FolkWorld Issue 33 05/2007; Book Reviews by Walkin' T:-)M
"Ballads will never die out," says Johnny McEvoy. "People have been singing ballads since the beginning of time; ballads of the American Civil War, ballads of Irish Rebellion, going back hundreds and hundreds of years. The ancient man sang about hunting, and slaying animals. He told stories about the old people that lived before them and the happy hunting grounds and where they would go when they died. They sang of the battles and wars with the enemy. They sang and they told their stories in their tents and around their campfires. Ballads were there since time began, and will go on forever."
Like Johnny, folk singer Danny Doyle (-> FW#7) is one of the Irish balladeers of the 1960s folk revival who took the songs around the globe. Danny's great-grandmother had been involved in the Dublin strike and lock-out of 1913 that led to the 1916 rebellion.
I loved the songs then, as I do now, for many reasons. They are a fascinating window into the past, into the social, personal and political life of the people. They were the poor man's newspaper and gave powerful expression to the emotional aspirations of a downtrodden people, and were a potent force in our nationalist history. They can be beautifully lyrical and musically sumptuous, often full of a wild, soft sadness. As weapons, they were as lethal as any the invader had.She sang the songs and told the stories of the day, as Danny vividly remembers.
Her Galway shawl around her shoulders, we'd gather close, she'd start the tale
Well, I once knew an Irish barman in the city of Graz, Southern Austria. John had left the small market town of Keady in Northern Ireland to seek better opportunities. So did many Irishmen over the decades. And so did Tommy Makem, from Keady too. His father had been a fiddler playing Irish dance music, his mother Sarah Makem had been one of the essential source singers of traditional Ulster music, and Tommy went on to become The Godfather of Irish Music.
Many of the linen mill workers of South Armagh left for textile jobs in Dover, New Hampshire. In 1955 Tommy Makem left Ireland for good and crossed the Western Ocean to become an actor. Tommy has been a prolific songwriter ("Four Green Fields", "The Winds Are Singing Freedom", and the third verse of "I'll Tell Me Ma" - but no one knows about, people say, ahh no, no my grandfather used to sing that song ...). He wrote "We Want No Irish Here" to the tune of "Are You There Moriarity?" (which is not traditional but penned by Irish American Ned Harrigan -> FW#32) about the Irish emigration experience:
Our ship it docked in New York town and we took our bags ashore
Tommy struck a friendship with Liam Clancy. Our interests were so similar; girls, theatre and singing, in that order. Eventually he teamed up with Liam and his brothers Tom and Paddy and formed a group singing Irish songs. The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem recorded two albums with rebel songs and drinking songs, respectively.
John O'Brien Jr., Festival Legends: Songs & Stories - The People Who Made The Music That Defined A People. AuthorHouse, Bloomington, 2006, ISBN 1-4259-1738-0, 375pp, US$20,-.
We went up to Kenny Goldstein's apartment in the Bronx. He had a tape recorder. We went up to his apartment and recorded, unaccompanied. They had a young baby at the time, and his wife Rochelle had us stay there and put our hand over the baby's mouth, if it was going to cry while we were doing the recording.When The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, they put Irish music on the world's map. There is not an Irish ballad singer alive today that does not owe the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem an enormous debt, says Danny Doyle. The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem didn't simply open doors for all of us, they kicked them down!
I remember Paddy Clancy was sitting behind the desk and he has some papers and sitting on the papers was some little gramophone or a phonograph, with the loudspeaker on it. And I said 'Paddy, where'd ya get the wee gramophone?' 'Sure I don't know, somebody sent it to me.' And it was years later that I realized, and I don't know if he ever realized, it was a nomination for a Grammy. I don't know what happened to it. I don't know if we won one or not, but certainly were nominated for one. But he didn't know what it was. I didn't. He was using it as a paperweight.
The group did more than revolutionize Irish music. There were the sweaters, too. 'My mother felt sorry for us,' says Liam. 'She got three sweaters made to send out to us as Christmas present -- to her sons, so that they wouldn't get cold. And then she thought, poor Tommy Makem is going to be cold as well. So she got a fourth one made.' Their manager saw something else in the sweaters: a signature look. 'He said, that's it. I said, Marty, we're going to die in the heat. He said, die then, it'll keep your weight down.'
