May 6th 2014
“As I went a walkin’ one morning in May
I spied a young couple who fondly did stray
One was a young maid so sweet and so fair
And the other was a soldier boy, a bold grenadier”
(From “The Nightingale”)
When I first started singing ballads, this song was all the go. Back then, I got an old guitar for £3 at a fleadh in Portarlington. Donal Lunny started me off with the chords C and G7. Later he taught me the F and G chords and my Nightingale began to sing.
(Lest our overseas readers be confused – In Ireland, at the time of the 1960s Folk Revival, Folk Songs were always described as “Ballads”, Folk Singers were known as “Ballad Singers” and venues were described as “Ballad Lounges”)
“And they kissed so sweet and comforting as they clung to each other.
They went arm in arm along the road like sister and brother.
They went arm in along the road til they came to a stream.
Where they both sat down together love to hear the Nightingale sing”
I loved the staccato rhythm of this lyric. The imagery and the story unfolded and the chords felt huge and vital. The great chorus, which everyone seemed to know and love, would raise the rafters. My eyes were closed tight from the very beginning. At first verse, beads of perspiration flowed, by the last chorus beads had turned to rivulets. I recall a Fleadh in Thurles way back (I was 17 or 18) when a man called “lets have another song from the fella who sweats”. I had just learned “Mary from Dungloe” from Colm O’Lochlainn seminal book “Irish Street Ballads”. I used to do it as an up-tempo song. I’d give it loads, lashing into it as I quaffed the Bulmers. There were not many guitars around in 1963. If memory serves there were 3 guitars in Newbridge. Donal Lunny’s, Tony Murphy’s and my own. I had the fewest chords but my collection of songs was expanding. By now I also had chords D and A. Then, when those precious minor chords came my way, life would never be the same again. “The Rambler from Clare”, “The Enniskillen Dragoon” and “Curragh of Kildare” were all gleaned from the PW Joyce Collection (a wonderful reference Book) which I borrowed from the Newbridge Library. With my guitar and sleeping bag life seemed to have no problems. With a bunch of songs to sing – “The Jug of Punch”, “Rosin the Bow”, “The Bard of Armagh”, “Brennan on The Moor” I always had the entrance fee. Sometimes I’d even gain the doss and the dinner. I heard “Spancilhill” in John Minogue’s Hotel in Tulla, “Scariff Martyrs” up the hill in Teddy Murphy’s Pub, “Galtee Mountain Boy” in Hillview Clonmel. Frank Lunny Junior sang me “The Unquiet Grave” and from his Father I learned “Father McFadden”. I was gaining a repertoire. I practised every spare hour. My life was spent in the pursuit of songs. These days everything seems to be a click away. I had the fun, the camaraderie and all the experiences gained in the chase. Today, I too have succumbed to “the click” but I relish the memories of that youthful chase.
Somehow, along the way, I had mistuned my guitar – 6th string up to F. To this day I still suffer the pain of this faux pas. A few times over the last 50 years I have sought to correct this flawed tuning but impatience always got the better of me and I reverted. It’s the way it is now; I give thanks and accept it. Anyway, for better or worse, no one else in the world tunes their guitar this way! I was 52 before I got comfortable with what I had been given. I no longer wanted to play like X nor sing like Y. Such peace of mind was hard achieved but I’m grateful to have found it.
Thank You All who sent birthday greetings. I was born on V.E. Day, 7th May 1945. 69 years later I had a lovely day with my family around me. There were candles, cards, pressies, fun, lovely hugs from my grandson and a Toblerone from Wicklow.
What a shame our sister site (4711ers.org) has been locked down. Over recent years it has been a friendly and purposeful visiting place. A quiet corner where questions were answered, help sought and received, friendships made and sustained. All this activity took place beneath the banner of song. Closing it down, on whatever whim, was quite a brutal act. No explanation was offered. Perhaps a new forum may emerge.
I am aware that the world of social media is changing rapidly. Fewer of us engage with websites. I still prefer this old fashioned mode and will carry on thus for the foreseeable. Although I do engage with Twitter and Facebook it is solely for the purpose of getting information out to listeners. I do not engage on an interactive basis. I am comfortable with this forum.
