Eleanor McEvoy, Ailie, Paula Meehan, Moyra Barry : Ceiliúradh Mhna Na h-Eireann (Celebrating the Women of Ireland 5)

A little over ambitious with my scheduling!

I forgot that not only did I have a duty to celebrate the season of St Patrick here on The Jukebox I also had to celebrate in person and recover from those celebrations!

So, a little delayed, but I trust well worth the wait, the Official Immortal Jukebox St Patrick’s Day Post!

Now read on ….

All Hail St Patrick!

All Hail the Women of Ireland

Today we conclude our tribute to the intelligence, wisdom and beauty the Women of Ireland have brought to the arts of Song, Poetry and Painting.

Songs by Eleanor McEvoy (At the Mid Hour of Night & A Woman’s Heart) & AIlie (The Rocky Road to Dublin).

A Poetry Reading by Paula Meehan  – ‘The Pattern’.

A Painting by Moyra Barry (1886-1960) : ‘Cinerria’

More years ago than I care to count seeking sanctuary from the crazed cacophony of life in London I frequented an out of the way social club whose clientele was largely comprised of Irish men and women who had emigrated to England in the late 40s/early 50s.

For an hour or two I would savour a pint or two of plain and drink in the rich accents and the rich conversation.

One of the habitues of the club, a whiskery Corkman, let’s call him Seamus, always greeted me by announcing, ‘You buy me a pint of porter and I’ll sing you one of Moore’s Melodies’.

My reply was always, ‘Done – let’s start with, ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ and if the thirst is on you and the humour on me we won’t stop until we’ve sung, ‘Oft in the Stilly Night’, ‘The Harp’ and, ‘The Minstrel Boy’ before we leave.

I usually emerged spiritually refreshed if somewhat intoxicated from the porter and the romanticism of the melodies.

Thomas Moore was something of a 19th Century superstar in English and Irish society.

His, ‘Melodies’ lyrics set to established Irish tunes and melodies were much admired by Lord Byron and became songs that entered deep into the consciousness of generations.

As such, in modern Ireland, they came to be regarded, in certain chilly circles, as period pieces from the parlour best left to the tourists to enjoy.

A view I never had any time for.

So, I was delighted to learn that Eleanor McEvoy had recorded an album entirely devoted to Thomas Moore Songs, ‘The Thomas Moore Project’.

The distinguishing mark of Eleanor’s career, for me, was a wholly admirable creative restlessness which led her never to attempt to simply repeat earlier successes but rather to challenge herself to open up new artistic territory with every new record.

It seemed to me that her background; incorporating a music degree, a spell in the RTE Symphony Orchestra and a string of imaginative singer/songwriter albums made her an ideal candidate to present refreshed versions of songs from Moore’s great canon illuminating them brightly for new generations to enjoy.

And, praise be!, the, ‘Thomas Moore Project’ turned out to be an absolute triumph due to the endless care and consideration with which the songs were approached.

Original, imaginative arrangements combined with superb instrumental playing and heart-piercingly intimate vocals shook the dust off and revealed the ravishing beauty and sophisticated emotional acuity of Moore’s works.

Eleanor McEvoy’s take on, ‘At the Mid Hour of Night’ reanimates those, ‘past scenes of delight’ and is indeed rapture to hear.

‘At the mid hour of night when stars are weeping, I fly
To the lonely vale we lov’d when life shone warm in thine eye;
And I think that if spirits can steal from the region of air,
To revisit past scenes of delight; thou wilt come to me there,
And tell me our love is remember’d even in the sky.
*
Then I’ll sing the wild song, which once ’twas rapture to hear,
When our voices, both mingling, breathed like one on the ear,
And, as Echo far off thro’ the vale my sad orison rolls,
I think, oh my love! ’tis thy voice from the kingdom of souls
Faintly answering still the notes which once were so dear!’
*
*

Our Poetry Reading today comes from a former Ireland Professor of Poetry, Paula Meehan.

She has a plenitude of poetic powers at her command.

Reading through her works it seems that no aspect of the struggle to live a human life in our times has escaped her poetic eye and ear.

There is tenderness and rage, grief and joy and empathy embedded in her poetry.

She is a Poet who believes in the enduring power of Poetry to affect the human heart.

Her Poems exemplify the truth that there is a never to be sounded mysterious energy and power in Poetry.

She has said that, ‘ …Poems tell stories but there are also poems that just give you a moment of vision or transcendence .. two lines, two lines can save a life, I believe it.’

In, ‘The Pattern’ Paula Meehan captures with truth and tenderness the gravitational power of the Mother/Daughter relationship.

Today’s painting is by Moyra Barry.

Her special gift was for flower paintings.

