Wednesday 30 December 2009

Top 100 Songs on Celtic Crush

Top 100 Songs played on Celtic Crush as voted by listeners Oct. '09

Catch Celtic Crush is a three hour show on SiriusXM Satellite Radio hosted by Larry Kirwan every Saturday morning at 7AM ET, with a reairing at 11PM ET Tuesday nights on The Spectrum, Ch. 18 Sirius/Ch. 45 XM

1 Northwest Passage – Stan Rogers
2 Lisdoonvarna – Christy Moore
3 Kilkelly – Moloney/Keane/O’Connell
4 The Galway Girl – Steve Earle
5 Raglan Road – Van Morrison & The Chieftains
6 Say You Love Me – Sharon Shannon/Dessie O’Halloran
7 Sing All Our Cares Away – Damien Dempsey
8 Wacko King Hacko – Peatbog Faeries
9 The Big Fellah – Black 47
10 Empty Glens – Runrig
11 Green Fields of France – The Furey Brothers & Davy Arthur
12 Birches – Bill Morrissey
13 Ora Se Do Bheath Abhaile – Sinead O’Connor
14 The Band Played Waltzing Matilda – Liam Clancy
15 Life’s Like That, Isn’t It – Larry Kirwan
16 Menez – Alan Stivell
17 Wedding Reel – Lunasa
18 Whistles The Wind – Flogging Molly
19 Whiskey in the Jar – Thin Lizzy
20 Fields of Athenry – Paddy Reilly
21 Funky Ceili – Black 47
22 Fairy Tale of New York – The Pogues
23 Arthur McBride & The Sergeant – Paul Brady
24 Beeswing – Richard Thompson
25(T) Buile Mo Chroi – John Spillane and Louis De Paor
25(T) Dirty Old Town – The Pogues
27 Travelling People – Turner & Kirwan of Wexford
28 Scarlet Begonias – Wake The Dead
29 Ocean and a Rock – Lisa Hannigan
30 Fairy Tale of New York – Christy Moore
31(T) The Rocky Road To Dublin – The Dubliners
31(T) Downpressor Man – Sinead O’Connor
33 One Starry Night – Davy Spillane
34 Into The Mystic – Van Morrison
35 First Light of the Day – Paddy A Go Go
36 James Connolly - Black 47
37 Matty Groves – Fairport Convention
38 Fishermen’s Blues – The Waterboy
39 Thousands Are Sailing – The Pogues
40 Shipping Up To Boston – Dropkick Murphys
41 Star of the County Down – Van Morrison & The Chieftains
42 Fanatic Heart – Black 47
43 N 17 – The Saw Doctors
44 Home For a Rest – Spirit of the West
45 Johnny, I Hardly Knew You
46 One – Johnny Cash
47 Patriot Game – The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem
48 Black Velvet Band – Dropkick Murphys
49 Laid – James
50 Delirium Tremens – Christy Moore
51 Aisling Gheal – Seamus Heaney/Liam Og O’Flynn
52 Never Any Good With Money – Martin Simpson
53 Sweet Sixteen – The Furey Brothers/Davy Arthur
54 Here Comes The Night – Them
55 Wild Rover – Dropkick Murphys
56 Emerald – Voodoo Loons
57 Amazing Grace – Flatfoot 56
58 Kilroy Was Here – Larry Kirwan
59 I Was Watching You – Rosanne Cash
60 Rainy Night in Soho – The Pogues
61 Halelujiah – Jeff Buckley
62 Sunshine Serenade – The Mighty Stef
63 Downtown Baghdad Blues – Black 47
64 Tobacco Island – Flogging Molly
65 Release – Afro-Celt
66 Hard Times in Old England – Billy Bragg
67 The Parting Glass – The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem
68 Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway – Finbar & Eddie Furey
69 If I Should Fall From Grace – The Pogues
70 Welcome To The Cabaret - Christy Moore
71 Nobody’s Baby Now – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
72 All Around My Hat – Steeleye Span
73 Wexford – Pecker Dunne
74 1952 Vincent Black Lightning – Richard Thompson
75 Rocky Takes a Lover – Bell X1
76 Baisteach – John Spillane & Louis De Paor
77 Muirsheen Durkin – Johnny McEvoy
78 Man You Don’t Meet Every Day – Sharon Kaye
79 Livin’ in America – Black 47
80 Lord Offaly – David McWilliams
81 Rock on Rockall – The Wolfe Tones
82 Si Do Mhamo – Hothouse Flowers
83 Zombie – Dolores Riordan
84 Street of Dreams – The Oysterband
85 Ride On – Christy Moore
86 Love Is Teasing – The Chieftains
87 It Makes No Difference – The Band
88 Leaving of Liverpool – Gaelic Storm
89 The West Coast of Clare – Planxty
90 Pipe Solo – The Bothy Band
91 The Musical Priest – Cora Smyth
92 Sleepy Maggie – Ashley MacIsaacs
93 Mingulay Boat Song – The Makem and Spain Brothers
94 The Battle of Aughrim – The Chieftains
95 Wicklow Hills – Pierce Turner
96 Caledonia – Dougie Maclean
97 Carrickfergus – Van Morrison & The Chieftains
98 The Blue Idol – Altan
99 On a Sea of Fleur De Lis – Solas
100 Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses – U2

Catch Celtic Crush every Saturday morning at 7AM ET, with a reairing at 11PM ET Tuesday nights.

Monday 28 December 2009

Irish Soul

Notes from a lecture/performance given at Princeton University, Dec. 4th, 2009

The soul of a nation courses through its poetry and music. You can also catch glimpses of it peeping out through the pages of history and occasionally through the ideals of its political movements.