The recent tour of England and Scotland went off very well. Everyone pulled together. Management, Agency and Promoters set the ball rolling, all the venues welcomed us and were thoroughly accommodating, our road crew played a blinder, Declan Jimmy and myself were given the kid glove treatment and we responded accordingly and gave it all we had to give. Thousands of listeners thronged to hear the songs in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and London. I got to walk by The Clyde, climb up to Arthur’s seat from The Meadows, walk by the River Irwell and then along The Thames. I stayed around London at the end of the tour and visited The Commitments in the West End where we had mighty fun… Then Shakespeare’s Globe where we momentarily joined a mile long queue (we had unknowingly chosen The Bard’s 450th Birthday to visit) until the heavens opened. To escape the rains we dived into the Tate Modern where there was a 3 hour delay to see the Matisse paper cuts so we wandered around the permanent collections with the Easter crowd.
This month marks the onset of gigging with the Trad Outfit which features Mairtín O’Connor, Cathal Hayden, Sheamie O’Dowd and Jimmy Higgins. We kicked off in Roscrea last week and we are really enjoying this new noise. Heading for Lisdoonvarna today for further rehearsals and then on to Ennis for 2 Gigs in Glór. Over the coming weeks we will blast out in Galway, Belfast, Killarney, Cork (Marquee) and Dublin (Iveagh Gardens). Subsequent to that normal service will be resumed with Declan Sinnott. I love this new experience. In the past I have played in a number of traditional bands. It’s enthralling to be back in the mix again.
Here I am back again in The Royal Spa Hotel, Lisdoonvarna to rehearse in advance of upcoming concerts. Arriving here has always had a sense of homecoming. I first came here in 1964. I was a junior bank clerk working in The National Bank, Ennistymon. Once a month a sub-office travelled by hackney car to Lisdoon so there I was, a lowly, lonely, frustrated, miserable bank clerk longing for the open road. It was soon to come. My next visit to “The Spa”was in 1979 when Paddy Doherty launched his first Lisdoonvarna Music Festival (I still celebrate it nightly!) I returned there again with Moving Hearts in 1981 when we played “The Hall”. Since 1981 I have gigged here almost every year. It’s a lovely room. It holds 150 at a squeeze and there have been some great gigs here. Over the years this legendary room has hosted John Martyn, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Stockton’s Wing, De Danann, Matt Molloy, Mick Hanly, Damo, Natalie Merchant and Planxty. One of my favourite memories was hearing Doug Lang duet on “St. Gabriel” with Declan Sinnott when we held our gathering there in 2010. The Royal Spa is a small family run hotel with comfortable quiet rooms. Anne Doherty is the “Bean an Tí”. The food is second-to-none Irish cooking with all ingredients produced locally. There is a splendid coffee shop and nearby lies The Burren, The Cliffs of Moher and Fanore Strand. It has an historical aspect too in that Eamon De Valera stayed there when
campaigning for the first Free State election before he was elected as the Member for Clare. Each time I have come here to rehearse, sweet notes seem to flow our way. Tonight we return to the Glór Theatre in Ennis refreshed, well tuned and rehearsed. We are raring to go…
Twas a damp and dirty evening as we pulled into Glór for last nights fun. Arriving into Ennis, I’m always mindful that here lies the heart of it. The county town lies right between the East and West of Clare. Those two regions from where two very distinct strands of our tradition have emerged. From the East I have heard the likes of Paddy Canny, Martin Rochford, Vincent Griffin, Martin Hayes, Robbie McMahon and “The Tulla”. Over to the West I have closed my eyes to the sounds of Willy Clancy, Mrs Crotty, Micho Russell, Tony Linnane, Noel Hill and “The Kilfenora” to name but a few. We all had memories to share of “Banner Days” as we prepared for last night’s concert. We rehearsed and warmed up in the dressing room as the listeners came through the evening rain to gather in the warm comfort of Glór. At ten past 8 we hit the boards and away with us into the night. Two hours ten minutes later, sated and content we got back to the dressing room having played;
The Ballad of Ruby Walsh
City Of Chicago
A Pair of Brown Eyes
Where I Come From
Jigs… Larry the Beer Drinker/Scatter the Mud/ unknown
On The Mainland
Back Home in Derry
Tippin it up to Nancy / Ship in Full Sail
Cliffs of Dooneen
McIlhatton / Far From Home
Reels…The Humours of Tulla / Last Nights Fun / Cooley’s Reel / The Wise Maid
Then back out west to Lisdoonvarna where supper laid out and we rawmaished well into the night …
I recently read “Singing from The Floor” by JP Bean. It is an account of the Folk Scene in the UK from the late 50s up to the present time. For anyone with an interest in Folk revival, it’s a great read. The book was extracted from interviews with performers, club organisers, producers and fans. If your interest is only slight, this book may not be for you.
