“The night before Larry was stretched”
INEC Theatre Killarney 24th May.
It’s 30 minutes before show time in Killarney – In the dressing room my head is full of flashing thoughts; I need to look at Brendan’s Voyage, I haven’t sung it since Dingle last year… must run through the Contender with the Trad. Outfit (aka Mairtín O’Connor Band) before we go on… I remember the lady that took ill at last year’s gig here; I hope she recovered well and I wonder is she here tonight. Thinking back to the 1980’s when I used to do Summer residencies next door in the old Gleneagle Hotel. I’d stay out in Fossa at The Europe Hotel. I remember a strike there once. The staff were picketing the front gate and I wanted to go in and get my guitar before my gig in the town. They agreed to let me through if I’d sing a verse for them (“O Mrs Grojen, you’re only cat melojin”)… I sometimes imbibed all nighters after the gigs in The Gleneagles. The late Joe (Drifters) Dolan and I gave the vodka a right lash one night. Michael gives the 15 minute curtain call – time to get the duds on and stretch the keks one more time. At the 5 min call I receive a note from a man who last came to the gig in 1973.He wrote about a Planxty gig at Birmingham University and asked me to play John O’Dreams for a friend sadly missed. Notes like this give the work a great sense of continuity. Momentarily I feel connected to this man whom I have never met; we are two Leaves floating on the Lake of Song. Michael announces that its time to go… time to face the music once again.
Hilton Hotel, Belfast. 29th May.
6 hours to show time next door in The Waterfront Theatre. I’m staying at The Hilton Hotel. (No sign of Paris) My first gig here on the Bog Meadow was in 1972. It was a Very different time. It was at the other end of this journey. I had different ways of working back then – more distractions, and shorter sets. Drink was a big factor in my life then, hashish too. Now I sing about those days rather then relive them. Sobriety is the real high, all I have to do is gain it, and then hang onto it. Back then I played McMordie Hall at Queen’s University with Planxty. We did a short tour with John Martyn, all of us traveling together in a Ford Transit. Six of us plus all the PA and instruments. We had a few hairy moments, one late night checkpoint sticks in my memory. I had a good rehearsal last night as we prepared for the next leg of our tour (with Mairtín O’Connor’s Band). I love this time back among Traditional Players. Hearing the reels reverberate and the jigs shimmy… listening to these players as they go deep into their treasure trove seeking melodies that will enhance the songs. “Last Nights Fun” “Rodney’s Glory” “Ships in Full Sail” and “The Sailor on The Rock” are all tried and tested….I sing “The Trip to Jerusalem” and Mairtín O’Connor segues into “Grogan’s Favourite”. It feels like they were made for each other. Cathal Hayden rips into “Far from Home” after I sing “McIlhatton”. I think of Bobby Sands writing these words over the road in Long Kesh. Sheamie O’Dowd is forever picking up different instruments, last week he produced a mandolin, the week before that he blew into a Hohner, Jimmy Higgins sits behind the traps glued to the rhythm, keeping us all locked to the beat.
On The Mainland
Back Home in Derry
Michael Hayes /The Races of Clonmel
Natives / Enniskillen Dragoon
The “Larry” Set.
I pity The Poor Immigrant
My Little Honda 50
McIlhatton / Far From Home
First Time Ever I saw your face
Smoke and Whiskey
The Time has Come
Where I Come From
The Humours of Tulla/Last Nights Fun/Cooley’s Reel/The Wise Maid
2 hours and 15 minute
Early morning, Belfast – 30th May
Not enough sleep. Buzzing after last night’s adrenalin, I did not drop off til almost 3 am. It’s now 7 am and Belfast is on the move. The trains are stirring nearby. The early birds are moving round the city. Business has commenced. Can’t sleep. Then I recall being on the back of a Wimpey lorry at 7 am in Chiswick back in 1966 – That was hardship. There’s a building site down on the Riverside beneath the hotel. A dumper has just spluttered to life. There goes a kango hammer kicking off. Steel pipes are being lifted from a truck. Here comes an early plane flying into George Best Airport. There’ll be no more sleep in The Hilton this morning. (Still no sign of Paris – Ronaldo must be in town). Some do wonder why I write these chats. I sometimes wonder myself how many might read them. Truth is – it matters little. It helps me survive idle hours like these – Times when an unoccupied mind might start playing tricks inside this auld alkie head. It gives me focus as I share my rambling thoughts with whoever might peruse these chats. Years back I realized the comfort to be gained from the simple act of sharing. I know little about the results that prayer might yield but I do know that great comfort can be gained from the very act itself.
