To document the story of "The Clancy Bros. & Tommy Makem" or to select from their extensive catalogue of recordings, "THE BEST OF THE CLANCY BROS. & TOMMY MAKEM," one had best have an extra long sheet of paper, or write very small.
Here is a group which has had a most varied, most unusual and most musical background. It is of no small wonder that they have (in such a short time) reached the pinnacle of their careers, and have retained it. They will no doubt continue to retain it for many years to come.
The Clancy clan, and there are many, are all singers from Mom, Pop — Patrick, Tom, Liam, (the group) — Bobby, Peg and four sisters, including their offspring, which number 21 — at last count.
Their family home is Carrick-On-Suir, in county Tipperary, 4,000 population, settled in a valley with Comeragh Mountain on one side, Slievenamon (Mountain of Women) on the other and all overseen by Ormonde Castle. The town is a cattle market where Pigs are sold on Mondays — Dairy stock on Wednesdays — and beef cattle on Fridays. The schools are taught by the local nuns and Christian Brothers and all subjects are taught in Gaelic as well as English.
The traditional music of Ireland is basically Irish tunes — with English words — but sung in Gaelic. The original songs were sung without accompaniment, but down through the years the guitar, harmonica, pennywhistle and harp have been more widely used.
Patrick, the eldest brother, along with his vocalising, is an actor and producer but is least interested in these activities. He plays the harmonica on most of their recordings. Patrick was an active member of the I.R.A., consequently the rebel songs which they sing — are done with great gusto and tradition. He was in the RAF during Word War II and has done decorating and painting as a vocation in many parts of the world — as he is an avid traveler.
Tom, came to the USA in 1948, having had acting experience, being trained in English Shakespearean repertory. He has done welding, cooking and was a Warrant officer in the RAF.
Liam, the youngest came to the USA in 1956, also an actor, and plays the harmonica and guitar.
Tommy Makem, came into the world in Keady, county of Armagh. He plays the Pennywhistle, Warpipes, piccolo and drums. At the age of five, he made his first public appearance singing "The Little Beggarman" — at eight, he joined the St. Patricks Church choir and continued with them for 15 years, doing Gregorian chants and motets along with the choral work. At 14 he worked in a garage as a clerk-bookeeper, and at 19 was a barman. He also wrote a sports column for the local paper. Tommy came to the USA in 1955 and in '56 made his first recordings with the Clancy Bros. In 1959, at the Newport Folk Festival, the New York Times picked Joan Baez and Tommy as the "best young folk singers." Tommy's advice to the myriad of fans who want to join the ranks of better folk singers, "The chief thing is to believe in what you are singing. If it's a fun song — you must be in a fun mood, it's like acting — don't try to imitate anyone. Just because Joe Doakes has a bad voice, but is a traditional singer — you don't have to sound like him. If you have a better voice than those you learned from — use it. It enhances the songs."
The group has had numerous guest appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, Arthur Godfrey's Show — they have appeared at Gerde's Folk City — One Sheridan Square — The Blue Angel — The Gate of Horn — The Village Gate — The Hungry I — Playboy Club in Chicago, and are continuing to play to Folk Clubs all over the world.
America has taken to their hearts, these four tough-fisted, gentle-hearted Irish singers, who have opened up a floodgate of entirely new songs, Irish folk music with its lilting charm, fierce independence of spirit, and whimsical view of life. For the first time in the revival of folk music, the line between "authentic" and "entertainment" has been narrowed, to satisfy the core of devotees who know that the real folk music is so much richer, deeper and more durable.
A group of workmen were tearing down a very distillery in the South of Ireland. It had not been used for fifty years and was full of birds' nests. When they reached the vat where the whisky had been stored, they found a small metal pipe leading from it and going into the ground. It had been well hidden. They dug down following it one foot underground till it ended in a small hollow under a tree two hundred yards from the distillery. No one could explain it.
The facts end here, but they suggest strange stories of men long ago stealing to that hollow at night and draining off the whisky out of sight of the distillery.
There is no one to tell of the nights of drinking and song that came out of that pipe but I'm sure some of the Irish drinking songs on this record were sung, as some of them are much older than that distillery.
