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.

Image result for mildred anne butler images

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!

Christmas Alphabet S : Silent Night – The Everly Brothers, Sinead O’ Connor & Low

Almost there.

How to prepare?

At this Season wisdom is found not in speech but in silence.

Stand in Awe.

Commune with your own heart.

Be Still.

Hope and wait.

In Silence.

Not in the mountain rending wind.

Not in the earthquake.

Not in the fire.

A still small voice.

To listen you must be silent.

Attend to the great blue bell of silence.

Conversation flourishes when surrounded by silence.

Hidden treasures in silence sealed.

In silence sealed.

Silence of the stars and of the sea.

For the depths of what use is language?

The music is in the silence.

The silence between the notes.

Can you feel the silence?

Don and Phil Everly with The Boys Town Choir of Nebraska.

There is inestimable mystery and depth in the sound of harmonising human voices and few can have sounded those depths as heart wrenchingly as The Everly Brothers.

Can you feel the silence?

Sinead O’Connor.

A singer who takes tender care of silence.

A singer who can, shockingly for us and for herself, cut to the very quick of life.

Can you feel the silence?

From Duluth in the far North, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker – Low.

In stillness a perfect marriage of sound and silence.

Can you feel the silence?

Notes :

Thanks to –  The King James Bible, Plutarch, Charlotte Bronte, Claude Debussy, Cicero, Edgar Lee Masters and Delmore Schwartz for the inspirations.

Next Post – Christmas Eve! 

Christmas Alphabet : M for Maura O’ Connell & Jimmy MacCarthy

Christmas is a time to allow Mystery its proper place at the centre of our being.

There is no master chart for our lives.

That is life’s beauty and its terror.

The older I get the more I believe that the essence of intellectual and spiritual maturity is to understand that each of us is a Mystery surrounded by the Mystery.

We live catching glimpses, if we would but look, of harmonies within Mysteries.

Mystery is a Gift awaiting acceptance.

In deep valleys and high peaks and on grey suburban streets the door to Mystery waits to be opened.

Reports of the Mystery often come from the daydreamers; the madcaps, the geeks with the alchemist’s stone.

In meditation and madness and holy merriment they can hear the grass grow and the heartbeat of the squirrel.

They bring back reports from the other side of silence.

One such voyager is Jimmy MacCarthy, an Irish songwriter steeped in The Mystery.

His song, ‘Bright Blue Rose’ is an invitation to and an invocation of The Mystery.

And it is a holy thing and it is a precious time.

Forget-me-nots among the snow.

It’s always been and so it goes.

For all of you who would discover.

For all of you who seek to understand.

Strike out on your own path.

You’ll find a very special hand.

One bright blue Rose.

Two thousand years and still it grows.

Life and Death Eternally.

One bright Blue Rose.

One bright Blue Rose.

 

Now, if you want to find a singer who can invoke The Mystery, who can make a song a Holy and precious thing, you need look no further than Maura O’ Connell.

She has a voice that can with spare elegance illuminate the Forget-me-nots among the snow.

She has a voice that can with proper discretion usher us towards the bloom of one bright Blue Rose.

One bright Blue Rose.

Two thousand years and still it grows.

One bright Blue Rose.

The Series continues on 19 and 21 December – Don’t Miss One!

Christmas Alphabet I for In The Bleak Midwinter : Shawn Colvin & Bert Jansch

We live, now, in a world where, at the flick of a switch, we can be bathed in brilliant light.

But, for millennia it was not so.

We lived in a world lit only by Fire.

Huddled in the darkness we looked with awe and supplication to the celestial lamps in the sky.

The Stars, The Moon and The Sun.

By observation and calculation we learned to predict the movements of these Heavenly Bodies (oft times believing them to be the actual bodies of the gods who bestowed the light upon us).

We came to know that there was a cosmic dance and that, magically, in December, out of the depths of darkness, the first light of the rising sun signalled rebirth for the land, the crops and for the people.

No matter how dark it gets there is hope, belief, that the light and the warmth it brings will always return.

At Newgrange, in Ireland, before Stonehenge or The Pyramids, the Ancients built a stone vault in honour of the return of the light.

In this vault, at exactly 8.58am each December 21st, the light penetrates to the furthest reaches where the souls of the dead abide.

