Cashel July 1st 2016
I’m Playing tonight in Cashel, County Tipperary where I last gigged in 1976.
I wrote some verses here over the years. The opening line of “Derby Day” was gleaned when I stayed in the Cashel Palace Hotel. I was billeted there when playing the Siamsa Cois Laoí Festival in Cork back in the 1980s. This Palace was once the humble abode of The Bishop of Cashel…
“Bishop walked in circles inside the cloistered wall
Pondering in solitude on leather soles
Outside The Palace, down on bended knees
Johnny begged for whiskey beneath the Lilac trees”
Years later, on a visit to The Rock of Cashel, I met a man who spoke of Cricket still being played in Cloughjordan. This verse is from “Tyrone Boys” (aka The Other Side)
“Back Home there’s Cricket in Cloughjordan,
There’s the gentle clack of croquet on the lawn
While our children shackled by illegal status
Hold their heads down behind the Brooklyn Wall”
The SS Swift. Dublin – Holyhead, Tuesday July 26th 2016
Anuk visited the guestbook at christymoore.com recently, and asked about feelings of anger in singing and in song. Thinking back to my early days as a singer I don’t recall any feelings of anger. As a very young boy soprano I remember the excitement of going on stage (dressed in my confirmation suit) to sing “Kevin Barry” and “The Meeting of The Waters”. Back in 1958 my early stage experiences were fraught with nervousness and excitement, spiked with the high adrenalin of it all. I sang on through school choirs and concerts until 1962 when I had my first serious awakening to the emotional experience of singing. I was playing the part of Koko in the Gilbert &Sullivan operetta “The Mikado”. When I came to sing the song “Tit Willow” I was extremely nervous, but as soon as I launched into “on a Tree by a River a little Tom Tit sang Willow, Tit Willow, Tit Willow”, everything changed. There came stillness in the room and I was filled with my first experience of the power emanating from a gathering of intent listeners. Rock and Roll entered the picture around 1960 and I became aware of the excitement and sexual awakening that songs could propagate. Going see “Rock around The Clock”, “The Girl can’t Help it”, “Blackboard Jungle”, buying my first record (an Elvis 78” single copy of “Jailhouse Rock”) and learning to jive with Deirdre Murray. Then along came The Clancy Brothers who awoke yet another emotion in this young listener – A sense of pride in the Tradition hitherto gone unnoticed. I turned away from “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound dog” and began to boogie to “Brennan on The Moor”. This new awakening coincided with the discovering the pleasures of Drink and before long I had 3 chords in place and my Clancy repertoire was gathering momentum. Despite Rebel songs being part of that repertoire, anger had not yet entered the equation. In 1966 I hit the road and dedicated my life to singing songs. Hearing singers like Ewan McColl, Matt McGinn and Louis Killen pointed me towards songs that had contemporary relevance. Then on to Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Ian Campbell and many others – I began to see that songs could be effective in a way I had not previously realized.
My earliest recollection of being angry in the act of singing would go back to songs like “Take it Down from The Mast”, “Follow me Up to Carlow” and “James Connolly” (Paddy Galvin’s version). After Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972, anger could be found more often in my performances. I began to write and to cover songs that had anger in them. This probably peaked in the early to mid 80s when I was at times consumed by what was going on around me.
35 years on from that dark time and I’m still singing. The scope of the repertoire is broader now and singing brings on different emotions. “The Gardener” always takes me back to a young life – warm but lonesome feelings for a time and family long gone. “Wallflower” runs a film of mental torture and isolation that can disturb me in the singing. Anger pangs return with “Oblivious” as I am reminded of the utter cynicism that prevails in the corridors of power. One song that often brings anger pangs is “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”. When it comes to Dylan’s description of the Courtroom scene my blood seldom fails to rise, but this soon recedes as the next song arises. One of my happiest songs is “The Reel in The Flickering Light”. For some reason it seldom flickers these days but I find similar sensations in “Lightning Bird” and “Tuam Beat”. My most lonesome song might be Dylan’s “Pity the Poor Immigrant”, mainly for personal memories of an uncle long since gone. I like the mayhem of “Lisdoonvarna” and “Delirium Tremens” and the beautiful sweet melancholy of Shane’s “Fairytale”, “Brown Eyes” and “Aisling”. His songs are so distinctive. There is poetry in those lines and Jem Finer’s melodies carry Shane’s songs out for us all to hear.
