Van Morrison : GLORIA! GLORIA! GLORIA! GLORIA!

Let’s remind ourselves what’s A1 on The Immortal Jukebox and why!

Some songs have a brutally simple primal perfection.

Usually these songs are recorded at the very beginning of an artists career before they start to look into the rear view mirror and become conscious that they do indeed have a career, a legacy and a reputation to protect.

These are records that come at you full bore and demand you listen now!

Think of the primitive perfection of the last song recorded on the day the Beatles recorded their first LP.

You want to know what The Beatles sounded like in Hamburg? Listen to the raw bleeding magnificence of John Lennon’s vocal on, ‘Twist and Shout’ and the eyeballs out commitment of Paul, George and Ringo.

There was no way a second take could top that!

Think of the stupid beauty of the Undertones debut single, ‘Teenage Kicks’ – a record that captured as few others have the thrilling intoxication of young love and lust.

Feargal Sharkey’s impassioned vocal (All right!) and the unrepeatable delirium of Damian O’ Neill’s guitar solo combine to create a miracle that comes up fresh every time and is endlessly replayable – which seems a pretty good definition of what I want from a jukebox single.

And then there’s the Daddy of all primal utterances on 45 – Gloria by Van Morrison during his days with Them.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that throughout the 1960s that wherever and whenever a group of would be rock and roll stars gathered – in the family garage, in the basement or at a flea bitten church or municipal hall – very soon after they had plugged in they would launch, with wildly varying degrees of competence, into their own version of, ‘Gloria’.

Puzzled passers-by must have wondered why such a simple name needed to be spelled out with such repetitive intensity.

‘And her name is G – L – O – R – I – A, Gloria!’.

They must also have shuddered at the threat:

‘ I’m gonna shout it out night and day .. G – L – O – R – I – A! G – L – O – R – I – A, Gloria!’.

It is likely that many of the groups who attacked the song made a fair fist of the instrumental ground of the song – three chords don’t take long to master.

A few of the lead guitar players will have matched Jimmy Pages fluency and prowess as demonstrated on the recording.

However, No-one, No-one, will have come anywhere near reproducing the frenzied intensity of Van Morrison’s pyrotechnic vocal.

This Van Morrison was not the superlative song stylist or the Celtic soul and blues master he would later become.

This was a snarling, desperate, bewildered teenager who was reluctantly coming to terms with life and lust. The whole painful mess of it all.

A youth who looked down more than he looked up but who was nevertheless able to surprise himself with the ability to express vocally the gamut of emotions and frustrations he faced every day and every night.

But, from the very get-go in his career there was no doubt about who was leading and commanding the band.

Van Morrison on the bandstand or in the studio acts as an emperor, a ruler by right of his eminent majesty as a singer and as a band leader. In this, as so much else, he took his cue from the high priest of soul – Ray Charles.

Gloria is a work of explosive youth, of wanting and yearning, of overwhelming mind and body dominating lust.

Gloria may be the most purely male, testosterone fueled record ever made.

Gloria, five feet four from her head to the ground, is the eternal lust object. Van Morrison might say that she knocks upon his door and even more thrillingly comes to his room but the thrust of the song seems to me to be the solitary, devoutly told repetition of an oft returned to fantasy.

There may well have been a real Gloria but it is the dream of Gloria who knocks on Van’s door with such insistent force. Surely, if he could only chant her name with enough power she would indeed knock upon his door and make all his fevered dreams come true:

G – L – O – R – I A !! G- L- O- R – I – A

The musical drive of Gloria is the relentless beat, beat, beat of male desire in all it’s sullen and obsessive purity. Gloria is the incarnation on vinyl of the desperate teenage male imperative to be adultly carnal – its a boy desperately wanting, needing, to be a man.

Gloria has more tension than release – much like all young lives. This is no doubt why it appealed so powerfully to beat group boys all over the world.

