THE CLANCY BROTHERS WITH TOMMY MAKEM
BY MICK MOLONEY
The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem have already in their own lifetimes attained legendary status in the world of Irish music. They have changed forever the way in which Irish folk songs are arranged and performed in public, and they have drawn a whole generation of folk music fans into a musical culture that until their arrival languished in obscurity.
Brothers Tom, Paddy, and Liam Clancy from Carrick-on-Suir in County Tipperary, and Tommy Makem from Keady in the County Armagh, came together in New York City in the late 1950s Their style of performing old Irish songs, many learned from their families in Ireland, mirrored the style of the groups prominent in the American Folk Revival. The formula was simple enough. According to Liam Clancy: "We souped them (the songs) up, put in a beat, and added banjo and guitar." The fledgling group achieved modest popularity until the lead act on the Ed Sullivan Show cancelled, and a 16 minute live appearance by the Clancys with Tommy Makem catapulted them to national prominence. The group deliberately chose songs that would establish emotional communication with a diverse group of people. They selected love songs, drinking songs, humorous songs, and rebel songs from all manner of sources and arranged them with simple harmonies and straightforward musical accompaniment on combinations of guitar, harmonica, tin whistle, and five-string banjo — an instrument which Tommy Makem picked up In the 1960s in New York. The group's performance style and musical arrangements constituted a perfect example of a musical hybrid, a unique synthesis of elements from the rural Irish song tradition and the urban American folk revival tradition.
Above all they developed a compelling, colorful, energetic form of concert presentation which was to become their stock in trade and helped them reach out to general audiences everywhere they went. According to Liam Clancy: "We were always trying to put together a piece of theater every time we went on stage and it took many forms."
It is this theatricality and showmanship which has contributed so much to establishing the immense popularity of The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem. They always knew how to tell stories effectively, frame song introductions for general audiences, and pace and vary their concert repertoires in a way unmatched before or since that time by any other Irish singing group.
This recording features the original four members live in concert and exudes the energy, pathos, and humor which has captivated audiences in Ireland and all over the United States over the past three decades and made countless converts to Irish folk song. It's a great representation of the group in its most dynamic mode, with their theatrical expertise shown in fine fashion.
There are traditional Irish, Scottish, and English songs here, some great stories and commentary, a song from the English music hall, a couple of politically inspired Irish satirical compositions from the years before the 1916 uprising, and Tommy Makem's best known composition, "Four Green Fields," a powerful and moving metaphorical representation of Ireland and her continuing fight for independence from British rule.
Philadelphia, November 1991
Reviews by Sean McGuinness
I was excited when this CD was released in that the cover sticker promised all previously unreleased live tracks. In reality, as this bait and switch was played, there are only four new tracks. The first, which leads off the CD, is an alternate studio take of "Home Boys Home" that features Louis Killen on spoons and doesn't have the guitar overdubs on the hand-clapping parts. It is the only CD appearance for this track (except for Liam's slower version on "Irish Troubadour).
Three previously unreleased live tracks follow. "The Old Orange Flute" is a not as good a version as the one on "Spontaneous Performance", which has not been released on CD. It does feature a joke told by Tommy Makem though as an introduction to the song. In the same vein, "They're Moving Fathers Grave to Build a Sewer" is clearly sub-standard to the "Recorded Live In Ireland" version, which also hasn't been released on CD. Sony could have done us all a favor and released the superior previously released (on album) tracks instead of these inferior renditions.
The other previously unreleased track was the one that had me really excited when I bought the CD. "Wars of Germany" had never been released before and I had never heard of the song before. Upon listening to the song, which is a solo by Paddy, I discovered why the song hadn't been released before — it's horrible. This is an example of a song that should have never seen the light of day.
The rest of the CD is all previously released material. Its interesting that this is the first release that was by The Clancy Brothers With Tommy Makem (instead of And), whatever that observation may be worth. Other than this, the CD features only features three songs not otherwise released on CD.
I rate this CD a C.
Reviews Copyright © Sean McGuinness, 2001-2015
THE TRADITION OF IRISH DRINKING SONGS
My darling she told me to drink no more
Or my life would be over in a little while
But I told her it's the whiskey
Thai gives me life and strength
And lengths my road by many's the mile
(Cathal Bui Mac Giolla Gunna).
Drink has long been a favorite topic among Irish and Irish-American songwriters and singers. Impassioned lyrics throughout the centuries speak to the euphoria it creates, the courage it gives, the gaiety it sustains, the pain it eases, the ravages it causes.
But do Irish drinking songs glorify drink and drinking? Yes they do, but mostly with tongue-in-cheek. It would be hard, for example, to accept this refrain from a 1920s Irish-American stage classic as a literal prescription for a daily regimen:
Oh a drink in the morning is good for the sight,
And twenty or thirty between that and night.
Drink it up, go to bed, and just think it no sin
To be up in the morning and at it again.
Sure if I were to throw me Cruiskeen Lawn away,
Then who'd drown the shamrock on St. Patrick 's Day.
In Winter or Summer in June or July,
Drinking poitin each day 'till I die
It would also probably be hard to find an Irish person who hasn't at some point or another come in direct personal contact with the dismal consequences of overindulgence in drink. But Irish people do not generally choose to express negative attitudes towards alcohol in song. There are other appropriate ways to do that. An odd drinking song hints at the dark side, but Irish drinking songs have never been prone to dwell too much on pessimistic thoughts or sentiments.
There are songs that refer in passing to the topic of drink and there are songs exclusively devoted to the subject of drink and drinking. The vast majority sing the praises of alcohol. There is a kind of existential defiance in the best of them. Sometimes the harsh necessity of facing tomorrow is too hard to think about tonight.
At its pinnacle, the drinking song laughs and scoffs at intolerable reality and even at death itself. A popular Irish-American stage song proclaims the message:
When death does appear he it sent for my sake
To claim up O'Reilly the rollicking rake.
He's not dead, I'll answer, and all is serene.
For immune is O'Reilly from drinking poitin
This compilation presents songs that are, in one way or another, connected with the theme of strong drink. Most of them are Irish in origin. However Irish singers have never been reluctant to borrow songs from outside the tradition. So the songs on this recording are an eclectic mixture. They come from Australia ("The Pub With No Beer"), England ("All For Me Grog," "Beer, Beer, Beer"), Irish oral tradition and the Irish stage and music hall, ("Drink It Up Men," "Kilgarry Mountain," ["Whiskey In The Jar"], "The Juice Of The Barley," "Maloney Wants A Drink," "Jug Of This," "Whiskey, You're The Divil," "A Jug Of Punch," "The Moonshiner," "Water Is Alright In Tay"), and some are drawn from the Irish-American stage tradition.
Irish drinking songs were hugely popular in American vaudeville and variety theater. Irish drunken brawls were He rigueur on the 19th century American stage where ethnic stereotypes abounded. The Irish party song was a staple genre. The scenario was always the same. A party was given, guests were invited, drink was consumed in large quantities, insults flew, fighting erupted and the parry broke up in mayhem.
"Finnegan's Wake" is a good example of the genre. It became popular in Irish-American variety theater in the 1860s and was immortalized when James Joyce used the title to name his most famous work. New York impresario, playwright and actor, Ed Harrigan, wrote the words of "Mountain Dew" in the early 1870s. His collaborator, David Braham composed the music, and the song became one of his biggest hits and was reprinted in the scores of songsters. The song was given a new lease on life in the 1960s when it was recorded and popularized by The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem. Parodies of well known songs have always been a feature of comic stage songs. Tommy Makem and The Clancy Brothers' spoof of "Galway Bay" is in this tradition.
The natural milieu of the drinking song is where alcohol is consumed. In Irish life, this is most commonly the local pub. In America, it's the Irish bar, particularly on St. Patrick's Day when green beer ranks up there with shamrocks, shillelaghs and leprechauns among the most common conventional images of Irish-American popular culture. Irish bars are part of the fabric of Irish-American social life. Entertainers who perform in these bars will tell you that they are always expected to throw in a couple of drinking songs in the course of an evening. The customers and the management like it when they do. It's part of the "scene."
The singers of the drinking songs on this recording are The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem; the two most popular Irish folk singing groups since the 1960s. Both groups are known for their performances of drinking songs.
The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem were four young Irish actors who decided to switch careers and become professional Irish folk entertainers in the late 1950s when they were living in New York City at the time of the American Folk Revival. They came up with an exciting new way of performing the old Irish traditional songs and ballads they had heard in their youth. This made them instantly appealing to general audiences in America. They incorporated guitar and five-string banjo and lusty harmony singing in their arrangements of the songs and achieved enormous commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic, while starting a whole revival of interest in Irish folk song back in Ireland in the process.
The colorful The Dubliners, the bearded Bohemians of the Irish folk scene, were an instant sensation when they first started performing as a group in Dublin in the early 1960s. The Dubliners were the perfect pub group, with a hard-living, hard-drinking image. Working class, middle class, and college audiences alike adored them and roared choruses of songs enthusiastically along with them on Saturday nights, with foaming, table-tapping, glasses clinking a boozy accompaniment. Their music was rambunctiously compelling. Nobody had ever heard anything quite like it before. They introduced Irish audiences to a whole new repertoire of traditional and contemporary folk songs from Britain and Ireland.
The final drink of a convivial evening is often a highly emotionally charged event among the Irish. The communal drink salutes the ties of friendship and companionship and helps ease the pain of parting. There is no more eloquent and poignant song on this topic than "The Parting Glass." The Clancy Brothers traditionally close their concerts with this song, and it also fittingly closes this recording.
Oh all the money that ere I spent,
I spent it in good company.
And all the harm that ere I've done
Alas it was to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit
To memory now I can't recall.
So fill to me the parting glass,
Goodnight and joy be with you all,
Philadelphia, September 1992
This CD features previously unreleased versions of "Tim Finnegans Wake" and "The Moonshiner" from the In Person at Carnegie Hall concert (both are good strong versions), as well as the previously unreleased introductions to "The Juice of the Barley" and "Jug of Punch" from the same concert. It's nice to have these. The rest of the CD contains previously released Clancy songs, as well as previously released songs by the Dubliners. The theme of the CD is a bit overwhelming and the release suffers from a lack of other kinds of material (love songs, ballads, rebel songs, etc), which offer a balance. Other than this, the CD only includes three Clancy songs not otherwise released on CD.
I rate this CD a C+.
Reviews Copyright © Sean McGuinness, 2001-2015