Drinking and singing have been enjoyed by men everywhere and always. As islands were discovered and jungles penetrated, all new found peoples had songs and some kind of way of making intoxicating drink.
If you hear a lot of singing from your neighbour's home at midnight, you just know there is drinking going on.
In Ireland, people would gather in pubs on fair days and market days when their business of the day had ended to "wet their whistle" and hear a song. A travelling piper, fiddler, singer of fluter would provide sweet music for pennies and a farmer could learn a new song or two.
My Grandmother kept one of these pubs and learned quite a few of the songs one of them being "WHISKY YOU'RE THE DEVIL" which I have not heard elsewhere.
Like Tom, Liam and I, Tommy Makem learned most of his songs from his family, particularly from his mother, Mrs. Sarah Makem, who still lives in Co. Armagh and sings on some records. When Tommy sings "Bold Thady Quill", he is singing about a champion hurler from Co. Cork whom I understand is still alive.
The song "FINNIGAN'S WAKE" gave the title to the famous novel by James Joyce who was interested in Tim Finnigan's resurrection from the dead by having whisky (water of life) poured on him during a fight at the wake.
Most of these songs tell their own story. They are not merely curiosity pieces or antiques; they are still very much alive and are as popular as the drink that inspired them.
Sleeve notes originally by Patrick Clancy
Sleeve Notes: from the Murray Hill 3 LP set
There's always been something to sing about when folk musicians and their admirers get together. But in the spring of 1961, as the upward spiral of the folk-music revival in America went higher and higher, the success of one group caused a particularly joyous outburst of song.
The group we're talking about, it won't surprise you to learn, is none other than the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. And the reason for all the gaiety is that America has taken to its heart these four, tough-fisted, gentle-hearted Irish singers. This is a not altogether unexpected phenomenon. For one thing, it has opened up the floodgates of an entirely new freshet of song for American listeners. And out pours the rushing, clean waters of Irish folk music, with its lilting charm, fierce independence of spirit, melodic inventiveness and whimsical view of life.
Still another reason for being happy about the success of Messrs. Clancy and Makem is that for the first time in this revival the line between "authentic" and "entertainment" has been narrowed.
How often in the past has the American listening audience had to endure only prettied-up and popularized arrangements of folk melodies? Yes, there was always a core of devotees who knew the real article, who said that the real folk music was so much richer, deeper and more durable than anything the popularizers were offering.
What changed? More than anything, it was the taste of the audience that began to change. City people got a sniff of folk music and gradually got curious to know what the unadorned, straight product was like. Somehow the ballads of Jean Ritchie or the craggy voices of southern mountaineers were being taken on their own terms, and appreciated for what they were. The audience began to understand that folk music can sometimes be a bit rough around the edges and not always the most technically polished, yet the conviction and belief and artistry would still be there.
This has been brought about by many performers who have refused to change their standards. Like a bunch of stalwart rocks in an eddying stream, these singers held on firmly to their styles and their ideals of performing. And the Clancys and Tommy Makem, traditional singers all, are turning out to be among the biggest, boldest rocks in the stream.
The group has received the acclaim it justly deserves. They've sung at Carnegie Hall and Town Hall. They've appeared on Ed Sullivan's television show and Arthur Godfrey's radio show. They have recorded for Columbia Records and on their "home" company, Tradition Records. They have appeared twice at Gerde's Folk City, One Sheridan Square, the Blue Angel, the Gate of Horn in Chicago and have also appeared at the Village Gate in Manhattan, the hungry i in San Francisco, the Playboy Club in Chicago, and in Minneapolis with the comic Bob Newhart.
One Greenwich Village "folknik" became worried when she heard that the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem had gone to New York's swank, sophisticated Blue Angel. "Oh, they've gone and and sold out," she fretted, unknowingly. "Nonsense," replied a friend and admirer who knew what they were doing at the Blue Angel. "They haven't changed a bit," he said, "the audience has changed."