Van snarls his way through the lyric with his uniquely salty Belfast tones alternately pressing and holding back – he already had a grasp of dynamics within song arrangement born of years of listening to Ray, John Lee and Leadbelly on the street where he was born.

Gloria is also as every listener who’s ever heard it knows one hell of a rush!

It comes roaring out of the speakers and before you have time to catch your breath you are carried along on its tidal wave of rhythmic power.

Two minutes and thirty-eight seconds later you will be nearly as elatedly exhausted as Van Morrison himself.

Take a breath or two and maybe down a shot of Bushmills – then press A1 again – you know you want to.

Notes & Comments:

Gloria was recorded on April 5 1964 at Decca’s Studio in West Hampstead, London and released as the B side of Baby Please Don’t Go on July 6th.

Them members Billy Harrison (guitar), Alan Henderson RIP (bass), Ronnie MIllings (drums) and Patrick McCauley (keyboards) were present in the studio when Gloria was recorded and all probably contributed to the single.

Also present were key members of London’s top session musicians of the time. Jimmy Page surely played the lead guitar and Bobby Graham (who would later play the on the equally epochal ‘You really got me’, must have played the drums).

Arthur Greenslade probably played the organ.

There have been numerous cover versions. The most commercially successful being that by The Shadows of Knight which made No 10 in the US charts at the end of 1966.

The most artistically successful is Patti Smith’s reinvention of the song on her amazing debut LP ‘Horses’ in 1975.

Immortal Jukebox : The Story So Far (with some vintage Van Morrison as a bonus!)

When I launched The Immortal Jukebox in March 2014 I had, as they say, no expectations.

I just knew that it was time to find out if I could think on the page with the same fluency I could talk about the music I loved.

My readers are of course the judge and jury as to whether I have managed in my writing to convey the depth of my passion for the music and musicians from the golden age of recording – by which I mean the late 1920s to the late 1970s.

It seems I have now written some 200 Posts here on The Jukebox – each one a letter from the heart.

Starting out with just my family and a handful of loyal friends I now see, with some amazement, that my combined WordPress, Twitter and Email followers are now approaching the 10,000 mark!

I determined from the beginning of this adventure that all my posts would read as if no one else could possibly have written them and that no matter how well known the record or artist featured I would illuminate their particular merits from my own unique angle.

I also decided, as time went on, to risk inserting fictional elements and personal anecdotes and reflections into the mix.

It’s my Blog and I’ll rant, rave, laugh and cry if I want to!

Heartfelt thanks to my readers who have produced so many intelligent and inspiring comments and so much warm encouragement.

Remember a handful of Nickels and The Jukebox is a cure for all your ills.

In reflective mode, I’ve been reviewing my Stats and thought I would share some of my discoveries with you.

Top 5 Posts :

1. ‘Ordinary (Extraordinary Stories) featuring Mary Gauthier & Iris Dement

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2. Van Morrison ‘In The Days Before Rock ‘n’ Roll’

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3. ‘An Archangel, A Journey, A Sacred River, The Folk Process & A Spiritual’

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4. ‘Hear that Lonesome Whistle Blow!’ – Train songs featuring Bob Marley & The Wailers, Hank Williams, Curtis Mayfield and John Stewart.

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5. ‘John Lennon loved ‘Angel Baby’ by Rosie Hamlin (RIP) – Here’s Why!

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Thom’s Top 5 (the Posts that gave me the most pleasure to write)

1. ‘Bob Dylan : The Nobel Prize, One Too Many Mornings, The Albert Hall & Me.

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2. Van Morrison : Carrickfergus (Elegy for Vincent)

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3. ‘Walk Away Renee – The Lost Love That Haunts The Heart’

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4. ‘Dolores Keane : Voice and Vision from Ireland’

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5. ‘A Poem for All Ireland Sunday – Up Tipp!’

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If you’ve missed out on any of these – catch up now!

I would be fascinated to know which Posts make your own Top 5 – set the Comments section ablaze!

To conclude let me thank every one of my readers for supporting The Jukebox.

