 years old) came to a gig of mine in Southampton with his late Mother. She had encountered the songs in the Folk Clubs in Edinburgh back in the late 60’s. Will has taken an interest in these songs ever since. I was delighted by the invite as this festival takes place only 5 miles from my native place. I knew these fields well as a boy and was often curious about what once was Europe’s largest festival. On the evening of the gig I was collected at Tommy Tougher’s service station outside Newbridge and whisked by limousine around the lanes and boreens of Two-Mile-House until I was deposited beneath the stands at Punchestown Racecourse. I was then escorted to the Coldplay sector where Will, Jonny, Guy and Chris welcomed me warmly. They were well prepared and had obviously familiarised themselves with my 1985 recording of Jimmy McCarthy’s classic song. We ran it twice and then we drank tea and chewed the fat. They departed to an adjoining room to continue their own preparation. From the far off main stage I could hear the distant sound of Beyoncé. I listened with interest to Coldplay’s vocal warm-up techniques and eavesdropped as they greeted fans and record company suits. I watched their set side-stage. A lot of stuff goes on in the wings to make these large outdoor productions happen for the headliners. Towards the end of their set they invited me on, but not before everything had been thoroughly checked. Chris Martin could not have done more to set it up for me. It was a great old buzz to go out and sing with 80,000 joining in the chorus. What made it work was the surprise element. No-one expected it, not even the promoters. The band went back out to do their encores. I was back in Newbridge before they finished.
Here is a song I have just received from Jordan Solitto, a songwriter in America who had just heard about my recording of Wally Page’s song “Duffy’s Cut”. Jordan was writing this song about the same time. He has given me permission to share it with you.
We have finished the next album and I have been dealing of late with the sleeve. I just signed off on the outer sleeve and am very happy with the outcome. Now it is time to broach the innards …
The release date will be towards the end of October which gives me and those involved a little breathing space and time to make the final preparations properly. It will be on the Columbia label at Sony Music. There are 11 tracks. Declan produced and Tim Martin engineered. We are happy with the result and look forward to hearing your comments in due course.
Thanks to all who made contact here after the “One Night Only” TV gig with Gay Byrne. We watched it here last night and the host and crew could not have done a better job. Anita Ward was Gay’s research assistant and every effort was taken to set the programme up properly. It takes a lot of effort from a lot of people to make such a programme seem relaxed and spontaneous. The audience too played their part and created a great vibe in the studio. What made it for me was the fact that it was Gay Byrne himself at the helm. He was there when I arrived for rehearsal. He was around for the sound check and he came and sat with me in the dressing room and helped me through my nervousness. He is deeply interested in the work and in the people who make the work. It is very easy to have a conversation with him despite the fact that half a million people may be listening. He never gets glued to a script. Time and time again I see TV hosts miss golden nuggets as they focus entirely on scripted questions. They fail to hear what the interviewee has just revealed. That has never been the case with Gaybo. If something interesting is revealed, Gay has always jettisoned the script. That is but one of the many facets that have made him our greatest broadcaster. I sincerely hope that he will continue with this format. There are many artists on these shores whom I would dearly love to hear in conversation with Gay Byrne or “Uncle Gaybo” – a moniker that fits him perfectly and describes his position within broadcasting on the Island over 4 decades.
On Sunday 31st of July I performed at Féile na Laoch in Coolea, Ballyvourney, Co. Cork.
It was organised by Peadar Ó Riada and family along with the local community. It marked the 80th birthday of Peadar’s father, the late Sean Ó Riada. 48 hours later I am coming around to the thought that it was, perhaps, the best festival I have ever attended. I have never before witnessed such an array of performers in such a unique setting and circumstance. I hope to provide the full list of performers later but for now I can tell you that it began after a parade in a field at about 9pm on Sunday night. The stage was build entirely by local volunteer labour. At the commencement that stage was facing the sunset. It was moved on the hour after each module. Come dawn, the stage was facing the rising sun. The lighting was minimal but adequate, while the sound by Allie Ó Riada, was excellent. The concert was divided into 7 modules. There was poetry, Literature, Storytelling, Dance, Music, Singing and a dramatic finale after dawn.