I’ve also been reading Frank Connolly’s new book about the life of Tom Gilmartin (Gill MacMillan). Last week I was invited to discuss the book on a Late Late show panel on RTE TV. (Click HERE to watch) The revelations in this book are shocking. If anyone is interested in either book, try your library or support your local bookshop
Just back to my billet in Salthill after the first of two nights in Leisureland, Galway. It was a special night on many fronts. Mairtín O Connor’s family were in tonight as were Jimmy Higgins Mam and Dad. Des Kelly was also present with members of his family. Des (of The Capitol Showband) was the first manager I ever worked with. He took Planxty under his wing back in 1972. He recorded us on his label, Ruby Records, where we had two hit singles – “The Three Drunken Maidens” and “The Cliffs of Dooneen”. When he secured an international record deal for us we were on our way. More then that he became and remains a dear friend. It’s always a joy to meet him.
Also in last night were Mike Harding and his wife Pat. Mike gave me my very first Folk Club gig in Crumpsall, Manchester back in 1967. I stayed with Mike and Pat until I established my own accommodation over in Moss Side. Mike went on to become one of the most popular entertainers in Britain. He has been a prolific writer, musician, poet and rapscallion these past 40 years. He is also a very popular broadcaster of Folk Music. He hosted the very popular Folk Music Programme on BBC until he got shafted where upon he commenced his own Independent on-line programme which now attracts over a million listeners. (To listen click HERE) He has always been a great friend to Irish Music. Mike and Pat now spend a lot of time in Cleggan, and it was a great pleasure to have them at last night’s concert. Kenny O’Connor (of the famous Salthill Singing House) came from Hamburg to be at last nights gig. I sang with his Dad many years ago. I also played rugby for Corinthans with his Dad Christy and his Uncle Benny back circa 1964-65. We used to train on Large Bottles once a week and tog off in The Skeffington. We got to a Connacht Senior Final but lost 3-0 to UCG. The session after match was worth all the training. The Porter flew.
On June 7th I will play a gig in Newbridge with King Modo as part of the Newbridge June Fest. It’s a community based festival run by friends of mine in my home town. All proceeds from the concert go towards funding the festival. They have a good week of events lined up – click HERE for more details.
On June 26th 2014 there will be a very special Concert in Boyle, Co. Roscommon, celebrating the songs of John (Jacko) Reilly. I look forward to singing some of John’s songs and to hearing the legendary Grehan Sisters who are reforming specially for this concert. Francie, Marie and Helen Grehan blazed a trail across England and Scotland in the mid 60s. They recorded two albums on the Transatlantic Label before returning to Ireland in the 70s. They were the first to sing the praises and songs of John Reilly who was a regular patron of Bridie Grehan’s pub on The Square in Boyle. Proceeds from the concert will be used to erect a commemorative bronze plaque to John in the town. Here are the details…
We went into Whelan’s of Dublin last Sunday night where my nephew, Conor Byrne, put on a one day Festival of Music. We had a great night and heard an almighty blast of new music from Riona, New Road (with Lisa O’Neill guesting), Moxie, The Whileaways and Aldoc. From start to finish we were engrossed in the sounds and particularly blown away by Moxie and Aldoc who were full-on, no-holds-barred and exciting. It was a revelation to hear Alan Doherty’s Band (Aldoc). I last heard him play over 20 years ago when he was a young boy. He has fulfilled all the promise he showed back then. He is now based in East Germany. Last night he assembled a nine piece band which, on paper, should not work, but on stage they were scintillating. He drives it on flute and low whistle, he raps sings jousts and boogies and his German, Danish, English, Dutch and Waterford comrades follow him gallantly wherever he leads. On Whelan’s small stage last night there was Alan and 3 piece brass, (plus two Apple Macs) Drums, Bass and two Guitars. There was lots of instrument swapping going on. We left Whelan’s dazzled and dazed by Last Nights Fun…
That’s it for the merry month of May. I wish you all happy days ahead. Maybe see you in some auld kip along the way…Up Down!