These works have a quality of engaged observation and radiance which forces the viewer to take a breath and really Look!

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Now to a new star from Ireland.

Ailie (Blunnie) from County Leitrim.

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Her debut album. ‘West to the Evening Sun’ was a confident and mature work showcasing a talent that was wholly of the Now while being in no way cut off from the rich and diverse heritage of Irish music.

Highly atmospheric production added to the poetic imagination of her songs ensured the album packed a real punch.

Here she gifts us an unforgettable and invigorating version of the Rocky Road to Dublin.

Ailie plays Piano, Bass and Electric Guitar as well as all the singing here.

Daragh Dukes’ production  makes the whole thing gleam.

My, ‘Brand new pair of brogues’ did some high stepping to this one I can tell you!

I am going to conclude this tribute to Irish Women with a song by Eleanor McEvoy which has rightly become a modern standard, ‘A Woman’s Heart’.

I hope this series has made plain that there are some things only a Woman’s heart can know and that we should be grateful for that knowledge being passed on to us in Songs, Poems and Paintings.

There will never come a time when Eleanor will not be asked to sing this song and there will never come a time when it fails to move all the hearts of those who hear it.

All hail the Women of Ireland!

For Peg, Marguerite, Ann, Roisin, Hannah and Martha Brosnan, Irene, Geraldine and Nina Fitzpatrick, Maura Dee, Deirdre and Sinead Trant, Niamh & Aisling Blackburn and Patricia & Grace O’Sullivan.

 

Eleanor Shanley, Inni-K, Rita Ann Higgins, Estella Solomons : Ceiliúradh Mhna Na h-Eireann (Celebrating the Women of Ireland 3)

Our celebrations today continue with:

Songs by Eleanor Shanley ( Come Back Paddy Reilly) & Inni-K (Teardrop).

A Painting by Estella Solomons (1882-1968) ‘Moppie Morrow’.

A Poetry Reading by Rita Ann Higgins : ‘The Hedger’.

The Irish temperament is formed out of the knowledge that, in the end, no one survives this world without a broken heart.

Irish singers, painters and poets have for millennia embodied this truth in their works.

Tragedy abides but the true artist, not ignoring the darkness, finds within themselves sparks of joy to light up the glowering sky.

In the voice of Leitrrim’s Eleanor Shanley we find a tenderness and sustaining sweetness that glows in the heart.

The song she sings here Percy French’s, ‘Come Back Paddy Reilly’, has a special poignancy for me as it was my late mother’s favourite song and its haunting air accompanied her coffin as we carried her out of the church at her funeral.

It was also sung as a lullaby to my wife by her late father.

We think of them both with love and gratitude and with smiles and tears whenever we hear this song.

The garden of Eden has vanished they say
But I know the lie of it still
Just turn to the left at the bridge of Finea
And stop when half way to Coote Hill

Tis there I will find it I know sure enough
When fortune has come to my call
Oh, the grass it is green
Around Ballyjamesduff
And the blue sky is over it all

And tones that are tender and tones that are gruff
Are whispering over the sea
“Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff
Come home Paddy Reilly to me”

My mother once told me that when I was born
The day that I first saw the light
I looked down the street on that very first morn
And gave a great crow of delight

Now most newborn babies appear in a huff
And start with a sorrowful squall
But I knew I was born in Ballyjamesduff
And that’s why I smile on them all

The baby’s a man now, he’s toil-worn and tough
Still whispers come over the sea

“Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff
Come home Paddy Reilly to me”

The featured Painter today is Estella Solomons who was a Dubliner.

She was a member of a distinguished Jewish family with both her father and brother being mentioned by he great chronicler of Dublin life – James Joyce.

Her mother was a Poet and her Sister an opera singer.

She was deeply involved in the Irish Republican movement as a member of Cumann na mBan and in the cultural life of post revolutionary Ireland through her own work and that of her Poet and publisher husband, Seamus O’Sullivan.

The humble steady gaze of her paintings and prints have a meditative stillness which can be intensely moving.

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Rita Ann Higgins is a Poet whose work has fierce feminine energy and lacerating emotional force.

As a Galway Woman from a large working class family she has broadened the canvas of Irish Poetry through an alert, inventive voice charged with righteous anger and absurdity.

This is a Poetry responding to and teeming with life in all its maddening plenitude.

Every now and again you hear a record that startles you by the freshness of its imagination.

‘The King has Two Horse’s Ears’ by Inni-K (Eithne Ni Chathain) from 2015 was one such record for me.

Irish Folk? Certainly.

But experimentally infused with Pop, Jazz and World Music accents.

All carried off with tremendous confidence and élan.

A record that repaid repeated listening.

Her new album, ‘The Hare & The Line’ has much to live up to!

