Liam Clancy, an Irish troubadour and the last surviving member of the singing Clancy Brothers, who found fame in the United States and helped spread the popularity of Irish folk music around the world, died on Friday in Cork, Ireland. He was 74.
His death was announced by his family and reported on the Web site www.liamclancy.com. He had been treated for pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease, The Associated Press reported.
Wearing white Aran sweaters, the Clancy Brothers, joined by a fellow Irishman, Tommy Makem, won fans with musicality, sentimentality and irreverence, not unlike the Smothers Brothers a few years later, though without their penchant for patter.
Both authentic Irish and expatriate Irish, they were cultural crossovers, and, for a while, celebrities. When they were criticized, it was as the epitome of staged Irishness, as a documentary about Liam Clancy put it.
Mr. Clancy played guitar, sang in a bell-clear baritone, wore a friendly, slightly roguish expression and exuded a humorous world-weariness that made him beloved by his countrymen as quintessentially Irish. But he and his musical clan made their name in America.
It was in 1956 that Mr. Clancy, then 20 or 21 and intending to be an actor, immigrated to the United States, joining two of his older brothers, Tom and Paddy, in New York. He achieved some success as an actor; he and Tom starred as prison guards in a well-received stage dramatization of the Frank O’Connor story "Guests of the Nation," and he appeared on Broadway in a short-lived production of James Costigan’s "Little Moon of Alban."
In the meantime, the brothers and Mr. Makem, a friend of Liam’s who had also immigrated, began singing together, performing rowdy and sentimental Irish folk tunes at clubs and fund-raisers and developing a local following. They recorded on a label established by Paddy Clancy, and in the early 1960s, billed as the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, they made a career-changing appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." They soon found themselves in the midst of the folk music revolution, touring and recording several albums.
Liam Clancy lived in Greenwich Village, where he befriended another young folk singer, Bob Dylan. They dated a pair of sisters, Mr. Clancy told interviewers. Recalling that time in an interview on Irish television two years ago, Mr. Clancy said that he, a Roman Catholic from rural Ireland, and Mr. Dylan, a Jew from a small Minnesota town, shared an important quality.
"People who were trying to escape repressed backgrounds, like mine and Bob Dylan’s, were congregating in Greenwich Village," he said. "It was a place you could be yourself, where you could get away from the directives of the people who went before you, people who you loved but who you knew had blinkers on."
Mr. Dylan told an interviewer in 1984: "I never heard a singer as good as Liam ever. He was just the best ballad singer I’d ever heard in my life. Still is, probably."
Liam Clancy was born on Sept. 2, 1935, the youngest of 11 children, in Carrick-on-Suir, in County Tipperary, Ireland. The family was musical, but he was especially drawn to the stage, and he founded a local dramatic society as a teenager. He came to America at the behest of Diane Hamilton Guggenheim, a folklorist who was touring Ireland on a song-collecting project that brought her to the Clancy home. Through Ms. Guggenheim he met Mr. Makem, whose mother, Sarah, was a well-known singer.
Mr. Clancy set off on a solo career in 1973. He lived for a time in Calgary, Alberta, where he had his own television show. Later, he and Mr. Makem teamed up again and performed as a duo throughout the 1980s. Together they made some of Mr. Clancy’s most memorable recordings, including "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" and "The Dutchman." Mr. Clancy’s memoir, "The Mountain of the Women," was published in 2002. The documentary about his life, "The Yellow Bittern," was released this year.
Tom Clancy died in 1990. Paddy Clancy died in 1998. Mr. Makem died in 2007. Liam Clancy is survived by his wife, Kim; two sisters, Joan and Peg; five children, Eban, Siobhan, Anya, Donal and Fiona; and eight grandchildren.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 9, 2009 An obituary on Saturday about the Irish folk musician Liam Clancy included several errors. He died on Friday, not Thursday. The title of the Frank O’Connor story that formed the basis of a play in which Mr. Clancy and his brother Tom appeared is "Guests of the Nation," not "The Guests of the Nation." And a list of survivors omitted a daughter, Anya.
Last surviving member of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, the Irish folk group who found success in the US
Friday, December 4, 2009
"The best ballad singer I ever heard in my life" was Bob Dylan's verdict on Liam Clancy, who has died aged 74. He was the last remaining member of the best-known of all Irish folk groups, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, who made an impression that was strong enough for them to break through into the mainstream. The popularity of the quartet, comprising Liam, his older brothers Tom and Pat and family friend Tommy, was unrivalled in the 1960s, especially in the US, where the four men had settled. With their hard-living, hard-drinking image, singing Irish folk songs in a hearty and rousing style, the Aran sweater-clad Clancys inspired Irish bands of all musical genres. Among those who have claimed an influence are Sinéad O'Connor, the Pogues, Bono and the Dubliners.