The light comes once more to the dead.

Heaven and Earth are joined once again.

In the bleak midwinter the cosmic promise is fulfilled.

The sun shines along the passage floor into the inner chamber at newgrange during the 2013 Winter Solstice at Newgrange. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

‘First light like share-shine in a furrow

 Steadily deeper, farther available,

Creeping along the floor of the passage grave

To backstone and capstone, to hold its candle

Inside the cosmic hill. Who dares say ‘love’

At this cold coming? Who would dare not say it?’ (Seamus Heaney)

Though the frosty wind makes moan and earth stands hard as iron and though the snow falls snow on snow on snow there is an end to the bleak midwinter.

The light returns.

Hope returns.

Shawn Colvin with a tender version of Christina Rossetti’s great Christmas Carol.

Shawn lets the Mystery Be.

Now, Bert Jansch, has always been able to let the Mystery Be.

His plays the guitar in quest of the mysteries we all feel as we look up at those celestial lamps.

His genius is to conjure from six strings ancient knowings that cannot be expressed in words.

Surely among the tribe at Newgrange there were musicians and singers waiting, with bated breath, for that redemptive first light at all those years ago.

If they were able to hear Bert play now they would recognise, at once, a Brother.

The Alphabet Series continues on 13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Don’t miss One!

 

Richard & Linda Thompson : Down Where The Drunkards Roll

Some of us move surefooted through this wicked world.

Insouciantly dodging the broken pavements, the hidden potholes and the disguised ditches.

Most of us get by more or less intact.

Sometimes tripping.

Sometimes stumbling.

Sometimes falling flat on our face.

Everybody, everybody, Falls.

We get by because we are uplifted, caught, by a net of love and affection laid down by  our family and friends.

The cuts and bruises, initially so dramatic, fade away and heal.

Barely limping we march on down life’s highway.

But, there are others among us for whom no net is spread or for whom no net is strong enough – so fast and surely do they Fall.

These afflicted Souls have always lived in some dark corner of every town, in every land, in every era.

You probably know where they congregate in your town.

Though you may pass by at speed you’ll know where The Drunkards Roll.

You may have been, in your days of youth, one of those regularly out walking, dressed up, gallant, cheerily passing, night after night, the keg of wine from hand to hand.

Except, for you, it was a spree you left behind which you now recall half with a smile, half with a shudder.

Not for you the DTs, the shakes and the horrors.

But one or more among you never returned to the broad highway.

One or more among you returned again and again to the dark end of town until it became their physical and spiritual address.

Where’s Bill these days?

Where’s Alice?

Whatever became of Phil?

You’ll never guess where I saw Mary!

Down where the Drunkards Roll.

Down where the Drunkards Roll.

Ah but every one of those Souls has a tale to tell you about how their fall, their particular fall, was so certain, so sure and now it seems so final.

Who will listen?

Who will listen to those tales and retell them with respect?

Embed from Getty Images

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – an orphan who though sent to, ‘A Home’  never, never, found a home and a family to love him and for him to love?

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – a girl who learned at unbearable cost that some sacred trusts are betrayed and can never be spoken about out loud or sober?

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – a priest who found he could just about bear the secrets he was told but who broke down because of the weight of the secrets of his own?

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – a rain sodden, once ramrod straight soldier with medals flashing in the sun, who now after so many deaths, so much loss, shambles along shouting oaths to the winds in stained pants?

Who will hear these shouts, these blasted cries and curses and hear in them some echo of hymns and praises?

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – the gambler who drew losing hand after losing hand until there was nothing left for her to lose?

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – he sports a Sailor’s cap and in raddled talk he tells of exotic ports and tropical island girls he left behind; yet he knows and we know he never left dry land?

Maybe, only Lord Jesus will truly understand.

Who among us now will see and sing and try to understand?

Who among us will see, sing and tell their tale?

See, sing and tell their tale?

 

 

Richard and Linda Thompson from their stunning 1974 debut Album, ‘I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight’.

A radical, clear sighted, aching tenderness suffuses the whole record.

It’s present in every note of Richard’s limpid guitar.

It’s present in every syllable of Linda’s heart wrenching vocals.

In Down Where The Drunkards Roll they achieve a rare state of musical empathy and grace.