Of course John Reilly’s Traditional Songs have a hypnotic atmosphere around them. Something I can neither define nor explain. No one knows the precise origin of “Lord Baker”, “The Well below the Valley”, “What Put the Blood” or “Green Laurel”. John learned them from his Father. These songs were handed down across centuries in the traditional style. Variations and entirely different versions are to be found scattered around the world. Many years ago a series of 7 programmes devoted entirely to different versions of The Raggle Taggle Gypsy was broadcast (I think) on BBC Radio.
So there are tears and laughter, wrongdoing and forgiveness, lonesome exile, heartbreak, joy, love and anger all to be found in these verses… “Come all you Dreamers, we’ll wander where there’s Marble Stone as Black as Ink”
Nell’s Jazz Club London. July 27th 2016
Just back in my room after a lovely hot sweaty gig at Vince Power’s club here in London. I first played a gig for Vince back in 1986 when I played the opening night at The Mean Fiddler in Harlesden. Since then I’ve played gigs with him in London, Glasgow, New York, Kentish Town, Dublin and Tramore. It’s a good buzz to be working with him again. My Grandfather Jack Power came from the same county as Vince so we may be connected. Played the gig with Declan Sinnott and Jimmy Higgins. Here’s the set that emerged;
Go Move Shift
A Pair of Brown Eyes
Rory’s gone to play the Blues in Heaven
Cry like a man
Where I Come From
City of Chicago
The Tuam Beat
Butterfly (aka So Much Wine)
Lightning Bird Wind River Man
Weekend in Amsterdam
No Time for Love
North and South of the River
Magdalen Laundry (Joni Mitchell)
Joxer goes to Stuttgart
Sweet Thames Flow Softly
Fairytale of New York
2 hours 15 minutes
The audience were superb – they raised the roof betimes but also listened closely when we brought it down low. It was great being back in a club gig – everybody in real close and intimate, just like it always used to be – I once played to an audience of 4 in Scotland in 1967!
Then we drank strong Tea and chatted with Cerys Matthews about Music, Wales at The Euros, Tom Jones, Welsh Male Choirs, Bodhráns, great divides, nationalism, next year at the BBC World Service and Luton Football Club…
Then it was back to base … get ready for tomorrow night when we hope to do it all again, just one more time, with feeling. (Happy too that my old Companero Tony Rohr was in the audience….we go way back to the days of Fin McCool)
Remembering London in 1966.
I had a single bedsit in Gunnersbury on the District Line. My Landlord was from Wicklow. His wife was an RC demon. She knocked on my door a few Sunday Mornings and asked “Are you not going to Mass??” My rent was £4 a week and I struggled to make it. I was doing bits of work here and there as I tried to get my toe in the door. First entered a Folk Club in The Scots Hoose run by a man called Bruce Dunnett, the singer booked that night was Annie Briggs. It was my first time to witness a Folk Club audience as they sat enraptured by Annie’s a Capella singing. I moved from Gunnersbury to Chiswick where my landlord was from Mayo. I shared a room there with my old Moorefield Rd. buddy Pat McGowan. We grew up together in Kildare but in London we drifted apart. We rekindled our friendship 30 years later shortly before Pat died. I think of him often.