Yeats referred obliquely to it as the “fanatic heart;” while Patrick Kavanagh saw it in much earthier terms as a spirit that emanated from his stony little fields, infecting the country people, causing them to break their religious and social strictures, and get into all manner of mischief.

Sean O’Riada recognized it in the traditional music of Ireland. He grabbed this force by the scruff of the neck and dragged it screaming into the 20th Century where many of us have injected varying degrees of it into modern songs and sounds.

It was back in Wexford where I grew up that I first became aware of this distinctive spirit that for want of anything better I’ll call “Irish soul.” Wexford town was very old, Ptolemy had noted it on his maps, Henry II did penance in Selskar Abbey for the murder of Thomas a’Beckett, while Cromwell and his army of bigots gained entrance through the West Gate and slaughtered both laity and clergy. After the insurrection of 1798 its citizens declared the liberated area a Free French Republic; even the Uncrowned King, Charles Stewart Parnell, was arrested for preaching sedition in the local Imperial Hotel - where later I would perform in punk ensembles. The very stones of the old town oozed history.

And yet, as often happens, the inhabitants of Wexford, for the most part, went about their daily business with little thought of history or politics. In fact many of them seemed to be almost in denial of the past; or was that studied nonchalance a cloak worn to ward off the addictive appeal of past grievances? That seemed to be the case for many citizens of the Republic of Ireland during the Troubles of the last 40 years - keep the bloody thing isolated up North and, for God’s sake, don’t let it spill over the border – a nearly impossible task give that the Troubles themselves were fomented by fanatic hearts full to the brim of simmering Irish soul.

My father and his side of the family wanted nothing whatsoever to do with this “madness.” My granduncle had joined the British Army and was killed on the Western Front in 1916. My grandfather was a well-to-do cattle dealer whose business activities were curtailed by DeValera’s Economic War of the 1930’s. Meanwhile, my father - a merchant marine - would only sail with British shipping companies. Like many Wexford people, he was thoroughly convinced that Irish history was a disaster, radical politics was for eejits, and any form of traditional music or the native language could be summed up in two dismissive words – “Auld Irish!” Indeed, in his later years, he had a sneaking admiration for the Iron Lady herself, Mrs. Thatcher – the very antithesis of Irish soul.

But I hailed from a mixed family, as my maternal grandfather who raised me not only believed in the power of the Irish soul, he felt that it should be cherished and nourished and that it behooved each generation of Irish people to help bring about a solution of the British problem in the North of Ireland.

He was a stonecutter whose father had escaped the worst of the famine years of 1845-1847 by gaining employment on the construction of one of the great Anglo-Irish houses. But this great-grandfather of mine had heard the moans of the famine victims dying in ditches and he made my grandfather promise that these people should never be forgotten. My Grandfather made no bones about his wish that I should carry on that tradition. Hence, when we set out to form a band that would hopefully be infused by Irish soul, and deal with things political, we chose the name Black 47.

I was awash in all my grandfather’s accounts of Irish history. This knowledge rarely came from books though like many self-educated men of that period he had amassed his own library. He had seen the great men of his day visit Wexford and give speeches: James Connolly, Jim Larkin, Eamonn DeValera and Michael Collins. He passed on eyewitness accounts of these icons and seemed to rate them by their measure of Irish soul. Thus, Big Jim Larkin was a mighty man, but James Connolly a troublemaker; Mick Collins a marvel (though he would later turn against him) and DeValera, principled though with little heart.

But he didn’t just stop at the political. Like, the poet, Kavanagh, my grandfather recognized that the very land, the mountains, the lakes and the valleys were a repository of the Irish soul, but that such soul was often unpredictable and could cause grief. As we drove around County Wexford on Sunday afternoons, there wasn’t a fairy rath or lucky tree, a holy well or a sacred hill that he didn’t recognize and tip his cap to. And in each of the old people’s houses that we visited, we’d meet likeminded people who dated the banishment of ghosts and such things to the introduction of the electric light. And as the evenings grew darker they would sit by the light of the fire allowing these spirits a chance to dance out of the shadows and mingle with them again as they had in the time of oil lamps and candles.

My grandfather had much time for the tinkers or traveling people, as they’re now known. No one knew where these people came from – had they been pushed off the land by Cromwell’s soldiers or taken to the roads during the famine years? It didn’t matter; he recognized the soul within them and felt that they were closest to the old hidden Ireland. They would arrive at his stone yard, the women in colored shawls, the men with their pockets stuffed full of five, ten and twenty pound notes. They were poor people who mostly lived in caravans by the side of the road but when one died, they did not stint. They would come from all over the county and beyond, and order great ornate headstones and statues, then pay on the spot. He once told me that they alone “recognized the majesty of death and one could learn much from them.”

I learned something from them too but it had more to do with life. Because of their itinerant nature, they had not been coated with the same stifling lacquer of Victorian conformity that smothered the rest of the country. They still retained the old links to the Irish soul and wore those links on their sleeve, though most of us settled Irish never had the eyes to see them.

I was thirteen or fourteen at the time and mad for the Beatles and other forms of pop music. And yet I was having trouble reconciling I Want to Hold Your Hand to the complexities of puberty and sexual awakening. Then one day coming from school I happened upon a large group of tinkers in the very narrow confines of John’s Gate Street. They rarely appeared in numbers unless celebrating weddings or funerals. Even then they were wary of outsiders and would have sent me packing; however, one of them had begun to sing. He was obviously someone of stature for their total attention was focused upon him. He sat on the ground outside Kielty’s Pub, a large bottle of Guinness balanced between his legs. He could have been an old-looking forty or a young looking sixty, and he had hair the color of dirty snow. Thin and hawk-faced, his eyes closed, he sang about a woman, by name of Molly Bán (bawn being the Gaelic for white, or of fair complexion). The song concerned jealousy, pain and loss, and Molly Bán’s love for two men, one of whom she leaves for the other. There was a raging, if contained, sexuality in the lyrics and delivery that I’d never heard before, and I learned from this probably illiterate man that soul will always trump literateness and convention crumbles before the fanatic heart.