In memory of Sheila Doyle and Joan Hickey.

Notes :

Eleanor Shanley recorded three highly recommended albums with the legendary group De Danann : ‘Jacket of Batteries’, Half Set in Harlem’ & ‘Wonderwaltz’.

I particularly prize her Solo albums – ‘Desert Heart’, and ‘A Place of My Own’ .

The two records she made with Ronnie Drew – ‘A Couple More Years’ & ‘El Amor De Mi Vida’ have a wonderful warmth.

If you enjoyed this post and know anyone who is Irish or of Irish heritage (and you do!) share it with them and ask them to share it further.

Next Post on Saturday 16th March – don’t miss it!

Dolores Keane, The Evertides & Eavan Boland : Celebrating the Women of Ireland 1)

March now.

The sun shines hot and the wind blows cold.

Summer in the light and winter in the shade.

March is the month when the Immortal Jukebox, in the run up to the St Patrick’s day festivities, celebrates the enormous contribution Irish artists have made to the World’s treasury of Poetry, Song and Paintings.

This year’s posts are in celebration of the works, so often under regarded, of the Women of Ireland.

Each post will feature a song by an established singer and another by a singer or group who may not yet have gained fame outside of Ireland.

I will also be showcasing a Poetry reading and a Painting.

I hope I will be making introductions that will lead you to further exploration.

Today :

Songs by Dolores Keane and The Evertides.

Eavan Boland reading :

‘The Lost Art of Letter Writing’, ‘Quarantine’ and ‘The Emigrant Irish’.

A Painting by Mildred Anne Butler (1858-1941) : A Murder of Crows

 

My admiration for Dolores Keane knows no bounds.

In her voice you can hear Ireland speaking with power and authority.

In her voice you can hear Ireland speaking of pain, exile and loss.

In her voice you can hear Ireland speaking with faith and joy.

Listen to Dolores Keane.

Listen to Ireland.

 

 

Our painting today comes from Mildred Anne Butler who looked deep into the domestic and the animal life all around her Kilkenny home.

She painted en plein air and there is a startling freshness shining from her works.

She is well represented in galleries and latterly was commemorated on an Irish postage stamp.

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Eavan Boland is a Poet of patience and fortitude.

Throughout her career she has attended to the whispers and looked unflinchingly into the dark shadows of Irish life and culture – particularly as experienced by Irish Women.

There is a complexity and precision of language and weight of thought in her work which is the mark of a major Poet.

 

The Evertides are a trio of wonderfully talented Irish Women – Ruth McGill, Alma Kelliher and Ruth Smith.

Their instrumental and vocal blend is that of Sisters in Song.

Their three part harmonies surround, enchant and elevate our senses.

The ability to enchant and to open doors into the numinous makes The Evertides a very special group.

 

In memory of Julia O’Sullivan and Hannah Hartnett.

If you enjoyed this post and know anyone who is Irish or of Irish heritage (and you do!) share it with them and ask them to share it further.

Notes :

In addition to her role in The Evertides Ruth Smith presents one of my, ‘Must Listen’ radio programmes, ‘Simply Folk’ which airs on RTÉ Radio 1 on Sundays at 10pm.

Seek it out!

The next Post in the series will be published on Tuesday 12 March – Don’t miss it!

The Kinks : Days (Thank You For …)

Here is is.

Another Day.

One Day.

One among the unknown number alloted to you.

Bless the light.

Another sacred day.

Yours to do with what you will.

This Day won’t, can’t come again – though you may remember it for every Day you have left to live.

Bless the Light.

Today is all we have and whatever happens today you have the absolute existential freedom to choose how you act, how your react, to whatever this Day brings.

Bless the light.

And, when you come to the end of this Day you will have much to give thanks for – not least that the lightning bolt of death has stayed sheathed in the heavens.

Give thanks for the day that is done and pray that tomorrow will dawn for you and gift you one more sacred day.

Bless the light.

And, as you walk through the world of your alloted days you will find that the steps of others will from time to time fall in step with yours.

If you are very fortunate you will find that another’s steps will match yours for mile after mile after mile and that if you lose your footing and fall behind they will stay their steps until you catch up.

Thank you for the Days.

I won’t forget a single day believe me.

Bless the light.

There will be guides and spirits along the way who will befriend and show you t e way before going their own way.

On this road of Days you will find that those who once walked so companionably by your side now seem to marched ahead or taken another turn to take them out of sight.

Yet, as you come to give thanks for another Day of your alloted number you can give thanks for the miles you shared and wish them well wherever they are on the highway of their own Days.

The night is dark and sorrow comes to us all so give thanks for the Days you shared.

Thank you for the Days.

Those sacred days.