Nell’s London Night 2 – July 28th
Back in the room after show… nothing on the box, don’t feel like reading, got a feckin big burst blister on the saddle of my right hand. It all went astray an hour into the set and there was skin flying. We did some running repairs and the gig continued. It was a great night – sweet notes from my right, solid rhythm to my left and a roomful of chanters in front of me. What more could a singer ask for… we played;
After The Deluge
City of Chicago
Pity the Poor Immigrant
Black is The Colour
Where I Come From
Go Move Shift
Smoke and Whiskey
Stitch in Time
The Tuam Beat
The Well below the Valley
A Pair of Brown Eyes
On The Mainland
Back in Derry
Van Diemen’s Land
The Time has Come
2 hours and 10 minutes
Writing out the set list after a gig in London is a far cry from the carousing of earlier decades – flying around Town half the night seeking the lock-in, chasing capers in the darkest of corners, looking for wild reels, slow airs and good company. The White Hart in Fulham Broadway, The Balloon in Chelsea, The Irish Club in Eaton Square, Gerry Fitt, Lord Longford and Christine Keeler, Steeleye Span rehearsals, sleeping soundly in Donal Lunny’s bath, The Sense of Ireland Festival in 1979, The Albert Hall, The Brixton Academy, Donal McCann, out to The Fairfield Hall in Croydon with Ciaran Bourke, Brandy & Creme de Menthe with Joe Burke in Slough, Large Bottles with Martin Byrnes in The College in Harlesden, Margaret Barry, Michael Gorman, the beautiful music of Michael Dwyer, his brothers Finbar and Richie, Raymond and Rose Roland, Liam and Margaret Farrell, Johnny Bowe and a very young Kevin Burke just testing the waters, Dominic and Josephine Behan out in Middlesex, Bacardi and cigars, sick heads and promises (all fulfilled) Eamon McCann and The Irish Militant, the first N.I. Civil Rights Concert in Shepherd’s Bush, forever waking up in Richmond at the end of the District Line, always on the last train…
But I am very content here tonight, writing the set list with all those memories far, far behind me…All that is long gone, well done and very over… Now I must turn my attention to Cambridge Folk festival on Saturday Night.
This year will be my 7th time to play Cambridge Festival. Previous visits were 1973, 1974, 1984,1988,1993,2005 and 2016… 1973 & 74 with Planxty. I did three solo gigs in the 80s and 90s, played with Declan Sinnott in 2005 and now back to Cherry Hinton one more time with Declan Sinnott, Jimmy Higgins and Seamie O’Dowd. I’m looking forward to getting back out there in front of The Cambridge Fusiliers
Remembering Cambridge Festival 1973.
The first time I played Cambridge Festival was with Planxty. What I remember most is drinking Carlsberg Specials with Bert Jansch as we both struggled to make conversation. That special brew was lethal when caution was thrown to the wind. We were joined on stage by Alan Stivell’s Fiddle player Rene Werner. Later on I sat around a camp fire as Diz Dizley sparked the night with Django Reinhart riffs
Cambridge July 30th 2016
It was akin to playing in a gigantic Folk Club – 8,000 listeners standing in a huge Marquee. they were a perfect audience who listened carefully, sang beautifully and created an uplifting atmosphere for us to draw in. Our crew played a blinder – they had but 20 minutes to set the stage after The Afro Celt Fusion set. Without a sound check we took our positions to find everything in order. John Meade, Dikon Whitehead, David Meade, Geoff Ryan, Michael Devine and Paddy Doherty, alongside the Cambridge Stage Crew, had prepared the way carefully and we soon were on our way….
City of Chicago
After The Deluge
Go Move Shift
The Tuam Beat
Shine On You Crazy Diamond
Stitch in Time
Not the precise running order – 1hour 20 minutes…
The concert was filmed and some of it may feature soon on Sky Arts. Click HERE for a review of the festival …
That’s it for now Listeners. Going to send this off and head away for a few weeks family time. Myself, The Band and The Crew are all heading in different directions. We plan to reconvene back in County Donegal at the end of the month. I’ll finish off with some additional notes for the recent Album release.