Liam was the youngest of the nine children of Bob and Johanna Clancy of Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary. Liam's two older brothers had already emigrated to the US, and stories of their acting experiences in New York fired the imagination of the younger brother, who was already passionately interested in poetry and the theatre.
Reluctantly, Liam followed his father into the insurance business, but a spell in Dublin in 1953 allowed him to take acting lessons, and he was an extra in the Gaiety theatre's production of JM Synge's The Playboy of the Western World. He bought a guitar, left the world of insurance and returned home.
A visit from an American folksong collector in 1955 changed Liam's life forever. Diane Hamilton was the daughter of Harry Guggenheim; she changed her name to disguise her wealthy background, and landed in Ireland with a tape recorder and a seemingly bottomless purse. Having met Tom and Pat Clancy in New York, she turned up on the Clancy family's doorstep, recorded Mrs Clancy's songs and then set out, accompanied by Liam, to record folk music from, among others, Sarah Makem, whose son, Tommy, shared Liam's aspirations to be an actor in New York.
In 1956, Clancy set off for New York with Hamilton, 13 years his senior and twice divorced, and was immediately exposed to bohemian life in Greenwich Village, as well as wealth in the Guggenheim homes. Hamilton became obsessed with Liam, but his strict Catholic upbringing would not allow him to consummate the relationship. The story was told in Clancy's autobiography The Mountain of the Women: Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour (2002).
With his brothers' help, Liam got parts in several plays by WB Yeats, and he acted alongside Walter Matthau, Robert Redford and Dirk Bogarde. He also worked for Tradition Records (established with Guggenheim money), which released The Rising of the Moon (1956), a collection of Irish rebel songs sung by the three Clancy brothers and Tommy Makem, who had followed Liam to the US. The singing evolved from the informal evenings at the White Horse Tavern, Greenwich Village, where Dylan Thomas had taken his final drink, but it was not until their second album, a selection of drinking songs, Come Fill Your Glass With Us (1958), that the concert bookings started to come in.
They rejected a formal concert performance style, and simply transferred the raucous informality of the White Horse Tavern to the concert stage, though this was later carefully stage-managed. Soon, they were singing in New York, Boston and San Francisco nightclubs, but it was at the swish Blue Angel in New York that they were spotted by scouts from The Ed Sullivan Show. Their appearance on the television programme, in early 1961, when their two-song slot was extended to 15 minutes after the main act cancelled, made them famous. Columbia Records offered them a five-year contract and a six-figure advance.
Just before that celebrated performance, Mrs Clancy sent them four Aran sweaters to keep out the winter cold. The sweaters became their trademark, although under stage lights they were uncomfortably hot. The group reawakened an awareness of traditional Irish song, and after a period in which the old songs had been associated with the poverty and oppression of the past, they restored pride in Irish cultural traditions. Their upbeat, lively performance style reinvigorated the old songs, such as Brennan On the Moor, Jug of Punch and Fine Girl You Are. Accompaniment came from Liam's guitar and Makem's whistle and banjo.
By the end of 1961, they had released two more records, appeared on television and radio across America and performed at New York's Carnegie Hall. Radio exposure back in Ireland led to a sellout tour there in 1962, followed by visits to Britain, Australia and Canada. In 1963, they sang for President John F Kennedy. The following year, a third of all albums sold in Ireland were theirs.
Makem left the group in 1969, and was initially replaced by the other Clancy brother, Bobby, before the group disbanded in 1974. Liam was beset by financial problems that led to bankruptcy and emigration to Canada, where he found his feet as a solo performer and had his own television series.
In 1975, Liam teamed up again with Makem, and Eric Bogle's song "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" made their first album together a great success. After 13 years together, Liam returned to his solo career.
In 1977, the Clancy Brothers reunited, but without Liam. In 1984, the original lineup reformed briefly to make a television documentary and perform in the US, Ireland and Britain. Liam rejoined in 1991 following the death of Tom Clancy, only to leave again in 1996. Liam and nephew Robbie O'Connell formed a duo, and were later joined by Liam's son Donal.
Pat Clancy died in 1998, and Bobby in 2002. Liam continued as a solo performer, singing traditional folksongs and adding modern examples by songwriters such as Tom Paxton, the Pogues' Shane MacGowan and Ewan MacColl. The publication of his autobiography led to a resurgence of interest, with appearances on American and Irish television.
His 70th birthday year, 2005, was celebrated with a major tour, followed by a TV documentary, The Legend of Liam Clancy, in 2006. Two years later came his final CD, The Wheels of Life, with guest appearances by Irish singer Mary Black, Paxton and Donovan. Last September a film documentary about Liam, The Yellow Bittern, was released in Ireland.