Bless the light.

Don’t forget a single Day.

A single Day.

 

Another bitter sweet classic from the pen of Ray Davies brought to vivid, shimmering life by The Kinks.

One of the hallmarks of Ray’s greatness as a songwriter is the ability to tell stories distilling complex emotions we all share into endlessly satisfying three minute vignettes which are faithful both the joy and the sadness in our lives.

Ray has acknowledged that a songwriter is frequently, at the time a song is created, unaware of the effect it will have on its audience :

The song has grown in intensity over the years … you don’t think about it, but it’s built up quite a mystique over the years. It certainly left me. It belongs to the world now.’

That’ll do for me as the definition of a great song!

The beauty of the lyric, tenderly evocative but unspecific, is that will be apposite for so many of us in so many times and stations of our lives.

Recollection of those sacred days will always as the days pass have elements of regret.

Loss and sorrow are not to be feared in this world – they come with the territory.

The song starts as an almost busked folk song before building to a tremendous crescendo    as the piano, drums and harmony vocals take the song deep into our hearts.

And, as we will see below, it’s a song that can even surprise its author with its keening power.

In 2010 Ray Davies played the Glastonbury Festival just after the death of Pete Quaife, the Bass player in the original Kinks lineup.

Pete Quaife had quit The Kinks just after ‘Days’ was recorded so playing the song must have had particular resonance for Ray as he looked out on the thronged audience (each of whom will have had their own days to remember and bless as they sang along).

Bless the light.

Thank you for the Days.

Those sacred Days.

 

 

 

Beach Boys, The Who, Jan and Dean (not forgetting The Regents) : Barbara Ann

Keen readers of The Jukebox will recall that in a previous Post (featuring the song, ‘Do You Want to Dance?) I revealed that my exhaustive researches in; theology,the classics, the canon of great literature, modern psychology and neuroscience had led me to the inescapable conclusion that there were only five essential questions to be asked, and answered, in Life.

I can now tell you, prior to the publication of, ‘The 5 questions every life must answer‘ that one of these is … ‘What’s your Name?’

Who am I? Who are You?

Names are very powerful signifiers.

More powerful and mysterious in their effects on our lives than we generally allow.

At some point in my mid teens I became, ‘Thom’ instead of ‘Thomas’ or, ‘Tom’ (I would never, never, allow, ‘Tommy’) to differentiate myself from all the other Toms – as well as the Dicks and Harrys.

By insisting on a particular spelling of my name I was establishing a particular identity for myself.

An identity to embrace and challenge the world with.

Of course, in the world of the creative arts changes of name are common to signal a move from the private into the public and commercial realms.

There was a particular moment in time when someone asked the young Robert Zimmerman what his name was and after a micro second of hesitation the reply came, ‘Bob Dylan’ and a legend began.

In the realm of romance the question, ‘What’s your Name?’ starts that crazy carousel spinning, spinning, spinning.

As the wonderful Don and Juan, in their Doo-Wop classic from 1962 observed the thought behind the question is frequently : ‘Do I stand a chance with you?’.

Once you’re aboard the carousel you’ll find that the name of your beloved will take on sacred properties and hearing your own name spoken by them will constitute a new christening.

So, here’s a Post about a song that celebrates a particular name with abounding Joy.

Not forgetting to mention the power of familial love and discord, car crashes, comas, the collision of music genres, fate and happenstance, huckstering marketing and genius goofing off.

Or, to put it another way as The Regents first sang (and I defy you not to sing along, I’ll hold down the bass, you take the falsetto) :

‘Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann’

Image result for the regents doo wop group images

‘Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann (take my hand)

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann

You’ve got me rockin’ and a -rollin’

Rockin’ and a reelin’

Barbara Ann

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann’

Yowzah! Yowzah! Yowzah!

That’ll have you dancing ’til a quarter to three and then some.

I think we can agree the brothers Fassert and The Regents did Barbara Ann proud.

Mighty proud.

How The Regents came to have a top 20 hit with the song is a saga in itself.

Originally in 1957 they were The Monterays and included among their members Ernie Moresca who went on to Rock ‘n Roll immortality through writing, ‘The Wanderer’ for Dion.

Ernie dropped out and they became The Regents (they may also have been briefly known as The Desires).

They then recorded a series of unreleased demos in New York recording studios in 1958 (one of these, significantly for our story, was Regent Studios).

Core members were Guy Villari on lead (whose preferred cigarette brand was Regent), Sal Cuomo (first tenor), Tony Gravanga (baritone and Sax), Donnie Jacobucci (baritone) and Chuck Fassert (second tenor).