The song stayed with me and I recently added a counter-melody and some words to help it on its way in a new century; hopefully I’ve retained the soul that gave it birth.

One Starry Night
One starry night as I lay sleepin’
One starry night as I lay in bed
Dreamed I heard wagon wheels a’creakin’
When I awoke, love, found you had fled

I’ll search the highways, likewise the byways
I’ll search the boreens, the camping places too
I will inquire of all our people
Have they tide or tidings or sign of you

For it’s many the mile, love, with you I’ve traveled
Many the hour, love, with you I’ve spent
Dreamed you were my love forever
But now I find, love, you were only lent

I’ll go across the seas to England
To London or to Birmingham
And in some public house I’ll find you
Lamenting your lost love back home

I’m drunk today, I’m seldom sober
A handsome rover from town to town
When I am dead, my story ended
Molly Bán a stórín, come lay me down

One starry night as I lay sleepin’
One starry night as I lay in bed
Dreamed I heard wagon wheels a’creakin’
Now that you’re gone, love, I might as well be dead

I eventually left my grandfather and his Irish soul behind and emigrated to Greenwich Village in the 1970’s. In fact I would imagine I’m one of the few people here who remembers Professor Sean Wilentz as a gangling clerk in his father’s bookstore on 8th Street. He and I frequented The Bells of Hell, a saloon of some notoriety on 13th Street and Sixth Avenue. This haven of lost souls was owned by a lovable rascal, bon vivant, liberal shock-jock, and writer, Malachy McCourt. It was full of gangling book store clerks, revolutionaries, failed priests and Christian Brothers, communists with drinking problems, musicians, hardened newspapermen, dope dealers, music critics, card sharps, refugees from respectability, bankrupt bookies and an ever-changing coterie of young ladies from the nearby Evangeline Residence.

I was a member of Turner & Kirwan of Wexford, the house band of this roiling, rollicking establishment. One of the trade-offs for the weekend residency in the back room was that you were required to play a lot of benefits. These were usually for Leftist causes; the Right drank in the Bells, but were often circumspect about their various leanings. Thus we played for Vietnam Vets against the War, Legalization of Marijuana, Gay Rights, British Coalminers, any organization hostile to Mrs. Thatcher, and the full spectrum of the movement for change in the North of Ireland. It was at these latter events that I caught my first glimpses of the Irish soul on American soil. Oh, I’d seen green beer and plastic shamrocks on Saint Patrick’s Day, yet that all seemed little more than skin deep. But at these functions and in similar situations in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx I was brought face to face with a hidden Irish-America where ancient scores still had need of settling. I was transported straight back to my grandfather’s house where what was called Republicanism went beyond mere politics – it was more akin to a religion. What I saw in the back rooms of New York City saloons had crossed the Atlantic within emigrant hearts and predated republicanism. In fact, it went way back beyond Cromwell and even Red Hugh O’Donnell. When I first came in contact with it, this force was diffuse and directionless. Then in 1980 it galvanized outside the British Consulate on Third Avenue.

Reading from Green Suede Shoes, Bobby Sands chapter, page 167

Black 47 has a T-shirt whose emblem is a heart ripped through by barbed wire. We call it the Fanatic Heart. It speaks to me of what often happens when the Irish soul is touched by sectarianism or inflexible ideology. Though I often employ the Irish soul when writing for Black 47, I’m ever mindful that it is a powerful, primal and often indiscriminate force that is particularly potent when combined with rock & roll and alcohol. You can use it to make a point but never to preach or, god forbid, control. For you have no idea what seed it has planted in people long after the bar is closed or the iPod switched off. “Did that play of mine send out certain men the English Shot? Did words of mine put too great a strain on that woman's reeling brain?” Almost a hundred years ago, Yeats worried about his own employment of the fanatic heart; and even the least of his acolytes would do well to heed his warning.

Still, the Irish soul is our heritage and we’re fools if we don’t use it. There are times though when it has need of a spark. I can relate to and write about anything stretching back to the 1840’s for I had a grandfather whose father spoke to him of such times, so I can, at least, metaphorically touch them. I can even find my way back to Wexford’s rebellion of 1798 because I grew up on its streets and can still hear whispers of it in the old stones. I had a boyhood hero, however, Red Hugh O’Donnell. Much as I empathized with him, I was unable to find the key to unlock his particular psyche. What could I begin to know of a man who blazed across Ireland in the late 16th Century?

He was the young prince of Tirconaill or Donegal, as we now know it. Kidnapped by the English when 15, he was held hostage in Dublin Castle to prevent his clan and relatives from rebelling. He escaped during a snowstorm on Christmas night, 1592 and instead of heading north towards Donegal he headed south into the Wicklow Mountains where he suffered frostbite and lost a number of toes. When he finally made it back to Donegal, he put to the sword many relatives and friends who had collaborated with the English. Joining forces with Hugh O’Neill, Prince of Tyrone, they drove the English before them. However, they were defeated at the Battle of Kinsale on Christmas Eve, 1601; whereupon Red Hugh set sail for the court of King Philip in Spain to seek an army. One can imagine the wild young Prince of Donegal adrift amidst the intrigue of the sophisticated Spanish court. To add to his problems he was constantly under threat from Queen Elizabeth who had dispatched agents to poison him.