Show time looms once more. We had a good rehearsal followed by the sound check (attended by some long-haul listeners). The Lads went off for dinner. I cannot eat before a gig. I like to sing on an empty stomach. It’s very still backstage. In the distance I’m aware of the crowd gathering. The dressing room window looks out over The River Lagan. The Titanic centre looms upon the skyline. People are walking to and fro along the far bank of the River. The crew are down the corridor in the chuck room. I busy myself preparing prompts, doing warm-up stretches, getting dressed, trying to treat a bad throat and blocked nose. Then its time to go and Michael leads me to the side stage area. David lowers the music and makes his pre-gig announcement, Geoff lowers the lights and the show begins…
“When you look into a child’s face, you are seeing all the human race.
The endless possibilities there, where so much can come true
You think of the beautiful things a child can do.
How long can a child survive?”
Sunday, 1st June, Allenwood GAA Club. Co. Kildare.
“There is a beautiful Bog near Allenwood where Johnny Doyle is King”
We travelled right into the heartlands of Kildare last night where the people of Allenwood were marking the retirement of Johnny Doyle from Inter-County Football. I felt honoured when his family invited me to be part of this celebration. I believe every county in Ireland has its own unique attributes. In my eyes, Johnny Doyle has that unique Kildareness about him. The Hall was thronged as he arrived. I could sense his discomfort at being the centre of all this attention but, as always, Johnny was graceful and humble in acceptance. Later he said “it’s the kind of night I’d love to attend -provided it was for someone else”. All his family and neighbours were gathered round as were players from far and near. We were enthralled to hear the story of Johnny’s life playing Gaelic Football. GAA Players recounted playing with him at Schoolboy level and we followed the story through to the great heights he later attained. Amongst many who shared reflections were Ronan Sweeney, Dermot Early, Kieran McGeeney and Glen Ryan. There were video links to Sydney, Melbourne, Boston, New York and London, far off places where young Allenwood players now seek their livelihood. That said the young lad skyping from Bondi Beach did not appear to be suffering the pain of exile! It was lovely to be part of this event. I sang “Where I Come From” and “Ride On” for Johnny Doyle. We wish him and his family long life, happiness and good health.
Monday, 2nd June – the Curragh of Kildare.
We had a great walk across The Curragh Plains today as part of the annual June Fest. We left Herbert Lodge with about 150 walkers and made our way around the race course, over the gallops, across the motorway, on to the old Internment camp and we learned as we walked. There were 7 stops en route where different aspects of The Curragh were explained. Old Historical sites, Mythical tales, the History of Horse racing, the different Raths we passed, the old Geology of The Plains and The History of The Curragh Camp. We had a little circular Dance along the way to help allay anxieties. Our last stop was The Gibbet Rath, a historical place of Gathering, where in recent times (1798) there was a mass murder of 360** United Irishmen by the forces of occupation. I was invited to sing a song. I thought that “Dunlavin Green” might be appropriate.
In the year of one thousand seven hundred and ninety eight.
A sorrowful tale the truth unto you I’ll relate.
Of 36 heroes to the world they were left to be seen.
By false information, they were shot down on Dunlavin green
Bad luck to you Saunders their lives you sold away.
You said a parade would be held on that very day.
The drums they did rattle and the fifes they did sweetly play.
Surrounded we were and quietly marched us away.
Quite easy they led us as prisoners through the town.
To be shot on The Green we then were force to lie down.
Such grief and such sorrow in one place it was ne’er before seen.
As when the blood ran in streams down the dykes of Dunlavin Green.
There is young Matty Farrell has plenty of cause to complain.
Likewise the two Duffys who were shot down on The Plain.
And young Andy Ryan who’s Mother distracted will run.
For the loss of her own darlin’ boy…her Eldest Son
Some of our lads to the Hills they have gone away.
More of them have been shot and some have gone to sea.
Michael Dwyer of the mountains has plenty of cause for the spleen.
For the loss of his own brave comrades, shot down on Dunlavin Green.
I first heard this sung by Andy Rynne of Prosperous back in 1968. I have heard many versions of it since most recently from Gerry O’Reilly at The Goilín Club in Dublin. I have heard it said that this song still arouses friction in certain quarters round Dunlavin.