I’ll sign off now with a song from the Patron Saint of The Immortal Jukebox – Van Morrison.

Heart stopping. Spirit lifting.

Hey Girl! Hey Girl!

An eerily beautiful prefigurement of Astral Weeks dreamlike mood.

Van takes a walk and watches the boats go by in the early morning light.

A spectral flute welcomes the wind and sun as Van’s vocal caresses each word of the lyric in which once again he encounters the young girl, his Beatrice figure, who will almost make him lose his mind.

The track is only three minutes and ten seconds long yet seems to last much longer – indeed seems to have stopped the flow of Time itself.

Time itself.

Fathers Day : Paul Simon, John Gorka, Seamus Heaney, Slievenamon & My Dad

It’s 28 years since my Dad died.

Yet, barely a day goes by without me remembering some saying of his or wondering what would he have made of the roller coaster of current events.

Each day, looking in the mirror, I resemble him more and more.

And, each day, I wish I could reach my hand out to hold his once more.

Until that day all I can do is remember him in my prayers, honour him in my actions and stumblingly capture him with my words.

So, for Fathers Day a Reblog of my tribute.

Fathers and Sons. Sons and Fathers. Sons carry their Father’s in their bloodstream, in their mannerisms and gestures and in the echoing halls of their memories.

No matter what you do in life, no matter how radically you roam from where you started you remain in some part of you (in more parts that you usually like to acknowledge) your Father’s son.

The process of becoming a man might be defined as honouring and taking the best from the experiences of your Father’s life while finding through your own experiences the kind of man and Father you want to be yourself.

Coming to terms with your Father, the Son you were and are and the man and Father you have become is the work of a lifetime. A story that’s always unfolding, always being rewritten as you learn more about the man you are and understand more about the man your Father was.

Sons, schooled by the abrasive tides of life, sometimes learn to have a certain humility about the easy certainties of their youth as to who their Fathers was and what made him that way. It’s easy to be a Father until you become one.

‘What did I know? What did I know of
Love’s austere and lonely offices?’ (Robert Hayden)

Sons writing about Father’s is one of the great themes of all literature and songwriting because that story is always current, always unfolding, always full to the brim with all that is human in all its bloody and terrible glory.

No two stories of Fathers and Sons are the same though most will recognise something of themselves in every story.

Here’s a cry from the soul. Paul Simon’s, ‘Maybe I Think Too Much’ from his aptly titled, ‘Hearts And Bones’ record. Fathers and Sons – Hearts and Bones, Hearts and Bones.

Sons never know when they will need to call for their Fathers to appear in their dreams.

‘They say the left side of the brain dominates the right
And the right side has to labor through the long and speechless night
In the night my Father came and held me to his chest.
He said there’s not much more that you can do
Go Home and get some rest.’

The song about Father’s and Sons that grips my heart every time I hear it and which calls to me in the middle of the night is John Gorka’s, ‘The Mercy Of The Wheels’.

Forgive the initially muffled sound.

‘I’d like to catch a train that could go back in time
That could make a lot of stops along the way
I would go to see my Father with the eyes he left behind
I would go for all the words I’d like to say
And I ‘d take along a sandwich and a picture of my girl
And show them all that I made out OK’

I miss my Father. My Dad.

I miss the smell of Old Holborn tobacco as he smoked one of his thin roll your own cigarettes.

I miss the days of childhood when I would buy him a pouch of Old Holborn for Father’s Day.

I miss getting up in the middle of the night with him to hear crackly radio commentaries on Muhammad Ali fights.

I miss the early Sunday mornings when we walked to a church two parishes away because he had been advised to walk a lot after his heart attack.

I miss hearing him roar home Lester Piggott as he brought the Vincent O’Brien horse into the lead in The Derby with half a furlong to go!

I miss hearing him say, ‘There’ll never be another like him’ as Jimmy Greaves scored another nonchalant goal for Spurs.

I miss hearing him say, ‘That was a complete waste of electricity’ as he glanced at the TV screen as some worthy drama concluded.