I could sense the wild Irish soul of Red Hugh but couldn’t touch it until I became interested in Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance and enemy of the Taliban. He and other Afghani leaders shared many qualities with Red Hugh - religious fundamentalists, paranoid and egotistical, at war with invading modern armies, pawns of great empires, their semi-feudal times coming to an end.

This is a song about Red Hugh O’Donnell on his last night at the court of King Philip, but it could just as well be about Ahmad Shah Massoud on the night before he was assassinated by agents of Osama Bin Laden.

Another sleepless night
On a foreign shore
Candle flickers by my bed
Locks bolt my door
I drink too much wine
But it gives my brain relief
Stops the meanderings
That root me from my sleep

I stare out at the night
From a sweat-soaked bed
The Queen lays plots in London
But she won’t have my head
The candle gutters
The smell sweeps me back
To the icy fields of Kinsale
The bodies burning black

Fire and lightning protect Tirconaill
Fire and brimstone rain down on London
They’ll long remember Red Hugh O’Donnell

I could not join that battle
I gave orders from my horse
Wicklow snows had withered
The toes inside my boots
Still a fever of anxiety
Racks my bones
All my friends dead
On Kinsale’s icy roads

Oh were I back in Ulster
I’d dive in Swilly’s foam
Her crystal waters
Would soothe my soul
Dispatches from O’Neill
He grows old and cautious
Our allies are deserting
My blade would rip their stomachs

If Philip won’t help
I’ll return alone
O’Neill longs for an armistice
What profit in a peace
With a queen who’ll break her word
I swear to God
That bitch will taste my sword

I’ll drag her red wig from her head
Pull out her poisoned tongue
I must get back to Ulster
The candle is dead
There’s footsteps at my door
They halt
I’m tormented by that whore

Who waits at court in London
For word of my demise
Her agents hunt me everywhere
But I will not be taken
By any of her men
My head will not grace London’s spike
I’ll fight her to the end

Tonight I sup with James Blake
An honest man is he
He’s promised me three ships of war
We’ll sweep Lizzie from her throne
I will take my place
High King of the Irish
Defender of my Faith

With O’Neill as my adviser
O’Byrne at my side
I’ll rule with justice
But now the dawn is breaking
On this foreign shore
I will arise and say my prayers
Tomorrow I’ll go home

Fire and lightning protect Tirconaill
Fire and brimstone rain down on London
They’ll long remember Red Hugh O’Donnell

One of the problems in employing this Irish soul is that it cares nothing for expediency. Hitch a ride on its tail and you’d better be prepared for stormy weather. Pragmatism is not one of its strongest suits and it cares little for the fact that you may wish to make a living from your art. This demon knows only one way, and that’s forward! Follow your Irish soul and you will toss feathers, lose friends and end up tilting at as many windmills as real enemies.

Perhaps it was because I had prior experience in the murky world of Irish politics but it never occurred to me that we were going into Iraq over “weapons of mass destruction.” War was inevitable - the die had already been cast. 9/11 was the perfect smoke screen. And so Black 47 opposed that war long before the first rocket was fired. People would say, “Listen, American bands aren’t coming out and risking anything, why should an Irish band do so?” And we would reply, “We are an American band. We live in this country and vote here. It would be unpatriotic not to oppose a war of choice.”

And so we did at every gig until your stomach would churn going onstage and you’d be thinking, “Maybe tonight we’ll give it a break. Maybe tonight we’ll just do songs of drinking and dancing, loving and leaving, and forget about the bloody politics, just have a good time.” And then your stomach would feel better and you’d blast out the party songs and everything would be hunky dory. But then something would start to nag at you and pull you this way and that, and before you knew it, you had lashed out the opening chords of Downtown Baghdad Blues and every barstool patriot was looking up from their drinks and glowering at you. But you didn’t give a goddamn because it wasn’t just you speaking. It was that crazy Irish soul nipping at you and worrying you and saying, “To hell with your drinking and dancing, let’s hear about real life and American kids in Baghdad and Irish kids in Belfast, and before you knew it your fanatic heart was ratcheting way up past 160 and pumping out of your chest, and you didn’t care what the wannabe marines thought about you because you knew the real marines in Ramadi and Fallujah, and Kabul and Kandahar, were listening to your songs and hearing their own stories and grooving along with them and that was all that counted.

And that’s how this finishes – with a song from Black 47’s last album, IRAQ, about an Irish-American kid from the Mid-West who loves old movies. He’s stationed in Baghdad and his job is to drive an armored vehicle through hostile Sadr City. He becomes obsessed with the murals and pictures of Moqtada (Mookie) Al Sadr, leader of the militant Shiite religious party. Whenever the young soldier looks at Mookie, he sees Orson Wells with a beard. And as the danger thickens, he can feel his fanatic heart beginning to beat faster, and that crazy Irish soul that he inherited from dispossessed 19th Century immigrants is alive and focused and ready to kick arse any old day of the week in downtown Baghdad.