There is nothing voyeuristic or callous here nor any empty greetings card sentiment.

Richard Thompson accepts that the world can be a desolate place filled with dread.

Not shrinking from the fathomless cliffs of fall he yet conjures consolatory beauty.

He has heard and not shrunk from midnight’s broken toll.

Staring into the darkness with a steady heart he can write, sing and play songs that honour the Drunkards and the ‘confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse’.

Oh, and if you ask me, if you’re looking for Lord Jesus, I wouldn’t go looking on 5th Avenue or Bond Street, Passeig de Gracia or Arbat Street.

No.

No, I would cross to the far side of the tracks.

I would seek the alley where no lights shine.

The place filled with gamblers who never drew a hand.

With sailors who never left dry land.

I would look in the slums and the favelas.

I am as certain as certain can be you’ll find him Down Where The Drunkards Roll.

Down Where The Drunkards Roll.

And, if you need to fortify your Soul as you journey here’s a song to keep in your heart.

 

 

Notes :

I listened to many very fine versions of this song including solo live versions by Richard, The Thompson Family, Loudon & Rufus Wainwright, Jon Boden and Bellowhead.

They all have something to recommend them.

None however can match the plangent perfection of the original which also features Simon Nichol and Trevor Lucas.

John Martyn : May You Never

It’s a New World.

A New World.

Now, there’s a baby in the house.

The air is suffused with Love and Wonder and a daily sense that Miracles are all around us.

The Decibel Level sways between the extremes.

In the intermittent pools of perfect Peace there is time for reflection.

You find that your first and second thoughts are no longer about yourself but about the one dreaming those unknown snuffling dreams in the Crib.

You find a certain sense of repose overtakes you.

And, in that blessed state, out of the mysterious mental ether, the melodies and the words flow.

Melodies and words from a man, John Martyn, a musician and miracle worker, who lived ten large and generous lives in his bare three score years :

And may you never lay your head down
Without a hand to hold
May you never make your bed out in the cold

Embed from Getty Images

Oh, please won’t you, please won’t you

Bear it in mind – Love is a lesson to learn in our time.

The version below, one of the most perfect recordings ever made, comes from John’s Immortal Album, ‘Solid Air’.

The story goes that John, knowing that this was a Song of Songs, felt every take wasn’t just right.

Producer John Wood, a key figure in so many great records, about to master the album, put his foot down – ‘.. For Christ’s sake, John, just go back in the studio and play it again and record it!’

And, so is History made.

May You Never takes up its place as A50 on The Immortal Jukebox.

 

John Martyn said there was a place between words and music and right there was where his voice lived and breathed.

As for his guitar on this song all I can say is that the mixture of attack and restraint, of power and tenderness has rarely if ever been matched.

Sometimes all the planets and stars are in perfect alignment and the music of the spheres comes through loud and clear.

Loud and clear.

May You Never is a Song I loved with a passion from the first time I heard it over 40 years ago and it has yielded vein after vein of treasure as I have listened to it many hundreds of times as the decades flowed by.

John Martyn, especially in the 1970s, was a sorcerer in live performance.

His Guitar playing achieves a level of duende that goes far beyond technical brilliance – it’s a revelation of the Soul.

Combined with his, ‘Come closer, I’m letting you in to a great secret’ vocals he set up an immensely attractive gravitational force that drew you in and captured your heart and soul.

 

 

There can be no denying that John Martyn through his immense appetite for Alcohol and other substances made mighty efforts to sabotage his enormous talents.

Yet, gifts such as he was given, though shadowed are rarely wholly extinguished.

Here’s a performance from his later years showing that the magic could still light up fellow musician and an audience.

In particular I want to draw your attention to the Bass playing of Danny Thompson who was virtually a brother to John Martyn.

When they had a night out on the town, trailing havoc in their wake, it was as if John Wayne and Victor McLaglen had been reincarnated as Master Musicians!

The lines about never losing your temper in a bar room fight were born of deep experience!

But, in the studio or on stage their soul friendship produced  music making of the very highest order.

Kathy Mattea and Dobro King Jerry Douglas add diamond decoration.

No wonder he liked that one.

Take it to Church John!

Take it to Church.