I miss sharing a pot of very, very strong tea with him well before six o clock in the morning – because as anyone with any sense knew the best of the day was gone before most people bothered to open an eye.

I miss sitting with him in easeful silence.

I miss him always expecting me to come top in every exam while always expecting me not to count on that.

I miss his indulgence in Fry’s Chocolate Cream bars.

I miss him saying, ‘You’ll be fine so ..’ whenever I had to face a daunting new challenge in life.

I miss him calling out the names of the men who worked with him on the building sites – Toher and Boucher and O’ Rahilly with me double checking the spellings as we filled out (creatively) the time sheets accounting for every hour of effort in the working week

I miss watching him expertly navigating his way to a green field site not marked on any map to start a new job and then watching him get hopelessly lost a mile from home on a shopping trip

I miss watching his delight as David Carradine in the TV show Kung Fu, unarmed, took on another gang of armed swaggering bullies and reduced them to whimpers in a few moments – ‘You watch he’ll be catching bullets next’.

I miss hearing his wholly unexpected but wholly accurate estimation of Bruce Springsteen’s cultural importance when seeing him featured on a news special when he first came to England: ‘He’ll never be Elvis’

I miss the way he remained a proud Tipperary man and Irishman despite living for more than 40 years in England.

I miss his quiet certainty that there was an after life – a world where Father’s and Sons divided by death could meet again.

I regret not being able to introduce him to the beautiful woman who, amazingly, wanted to be and became my wife.

I regret not watching him watch my Daughter and my Son grow up into their glorious selves.

I regret not watching him enjoying the pleasures of retirement and old age.

I miss alternating between thinking I was nothing like him and thinking I was exactly like him!

I miss the shyness of his smile.

I miss the sound of his voice.

I miss the touch of his leathery hands.

I miss the way he swept his left hand back across his thinning scalp when he was tired (exactly as I do now).

I miss the sound of my name when he said it.

I miss my Dad.

My dad lies in the green pastures of his beloved Tipperary now under the sheltering slopes of Slievenamon (he would never have forgiven me had he been buried anywhere else!)

You can almost hear this song echoing in the silence all around him.

I walked many roads with my Father.

I’ve walked many miles without him by my side now (though I sometimes feel his presence).

I hope I have many miles to walk until I join him again.

As I walk I will lean on him as I face the twists, turns and trip hazards ahead, accompanied by the words of Seamus Heaney:

‘Dangerous pavements … But this year I face the ice with my Father’s stick’

Thanks to Martin Doyle for featuring this tribute in The Irish Times.

My Dad would have been very proud to see it there.

The Ultimate Irish Ballad & The Kingdom of Kerry for St Patrick’s Day!

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

La Fheile Padraig Sona Daoibh!

‘Being a Kerryman, in my opinion, is the greatest gift that God can bestow on any man. When you belong to Kerry you know you have a head start on the other fellow.

In belonging to Kerry you belong to the elements, to the spheres spinning in the Heavens. You belong to History and Language and Romance and Ancient Song. It is almost unbearable being a Kerryman and it is an awesome responsibility.’  (John B Keane)

‘And sleeping time or waking time ’tis there I long to be

To walk again that kindly street, the place I grew a man

With the boys of Barr na Sraide who hunted for the wran’  (Sigerson Clifford)

 

 

There are 32 Counties on the Island of Ireland.

Each fiercely proud of their own distinctive landscape and culture.

There are 4 ancient provinces : Ulster, Connacht, Leinster and Munster each with a storied history.

But, there is only one Kingdom.

Only one Kingdom.

The Kingdom of Kerry.

Kerry is a Kingdom of Mountains and Lakes and the Sea.

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Kerry is a Kingdom of Poets and Playwrights.

Kerry is a Kingdom of Soldiers, mystic Monks and Polar Explorers.

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Kerry is a Kingdom of Horsemen and the greatest Gaelic Footballers who have ever laced a boot.