I’m going down to Sadr City
Ain’t expectin’ much of a good time
I’m goin’ down to Sadr City
Check out the scene of the crime
Only one thing on my mind, babe
Gotta get out of this joint alive

Hey, Mookie run the show there
That man ain’t big on gettin’ high
Hey, Mookie run the show there
Ain’t exactly a down home kind of guy
Don’t go in for drinkin’ or dancin’ much
Got God on his mind, big time

Hey, I wish I was back in the Green Zone
Where the whiskey’s runnin’ free
Instead of sittin’ in a Hummer
With the Mahdi shootin’ at me
Oh, Sadr City,
Hillbilly armor protectin’ me
If I gotta be in this sweat-box
Least you can do is look out for me

Hey, I wish I was back in the US
Where the ladies look divine
Instead of checkin’ out burkas
47s in their linin’
Oh, Sadr City,
I wish you would let me be
Hey, Mister Mookie, man,
Someday you’re gonna be the death of me

I’m going down to Sadr City
Ain’t expectin’ much of a good time
I’m goin’ down to Sadr City, babe
Check out the scene of the crime
I came over to liberate your ass
Now all I want to do is get out of here alive

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Christmas Eve

I still remember that bicycle. It was shiny and royal blue, and it had stood in Alfie Cadogan’s shop window for a couple of months. I must have been about ten or eleven at the time and it was approaching Christmas.
I mentioned it in an off-handed way to my mother. Funny how back in those days you never thought of bringing up life and death matters with your father. Anyway, I knew things were tight and didn’t hold much hope; still, you never knew.
Things were tight in Wexford. There wasn’t a person I knew who didn’t have close relatives in London or Birmingham. In fact, a number of my friends’ fathers worked the year round “over in the smoke,” and only made it home for the week at Christmas and the summer fortnight.
My own father was a merchant marine and gone a lot too – four or five months down the coast of South America – then home for a two months break.
But to my mother’s delight he had been back for three years working with his father, a well to do cattle dealer. And still things were tight.
The two men were alike in many ways and for the most part got on reasonably well; but when they clashed neither would back down. To add fuel to the fire, my father, “had an independent turn of mind.” After his years of independence at sea, he hated being beholden to anyone.
My grandmother was the opposite of both men – she was very outgoing and given to sentimentality, and I could sense the tension by the worried look on her face. Apparently my father had lost a good deal of money on a recent cattle deal and that did not sit well with my grandfather.
Still, at that age it’s easy enough blot out the problems of your elders; besides, I wanted that bike so badly. I haunted Cadogan’s to make sure no one else had bought it.
Christmas Eve arrived and the town was sparkling. But not me - we only received one present each back then and I knew that bike cost far too much. Still, I was as usual gazing in the window listening to a song by Elvis. Oddly enough, bicycle shops sold records back then, and Elvis never sounded better than through Cadogan’s tinny speaker.
I was surprised at the firm grip on my shoulder, more so that it was my father – men were not touchy-feely in that era.
“That’s the bike you’re keen on,” he muttered nonchalantly, never a man for many words.
“Yeah, but it’s real dear,” I answered resignedly.
“Me and Alfie went to school together.” He shrugged and strolled into the shop.
On Christmas morning I nearly died and went to heaven when I found the bike in the hallway. My mother seemed concerned but my father shushed her, “I got it for a song. Told Alfie I’d throw him a couple of quid the next time I back a winner.”
I must have ridden that bike up and down the street a hundred times, preening and standing up on the pedals as I rang the bell.
A couple of days later the row exploded. It seemed to come from nowhere. My father mentioned to my grandfather that he needed an advance. The old man had even taken out his wallet but then he murmured that my father “had no head for money” and did he think it grew on trees?
It was all over in a flash, with my father slamming the door and roaring back that my grandfather knew exactly where he could stuff his big bloody farm.
Then my grandmother was holding me tight as we watched my father back up his car with a screech of brakes and accelerate down the gravelly avenue.
When he came back from sea six months later both men acted as if nothing had happened. However, in the end, my grandfather left the farm to another son and every square inch of its lovely hundred acres is now smothered beneath a vast housing estate.
They’re all gone now but whenever I go back I drive, or even walk, miles rather than pass by the memory of rich green grass and grazing cattle.
And I never fail to think of that royal blue bike and the song Elvis was singing the Christmas Eve my father bought it for me.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Liam Clancy

It was one of those nights that performers dread - Manhattan midweek with the snow swirling down the avenues, piling a foot or more high on the footpaths.
God knows what we were doing in Folk City that night but luckily we showed or a legend would have played to an empty room. As it was, this man who had packed Carnegie Hall said “to hell with it,” after the first song and joined us at the bar.
And the show continued and a fine one it was. For Liam Clancy was a trouper and over the next couple of hours he gave his dilapidated audience a lesson in artistry and communication.
He took requests, recited Yeats, summoned forth a host of Gaelic ghosts, and then passed the guitar around and complimented every song that we served up for him.
In my callow youth Pete Seeger once warned, “what you leave out of a song is more important than what you put in.”
Liam epitomized that counsel. I’ve never heard anyone who could pack so much silence into a song. Take a listen to the recently re-released 1963 recording, In Person at Carnegie Hall by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem (and while you’re at it read Sean Wilentz insightful liner notes).
Liam’s rendering of Patriot Game still stuns. It’s understated, contemplative and the end result is chilling – I know no other version that brings you so close to Fergal O’Hanlon, killed at the age of twenty in his futile attack on Brookeborough RUC Barracks in back 1957. No wonder Bob Dylan co-opted the song and gifted us the equally searing God On Our Side.
Did Liam’s power as a communicator spring from his experience as an actor? Perhaps, but it was probably just another of the many God given gifts bestowed on the Carrick man. And yet, Tommy Makem once told me that Liam couldn’t bear to be onstage alone. That he would often implore Tommy to remain with him when he took a solo turn.
And now they’re all gone and it’s a sad day. Liam, Tom, Pat and Tommy turned the insular world of Irish folk music on its ear. In many ways, they reinvented it by adding stagecraft, timing, theatricality and above all Liam’s use of silence to change the very way we listened to a song.
And what of the man himself? Some less generous souls felt he came across a little stagy; but let’s face it each public person has need of a defense mechanism, and they didn’t come much more public than the Clancys. I actually found Liam to be shy in his own way. Besides, in younger musicians (and others of their own generation) there was always a bit of jealousy of the Clancys and Makem. They seemed too good to be true.
But true they were, and bloody brilliant into the bargain. Liam, with that irrepressible twinkle in his eye was my particular favorite; he lived, ate and drank poetry, music and life, and was beyond generous and eager to pass along the vast sum of his wisdom.
The Clancys and Makem taught us that it’s not just the song; it’s how you present it and how sometimes you must strip it down to its elements so that it can breathe and glow.
I last saw Liam at NYU’s Ireland House earlier this year. Though ailing, he was still the impish seanchaí holding us spellbound as he reminisced and regaled us with tales of the early days with his brothers and Makem.
He confessed to deriving no pleasure in being the last man standing and he was wistful in the way that people are when they’re saying goodbye. Then he began to sing in Irish and time stood still. Few of us understood the words but it didn’t matter, the song spoke of love and death and the unique moment that we were living and, as ever, his trademark silence allowed each syllable to be etched in granite.
When we spoke later, he reminded me of a relative of mine who mistook him for a seal while he was scuba diving in Ring Harbor - with almost disastrous results.
That was Liam, always the irreverent smile to balance the inherent sadness in his music. We’ll miss you, a chara. Thanks for the songs – and the silence.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

December 09 Newsletter

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Black 47 December 2010 Newsletter
Drive The Cold Winter Away

In This Issue
New Dates /New Year's Eve/ Bankers & Gangsters
Confirmed Gigs
IRAQ CD Reviews
Black 47 Holiday Gifts
New Dates Added / New Black 47 Blog

Dec 11 Keltic House, Fishkill, NY

Dec 12 Connolly's, NYC*

Dec 31 New Year's Eve in Connolly's **

*Only one more Saturday celebration of Black 47's 20 Years on the Road Dec. 12th in Connolly's. Don't miss it!

**Not to forget our annual Connolly's New Year's Eve Celebration in Times Square. Tickets are now available online for both Dec. 12th and New Year's Eve at:

TICKETS FOR NEW YEARS EVE RE ALSO NOW ON SALE AT *CONNOLLY'S* (45th St. btwn. B'way & 6th Ave., NYC)!! $20!! As ever, the best value and closest music venue to the heart of Times Square. (Enter at 45th St./6th Avenue with your ticket. No hassle! Doors open at 9pm. Come early and celebrate.

{{Susan from Manhattan who met Jon from Vermont on New Year's '01 would love to rekindle the magic this New Year's at Connolly's. Are you still out there?}}
Stuck for a holiday gift??? Give a Black 47 CD, DVD or T-Shirt. SHOP at
NEWSFLASH: Black 47's new CD, Bankers and Gangsters, will be released on March 3rd, 2010. AND... Larry Kirwan's new novel, Rockin' The Bronx will be published on Feb. 23rd, 2010.



Larry Kirwan will escort a group of people on an historical/literary/political/musical trip in 2010 from July 7th to 12th. Call John Hammond at 866-486-8772 for details. Ideal for high school/college graduation gifts, it will be suitable for all ages, and those making their first visit or traveling alone.

Inquiries to Hammond Tours:


Black 47 Blog:
So President Obama has taken the plunge. He's upping the ante in Afghanistan. Well, the best of luck to him - both getting in and out. But as the Brits might put it, he's on somewhat of a sticky wicket. One thing for sure - it's his war now. We can't blame George Bush anymore. Well, actually, we can, but what's the point? Could the president have done otherwise?

To read more go to The new blog site is interactive - add your comments and stay abreast of Irish issues both in the US and in Ireland.



Join us at for updates on gigs, rare music tracks and videos, PLUS news of Bankers and Gangsters, the new Black 47 CD.


Larry Kirwan

Reading from his new novel, ROCKIN' THE BRONX, set in the only borough on the mainland 1980-82 (circa the deaths of Bobby Sands and John Lennon).

Feb11 - Glucksman Ireland House, NYU, NY 212-998-3950
Mar 8 - Barnes & Noble (TriBeCa) 97 Warren Street, NYC

Recently Added & Upcoming Gigs

Dec 11 Keltic House, Fishkill, NY
Dec 12 Connolly's, Manhattan, NY
Dec 31 Connolly's, Manhattan, NY***
Mar 12 College of Staten Island, NY
Mar 13 Shamrock Festival, Washington DC
Mar 14 World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, PA
Mar 16 Showcase Live, Foxborough, MA
Mar 17 BB King's, NY, NY
Apr 9 Larry Kirwan, Record Collector, Bordentown, NJ
May 28 Blackthorn Resort, E. Durham, NY
May 29 E. Durham Irish Festival, E. Durham, NY
May 29 Blackthorn Resort, E. Durham, NY

All Tour Dates & Full Details

SUGARTIME FEATURES THOMAS HAMLIN Black 47 drummer/bon vivant and David Conrad (first Black 47 bassist/heartthrob) along with Jahn Xavier Bonfiglio and Al Maddy of the Nitecaps, Richard Hell & The Voidoids and the Joey Ramone bands. Don't miss this great rock-soul quartet.

Dec. 30th, 10pm
P&G Bar, 380 Columbus Ave (78th St.)
(212) 787-8993


The Iraq War has inspired quit a few songs, but you'd be hard-pressed to hear a musical portrait of it as vivid and detailed as Black47's "Iraq." From "Sadr City" to "Battle of Fallujah" the inveterate troupe approaches the defining struggle of our age from all sides. What's surprising is that it took a band of Irish expats to do it.
Doug Wallen, The Hartford Courant

Black 47's new CD, IRAQ, on United for Opportunity Music is available in stores and online at itunes and other outlets including SHOP at or Lyrics can also be accessed at

"Black 47 has long been known as New York City's top Celtic band, but today they very well may have established themselves as the finest NYC-based rock band ever with this stunning and righteous release. Tuneful and enjoyable, with albums as fine as Iraq, this band will tour for decades to come." Good Times

Check out the video for Sunrise on Brooklyn.