PS. The following is a website post from Petra and Uwe, two listeners who came from Germany and travelled to Roscrea and Ennis to hear the songs. I include it here to pay tribute to our crew
The weather was lousy most of the time, but the music kept our spirits high. After 3 gigs in Roscrea and Ennis and some travelling in Clare and Westmeath in-between Uwe and I are on our way home and we would like to thank the lads on stage and behind for these marvellous concerts.
Last night was definitely the highlight and we appreciated the new appearances on the setlist – well done with the rehearsal! “North and South”, “Black Is the Colour”, “Johnny Connor”, “Where I Come From”, “Gortatagort”, and “Smoke and Strong Whiskey” were absolute highlights for us. One wouldn’t think this can be topped, but exactly this happened with beautiful versions of “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, “Hurt” and “Spancilhill”. “Beeswing” got an amazing guitar solo by Seamie, and all songs sparkled like new with all the box and fiddle background. The jigs and reels made the Clare crowd whoop, holler and stamp that the floorboards trembled.
Special thanks to the sound and lighting crew that did a great job as always. These three concerts proved that it doesn’t matter whether the gig takes place in a renowned music venue, a hotel ballroom or a community hall – light and sound of your gigs are always flawless. Good luck for the remaining May gigs with Maírtín, Cathal, Seamie and Jimmy – sweet music roll on! … Petra
My reply …
Thanks Petra for taking the trouble to comment upon and to praise the good work of our crew. This crew has been together now for over 10 years and have developed into a tight unit that run the technical end of our gigs. They are forever seeking to improve production. Our sound, lighting, staging and monitoring are, for me, the best that I have encountered in my working life. Having Davy at the sound desk is akin to having an extra band member. He is also a musician and he plays the sound desk like he was playing an instrument. Geoff runs the lights. He never knows what song is coming next (nor do I). As the next number begins Geoff responds intuitively. Each night he creates fresh lighting plots on the hoof. Dikon provides us with consistently good on-stage sound. He keeps a keen ear to each player. Johnny is our ringmaster – forever diligent to what is taking place. He keeps a keen eye on every aspect of the gig and is out like a shot at the first sign of a problem. In the wings and around the room we have Paddy and Michael who oversee all aspects of our life on the road. they insure that nothing gets in the way of the gig and that everyone and everything is focused towards those two vital hours when we all pull together to make the gig happen. These six colleagues are the inner crew, beyond that there are many others who help create the broad spectrum of gigs we play – Agents and Promoters( and their reps), Venue Staff, Trevor who provides staging, Ciaran who transports lights, security staff, lifting crews who provide help at get-in and get-out time. It’s a wonderful privilege to work with such a diversity of talented and focused practitioners. Very seldom do we meet “trickies”. The well tuned antennae of our advance party insure that we avoid dodgy venues and troublesome Johnnies. Needless to say, none of this would take place were it not for all those thousands of listeners who gather at our gigs. We appreciate the support and encouragement you provide. Without our listeners, none of this would happen. The late Jim Aiken was Ireland’s foremost music promoter and his mantra was “let us all remember that, without this audience, none of us would be here tonight”…
3 New Dates just in…
July 17th – Castlecourt Hotel – Westport,Co Mayo
July 18th – Park Hotel – Kiltimagh,Co Mayo
July 19th – Lough Rynn Hotel – Mohill Co.Leitrim
Ticket details will be posted on the gig page in the coming days…