Kerry is a Kingdom of Brosnans, McElligotts, O’Sullivans, Kellihers, Foleys and Fitzgeralds.

Kerry is a Kingdom of breathtaking beauty which nurtures dreaming souls.

Dreaming souls like the poet Sigerson Clifford who wrote one of the most heart-piercing ballads in the canon of Irish song, ‘The Boys of Barr na Sraide’.

A song which reminds us of those halycon days, now cherished in the memory, when our lives had no print or plan.

Days, long passed now, spent with the Anam Cara of youth.

Now, like chaff in the wind, The Boys of Barr na Sride, have scattered to the streets of London or Boston or Sydney with the Home Place of Cahirciveen visited in their sleeping time or in waking time reverie.

And, as they dream, they will harmonise with the wonderful Kerry tones of Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh as along with her companions in Danu she takes us, once again to the top of the street where the boys gather to set the world to rights before they set off to hunt for the Wran on St Stephen’s Day.

For the Home Place of Kerry now may lie miles and miles and years and years away from where you stand today but its landscapes, the richness of its language, the romance of its history and the lilt of its song will always, always, lie deep in the heart as long as there are spheres spinning in the heavens.

Our Painting today is by Paul Henry (1876 to 1958). His engagement with the Irish landscape, its seas and its coast have left an indelible mark on the Irish imagination.

 

 

This post dedicated to all the living O’Sullivans, Foleys, Fitzgeralds, Kellihers, Brosnans and McElligotts and to all of those sleeping in Kerry’s green fields.

In memory of Joan O’Sullivan Hickey, proud native of Killorglin in Kerry, who I will meet again when the wheel of life runs down and peace comes over me.

 

 

Photos in descending order:

Carrantuohill Mountain at 3,046 Feet the highest in Ireland.

One of my proudest accomplishments is to have climbed it early one morning after a night of intensive training with my cousin Michael in Falvey’s Bar in Killorglin.

Killarney lakes at sunrise as seen from ‘Ladies View’

Slea Head, Dingle.

Brendan Kennelly (born 1936). Poet and Professor Emeritus at Trinity College. His collection, ‘The Man Made of Rain’ is never far from my reach.

John B Keane (1928 to 2002) Playwright, Publican, Storyteller of genius.

Monastic Settlement Skellig Michael – The home of a monastery for a dozen monks from the 6th to the 12th Century. A World Heritage Site and a liminal place between worlds.

Tom Crean (1877 to 1938) Polar Explorer with Scott and Shackleton and a Homeric Hero.

Bryan Cooper (born 1992) A Jockey I have sometimes entrusted my shirt to. His 3 winners at Cheltenham in 2013 allowed me to lay in a grand store of fine shirts for many a year.

Mick O’Connell (born 1937) in Valentia. A natural aristocrat in his bearing. Legendary Gaelic Footballer for Kerry. Selected for the GAA’s All Ireland Team of The Century. My uncle Joe (RIP) said he was the greatest player who ever lived and I never argued with my Uncle Joe.

Sigerson Clifford (1913 to 1985) Poet and Playwright. Reared in Cahirciveen. His, ‘Ballads of a Bogman’ has added many treasures to the Kerry Word Hoard.

Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh (born 1978) is a superlative singer in her native Irish and in English. All her recordings with Danu and solo come unreservedly recommended.

 

Christy Moore, Jack B Yeats – Posts for St Patrick 2

 

The Home Place.

Never more real and vivid than when recollected in the imagination.

We are our memories.

And, our memories, particularly those which carry the most emotional charge, are constantly being selected, edited and recast.

The stream of memory is never stilled.

The genesis of a song, a poem, a story or a painting begins in an insistent whisper from the memory.

A whisper which cannot be ignored.

Such a whisper was heard in the 1930s by Jack McAuliffe from Lixnaw in County Kerry as he sat sat in a cottage near Dooneen Point.

In response he wrote a poem that became the ballad, ‘The Cliffs of Dooneen’.