Liam settled in Ring, County Waterford, with his wife Kim, who survives him, along with their four children, Eben, Fiona, Donal and Siobhan, and a daughter, Anya, from a previous relationship.
Liam (William) Clancy, folk singer, born 2 September 1935; died 4 December 2009
Liam Clancy, who died on December 4 aged 74, was the last surviving member of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, the first and arguably the most authentic of the Irish folk groups to make an impact far beyond their homeland over the last half-century; rated by Bob Dylan "the best ballad singer I ever heard in my life", he was also a fine guitarist.
Hailed by Gay Byrne as "one of the most famous four Irishmen in the world", Clancy led the vocals in a group whose members between them recorded 55 albums with sales running into millions. With their repertoire of drinking, rebel and love songs, they paved the way for — and influenced — The Dubliners, the Spinners, the Pogues, Bono, Sinead O'Connor and others.
Liam, his brothers Tom and Pat (from Co Tipperary) and Tommy, from Co Armagh, took audiences by storm. Folk song purists, of whom there are many, never found fault with their material or its execution; yet even on disc their enthusiasm bubbled over, not least because such tracks as Whiskey, You're The Devil and Mick McGuire sounded as if they had been recorded in a crowded pub late at night — as they quite possibly were.
While Liam Clancy developed his his talents in Ireland, the group made its greatest impact in the United States. His brothers had emigrated to New York in the mid-1950s — in part because the authorities had become interested in their involvement with the IRA — but Liam went as an actor and musician.
William Clancy was born at Carrick-on-Suir on September 2 1935, the youngest of nine surviving children of Bob and Joanna Clancy, and was schooled by the Christian Brothers. Already staging amateur productions of plays by Yeats and Synge, he abandoned a career in insurance and joined Dublin's Gaiety Theatre to appear in The Playboy Of The Western World. Thereafter he was known as Liam.
When in 1955 an American song collector, who had met the elder Clancys in New York, called with her tape recorder, Liam fell under her spell. They set off together to record Ireland's finest singers, encountering Makem for the first time.
Diane Hamilton was in fact a Guggenheim, her efforts to conceal her origins undermined by her lavish spending in an Ireland still mired in poverty. Her visit gave Clancy the impetus to join his brothers, but while infatuated with this woman twice divorced and 13 years his senior, he refused as a Catholic to consummate the relationship.
Clancy acted on Broadway alongside Dirk Bogarde, Walter Matthau and Robert Redford, but in the evenings joined his brothers and Tommy Makem drinking and singing at the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village. Within months they recorded their first album, The Rising of the Moon (1956), a collection of rebel songs.
Next came Come Fill Your Glass With Us (1958), still one of the most refreshing collections of Irish drinking songs. As bookings poured in from theatres and night clubs, they did their best to retain the atmosphere of the Irish bar-room with its intimacy, its raucousness and its craic.
The Ed Sullivan Show made household names of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. They were booked to appear in March 1961, performing just two songs, but the headline act dropped out and they ended with an unprecedented 16 minutes; on the strength of their performance Columbia Records offered them a lucrative five-year contract.
The Sullivan appearance also gave them their trademark: the thick Aran sweaters the Clancys' mother had sent for the show. Posted thoughtfully to keep out the New York cold, the group wore them thereafter, regardless of the temperature.
A sellout concert at Carnegie Hall was followed by tours of Ireland — where they then had a one-third share of the record market — Britain, Australia and Canada and — shortly before his assassination — a sing-song for President Kennedy at the White House. In New York, Clancy and Bob Dylan dated two sisters for a time.
After Makem left in 1969 the group disbanded and reformed several times; Liam Clancy went bankrupt before building a successful solo career in Canada. He briefly teamed up again with Makem, then rejoined his brothers in 1984 for a one-off tour on both sides of the Atlantic and a television documentary; from 1991 he performed with his brothers Bobby and Pat.
Liam observed of his brothers that "when they all died off, I got to the top of the pecking order. Nobody looking over your shoulder — there's a great sense of freedom about that."
Tom Clancy died in 1990, Pat in 1998 and Bobby in 2002, after which Liam Clancy continued solo, celebrating his 70th birthday with a major tour. His final album, Wheels of Life, was released earlier this year. He lived latterly at Ring, Co Waterford.
Liam Clancy is survived by his wife Kim, their four children and a daughter from a previous relationship.
Liam Clancy: Folk singer who helped popularise Irish traditional music in the United States and around the world
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
On 12 March 1961, a little-known quartet of Irish folk musicians based in New York got the biggest break of their lives. They had managed to get invited on to The Ed Sullivan Show, a TV variety programme then reaching an estimated 80 million viewers across the US. Although originally scheduled to perform just two songs, they were asked to fill in for a quarter of an hour after the last-minute cancellation of the headline act. With their trademark Aran sweaters, rousing country ballads and songs of drinking and rebellion sung in lusty brogues, they became stars overnight. "It was better than a blessing from the Pope," they would later famously quip of their show-stealing appearance.