 

 

All that’s left to say is that I wish my granddaughter and all of you a warm hand to hold and   may we all bear in mind that Love is the lesson to learn in our time.

In Memory of John Martyn 1948 to 2009.

Notes:

I am going to write many more Posts on John Martyn.

For now I would urge you to purchase, ‘Solid Air’ as a matter of urgency

Into The Mystic : Michael Hartnett, The Gloaming – A Necklace of Wrens

 

Loyal readers of The Jukebox will know that as St Patrick’s Day approaches each March, honouring my heritage, I tip my hat to Irish Writers, Painters and Poets especially dear to my heart.

I had thought to include the Poet Michael Hartnett and Master Musicians The Gloaming in my St Patrick’s Parade 2019.

But, last week, I found the line, ‘Their talons left on me scars not healed yet.’ echoing through my night and daytime dreaming mind.

Scanning the Poetry section of my bookshelves I lighted upon Michael Hartnett’s Collected Poems and soon found his revelatory, ‘A Necklace of Wrens’ in both the English and Irish Language versions.

As the poem tells us Hartnett accepted a Mystic invitation into the Poet’s life

Initiation would bring both wound and blessing and gathering understanding that the craft demanded lifelong fidelity.

A necklet of feathers is yet a collar.

It is the Poet who, through the craft, makes us see the wet meadow, the otherness of the realighting birds and the sharpness of their talons.

Michael Hartnett had the precious gift of revealing to us the sharp wonder of the world all around us.

Now, let’s hear him read the Poem and tell the story of its genesis including his poignant relationship with his Grandmother.

 

 

A Necklace of Wrens
For Mícheál Ó Ciarmhaic, file

When I was very young
I found a nest
Its chirping young
were fully fledged.

They rose and re-alighted
around my neck,
Made in the wet meadow
a feather necklet.

To them I was not human
but a stone or tree:
I felt a sharp wonder
they could not feel.

That was when the craft came
which demands respect.
Their talons left on me
scars not healed yet.

Michael was a Poet in both Irish and English.

It seems to me that this Poem, deeply etches itself into the imagination with the simplicity and unsounded depths of an ancient fable.

This surely takes it’s inspiration from the Irish Bardic tradition.

There is a haunting yet spare music in his reading of the Poem in it’s native Irish form that will not leave you.

An Muince Dreoilíní
Do Mhícheál Ó Ciarmhaic, file

I mo bhuachaill óg, fadó fadó,
d’aimsíos nead.
Bhí na gearrcaigh clúmhtha, fásta,
is iad ag scread.

D’éirigh siad – is thuirling
arís ar m’ucht
Ormsa bhí muince clúimh
sa mhóinéar fliuch.

Níor dhuine mé ach géag crainn
nó carn cloch
ach bhí iontas crua nár bhraith said
ag bualadh faoi m’ucht.

B’in an lá ar thuirling ceird
a éilíonn ómós:
is d’fhág a n-ingne forba orm
nár leigheasadh fós.

The Irish musicians of The Gloaming also specialise in bringing us home to our sense of wonder.

Martin Hayes from County Clare plays the Fiddle, Dennis Cahill Chicago born with Kerry lineage plays the Guitar, Iarla O Lionáird from West Cork provides the Vocals, Dubliner Caoimhin O Raghallaigh plays the Fiddle and Thomas Bartlett from Vermont plays the Piano.

Together they open up the music of the heart’s core.

Sometimes, in the darkest hours of the night when dawn is not yet even promised I like to climb to the top of the ridge and shed the distractions of the electronic buzz and the timetable of planned activities.

At first it is hard to simply stand still and still the whirling mind.

Persevere and breathe.

Persevere and breathe.

At first the senses search for what’s not there – the bright light, the sounds of cars and conversation before adjusting to what is there – the hoot owl singing, the glimmer of the constellations, the beating of your own heart.

And then, only then, a vacancy waiting to be filled, can you hear the music of the night.

That’s what the music of The Gloaming sounds like to me.

 

Notes :

Michael Hartnett’s Collected Poems published by Gallery is one of the greatest achievements of modern Irish literature.

The Gloaming have released three CDs, ‘The Gloaming’, ‘Gloaming 2’ and ‘Live at the NCH (National Concert Hall’. I can not recommend them highly enough.