 

The key duty of an creative artist is to closely attend to those whispers and make them real in words on the page, notes in the air or brush marks on the canvas.

And, the truth of the song or the poem or the painting is the truth of the imagination and cannot be reduced to the mundane metric of exact measurement.

You may not be able to see Kilrush and Kilkee form the Cliffs of Dooneen with the naked eye but I defy anyone alive not to see them, clear as the light of dawn, in the mind’s eye when conjured up with lyrical tenderness by Christy Moore and Planxty (featuring the heart piercing piping of Liam O’Flynn)

So too the trembling hare and the lofty pheasants making homes for their young.

And, whoever you are, wherever you are, however far you have traveled from your own native home far away from the mountains and away over the foam you will have within you memories of all the kind people you have left behind.

In the quiet watches of your dreams you will bathe in the streams and the meadows of your youth.

And, when you hear, ‘The Cliffs of Dooneen’ you will find yourself singing along with a full heart and tears in your eyes.

‘You may travel far far from your own native home

Far away o’er the mountains far away o’er the foam

But of all the fine places that I’ve ever seen,

There’s none to compare with The Cliffs of Dooneen

Take a view o’er the water fine sights you’ll see there

You’ll see the high rocky slopes on the West coast of Clare

The towns of Kilrush and Kilkee can be seen

From the high rocky slopes at The Cliffs of Dooneen

Its a nice place to be on a fine Summer’s day

Watching all the wild flowers that ne’er do decay

The hare and lofty pheasant are plain to be seen

Making homes for their young round The Cliffs of Dooneen

Fare thee well to Dooneen fare thee well for a while

And to all the fine people I’m leaving behind

To the streams and the meadows where late I have been

And the high rocky slopes of The Cliffs of Dooneen’

 

The featured Painter today is Jack B Yeats (1871 to 1957)

We return to the theme of The Horse in Irish culture.

I have seen many thousands of horses in my life yet I have never seen a horse so thrillingly, mystically, alive as the horse in Jack B Yeats painting above.

 

 

Paul Brady, Liam O’Flynn, Basil Blackshaw: Posts for St Patrick 1

Christmas. New Years Day. Spring Solstice. Lent.

Easter. Midsummer Day. First leaf fall. First fall of snow.

Way markers of the passing year.

As the shadows lengthen, as they do for us all, you appreciate all the more the opportunity to celebrate with those dear to you now and remember those vanished like the melting snow so dear in the memory.

Each new feast chiming with all those that have gone before in the quickening parade of our lives.

If you are Irish, or of Irish stock, St Patrick’s Day is a true red letter day.

On my twitter account (@thomhickey55 – sign up now if you’re not signed up already!) I describe myself, among other things, as, ‘Almost Irish’.

That’s because though I was not born in Ireland both my parents and all my forebears were.

So, I unhesitatingly believe that whatever literary or rhetorical gifts I possess are drawn from a deep Celtic well.

My mother told me a million stories and taught me how to tell them too.

My Dad taught me how to listen to the important things that are always said in silences.

So, as I did last year (checkout those posts later) in the run up to St Patrick’s Day on the 17th I’m going to feature some favourite Irish songs, singers and musicians.

As a bonus this time each post will also feature the work of a distinctive Irish Painter/Artist.

The theme for the songs this year is Place. Landscape.

Ireland is a country where there is a deep and abiding attachment to place.

Especially the Home Place.

The Irish, wherever they may travel (and they have traveled all around the globe) never forget the Home Place.

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The place where their family had its roots.

The landscape they knew so intimately which glows bright in their dreams even if they haven’t seen it with their waking eyes for decades.

Sometimes the Home Place was left to foster ambition.

Sometimes the Home Place was left because of poverty.

No one ever left without a backward glance.

Returning no one spies the coast from the air or from the rail of a ship without a salmon leap of the heart.

Today’s song, ‘The Rocks Of Bawn’ is sung by Paul Brady previously the subject of an extensive profile on The Immortal Jukebox.

