A Poem for All Ireland Sunday – Up Tipp!

This Sunday sees my Dad’s beloved Tipperary contest the All Ireland Hurling final against all conquering Kilkenny.

So I have decided to Reblog a post from the early days of The Jukebox which evokes the feelings of anxious exiles listening to the radio on All Ireland Sunday.

Up Tipp! Up Tipp!

Once or twice a year when the stars are in their correct alignment and the muse comes to call I find myself moved to write a poem.

I present one below that came unbidden one Sunday afternoon some years ago just after I had listened to a commentary on an Irish hurling match between arch county rivals Tipperary and Kilkenny.

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Sundays in summer my father took me with him to hear the Gaelic Games
Hurling, of course, a Tipperary Man’s birthright and delight.

Since radio reception of RTE – which on the old valve box still read, ‘Athlone’
Was poor and filled with a blizzard of wordless static we’d take the car (a Hillman Imp)

Up the vertiginous slope of Harrow on the Hill and park next to a telegraph pole –
In search of a perfect signal

As if by magic through the air came the alternating anguished and ecstatic tones of Michael O’Hehir –
his voice slicing through the miles like the Sliothair splitting the posts
For a marvellous point

Listening, rapt, willing victory, the match would pass in what seemed minutes
After, we’d sit in easeful silence as the evening became itself
And we were simply ourselves : a father and a son at one

Listening on a clear channel.

Notes:

Though I firmly believe that a poem should always retain some mystery many of you deeply versed in the lore of music may find some of the references above baffling.

Here’s a key that may help!

Gaelic Games: The principal Gaelic games of Ireland are Gaelic Football and Hurling. They are played throughout the island of Ireland.

The GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) was instrumental in the revival of these games in the late nineteenth century.

The GAA was very important then in Irish society and culture in fostering a sense of distinct Irish national consciousness. Now that the Catholic Church, has largely lost its grip on Irish society, the GAA is probably the most interwoven institution within that society.

Its strength is that it is an intensely local organisation calling on and winning loyalty from the family, the town land, the parish and finally the County.

GAA rivalries at every geographic level are staggeringly intense. Reputations made playing these games last a lifetime and more.

Hurling: A wonderful field sport played by teams of 15 a side. Players use sticks, called Hurleys. The Sliothair (a ball near in size to a baseball) can be hand passed and hit through the ground or the air.

A point is scored by sending the Sliothair above the bar and between the posts of the opponent’s goal.

Hurling calls for bravery, speed of thought and action and enormous technical skill. Played well it is absolutely thrilling to watch.

RTE: Radio Telefis Eireann – the national broadcasting station of Ireland.

Harrow on the Hill: A leafy suburb some ten miles from central London. Chiefly known for the fee paying public school attended by such luminaries as Lord Byron and Winston Churchill. I grew up there.

Michael O’Hehir: A much beloved commentator on all Irish sports from the mid 1930s to the mid 1980s but particularly associated with Gaelic games.

For exiles from Ireland listening to him was an extraordinarily powerful emotional experience. He was deeply knowledgeable and had the gift of coining a memorable phrase in the moment an event took place.

His voice could climb dizzily through the registers from marching band flute to ear splitting soprano saxophone squaks!

This post dedicated to the memory of my father, Wally Hickey (1926 – 1989).

Joyous update!

Tipperary 2-29 Kilkenny 2-20 ..

All Ireland Champions 2016 – Tipperary!!

An epic performance by the men in Blue and Gold!

My Dad will be having quite the party in Heaven!

Nick Drake : River Man, Oh how they come and go …

I was woken this morning from a full five fathom sleep by the shrill steam whistle of a ferry boat about to depart for the tranquil sanctuary of some green Nordic isle.

As I floated upward into consciousness I carried with me a gift from my subconscious: no doubt inspired by the moon above the harbour the previous evening.

So .. luxuriating in the drowsiness of my summer vacation and not equipped or inspired to present you with my customary impeccably researched and deeply pondered musings I offer to you the gift given to me.

Nick Drake. For a spell in the 1970s I was deeply obsessed with the persona and music of Nick Drake (whereas now I remain merely mildly obsessed).

And, there is good reason to be obsessed with the music of a man who left to us, after such a short life, so much intense beauty.

I will have much more to say about Nick Drake later.

For now I will content myself with stating that he was a songwriter with a particularly English, romantic and lyrical sensibility who wrote songs of mythic power.