Thanks for listening and keep in touch
For many years I have sought to write a song about Newbridge. Most people have a life-long connection with their place of origin. As I get older those memories of early times seem to glow ever brighter. I must have written 50 verses in recent years about my native place but finally condensed it into Lily of The Shortgrass. As often before, I then sent the lyric across the river to Wally Page who came up with a sympatico melody that carries the words out on the air. I’m happy to have old friends and neighbours mentioned in the song. Regretfully there are hundreds left out. The Town I sing of here exists only in the memory of a few. Most of the sights and sounds have long since disappeared but some of the people mentioned are still to the good. Pat Eddery passed shortly before I recorded it. I remember him as a small boy back when his Father, Jimmy Eddery, was a leading jockey. His Mother came from The Moylan Family who were also deeply involved in the Horses. We measured our days by the sound of factory hooters. Every week lorry loads of Indian Sisal would arrive at The Ropes factory. Jack Lawlors anvil reverberated up the Moorefield Road and I knew all his family. Neesons was our local pub, behind it ran Rosy’s Lane called after Rosy Murphy who stood at Neesons Corner morning, noon and night. Darky (PJ) Prendergast was the leading Flat Trainer in the 60s winning many classics. His home was “Keadeen”, now a fine Hotel and leisure centre. Darky had the first TV in Newbridge. I went to National School with Tommy Tougher who went on to become one of the leading businessmen in Newbridge. I often cycled through Hawkfield on my way to visit my Fathers people in Barronstown. Tom (The Rubber) Keogh still lives there.
Green Grows The Laurel (aka The Captain)
Another song from the repertoire of John Reilly. It is featured on his 1974 album “The Bonny Green Tree”. I had not heard it for about 25 years until Helen Grehan sang it at John’s Memorial Concert in Boyle two summers back. She stilled the night with her version. Later, and with Helen’s encouragement, I sought to inhabit John’s old song. Whatever it is about John Reilly’s songs they seem to be imbued with a lonesome emotion that emerges almost every time his songs are sung. Previously I have sung “The Raggle Taggle Gypsy” “The Well Below The Valley” “Lord Baker” “What Put The Blood” and “Tippin it Up” from John’s repertoire and there may be a few more to come yet. He was a quiet gentle man who loved a pint and a woodbine. He sometimes seemed perplexed (but appreciative) by the interest shown in his singing. He was never sure how to respond to this attention but always did so with humility and warm gratitude. John endured a hard life. We were all shocked to learn that was still in his 40s for we considered him to be an older man. I should also mention that it was through Mrs. Bridie Grehan and her daughters Francie, Marie and Helen that we got to hear the songs of John Reilly. I spent a lovely day with Lynched singing this song (and others). Hope we get to sing it again.
The Tuam Beat
I was touring the UK in the 90s with Eleanor Shanley and her band. That’s when I first met the percussionist Jimmy Higgins. 20 years later and he is playing on this album. Jimmy introduced me to the songs of Pádraig Stevens and I was smitten by The Tuam Beat. The verses almost appear to be random but for me, there is a narrative that carries me along each time I sing it. I won’t burden you with my interpretation lest it might interfere with yours. I finally got to meet Pádraig when we both sang at a Memorial Concert to Tony Small in The Town Hall Galway in 2014. More recently he came to a concert in Athlone where we played his song to him. When introduced to the audience he received a great welcome for they too had enjoyed The Tuam Beat.
There exists a genre of dream-songs in our tradition known as Aislings. When I first heard Tony Small sing this song it sounded to me like an Aisling of his life in four short verses. From Finsbury to Berlin, back to Dingle then on to Tuam, Tony carries us on a journey where we encounter old time singers and listen to their songs… On and on he travels forever seeking Mandolin Mountain.
I first met Tony in a Folk Club in London back in 1969.We remained in touch until his untimely death in 2014. His voice and songs remain with all of us who were blessed to have known him.
The Ballad singers are still at work. All over Ireland men and women are writing and singing songs even as we speak. There are more songwriters here now then at any time in our History. Mick Blake is one such. He wrote and recorded this song in Leitrim Village. I first met him when we sang together at a concert in aid of Middle East Children’s Alliance during the last assault on Gaza. Mick is currently working towards his own first album. His work can be heard on YouTube where he has posted a number of home made videos of his songs. We recently sang together at a 1916 Commemoration concert in Liberty Hall. That performance will soon be released by SIPTU who hosted the concert in the presence Of President Michael D. and Sabina Higgins. Mick permitted me to record a version of his song. His original version has an additional verse;
“Imagine a country where people are free not slaves to a Gombeen economy
sold into bondage that ill fated September night.