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No apologies for featuring him again.

Great traditional songs require a singer to bring great gifts of empathy and relaxed concentration to them.

Paul Brady is such a singer.

His style is not to impose himself upon the song but rather to surrender to the soul of the song.

To centre himself in the heart of a song and let its wonders bloom.

Here he is joined by the great Uilleann Piper, Liam O’Flynn, who carries on the tradition of masters like Willie Clancy and Seamus Ennis.

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I can think of no instrument more haunting than the Uilleann Pipes.

Together they produce a performance which stills the heart and which will linger long in the spirit.

No live is so  charmed that it will be without some thankless ploughing.

‘And you never will be able for to plough The Rocks Of Bawn’.

Nothing brings the Home Place so vividly to mind as a song you heard in your youth.

‘And you never will be able for to plough The Rocks Of Bawn’.

Nothing will set tears a flowing more readily than a song you heard in your youth.

‘And you never will be able for to plough The Rocks Of Bawn’.

Nothing will remind you more of the longing child within you still than a song you heard in your youth.

‘And you never will be able for to plough The Rocks Of Bawn’.

 

 

The Artist featured today is the late Basil Blackshaw (1932 to 2016)

Born in Glengormley Antrim and reared in Boardmills County Down.

His paintings both his portraits and his evocations of country life and sports throb with life and colour.

Ireland loves The Horse.

There are few pleasures more sovereign for an Irishman than to cheer home to victory an Irish Horse, schooled by an Irish Trainer and ridden by an Irish Jockey to victory in The Gold Cup or The Grand National.

There are few silences so companionable as those spent watching would be champions exercising on the gallops in the breaking light of a winter morning.

Basil Blackshaw brings such a scene tenderly to life in his, ‘Morning Exercise’

 

 

 

Dolores Keane : Voice and Vision from Ireland

‘.. Every night their mouths filled with Atlantic storms and clouded-over stars and exhausted birds. And only when the danger was plain in the music could you know their true measure of rejoicing in finding a voice where they found a vision.’ (Eavan Boland)

‘As long as Dolores Keane is walking around this earth, I won’t call myself a singer. I think she’s the voice of Ireland.’ (Nanci Griffith)

To my mind the besetting malady of modern life is atomisation.

Meagre lives lived in migraine-fraught locked and barred isolation.

When I seek a musical antidote to my despair about this situation I turn most often to a singer, Dolores Keane, whose every breath embodies not atomisation but connection. Embed from Getty Images

Dolores had the immense good fortune to be born, in 1953, into a family who were keepers of the flame of Irish Traditional Music in a time when the deep treasures of the tradition were at risk of being swept aside by the glittering lures of commercial modernity.

From the age of four Dolores lived in Caherlistrane, County Galway, with her aunts Rita and Sarah.

The Keane sisters played accordion and fiddle but their greatest accomplishment was their heart stopping prowess as duet singers of ballads in the Sean-nos or old style.

Literally growing up at their feet Dolores imbibed their mastery through every pore of her being. In the kitchen and in the parlour songs sounding the depths of human experience were sung with full hearted candour and artistic delicacy.

Dolores, as a child, was exposed, initiated, into the, ‘Big Music’. Later, while still a young woman she was able to give life to the Big Music herself.

Knowing, in her heart and bones, where she was from set her free to voyage out into the wider world armed with a sense of inner poise.

The golden lesson Dolores learned from Rita and Sarah was that a singer’s duty was to devote all the emotional and technical resources in their gift in service of the song.

To bring a song to quickening life required discipline, engagement and above all attention. Attention to lyric, story and melody.

Attention to breath and pace.

Artistic, emotional and spiritual attention. Dolores listened with rapt attention to the artistry of her aunts. The proof of how diligently she attended can be heard through every moment of her sublime performance of, ‘The May Morning Dew’ from her debut solo record, ‘There Was A Maid’.

There can be no such thing as the definitive performance of such a song.