Highlights for me included Michael D. Higgins who read a selection of his poems, Barry McGovern who gave us a rousing recital of Sam Beckett, Michéal O’Muireacheartaigh who enthralled us with his reflections. Noel O’Grady sang a beautiful version of “The Lass of Aughrim”, Cara O’Sullivan sang gloriously in the morning light. Then Michéal O’Rourke, who came from Paris, silenced the GAA field for 11 minutes while he caressed the perfectly tuned Grand Piano at 4am in the morning. Only Peadar Ó Riada could dream it up. Alan McDonald came from the Northern Isles of Scotland and played the Scottish Pipes. I sat on stage beside Séan Ó Sé who performed all those years ago in Séan Ó Riada’s ground-breaking ensemble Ceoltoirí Chualainn. He sang out into the night, his voice as beautiful as ever. Monica Loughman, who has danced with the Bolshoi Ballet, came with a troupe of young ballet dancers and it was simply enchanting. During her performance the clouds cleared and the stars came out to shine. Martin Hayes played a selection of Peadar Ó Riada’s music, Steve Wickham played a tune for all the Coolea dogs that turned up and were having the night of their lives. Phil Coulter have a rendition of his own song “The Town I Love So Well”, I gave a blast of “Lord Baker” and “Tippin It Up”, Glen Hansard got the field rockin with Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Caoimhín Ó Raghaillaigh played and a young man danced – this is but a sample of what took place over a 12 hour period.
Then came The Volunteer Youth Orchestra from Cork under the baton of John O’Brien. They performed a wonderful rendition of Sean Ó Riada’s Mise Éire suite as the sun rose over the mist covered fields of beautiful Coolea … Simultaneously there came running down that mountain a fleet of Warriors lead by Séan Óg Ó hAilpín. Brandishing hurling sticks and banners they ran through the river and out onto the field where they jousted in the early morning sun. The O’Carolan brothers came from The Glens of Antrim and Michéal O’Muireacheartaigh gave us a rousing history of the Tuatha Dé Danaan’s last hurling match on earth just before those good people departed to the Underworld. They have not been back since but one could sense their presence on that August Morning.
Apart from the stage performances, what made Féile na Laoch so special was its ethos and atmosphere. There was no branding, no alcohol on sale (People did bring their own refreshments). There was no drunkenness, no violence, no sponsors, no cover charge, no hard sell, and no security. There were 3 local Garda present who were enjoying the festival as much as the rest of us. All the personnel were members of the Coolea Community, Local teenagers and children dispensed the tea, coffee and sandwiches. There was a cauldron of stew of the bubble but that soon sold out …
The memory of Féile na Laoch will never leave me. As Peadar Ó Riada said, it was of the earth, it was of nature. I clearly recall him saying from the stage “It is past midnight now, it is the 1st of August, we are gathered here in nature, it is raining, we know how it feels”. Then he introduced the next leg of the concert which was storytelling. One man said that it reminded him of Carnsore Point in 1978, another woman thought it was like being back in Lisdoonvarna …
12 hours after entering the magic field I made my way from Coolea back to Ballyvourney exhausted, but inspired by what I had witnessed. The next Féile na Laoch will be in 2018 and I have been asked to attend … See you there.
We are on our holidays on the Sheepshead above Dunmanus Bay. It is wet and windy these past days. Before that it was misty and muggy, before that we were soaked for days. Frogs are in bliss, the spiders are staying indoors, the bats and the mice think its winter … it is lovely altogether. The soft days are perfect for lazing about. The water here is very tasty; the local bread is lovingly made. Cream on top of the milk, organic vegetables, fresh fish, Durrus cheese, country butter, smoked bacon from Goleen and eggs from next door …
This too is the week of the Bantry “Masters of Tradition” festival, reviewed here in previous years. It kicked off on Tuesday night in The Church of Saint Brendan The Navigator on the square in Bantry. Martin Hayes, the musical director, set the music rolling with a slow air and a brace of reels before being joined by Denis Cahill as together they segued into a rattle of jigs and a basket of mazurkas before introducing Michelle O’ Sullivan from Tralee on Concertina. The second half of the concert was devoted entirely to Breanndán Begley from West Kerry who with his family Breannáin, Cormac, Concubhair and Clíona gave is a memorable slew of songs and music.
The following night we headed into the wind and rain and battled our way over to Mount Gabriel … on up and over we went, battered and bruised in an August downpour until we came to the fine town of Ballydehob. Geoff Golden, artistic director of Blood in the Alley theatre group invited us over for their performance of Marina Carr’s “Woman and Scarecrow” in the Ballydehob Community Hall. The actors were Joan Sheehy, Bríd Ni Neachtain, Geraldine Plunkett and Mark O’Regan. This is our fourth year to attend the West Cork Fit-Up Festival (www.westcorkfit-upfestival.com).
The quality of their productions is outstanding. Up the town after, I met a man in the queue for the chip shop. He reminded me of a gig I played in De Hob back in 1976. A winter’s night in Rosbrien National School in candlelight. I enquired about 2 local songs I have been seeking for years and he vowed to track them down for me. “The Cove of Rosbrien” and “The Grey Sea Blue” … You never know where or when a song is going to appear.
And do you know what I’m going to tell you? … It’s still raining. August how are you?
PS Saw a beautiful film from China. It’s called “Still Walking” also an entertaining American film called “City Island”.
Also, here is a link to some footage of Féile na Laoch ….