During one of their 1 hour demo sessions they spent 50 minutes running down a ballad, written by Guy Villari, called, ‘A Teenager’s Love’ and wondered what to do with their precious remaining 10 minutes of studio time.

What about that song written by Chuck’s kid brother Fred about their kid sister, ‘Barbara Ann’ – it was always a kick to warm up to and who knows maybe people would like it even if it was basically just the repetition of her name over and over again!

So in 10 minutes it was wrapped up and a waiting world … heard not a whisper of it as 50 or more Record Labels said, Barbara Ann – no thanks!

And, that is where the story might have ended.

But, as fate would have it, in 1961 it happened that Donnie Jacobucci’s younger brother, Eddie, joined a group called The Consorts who were looking for material to record.

Eddie remembered, ‘Barbara Ann’ and taught it to his fellow Consorts who then cut their own version.

This was brought to the attention of Lou Cichetti of the Cousins Record Shop and Label. Sharp eared Lou also listened to the Regents demo which had been brought in by the original songwriter,Fred Fassert.

Lou was in no doubt which was the superior version (Fred was a winner either way) and promptly decided to issue The Regents version in March 1961.

This necessitated their urgent resurrection once the tune sped to Number One in the New York region after being heavily played on the radio.

Lou, aware that the record needed national distribution, leased it to Roulette/Gee who pushed it all the way to Number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100.

So, the fruit of 10 minutes work paid off handsomely – though it took 3 years to do so!

The Regents would only have one more hit, ‘Runaround’ in September 1961 but, ‘Barbara Ann’ would never die!

Once a song, particularly a Doo Wop song, got wide radio play hordes of young singers thought – we could do that!

Among those tuning in to, ‘Barbara Ann’ were two California High School buddies, Jan Berry and Dean Torrence.

Jan and Dean found that their voices had a pleasing blend and that Dean had a knack for capturing multi part vocal arrangements on tape (which would later bring him to the attention of and to collaborate with another California native more than somewhat obsessed with multi part vocal arrangements – one Brian Wilson).

Their career benefited from the patronage of Herb Alpert and Lou Adler and Dean’s astute insights into song structures and song genres.

He quickly picked up how well their Doo Wop chops would fit with the burgeoning Surf Music scene.

It also didn’t hurt that they had a clean cut tanned handsomeness that looked real swell on record covers and posters ripe for the bedroom walls of teenage girls all over the nation.

Surf City, in 1963 was the first Surf song to ride all the way to the top of the Hot 100 while the succeeding, ‘Drag City’, ‘The Little Old Lady from Pasadena’ and the prophetic, ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ (Jan Berry had a terrible car crash in April 1966 sustaining serous head injuries which left him in a coma for 2 months) carved out a secure place in history for the duo.

In 1962 they had laid down their take on, ‘Barbara Ann’ which they no doubt sang when they shared stages with the Beach Boys – who were of course the High Kings of the Surf Scene.

Altogether more produced and assured than The Regents.

I’m sure this will have gone down a storm on the beach party scene.

The Drums here really drive things along and the assures layering of the vocals with the clinching sax break makes this a cert for the repeat play button.

By the summer of 1965 The Beach Boys had already issued 2 successful Albums as well as holding down a heavy touring schedule.

However, Capitol Records wanted more.

Tney didn’t really want to hear that resident genius Brian Wilson, in response to hearing The Beatles rapid development as represented on Rubber Soul, had ambitions to write, sing and produce material of an altogether more sophisticated nature.

To hold off Capitol while Pet Sounds coelesed in his mind and soul a plan was hatched to record a largely acoustic live in the studio party session where they would cut loose on a series of favourite songs – including Barbara Ann on which their old friend Dean Torrence would share lead vocals.

We should also never forget the contribution of percussion potentate Hal Blaine on ashtrays!

You want loose?

You want a party?

Ah … Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann …

 

Loose but very lovely.

And, before the personalities began to grind against each other to all their detriment an example of family and friends having a whale of a time together.

Classily Capitol’s marketing strategy for, ‘Party!’ included sending dealers a million (!) bags of Potato chips adorned with the album’s cover art for distribution to the ravening fans.

Barbara Ann was the last track on the record as originally issued and was not chosen as the single.

Instead a non album 45,’The Little Girl I Once Knew’ hit the playlists in November and was roundly disliked by DJs and Station managers as it included repeated instances of silence throughout.

So, as fate (ah fate) would have it DJs turned to the track on the Album that seemed likely to get the best response.

You’ve guessed it Barbara Ann.

Thus, it became very hard to turn on your radio  and not hear, blasting out at full volume …Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann!

All the way to Number 2 and eternally into the memsory of anyone who ever heard it.

Now, apart from the extremely hardy and commited few, Surfing as a pastime, still less  a culture was largely unknown to us Brits.