Traditional singers taking on the challenge are in pursuit of a wild hare which will always eludes capture.

There is always, always, more singing in the song.

Yet we can say that it is hard to imagine that anyone has ever engaged in a more thrilling pursuit than Dolores.

She inhabits, ‘The May Morning Dew’ so intensely that we feel connected to a complete world.

Connected to a living hospitable community.

Connected to the trees and the sky, the flowers in the valley, the calling of the small birds and the farmyard dogs.

Connected to the sound of the kettle boiling on the hob as neighbours converse on matters of great local import under the sky blue and clear.

Feeling the tender warmth of such a world we must feel too the chill and the pang of knowing that all things must pass, all things must pass.

So the beloved house will become but a stone on a stone and the lovingly tended garden a a riot of weeds.

And, like the red rose our parents, our friends and relations and, we cannot deny it ourselves, will perish in the May morning dew.

Dolores’ singing arrests time and allows us, each in our own way, according to our history, to contemplate and perhaps come to terms with the timeless truths of the song.

Next a contemporary song, ‘Never Be The Sun’ written by Donagh Long.

Every listener to this song will recall the one, who for them, will always be the light. Always be the light.

I have never listened to this performance without salt tears cascading down my face.

I really have no words to express how magnificent Dolores singing is here except to say that as she sings I leave the dusty Earth behind as she sets the very sun, the deepest ocean, the moon and the stars in sway.

Listening to Dolores singing epic ballads from the treasury of folk music history has convinced me that very few modern songwriters have works to compete with that great writer, ‘Trad’.

Still, we can all allow that Bob Dylan and Richard Thompson have added mighty stones to the cairn of the song hoard.

And, it is certain that the late Guy Clark, supreme craftsman of the narrative ballad, has too.

The pain and the promise of emigration seems to be always present in Ireland’s history and culture. As such it has proved a rich seam for songwriters to mine.

With, ‘Emigrant Eyes’ Guy Clark, with typical skill, yokes the sweep of history with the hope and the blood and the tears of generations to make a song crying out for a singer who can hold all these in balance.

A singer who can span oceans and centuries and set the heart and imagination ablaze.

In Dolores Keane he finds that singer.

I will leave you with a privileged glimpse into the roots of Dolores Keane’s art.

Together with her beloved Aunts Rita and Sarah she sings, ‘Once I Loved’ .

As they sing they evoke for me all time and no time.

History and pre-history.

Fairy forts and ancient barrows.

Passage graves, beehive chapels and high crosses.

Healing wells and hedge school philosophy.

Blind Harpers and hermit Saints.

The flight of the Heron and the Curlew.

The rush of the wind over the reeds.

The mysterious music of the constant moon and the day-blind stars.

Dolores Keane, while gifting us untold riches, has come through well documented struggles with depression, alcohol and cancer.

She is a singer of the stature of Bessie Smith, Umm Kulthum and Aretha Franklin.

She has sung herself, and us as listeners, back to where the singing comes from.

I wish her health and peace and songs to sing whenever she chooses to sing them.

 

Notes: Dolores Keane has an extensive catalogue.

Every record she has ever made is worth of your attention.

My personal favourites are:

‘There Was A Maid’

‘Solid Ground’ ‘

Broken Hearted I’ll Wander’ & ‘Farewell To Eirinn’ (With John Faulkner)

‘De Dannan’ & ‘Ballroom’ (from her time with the group De Dannan)

 

Rita & Sarah Keane’s mesmeric singing can be found on, ‘Once I Loved’ & ‘At The Setting Of  the Sun’.

There is a heart wrenching documentary, ‘A Storm in the Heart’ on Dolores’ life by Liam McGrath.

The best book on Traditional Music I have ever read is Ciaran Carson’s, ‘Last Night’s Fun’.

A fascinating insight into Caherlistrane where Dolores grew up can be found in the history/memoir, ‘Caherlistrane’ by Mary J Murphy – available online from Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway.