I was saddened yesterday to hear of the death of Barney McKenna, the great banjo player and founding member of the Dubliners. It brought back a memory of hearing Barney play Roisin Dubh in my parents house when I was about twelve years old. He put so much emotion into the tune that the tears flowed freely down his cheeks as he played. Whenever I heard Barney’s name over the years, I always saw that picture in my mind.
Last week I watched Don’t Look Back, a documentary of Bob Dylan’s 1965 English tour. I had been aware of the film for years but had never managed to see it. A day later, I happened upon a PBS special of Murray Lerner’s wonderful footage of Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, 1964 and in 1965 when he famously angered many in the crowd by having an electric back up band.
Also last week, David McDonough very kindly gave me a present of the recently released double CD of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem In Person at Carnegie Hall- The Complete 1963 Concert. It was an interesting convergence of events for me, and a very enjoyable one, to experience these two classic acts at the top of their game before all their imitators jumped on the bandwagon and tarnished the brilliance of the originals.
As a kid, I never particularly liked Bob Dylan even though I loved many of his songs. Possibly, I was just a bit too young to get the Dylan bug when he first arrived on the scene and the cultural divide between Ireland and the USA was also an obstacle. However, looking back now I see that it was the press coverage of him that turned me off. They made him out to be a self proclaimed Messiah and a spokesman for his generation. I did not realize what a distortion that was and I saw him as a something of a charlatan. I was stunned a few years ago when I read his autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One and discovered that he was constantly battling the image the press created of him. The movies I recently watched reconfirmed that discovery and I found myself seeing him without bias and finally appreciating the talent and freshness that caused all the hype in the first place.
Listening to the CD of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem at Carnegie Hall in 1963 was also an eye opener. It is a powerful performance recorded with just two omnidirectional microphones. The sound is stunningly good and full considering that the only instruments were a nylon stringed guitar, a five string banjo and an occasional tin whistle. However, it is the singing, the performance, the poetry, the banter and the unbridled enthusiasm of the St. Patrick’s day audience that make it so special. That was something that could not be counterfeited by the imitators.
I had simply forgotten how good they were then. As an eleven year old in 1962, I had attended their first Irish concert at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin so I should have remembered. I can still feel the thrill and the excitement of that magic night. Looking back now, I realize that concert probably changed the course of my life.
Fifteen years later, I joined a new iteration of the Clancy Brothers with Paddy, Tom and Bobby and later, after Tom’s death, with Liam. I was part of the group for nineteen years but we never achieved the kind of magic you can hear on that Carnegie Hall CD. We had many great nights, and some not so great, but the chemistry of the original group could not be duplicated. I think Tommy and Liam found some of that chemistry as Makem and Clancy but even the reunion of the original group in 1984 failed to capture it all.
It’s no different with Bob Dylan. There are still flashes of it in his shows but without the backdrop of the early 60’s and the vigor of youth, it’s simply not the same thing. One of the great things about living in this media age is that we have the benefit of time travel. That is really what it is to watch or listen to these classic recordings of a bygone era. So I say, do look back. Look back and enjoy the magic as it is captured in the convergence of time and place. It will never happen again.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I hope you all have a great one.
This year’s Irish Music Cruise was a great success. I really enjoyed playing with Aoife, George, Matt & Shannon. Since we were setting out from Los Angeles, Willie Quinn organized a great concert for us in Santa Barbara beforehand. We had a great time but were surprised to find the weather was cold and wet. It was weird to see snow on the mountains around Los Angeles and it didn’t really feel hot until we got to Acapulco. We spent a few days at sea but we had some great sessions on board the ship. Cabo San Lucas is a strange place. When you go ashore they greet you by putting an iguana on your head. Thanks to Hamish Burgess for the photo.
We had some great additions to the roster this year with Danny Doyle, Fiona Walsh and Ciaran Sheehan. Danny’s show about the 1916 Rebellion was brilliant. The only downside of the week, for me, was the Patriot’s loss in the Super Bowl. I still can’t believe they got out-coached and out-played but hats off to the Giants for playing so tough. They won it fair and square. The 2009 cruise will be in the Caribbean and we will get to visit a lot of Mayan ruins. I’m really looking forward to that. The information should be up soon at Irish Music Cruises .
I’ll be doing my first gig in Bristol, RI next Saturday at the Stone Church Coffeehouse.
The Clancy Legacy will be back at the Kinsale Inn
in Mattapoisett on Sunday March 2nd for an afternoon show at 4.00 PM. There are a bunch of other shows coming up in Michigan, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Massachusetts and West Virginia and you can find all the relevant on my Concert Calendar.
Keep an eye out for a Concert Film and Documentary, called Absolutely Irish, by award-winning filmmaker, Paul Wagner. The world premiere screening will take place on March 2 nd at the Irish Arts Center in New York. It is edited down from about 8 hours of performances we did last April and features an amazing cast: Mick Moloney, Susan McKeown, John Doyle, Seamus Egan, Eileen Ivers, Karen Casey, Liz Carroll, Joanie Madden, Athena Tergis, Niall O’Leary, Darrah Carr, Tim Collins, Jerry O’Sullivan, Mike Raferty, Billy McComiskey, Brendan Dolan, Rhys Jones, Mac Benford and Jo McNamara. And, oh yeah, I’m in there too. I haven’t seen the film yet but it was an incredible concert so I have high expectations. There’s a clip of the Fiddlers on You Tube. The full show should be on most PBS stations in the month of March. It will also available soon on CD and DVD.
The Blackstone River Theatre in Cumberland, RI is hosting a photographic exhibition, called In the Heart of the Hibernian Metropolis by Fionan O’Connell until March 20th. Fionan is my first cousin and an amazing photographer as well as one of my favorite people on the planet. You can read more about the exhibit and see some of his work at Fionan O’Connell.
I’m getting together this week with Aoife and Donal Clancy to work on material for a new CD. We hope to do some recording next month and get a Clancy Legacy CD out by the end of the year. With all our different schedules, it’s tricky finding times when we can get together but with a little luck we should be able to do it. By the way, we will be playing together at the Dublin Ohio Irish Festival this August.
I’m looking forward to the Irish tours this year. I’ve had enough of winter and I can’t wait to be in Ireland in May. The WGBH tour is sold out but we still have a few spaces available on the Celtica, Best of the West Tour May 19-28. Wandering around the west of Ireland in the month of May is hard to beat and you can join us if you wish by contacting Celtica Tours.
I warned my readers in the beginning that this blog might contain occasional rants. So far I have kept the lid on but no longer. When I see our great rite of spring referred to as “St. Patty’s Day,” I am ready to blow a gasket. Where did this abomination come from?
St. Patrick’s Day is fine if a little formal. “St Paddy’s Day” is comfortable and unpretentious especially for those of us with a healthy skepticism of religious formality. But what kind of fiend coined “St. Patty’s Day?’ Every corpuscle of my Irish blood rebels against this Disneyized, Hallmarked, Fox-newsed abomination. Like the anemic spawn of a morning television show presenter and puerile sitcom star, this appellation has all the insincerity and triviality of a game show. I never once met a man called “Patty.” It might suit a hamburger or a peppermint but not the patron saint of Ireland even if he was a Roman Briton. This has to stop. Don’t let them get away with this.
I know that other problems like global warming and the war in Iraq and Nero in the White House may seem more pressing but 1600 hundred years of Irish history and culture are at stake here and deserve to be treated better than minced beef.
Okay, I think I’m all better now, at least until next March.
Luckily, Aoife, George and I got out to Chicago on Thursday night last to meet up with Matt & Shannon. If we had waited until Friday, we might very well have been stuck here in Providence with the snowstorm that disrupted flights for four days. We had lovely gigs Glen Ellyn, IL, Wausau, WI and Schaumburg, IL and great weather to go with them. Many of our friends on the east coast had to cancel gigs because of the weather so we felt very fortunate.
Isn’t it odd that in thirty years of traveling around the USA and Canada in the month of March, the only gigs ever cancelled due to bad weather were in Dallas, TX and Richmond, VA? We had some close calls in other places. I remember rushing off stage into a taxi on Prince Edward Island in a mad dash to the airport to get out before a blizzard hit and crunching through the snow on Third Avenue in New York when a taxi could not be found at any price. But overall the show went on regardless and people turned out no matter what the weather. I guess it’s all part of March madness and I don’t mean basketball. So here’s to Naomh Padraig and the rites of spring!
Being Irish, I have the procrastination gene in abundance but, on Thursday, I actually took the wicker chairs off the porch and put them in the cellar. I had been thinking about doing that since October and it felt so good to get it done that I even put up Christmas lights. Not only that but I stacked firewood and burned the remaining gas in the lawnmower and cleaned and covered the gas grill. What the Hell is wrong with me! If this keeps up, I may start working on my taxes. I’m pretty sure it’s just a passing aberration but I’m going to keep an eye on myself just in case.
For the past few months I have been spending a lot of time in the recording studio. I just finished producing Marie Duprey’s new CD. Marie has a beautiful voice and the album is a wonderful collection of traditional and contemporary songs, including several fine songs written by Marie and her fiancé Michael Ross. It should be available early next year. I have also started work on my own new CD and I will also be producing Aoife Clancy’s next CD so it looks like I’ll be spending even more time in the studio.
Luckily for me, Mockingbird Studio opened in Mansfield, MA about a year ago. It’s great to be able to work close to home and Derek Pisano is a wonderful engineer with a great sense of humor. Recording can often be a stressful experience but laughter is a great tension breaker. We’ve had a lot of laughs while getting the job done and it has been a great working environment. It reminds me of the time Johnny Cunningham produced a CD for me and I would literally go home a pain in my face from all the laughing.
Debbie Casey from Irish Music Cruises tells me that there is still some space available on the January 22 -29 Cruise. If you want to break up the winter, you could join us for a great week of Irish music and cruise the Hawaiian Islands while your envious friends are stuck here in the January doldrums. Check out the great line-up of performers. I have never been to Hawaii so I’m really looking forward to this cruise. You can get more info on the website or at 888-56-IRISH (888-564-7474).
I have also been busy writing stories for an upcoming book called Clean Cabbage in the Bucket. It is a collection of stories from the Irish music scene over the past few decades. There are five contributors, Dennis O’Rourke, Seamus Kennedy, Frank Emerson, Harry O’Donohue, and myself. Dennis came up with the idea and he has also done a marvelous job as the project editor. Anytime musicians get together, they tell stories of their adventure and mis-adventures on the road and he thought it would be great to let people listen in. There are all kinds of stories; some of them hilarious and the five different voices make a delightful mix. We all got together last month at Kevin Barry’s in Savannah, GA to have some pictures taken and we spent a most enjoyable couple of days hanging out and telling yarns. The book should be available in February and you will be able to find it at Celtica Music Shop. I’ll do an update on it when I get more news.
I recently visited WGBH studios in Boston to record a live concert for Brian O’Donovan’s Celtic Concert series. Along with two superb musicians, George Keith and Shannon Heaton, I spent an hour before a live audience singing and chatting with Brian. The show will air this Saturday, 25 November between 12:00 and 3:00 PM on FM 89.7 in the Boston area. It will also be available online live and in the archive at WGBH.org. Just follow the links to “radio” or “Celtic Sojourn.”
Shannon, George and I are also part of A Christmas Celtic Sojourn that Brian will host in Boston, December 14–17. I was part of the first show in 2003 at the Somerville Theatre and it has now grown into a Christmas tradition and moved to the elegant Cutler Majestic Theatre in downtown Boston and grown from one show to five. If you are interested in going, don’t delay as I hear it is almost sold out already.
I will also be doing a Christmas Concert with Aoife and Donal Clancy and George Keith in Fairfield CT on December 2nd. Info about this and other upcoming gigs can be found here on my calendar.
As I have done for the past twelve years now, I will be taking a group of music-mad adventurers to my favorite parts of Ireland in May 2007 on our Celtica Heart of Ireland Tour, South By Southwest. You can check out the itinerary at the Celtica website. As usual, we will have several repeat passengers and Alice, Sean, Joe and I look forward to seeing them all again as well as making new friends on our rural rambles and at our nightly music sessions. The tour is about half full at the moment and filling fast. For more information call 800-299-CELT (2358) or email me.
Some of my recordings will soon be available for download at the Apple iTunes Store. The link is not active yet but will be in the next couple of weeks so if you get an iPod for Christmas you will be all set. As always, my CDs and many others are available at the Celtica Music Shop. We expect to add some new titles before Christmas.
Here’s a little sound clip that my friend Don Blain sent me and it’s so funny I just have to pass it on. Click to download MP3.
I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving, the best holiday of them all.