But, only those with their radios steadfastly tuned to classical stations were unaware of The Beach Boys.

And, musicians and songwriters in particular were in awe of Brian Wilson’s melodic gifts and conceptual imagInation.

No one will be surprised to learn that Paul McCartney was stunned by Brian’s talents and driven to match them in songs and arrangements of his own.

An unexpected Beach Boys devotee was none other than one of the true wild men of the era –  the iconic drummer of Tne Who Keith Moon!

It’s fair to say that Keith’s gifts as a singer are dwarfed by his gifts at the drum kit yet there is something immensely touching listening to him assay, ‘Barbara Ann’in his unique falsetto.

 

Lordy, Lordy.

Of course, once Daltrey, Townshend and Entwhistle cut loose in support of their sticksman there can be no getting out of the landslide that was The Who at full throttle.

Rockin’ and a rollin’ Rockin’ and a rellin’ indeed!

Slight though Barbara Ann is in the glorious Beach Boys treasure trove it recurred in their live shows  simply because everybody can sing along and it’s just flat out FUN.

When they toured on 2012 to celebrate a staggering 50 years as a Group tney invariably encored with Barbara Ann and duly brought the house down.

It seemed that tour was the last time Brian and Mike Love were on speaking terms.

So for the good times ….

To conclude as we started with the power of names : we know how pretty, pretty, Peggy Sue was and we are always happy to hear from BIllie Jean and indeed from Bobby Jean and  the party is always guaranteed to go with a swing when Fannie Mae calls round.

Still and all nothing gets me stirred like :

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann

Ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann.

Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, (never forgetting Lonnie Donegan!) : It Looks Like I’ll Never Fall in Love Again

In late 1962 the sun was setting on the commercial career of Lonnie Donnegan.

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The man who had run up an astonishing 24 successive top 30 singles (31 in total) including 3 Number Ones in the UK as well as 2 top 10 hits in America, now, it seemed, couldn’t get a hit to save his life.

Perry Como wasn’t calling up to invite him back on his show (where he had appeared alongside Ronald Reagan!).

The man who had strummed the first immortal chords of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Britain with Rock Island Line in 1956 and who had inspired thousands of teenagers to form a Skiffle group found that the caravan of popularity had moved on.

Moved on to the Beat Groups whose members had almost all been electrified, transformed, by listening to Lonnie from the mid 1950s.

Moved on above all to The Beatles.

But the Beat Group Boys never forgot their debt to Lonnie.

Listen to Roger Daltrey of the Who :

‘I wanted to be Elvis  .. I knew that. But the man who really made me feel I could actually go out and do it was Lonnie Donegan’.

Listen to Paul McCartney :

‘He was the first person we had heard of from Britain to get to the coveted No 1 in the charts. We studied his records avidly. We all bought guitars to be in a skiffle group. He was the man.’

Lonnie had adopted his first name in homage to the legendary Jazz/Blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson after the Chris Barber Band shared a Royal Festival Hall Concert with the great man in 1952.

Maybe it was thinking back to Lonnie Johnson’s smooth vocal delivery and elegiac tone on songs from the 1930s and his own melancholic situation that set Lonnie’s creative juices flowing when he came to write, ‘(It Looks Like) I’m Never Going To Fall in Love Again’.

Lonnie Donegan had developed since boyhood a deep love and understanding of the heritage of American roots music – Folk, Blues, Jazz and Country.

Songs from that treasury swirled about in his memory.

One of those songs was a wistful ballad, ‘Wanderin” or ”I’m Never Going To Cease My Wandering’ which recurred from the 1920s on in versions by Vernon Dalhart, Eddie Arnold and Milt Okun among many others.

Using that template and collaborating with Jimmy Currie he took ‘Wanderin” to the  piano and crafted a timeless classic.

Lonnie didn’t have the vocal prowess to sell the song in the bravura manner that it would later receive.

No, his own version is distinguished for me by its hesitant charm.

This is a man, a man wounded by love, singing the song softly, tenderly, to himself in regret after the storm of emotion has largely subsided.

There can be great beauty and sometimes unexpected peace in the stillness after the storm.

The song wasn’t much played on the radio and it wasn’t a hit.

Lonnie carried on playing clubs and cabaret always singing his heart out.

Singing his heart out.

But, like I’ve said here before and will surely say again – a true message always gets through.

Sometimes, it just takes a while.

So, scroll forward four of five years and Lonnie runs into an old friend, Tom Jones, and he thinks – now here was a man who can sell a ballad!

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In Lonnie’s home the two troubadours sat down, no doubt fortified by strong liquor, and talked about songs they had loved growing up.