No smooth talkin sleeveens to spin and pretend
where a promise is not just the means to an end
where Justice is not just what’s legal but also what’s right.
But the Man from Islandeady echoes the cries of the clown
as he preys on the sick and the needy
to soften the Ice maidens frown
I do not know Peter Gabriel but I have long admired his work. Declan Sinnott suggested this song and I spent long hours getting to know it. Learning certain songs can be a labour of love. Sometimes my work process can be very slow. It is often made possible by Declan’s patient guidance. I struggle with chords and accompaniments but latterly it has become a struggle that I relish. The opening line of Wallflower brings me straight to that place where none of us want to be. I have yet to understand certain lines in “Wallflower” but time will reveal more. Repeated gigging often reveals hidden meaning within songs. (Meanings the author may not have intended) As life and events unfold songs can take on different nuances. Sometimes a song can fall from the list only to return years later imbued with new significance.
The Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains
Dave Lordan’s poem has been the most difficult to nail. We laid down 4 different versions before settling on this. Also spent some happy times with Moxie, but or schedules prevented us from getting it finished. Hope I get to play with the bowsies again – they are a great Band.
I first heard Dave perform this in Avondale, Co Wicklow at a “Save Our Trees” gathering. I was straight onto him and he gave me the nod and his blessing to play around with it. I feel this piece may still have a way to go and I hope to have another cut at it. The lilt before is from “The Dingle Regatta”, the verse after is from “Dunlavin Green”
“Bad luck to you Saunders their lives you sold away.
You said a Parade would be held on that very day.
Such grief and such sorrow in one place was ne’er before seen.
As when the blood ran in streams down the Dykes of Dunlavin Green”
Lightning Bird Wind River Man
Declan O’Rourke has the gift of song. I first met him when he opened for Planxty back 2004. Then we happened upon his gig in Kenny’s of Lahinch, County Clare two summer’s ago. When he sang this song I got the shiver – always a good sign. The imagery, the audacity, the beauty, the tune – its all here. I hear a song like this and I give thanks for the wonderful and powerful tradition of song and music on this Island. Such an amalgam of styles and genres. From the songs of Joe Heaney, The Clancys, The Dubliners, Margaret Barry on to John Spillane, Eleanor McEvoy, Jimmy McCarthy, Luka Bloom, and on again to Declan O’Rourke, Soak, Damien Dempsey and the hundreds of other songsmiths working around The Island this very day … Jinx Lennon, Paul Doran, Padraig Stevens … I could go on for a week!
The Ballad of Patrick Murphy
John Spillane was asked by the Family of Patrick Murphy to write a ballad for the centenary memorial on 2011.
The picture John painted caught my ear when he sang it for me. I added a “turn” for the first verse and used it as a chorus, all with John’s blessing. I sang it at The Marquee in Cork last year for Patrick’s Grandsons who came to the concert. There were 4,000 people in The Marquee that night and together we remembered the life of the slain Fisherman. The bailiff who shot him was arrested. The trial was transferred to Dublin. The authorities feared the shooter might not get a fair trial in Cork. He was eventually found guilty of manslaughter and given a six month sentence – just like William Zanzinger.
30 years ago I recorded Paul Doran’s song “Natives”. He sent me “The Gardener” 10 years ago and it has taken me all these years to find my way into singing it. Paul has a distinctive style of delivering his songs that I find very difficult to absorb. With Declan’s help I finally found a way to sing this most beautiful of songs. I am reminded of so many of the old Gardeners in my family. On both sides of my family there were those who devoted their lives to “self-sufficiency” gardening. They would have had a few flowers here and there but their main concern was the growing of vegetables and fruit. I sang this song recently at the funeral of John Bowen in Ahakista on The Sheep’s Head. If ever a Gardener lived the lines of this song it was John Bowen, formerly of Rathoora on The Mizen, now at rest in Schull.
Click HERE for a review of the album in Fatea magazine.