Liam sang bass in their four-part harmonies, and although the youngest member of the group — which included his brothers Paddy and Tom Clancy plus their friend Tommy Makem — he was usually their featured singer and guitarist, often leading the easy-going onstage banter they became known for. Having almost single-handedly popularised Irish traditional music in the United States, they were embraced as conquering heroes on their return to Ireland and inspired scores of imitators, fuelling a short-lived vogue for long-forgotten Irish folk ballads.
At the peak of their popularity in Ireland in the early 1960s, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem outsold The Beatles, recording definitive versions of songs such as "The Irish Rover", "The Jug of Punch" and "The Rising Of The Moon" and inspiring generations of Irish and American musicians, including an impressionable young Bob Dylan.
"I never heard a singer as good as Liam, ever. He was just the best ballad singer I'd ever heard in my life," Dylan once recalled of his early impression of Liam, when they were both musicians on the make in the same bohemian Greenwich Village scene that offered an escape from their repressive, provincial backgrounds.
Clancy was one of 11 children (two of whom died in infancy) and grew up in an environment where singing and amateur dramatics were second nature. While still a teenager, he moved to Dublin to pursue a career in insurance, as his father had done, but soon drifted back towards the arts, founding The Brewery Lane Theatre and Arts Centre, and performing at The Gaiety Theatre.
In 1955, the American song collector Diane Hamilton Guggenheim turned up at the Clancy homestead and recorded several members of the family, including Liam, who then accompanied her to Keady in Co. Armagh, where they encountered the renowned singer Sarah Makem. Within a year, Liam and her son Tommy had become firm friends and emigrated to New York, where Liam's older brothers Paddy and Tom were acting at The Cherry Lane Theatre and doing TV work. To supplement their meagre income, they also began to stage late-night concerts. Using money from Hamilton's wealthy family, Paddy also set up the Tradition Records label in order to release the Hamilton recordings as The Lark In The Morning as well as material by American roots musicians such as Odetta and Josh White. The following year, they also recorded The Rising Of The Moon, an album of Irish rebel songs.
The singing slowly eclipsed their acting careers, and they began to get regular gigs in Manhattan pubs such as The Lion's Head and The White Horse, where Dylan first heard them, and was moved by their "rebellion songs". He soon struck up a friendship with Liam and at one stage they even courted sisters. The group's second album Come Fill Your Glass With Us (1959) led to gigs further afield, and eventually drew them to the attention of Sullivan's talent scouts. After producer John Hammond saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show, he signed them to Colombia for a five-album deal and their career went stellar.
By 1962, they were filling Carnegie Hall, and their hugely popular tour of Ireland in 1962 sparked a revival of interest in traditional Irish ballads, but later drew criticism that they had commercialised the music. Tours of Australia, Canada and the UK followed, and they sold millions of albums during the 1960s. By the end of the decade, Makem left the group and was replaced by Bobby Clancy, but in 1974 they eventually disbanded.
Liam had left the group in 1973 and settled in Alberta, Canada to escape bankruptcy. There, he resurrected his career with his own TV show. He had already released his eponymous solo album in 1965, and now followed it up with Farewell to Tarwaithie (1974), striking out as a solo performer. He reunited with Tommy Makem in 1975, and for the next 13 years, they performed as a duo, recording half a dozen albums together. Liam's rendition of "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" from this time would become a staple of his repertoire. The Clancy Brothers reformed without Liam in 1977 but he did rejoin in 1984 for a documentary and tour in 1984 and 1991 (after Tom Clancy's death). However, by 1996, he had left again, and formed a group with his nephew Robbie O'Connell and his son Dónal, which resulted in two albums.
In his autobiography The Mountain of the Women: Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour (2002) he talked frankly about his problems with women, the children he fathered anonymously and how the alcohol he had so often sung about had nearly ruined him. The book sparked a revival of interest and a fresh round of media appearances in the US and Ireland. In 2005, he embarked on a triumphant "70 Years On" tour, and the following year, the TV documentary The Legend Of Liam Clancy celebrated his life. His third and final solo album The Wheels of Life (2008) featured guest appearances by Mary Black, Donovan and Tom Paxton.
The last surviving member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, he spent his final years in Dungarvan, Co. Wexford, living in Ireland's first purpose-built solar-powered house. Last year, a further in-depth documentary, The Yellow Bittern, told his story once again.
William (Liam) Clancy, singer and musician: born Carrick on Suir, Tipperary, Ireland 2 September 1935; married (two daughters, two sons, and one daughter from a previous relationship); died Cork 4 December 2009.