Friday 6th June.
We are back in Newbridge, Co. Kildare again for more of the June Fest. Tonight we attended a gig from The Voice Squad. We love this acapella Group which features Phil Callery, Fran Mc Phail and Gerry Cullen. This genre of music emerged from “The Young Tradition” and “The Watersons”, two English Groups of the 1960s, both of whom created wonderful acapella albums. It’s a singing style that was initially influenced by The Copper Family. The Voice Squad sing in close (and perfect) three part harmony. Fran occupies the summit, Phil holds the middle ground while Gerry patrols the bass end with his rich and mellow tones. The Concert was held in the Protestant Church on the Moorefield Road of my native town. This church is but 300 yards from the house where I spent my childhood. This was my first time to pass inside the gates. 60 years ago we were forbidden to enter these grounds. Bishops deemed it to be an (almost) unforgivable Mortal Sin. Old neighbours died and we were forbidden to attend their funerals. As young children we were terrified by threats of The Eternal Fires of Hell should we pass inside the gates of this beautiful old church. It was wonderful to sit there in the summer of 2014 and to listen to beautiful songs being sung by good people of unknown persuasion.
Saturday June 7th. Patrician School Hall. Newbridge, Co. Kildare (June-Fest closing concert)
I was joined on stage by Paul Keogh from Hawkfield and Lennie Cahill from Piercetown. They are two of Newbridge’s finest musicians. I first heard them with their Band, King Modo, at The RTE Music Train Gig. I was taken by their harmony singing and the feel of their playing. We hope to do some more gigs along the way. Keep an ear out for The Hometown Boys, also for King Modo who have some tasty cuts on YouTube.
Tuesday, 10th June – John Murray Show Radio 1
Doing live unscripted radio is a challenge that I enjoy. Doing it with John Murray is like sitting down for a chat. I got to know many of John’s family when I was a young lad working in Clonmel. I got up at 6 a.m. and sang for about an hour to try and warm up the vocals. I always have a fierce croak early in the day. It takes time to break down the frogs and get some tone into my singing voice. John and his team decided that we would do the programme “on the wing”. Listeners phoned in requests and reflections. I had written a guide list of about 20 songs. In the end I only sang one of them. I sang Tony Small’s beautiful song “Mandolin Mountain” for the first time in public – Straight in at the deep end.
Click HERE for a podcast of the show.
Bogie’s Bonnie Belle
Curragh of Kildare
Raggle Taggle Gypsy
Wednesday, 11th June – Irish Traveller Pride
Each year the Irish Traveller Movement holds an award ceremony. The Traveller Pride Awards Ceremony was held in The Pillar Room of The Rotunda Hospital, Dublin. I was invited this year to present the Music Award. It was a wonderful event sponsored by The Department of Justice. Awards were made in 8 different categories and the atmosphere was one of pride, happiness and positivity. Very different from what is written in the media week in week out. I met David Essex there. He was recently awarded an O.B.E. for his work as Patron of the Gypsy Movement in the UK. His Grandfather was an Irish Traveller and he spoke about the pride he holds for his Traveller Heritage. Michéal Ó Muireacheartaigh presented the award for sport and was his usual eloquent self. He sets a great example to us. Life is always enhanced when meeting him. Three stark facts have stayed with me since this event; That Child Mortality rate among Travellers is much higher than that of Settled People. That the Suicide rate among young Traveller Men is 7 times that of settled young men. Life expectancy within the Traveller Community is 15-20 years shorter then that of settled people. These three awful statistics were burned into my mind. But also I cherish the great welcome Valerie and I received from all the people we met there. Pecker Dunne’s son Stephen provided the opening music. Anne Cassin compered the event with grace and humour and is obviously committed to supporting the movement towards Traveller’s Rights – A Movement which still has a long way to go. It was a privilege to be there.
Click HERE for a clip.
Friday, 13th June, Cavan. Slieve Russell Hotel.