Times Square is the crossroads of the world, and on New Year's Eve it becomes the eye of the hurricane. Since 1989, Black 47 has played within shouting distance of the dropping ball. We wanted to catch the excitement and the thrill of the various New Years' we've spent in Connolly's of 45th Street. IF YOU CAN'T MAKE NEW YEAR'S 2009 AT CONNOLLY'S, then you should have this DVD

Watch Black 47 rehearse and unveil a new song, New Year's Eve in Olde Tymes Square, (ONLY AVAILABLE ON THIS DVD) and ring in 2007 with classics like Funky Ceili, Green Suede Shoes and Forty Shades of Blue; and the stories and background to many songs. Many crowd shots and interviews with band members and Black 47 fans!!


"In the great tradition of Irish narratives, Larry Kirwan now occupies a noble and unique place. His story is so rich, layered, and edgy without a trace of selfconsciousness or self-pity. This is a truly compelling story, told by a rock and roll poet with a deep appreciation of his roots. His understanding of himself and his connection to his past informs his currnt work in the most exquisite way. "
Rosanne Cash

Get your autographed copy today at our SHOP at for $15.


Holiday Special:
All 11 Black 47/Larry Kirwan CDs PLUS Black 47's 2 DVDs for $150 or all CDs for $130. Euros, Sterling & other foreign currency orders accepted & shipped promptly. Go to the SHOP at

Also at the SHOP a full selection of T-shirts, hoodies, caps.

Now Available at the SHOP: DIGITAL DOWNLOADS of most of the in-print catalogue of Black 47 / Larry Kirwan Albums.


Want to keep up-to-date on Black 47 Gigs? Go to: and find out what we're playing plus reviews of performances. Bob Silkowitz has gathered set lists from as far back as 1992 (including names of songs we've performed but never recorded, and much other information).


Check out the collected lyrics of BANKERS & GANGSTERS along with the chords and lyrics of all Black 47 songs, and covers performed over the years (often with annotated comments from the rehearsal sessions) at REEL BOOK. Fred Parcells has collated charts of songs that the rest of us can't even remember playing. Go Freddie with the mean memory!!! Windows 95 forever!!! See the chord charts & lyrics of Long Lost Tapes of Hendrix, Izzy's Irish Rose, Celtic Rocker, Rosemary (Nelson), That Summer Dress, Long Hot Summer, Bankers & Gangsters, etc.


***ANYONE who would like to be part of The BLACK 47 Street Team: to put up posters, fliers and get the word out - in return for free admission to gigs and meeting the band, drop a line to:

***Black 47 is looking for some good people to sell our merch during gigs on the road. If you'd like to help out and be part of our team, drop a line to
Quick Link
Black 47 Forum

The Reel Book

Black 47 : YouTube

Black 47 Photo Gallery

Band Members Info.

Answers YOU always wanted

Black 47 : Lyrics

Legal Free Downloads

Check out Larry Kirwan's controversial weekly column on politics, music, literature and life page 5, Irish Echo


Sirius XM

Holiday Show Satuday Dec. 19th

Tuesday 11pm ET show added

Celtic Crush, hosted by Larry Kirwan, can be heard on Saturdays from 7-10am ET at The Spectrum, Ch. 18 on Sirius, Ch. 45 on XM and Ch. 832 DIRECTV and can now be also heard on Tuesdays at 11pm ET

Celtic Crush is the only Celtic show available throughout all of the US and Canada. It features music from the 8 Celtic nations and their related cultures.
Hear Larry interview Swell Season, Dolores Riordan, Lisa Hannigan, Hothouse Flowers, Ray Davies, Sinead O'Connor, Steve Earle, Dropkick Murphys Moya Brennan, Flogging Molly, Richard Thompson, Lúnasa, Bell X1, Damien Dempsey, etc.

Check out the Celtic Crush playlists on Facebook at
siriusxmthespectrum or write to for the Celtic Crush newsletter and playlists.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Obama's War