Lonnie took out, ‘It Looks Like …’ and said.:

‘ Tom, I have this song – you’d sing the pants off it. I recorded it but I can’t really sing it (like you could)’

Tom remembered that, ‘Wanderin” had gone down a storm as a singalong in the pubs of his native Wales.

Listening to Lonnie’s song he knew that the chorus was just made for his own Alpha male full throated style.

And, so it proved.

Tom’s version hit Number 2 in the UK Charts in 1967 and appeared twice on the US Charts – top 50 in ’67 and Number 6 when re released in 1969.

When Tom Jones takes on a ballad you know there will be no half measures.

Tom has vocal power and range aplenty and is capable of bringing shade and nuance to a lyric.

Here, he takes us on a passionate journey through a man’s bewilderment at his current situation.

Though he thought he knew the score and cast aside his pride now, now, he can’t take anymore.

There is time for tears in the wake of lost love.

And, then, it will feel like you’ll never fall in love again.

Yet, Tom’s version has such force, such strength, even in defeat, that you are sure this is a champion who will, though he has to take a count, get up off the canvas and get back in the game again.

The eternal Game of Love.

A true message always gets through.

For there are always those for whom the message seems personal, heaven sent.

So scroll forward to the mid 1970s when Tom Jones appears regularly in Las Vegas.

And, of course, no Tom Jones show is complete without his scintillating take on, ‘It Looks Like ..’.

Frequently in the audience for Tom’s shows is another Vegas Star – in fact the greatest Vegas Star, Elvis Presley.

And, Elvis knows a storming ballad when he hears one.

When Elvis comes to record the song it’s sadly near the end of his storied career.

Now, though he’s still a Lion he’s a Lion in Winter.

So, Elvis brings a depth of melancholy to the song that’s beyond either Tom or Lonnie.

Though his royal robes may have seemed threadbare in those days he was and always would be The King.

And, when a King sings we should all pay full attention for there are many pretenders but only one King.

Only One King.

So, Lonnie’s little regarded song from 1962 had proved a true wonder and before his death in 2002 Lonnie must have reaped some handsome royalty cheques to add to the pride he had in his song writing.

And, that is where I had planned to end this Post.

But, what do I know of the strange forces of synchronicity and serendipity?

For, as I began to write it happened that Lonnie Donegan’s son, Peter, a fine singer and musician in his own right, appeared on the UK talent show, ‘The Voice’ and that also on the show as Judge/Mentor was none other than Tom Jones!

The format of the show involves the Judges listening to the contestants with their chairs turned away from the stage so that they assess purely on the basis of the voice rather than looks and age.

Listening to Peter Tom’s interest was immediately piqued and he was the judge whose chair turned around.

Then, in story book fashion, Tom learned that Peter was the son of his old friend and writer of one of his signature songs – Lonnie Donegan.

And then to make the movie complete Tom and Peter put on a tear inducing impromptu performance of, ‘It Looks Like ..’ that brought the house down.

Somewhere, the shade of Lonnie must have smiled and thought, ‘I told you so …’

 

Notes ;

It is impossible to overestimate the influence of Lonnie Donegan on Rock ‘n’ Roll In Britian.

Billy Bragg’s book, ‘Roots, Radicals and Rockers’ is a fine primer on Lonnie’s role in the Skiffle movement.

Chas McDevitt’s book, ‘Skiffle – The Definitive Inside Story’ is filed with wonderful anecdotes from those who were there.

There are many fine single CD collections of Lonnie’s hits.

I listen with great pleasure to the 5CD, ‘Lonnie Donegan Collection’ on the Spectrum label which amply demonstrates the breadth of his talents.

 

Nick Lowe, Bruce Springsteen, Lucinda Williams : (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?

A true message always gets through.

Sometimes it just takes a while.

Over 40 years a Song can, starting out as an unremarked track on a little regarded album from a little known Band, become a veritable anthem recorded hundreds of times and exalted in concert by the great and the good from The Boss to Bill Murray to Mavis Staples.

My own relationship with today’s featured Song began many decades ago in my teenage gig going years.

Loyal readers of The Jukebox will know that I have made a series of House moves in the last few years before settling happily here in our South Downs hideaway.

One of the ‘finds’ of the moving process was a notebook with the title, ‘Gig Diary 1970 – 1975’ emblazoned in red ink on the cover.

Leafing through this historically important artefact I see that in that period I saw Nick Lowe with his then Band, Brinsley Schwarz, on stage at The Marquee, The Roundhouse, The Lyceum, The Hope & Anchor, The Torrington and The Edmonton Sundown among many other venues.

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I was, of course, also buying their Albums as soon as they came out and looking at the sleeve of, ‘The New Favourites of … Brinsley Schwarz’ from 1974 I see 2 large red asterisks next to track 1, ‘ (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding’.

I should tell you that the double asterisk was a very rare accolade indeed!

From the very first time I heard it I knew that this was a breakthrough Song for Nick Lowe –  a Song that would get up and walk away by itself into History.

A Song I have sung along with scores of times during Nick Lowe concerts and many hundreds of times at home through all the stages of my life.

Sometimes when the world did indeed seem a wicked place and this Song quickened my search for the light to counter the darkness all around.

‘ ….. There’s one thing I want to know:

What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?

Ohhhh ….
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding’

 

Nick Lowe has said that this Song represented his first truly original idea as a songwriter and that having had that idea he realised that his task was then not to mess up the song by trying to be too clever – let the song flow naturally.

Brinsley himself on masterful rhythm guitar, Ian Gomm on chiming hats off to Roger McGuinn Guitar (and heavenly vocal harmony arrangement).

Bob Andrews on hats off to Garth Hudson keyboards with Billy Rankin on martial drums,

Together with Nick on Bass they hit a dead bullseye.

I remember walking back to the tube station in the rain after the first time I heard this song all the while serenading bemused passers by with:

‘ … Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside,
There’s one thing I want to know:

What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?’

That’ll do as a definition of an Anthem for me!

Image result for brinsley schwarz group 1974 images

Once a true Song arrives it begins to find its audience.

In Liverpool in the early 70s when Brinsley Schwarz played their gigs an intense young man with a burning desire to get his songs heard was always at hand  – Elvis Costello (then Declan McManus).

In Nick Lowe he found an established songwriter who was willing to take the time to listen and provide encouragement to an unknown novice.

So, in 1978 as Elvis’ career began to gain momentum, he turned to an old favourite written by his Producer, Nick Lowe.

The result was a call to arms, flamethrower version, that launched Nick’s great song into the American market and the consciousness of American songwriters and singers.

Elvis, characteristically, located the anger within the song accompanying the philosophical musing of the Brinsley’s original.

No one can ignore this take on the Song!

In a sense sending a song out to the world is like throwing a message in a bottle into the ocean – the tides and currents take over and you never know where it will end up.

Remarkably, in 1992, Nick’s Song ended up as part of the soundtrack of the film, ‘The Bodyguard’ featuring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner.

Everyone will remember Whitney’s Diva take on Dolly Parton’s, ‘I Will Always love You’ many fewer will have noted the presence of, ‘What’s So Funny ..’ sung by Curtis Stigers.

For Nick the bonanza was that the soundtrack LP sold an astonishing 44 Million copies transforming his bank balance at a stroke!

He must have reflected as the royalty cheques steamed in that his decision a decade earlier (prompted by manager Jake Rivera) to buy sole rights to his publishing was a very wise move indeed.

Among the song writing community picking up on the mysterious power of the song was Lucinda Williams.

For walk on, walk on, though you’re bruised and battered, just makes me want to cry, heart on the sleeve directness you just can’t beat Lucinda!

Now, if you want to be uplifted, to take heart as you ponder the trials and struggles ahead there can be no better source of inspiration than Mavis Staples.

Mavis’ voice with its inherent power makes you want to fight the good fight whatever the odds and however bleak the outlook.

With virtuoso guitarist Robben Ford she makes real the Song’s call for harmony – sweet harmony.

Hope will never slip away while Mavis is around!

 

Did someone say Anthem?

It is a truth universally acknowledged in the music world that if there’s an anthem to be sung, a rallying cry to be roared out, that Bruce Springsteen is going to be on hand to do just that.

It’s particularly pleasing to me to see him trading vocal lines and guitar licks with the great John Fogarty here.

Hard to be down hearted when this version gets cranked up!

 

Nick Lowe never concludes a concert without playing, ‘What’s So Funny …’ so its been a difficult task to choose the clip to showcase how he plays his masterpiece in his maturity.

But, I kept coming back to the Lion in Winter version where he is accompanied by fellow Brits Paul Carrack and Andy Fairweather Low.

There is wisdom and grace here aplenty.

Straight to the heart.

Straight to the heart.

What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?

Few thing in life are certain.

Yet, one thing I can tell you – the next time Nick Lowe comes to town I’m gonna be in the front row and ready to sing with all the spirit I can muster:

As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity.
I ask myself

Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside,
There’s one thing I want to know:

What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?
And as I walked on
Through troubled times

My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So where are the strong
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?

Sweet harmony.
‘Cause each time I feel it slippin’ away, just makes me want to cry.
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?

So where are the strong?
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony.

‘Cause each time I feel it slippin’ away, just makes me want to cry.
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?

And then I’m gonna shake Nick’s hand and say Thank You.