The rest is history, as they say, and we're only at page 24 of Festival Legends: Songs & Stories. John O'Brien Jr. put all these stories together. His father came from Roscommon to Ohio, and had been the founder of Cleveland's Irish Cultural Festival. John himself has been Assistant Director for 25 years, and there he met all those musicians that brought the native music to America and further on down the road.
Josephine Keegan, The Keegan Tunes 2 - A Selection of Traditional Irish Music. Newry, 2006, 96pp, UKú20,- (Email).
Fiddler and piano player Josephine Keegan from Slieve Gullion, Northern Ireland, aged 70 but alive and kicking as ever, presents another 105 original reels, jigs, hornpipes and slow airs, only a few years after Vol. 1 in 2002 (-> FW#32) and a book of collected tunes called "A Drop in the Ocean" in 2004. In 2006 Josephine also recorded two albums, the solo piano CD "The Nightingale" and the fiddle album "The Fairy Bridges", featuring both original and traditional Irish tunes.
Featured are the famous music legends, but also some lesser known heroes such as John Delaney and Alec DeGabriel (Barleycorn), Tom Sweeney (Barley Bree) or storyteller Batt Burns. A journey from the obscure to the time when Irish music became sexy, presented in the artists' own words, including stories and anecdotes, songs and discographies.
So did you know why Tommy Makem gave up the bagpipes and took up the banjo instead? Did you know that Danny Doyle introduced a young Limerick musician who had never been involved in Irish music to Donal Lunny (-> FW#30), Liam O'Flynn (-> FW#5, FW#27) and Andy Irvine (-> FW#23), and this Bill Whelan would absorb every note and eventually invent the Riverdance show? Did you know that Paddy McGuigan wrote "Men Behind the Wire" about the internment in Northern Ireland in 1971 and was himself locked up for several months for writing this song? You didn't? John O'Brien provides some answers.
Johnny McEvoy has been one of the first generation balladeers who, apart from touring the US, never went to America permanently. Johnny started professionally at age nineteen in the early 1960s.
I loved the ballads. And then I discovered The Clancys, who were all the rage at the time, and I realized we had folk songs of our own, and they were Irish. I recognized a lot of these songs. I had heard them before, from my childhood, but I hadn't given them much thought. I heard the Clancy Brothers singing songs that I could sing.Johnny recorded "Muirsheen Durkin" with just guitar and harmonica, and it went to #1 on the charts in 1966.
We would go to the folk clubs around town and listen to people like Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew, people who would come in off the street and sing their songs and we'd jot down the words to the songs, learn them and go home and sing them. We eventually started going to folk clubs ourselves and getting up and singing.
I was having screaming kids, screaming in front of me while I was on stage, tearing my hair, tearing my jacket. It was Beatlemania for the best part of three or four years. I doubt if any of them heard a word I sang.
Lúnasa, Nótaí. 2006, Paperback, 135pp, UKú17,- (www.lunasa.ie).
The follow-up to "Lunasa - The Music 1996-2001" (-> FW#26), covering their last three records Sé, The Kinnitty Sessions and Redwood. Over 80 tunes have been transcribed (sometimes both in the key in which Lúnasa plays them and the standard key as well), and provided with chords.
America has done themselves very proud in the Irish music tradition. They have preserved it much better than it has been preserved in Ireland. I cite the example of the Irish music coming across the Atlantic and then being used in country music and bluegrass music and going back to Ireland and it's a watered down version of a watered down version of stuff that they could do much better if they'd do their own music. But that's been downsized and sneered at and pushed down.Life in a country band can be like a bad country song... Ten years later fashion changed again, going from American Country to Irish Country music, i.e. Irish songs with a country flavour. But this time Johnny McEvoy refused and he returned to his first love, ballads. He feels: We're in a bit of a slump here. There's a gap at the moment. There is nobody coming up to fill the space left by us.
Sean McGuinness (Dublin City Ramblers) adds: They're all pop, disco and country. In 1968, there was something like six hundred and sixty ballad groups. Now there are five or ten.
Is it that bad? I don't think so. John O'Brien points out:
The future of Irish music present in the Makem & Spain Brothers, has traveled through three generations (so far); from Sarah Makem, through Tommy and into the Makem and Spain Brothers. We are placed in time to see the legacy continue, grow and broaden. The past still shines as brightly as ever but the future has a new glow, a new energy, that extends the accomplishments of the past and writes its own success story - called The Makem & Spain Brothers.
T:-)M's Night Shift (FW#32)
To the German FolkWorld
© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 05/2007
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