So President Obama has taken the plunge. He’s upping the ante in Afghanistan. Well, the best of luck to him - both getting in and out. But as the Brits might put it, he’s on somewhat of a sticky wicket.
One thing for sure – it’s his war now. We can’t blame George Bush anymore. Well, actually, we can, but what’s the point?
Could the president have done otherwise? I suppose he could have taken the Russian general’s advice, “get out now with a small humiliation, rather than a much bigger one later.” But that would have been a tough policy to defend in 2012.
Or he could have listened to Joe Biden and sent in 10,000 or so to train the Afghan army and police. But everyone knows such a tactic is just a precursor to withdrawal. So instead, unlikely as it seems, we’re going to go in and get out before we even get there in the first place.
Don’t count on it. Afghanistan is like The Honey Pot, a notorious pub on the banks of the Slaney. Once you got in you didn’t get out until your money was all gone.
Why go in at all? Well, we’re told that if the Taliban take over, they’ll have Qaeda training camps like McDonalds all over the country. But why should Osama’s boys suffer the wrath of the US Air Force when they already have first class franchises in Somalia and Yemen. They’re a transnational outfit now and better be lying on the beach by the Indian Ocean than milking goats up in the mountains.
It’s a moot point anyway. We’re about to give Qaeda and every other Jihadi with half a haircut the best possible training – multiple years of matching wits with the US Army in terrain ideal for guerrilla warfare.
And we’ll be paying for it at the rate of a million bucks a year for each US soldier. I have to admit that particular statistic caught my attention.
But since Iraq and the various bailouts I’ve lost all notion of scale. The Christian Brothers definitely didn’t prepare me for today’s financial metrics. Not that I was totally clueless; after all, Jem Stafford, who owned half of Wexford, was reputed to be a millionaire.
But I doubt that even Jem would have been able to get his head around the fact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far cost either two or three trillion dollars - depending on who you talk to.
But what exactly is a trillion? Well I just googled it and they sent me to (they should know, they had the good sense to pink-slip Lou Dobbs).
Well, for your edification, a billion is a thousand million, and a trillion is a thousand billion.
Now bear with me for I can feel the ghost of Brother Gleason of the CBS peering over my shoulder. Wouldn’t that mean that we have spent either two or three million times more moolah than the almighty Jem possessed? Holy Gamoley, as me granny used to say!
Of course, most of these trillions went on our Chinese credit card, seeing that we don’t charge ourselves for foreign wars like we do for reforming domestic health insurance.
That was one of President Bush’s innovations, and a right good one it was – for me anyway - because I advised against the war in Iraq from the gitgo and don’t think I should be charged for a penny of it.
Now I sincerely hope that when President Obama sits down to his spuds and cabbage with Michelle and the girls that the dreaded T-word doesn’t come up. I stand firmly in the Republican camp on this matter. If George Bush didn’t tax me for the wars of the last eight years, then why should this guy from Chicago, Hawaii or wherever he’s from, suggest such an outrage?
So, I fear we’ve come to our parting of the ways, Mister President. Between you and me, I actually don’t care if you were born in Mecca or Magherafelt, and I do think you’re a good man – after all, you have banned institutionalized torture and probably saved us from the bread lines during the recent financial imbroglio.
But I’m with the Birthers and Tea Partyers on this issue. If you want to go adding the guts of another trillion dollars to the national debt then please don’t put any of it on my tab.
Lou Dobbs wouldn’t. And neither would Jem Stafford.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

FELA! Revolution on Broadway

Examine the various trouble spots around the world and you’ll notice an indistinct but recognizable footprint. Be it Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, squint your eyes and you can still make out the ghost of a Union Jack fluttering in the wind.
How did Britannia manage to extend her influence from Belfast to Brisbane, Lagos to Lahore, Canberra to Canton? Well, for whatever reasons, her citizens had an ironclad belief in the superiority of their culture and religion, and in their divine right to rule an empire on which the sun never set.
They also understood that in order to conquer you must first divide. Modernity and two terrible world wars, however, put a dent in their worldwide suzerainty, whereupon they either graciously withdrew or were unceremoniously thrown out.
What did they leave behind? For the most part, seething colonial baronies whose indigenous cultures had been disparaged and subsumed.
Within years of independence a military strong man had often taken control in order to keep the various divided ethnic and religious groups from rupturing apart - usually with the tacit consent of the UK and US. Hey, it was a lot better than having the Commies knock off another domino!
There is much to learn about such matters at the production of FELA! that opened recently on Broadway. And yet, such is the extraordinary entertainment one is treated to, you’d never guess that you were getting a primer in post-Colonial politics.
Of course, Fela Kuti was an extraordinary character. How would you describe his like in Irish terms? Well, think a mixture of Christy Moore, James Connolly and Bono with a dash of Roy Keane for sheer dander; or for simplicity’s sake, how about Bob Marley on steroids?
For like Marley, this Nigerian dynamo almost single-handedly created a new genre of music. Afrobeat’s rhythms come at you from all angles and one of the incandescent moments in the Broadway show is when Fela exposes its origins by stripping down the music to its skeletal swirling roots before adding its rich flesh of horns and voices.
Fela Kuti was descended from an elite family of the Yoruba tribe, many of whom have been introduced to Catholicism by Irish missionaries. His grandfather, however, had converted to the Anglican Faith and became a loyal supporter of the Empire.
Fela’s mother rebelled and was a leader of the resistance to British rule. A feminist and first woman elected to the Nigerian parliament, she was the central figure in the young musician’s life, encouraging him to treasure his roots and protect the rights of his less fortunate fellow citizens.
Not only did he do that musically by blending Yoruban rhythms with James Brown’s funk and Coltrane’s jazz, he openly resisted the corrupt military dictatorship of his tribesman, General Obasanjo.
In the 1970’s Fela’s song, Zombie, became a protest anthem throughout Africa and Europe, ridiculing all forms of militarism. He formed his own political party, Movement of the People, and ran for President.
For his troubles, he was arrested over 200 times, harassed and often beaten, including the night his mother was thrown to her death by Obasanjo’s soldiers.
All of this is portrayed onstage and yet the mood is celebratory, for Fela Kuti always defiantly picked up the pieces and carried on.
Dancers swirl around the audience as the band captures the uplifting quality of the man’s music. So much so that if you’re not on your feet dancing by the end of the night, then the next pint is on me.
The wonder of FELA!, however, is that the spirit of a very complicated, contradictory and charismatic human being is evoked, unleashing a strange wave of shimmering magic throughout the theatre.
This stays with you sparking, among other things, all manner of questions about the nature of colonialism. Why are we in the West so sure we know what’s right for other people?
The British tried to impose their beliefs on the inhabitants of their empire. With little regard for the lessons of history we’ve now plunked down into their failed footsteps in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Amidst all the brilliant dancing, music, and drama, FELA! asks questions that might seem particular to Nigeria. Unfortunately, they are just as relevant for us today.
This is great theatre – thrilling, vital, and often suggesting unpopular answers. “Black President” is one of its most compelling songs. One hopes our own chief executive gets to hear it soon.