Always a great County for songs, singers and listeners, once again, Cavan did not disappoint. It was great to hook up with Declan Sinnott again after a 3 month break. We both travelled different music roads for the duration. Soon as we began to play everything fell back into place. We had the added attraction of Jimmy Higgins making a trio and nailing down the rhythm…
Saturday, 14th June
We had a grand cross country drive from Ballyconnell to Letterkenny and Arrived at Clanree right into the muddle of a huge wedding party. Dive for cover! Then it’s Sound check, Rehearsal, and Gig. There was a Great Saturday night vibe in the thronged room – Great listening and rapport with the audience. A few wags putting in their oars. To my right there is an ongoing shemozzle that eventually stops the gig momentarily. But this gig is really rockin’ along. When it’s like this songs seem to pick and play themselves. I don’t have to choose what comes next, the gig evolves seamlessly. Declan is putting out all the sweet notes and Jimmy has us locked together. I hear “Faithfull” uttered and the audience buy into it like never before. Then I’m talking about Chevron and the opening notes of “Dark End” are emerging. Marty tells me on the guest page that its Rory G’s 19th anniversary and we mark it… word comes of the passing of John Sands and we pay tribute. Guitars are more or less playing themselves, pitch sounds perfect and lyrics bubble up thoughtlessly. For us, this is one of the great nights … thanks Lads and Lassies
North and South
Rory is Gone
Where I Come From
Mainland … abandoned
Mainland … resumed
Stitch in Time
Dark End of the Street
(2 hours 25 minutes)
Wednesday, 18th June
Last night in Dublin Bob Dylan was a joy to behold. He moved around the deck like a Sea Captain. What a joy it was to watch him as he steered his Ship of Fame towards some distant horizon. It was perhaps our 12th time to see him in almost 40 years. He sent the pair of us home last night feeling real good. His path is well worn now. He ambles around centre stage to and fro from microphone and piano stool. He pauses at a lectern to shuffle the cards, always resuming with another precious gem from the Treasure Trove of Song. His band was real tight. I always need and love to hear lyrics. Sometimes I become traumatised when I cannot hear every word. But this is different. This is Himself – Dylan is the only one (in my book) who can get away with indistinction. Jasus I could barely make out a word. Yet I drank it all in. The pure abstraction of it all, yet I love every picture painted, every line imagined. I am happy to go home after the gig and peruse the lyrics of last night’s setlist. I come to witness the Bard, to pay homage to the Songster, to watch The Master at work. Thanks for a great night Doctor Bob. We wish you a safe and contented voyage, forever onward toward that distant shore. “I Pity the Poor Immigrant who wishes he’d stayed at home”.
Things Have Changed
She Belongs to Me
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
What Good Am I?
Waiting for You
Pay in Blood
Tangled Up in Blue
High Water (For Charley Patton)
Simple Twist of Fate
Early Roman Kings
Spirit on the Water
Soon after Midnight
Long and Wasted Years
All Along the Watchtower
Blowin’ in the Wind
Sunday, 22nd June. A Night for Tony Small (Galway Town Hall)
A great crowd gathered last night to celebrate the life our brother, friend and songster, the late Tony Small. Tony spent his life gathering, writing, nurturing, re-arranging, sharing, living and singing his songs. Before the gig, dressing rooms resounded with Tony’s verses as we warmed before going out to share songs and memories with those seated out front. Tony’s siblings Jackie, Loretta, Angela and Rene sat with The President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins (himself an auld butty of Tony’s), Sabina (our First Lady), The Lord Mayor of Galway and a galaxy of balladeers, listeners, retired porter sharks and respectable people. Pauline Scanlon, Diva of Dingle hosted the gathering. Pauline spoke about the generosity of Spirit she found in Tony when, at a very young age, he took her on board and mentored her singing career. That was to be the story of the night as we all shared our experiences across the years. I met Tony in 1969 in a small Folk Club in Tooting Bec, London. Later I spent time with him and his family in Finsbury Park.’Twas a time when we were all finding our way in the world. He introduced me to Woody Guthrie’s songs and also played Dylan’s “Tribute to Woody”. Ever since then we have been in touch over the decades. I always loved receiving his recordings as we both travelled on to wherever our songs took us.
For Tony I sang “The Yellow Bittern”, “Hard Cases”, “The 1913 Massacre” and “Mandolin Mountain”.
That’s it for now good listeners. The summer is upon us. Catch up with you along the way. What’s the story?
PS. Some fresh Dates:
September 19th Armagh
September 20th Newcastle
September 24th Newry
September 25th Newry
October 17th Great Northern Hotel, Bundoran
October 18th Inishowen Gateway Hotel, Buncrana