It's a long way from home from the Clancy residence, a limestone and mortar, slate-roofed house in Carrick-on-Suir. Tiperarry, to the Blue Angel. And it's an equal distance from Tommy Makem's home in Ready, County Armagh, to the plush room, as he described the place on first seeing it, "with mattresses on the wall."
But the quartet, ramblers, adventurers and actors all. have not changed what they do. There's still the ring of honesty about their songs, there's still the spirit of good fun and infectious happiness that irradiates their work. Tradition is the backbone of folk music and it is often the backbone of strong men in a world where the quick profit and the easy way ouf have become almost symptomatic institutions.
Pat Clancy is the oldest of the clan. He has acted for nearly ten years and sung for more than thirty. He served in the Irish Republican Army and volunteered for the Royal Air Force in World War II. His brother, Tom, is next in age, and is a successful actor on Broadway and television. He has been a cook, a welder and a warrant officer in the R.A.F. Liam has appeared at the Poet's Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., on various television dramatic shows, and done folk-song collecting in the highlands of Scotland and the Southeastern United States. Tommy Makem is the most recent emigre from Ireland, but has been making up for "lost" time with a rigorous schedule of acting and singing, with Pete Seeger and the Clancy's.
Instrumental backing on these records is provided by Bruce Langhorne on guitar, Liam Clancy on guitar. Tommy Makem on pennywhistle, and banjo by Eric Darling. Everyone taps their feet!
For the best of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, there has been chosen a program that runs across all the moods and lines of Irish song.
It's hard to believe that the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem have been with us for more than a decade. But if you want to look at it another way, so many of the changes that have been wrought in our appreciation of folk music can be traced back to their influence, that it is difficult to accept that so much could have been achieved in so short a time.
Nevertheless, it was in the early Sixties that word began to come back across the Atlantic of a group of Irish folk singers was setting America on its ears. Until then folk music, once the common heritage of every man, had been the preserve of the privileged few, the dusty business of folklorists and antiquarians.
The Clancys were part of the movement to take it out of the libraries and museums and put it back where it belongs, in the mouths and hearts of the people, everywhere.
It is a measure of how successful they have been that it is no longer regarded as strange that a folk album could become a million seller and that so many other groups have been able to build upon the foundation they helped to build.
The songs on this album are representative of the repertoire that, until the Clancys started singing them to the world, was in grave danger of being completely forgotten on the library shelves. Not all of them are Irish, for though the Clancys are proud of their ancestry, they are no chauvinists.
The Barnyards of Delgaty, for instance, is a Lowland Scottish song, one of those sung in the bothies, long, ill-lit and badly ventilated huts in which Scottish agricultural workers used to live. Johnny I Hardly Knew You, which I have sung myself on many a long peace march, is a fine anti-war song that is as well known in America as in Ireland. As a result, it also became Americanised during the Civil War as When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.
Boulavogue, the title song of the album, is a stirring old ballad by P. J. McCall, telling of the part played by a rebel priest, Father Murphy, in the rising of 1798. Dominic Behan has a version which puts the Reverend Father's actions in a somewhat less favourable light, but we won't go into that controversy here.
The great Irish folklorist, Colm O Lochlain, says he recalls first hearing The Real Old Mountain Dew being sung by a group of political prisoners released by the English in 1916, which may surprise some who think of rebels singing of nothing but Ireland's ills. Courtin' in the Kitchen as popular in Scotland as Ireland, and in fact John Gay used the same air for a song in "Polly", the less well-known sequel to his "Beggars Opera".
The Bard of Armagh, with its nostalgic look back on the wandering life of Bold Phelim Brady, might well be Tommy Makem's own theme-song, for he comes from Keady in County Armagh. For their part, the Clancys could make a similar claim upon Tipperary Far Away, since their home is in Carrick-on-Suir in that lovely county.
But if I had to pick one song out of this bunch of goodies as my all-time favourite when it comes to raising the roof it would be Finnigan's Wake, the uproarious tale of a funeral that proceeded through post-burial jollity to fisticuffs — and, incidentally, provided the inspiration for James Joyce's famous book. All together now: Tim Finnigan lived in Walkin Street…