He was a superlative guitar player with a wholly distinctive tone and sound. And, he was a singer whose voice will haunt your imagination.

River Man has a beguiling pastoral grace demonstrating all the above virtues. I’ve chosen to showcase a live in the studio version recorded for the great British Disc Jockey and cultural bellwether, John Peel.

Nick Drake seemed to live his life drifting further and further away from the safety of the shore.

Yet, even as he heartbreakingly faded away from us into the unknowable blackness beyond he was able to pull from his inner being shafts of light that still blaze with creative fervour.

Like the the moon his music has a mysterious attraction that moves the tides of our hearts.

Four Tops, Rickie Lee Jones – Walk Away Renee : The lost love that haunts the heart

‘One fairer than my love! The all-seeing sun Nee’r saw her
match since first the world begun.’ (Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet)

‘Your name and mine inside a heart upon a wall
Still finds a way to haunt me though they’re so small’ (Michael Brown)

Some guys have all the luck. You know the type. They don’t shuffle and stumble. They stride, stroll and swagger through life. Golden apples and golden girls fall unbidden at their feet.

Most of us alternate between times when the tides of life seems to sweep us happily along and times when they treacherously turns against us. We carry on looking on in wonder at the guys who seem oblivious to those tides. Serenely they surf away from us into a golden sun.

And, some other guys just don’t seem made for these times. Fragile souls who retreat from the clashing, clangourous cacophony all around to the shelter of their rooms.

There in solitude and stillness they tune into tender melodies and celestial harmonies that heal their wounded hearts and near break our own when we are privileged to hear them.

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From a veiled place deep inside the lonely tears and deep inside the hidden pain they spin glistening threads of gossamer music which surprisingly turn out to have a lasting tensile strength able to comfort and support us through the emotional crises that inevitably waylay us on our journey through the years.

The ultimate example here is the awesome genius of Brian Wilson. There will be much to say about the blessed Brian here later.

Today, we turn to a songwriter of striking originality, and singular achievement, the late Michael Brown, who in, ‘Walk Away Renee’ wrote a song whose incandescent beauty will never fade.

A song of haunting depth which, as we will see, calls out to be illuminated, imagined time after time by singers who find themselves gripped by the need to find within themselves the way to the heart of a masterpiece.

Let’s begin at the beginning. In 1965 Sixteen (16!) year old Michael Brown fell mythologically in love (as sensitive 16 year old’s will) with Renee Fladen who was unobtainable by virtue of her beauty which struck Michael dumb and the fact that she was the girlfriend of Tim Finn, the bass player in the group they both belonged to, ‘The Left Banke’.

Agonised and tormented Michael retreated to his room and communing with the Muses came up with a song which devastatingly yokes a lyric of heart sore adolescent angst to an endlessly enchanting melody set in a sophisticated and elegant arrangement.

An arrangement that features Brown’s spectral harpsichord, a string quartet helmed by his father, Harry Lookofsky, a distinguished classical and jazz violinist, and a melancholic, autumnal alto flute solo.

All of this underpinning a tender, introspective, emotionally truthful vocal from Steve Martin. This is a record of riveting gentleness which insinuates itself into the deepest chamber of your memory like the perfect sunset of your youth.

It’s not hard to hear the influences of the sun dappled Mamas and Papas and the pastoral, Choristers on a spree, sound of England’s The Zombies whose, ‘She’s Not There’ must surely have been on heavy rotation on Michael’s turntable.

Of course, like many, he will have spent untold hours beguiled by the melodic and harmonic genius of Brian Wilson though he will have been one of the very few able to turn admiration into true emulation.

Now when I was seventeen going on eighteen I would have told you that sixteen year olds could know nothing of love. And, when I was over the crest of 20, 30 and 40 I would have said the same.

Now that I have crested further summits I’m not so sure. Not so sure. Perhaps sixteen year olds know every bit as much about love as their seniors. Love is love is love and who dares to think they can truly sound the depths of another’s heart?

Michael Brown writing, ‘Walk Away Renee’ at 16 perfectly captured the sweet ache of young love and lost love. We are all eternally in his debt.

The Left Banke original was issued on the Smash label in July 1966 and ascended to Number 5 on the Billboard Chart. It became a touchstone of its times and and came to serve as the very definition of, ‘Baroque Pop’.

The special quality of the song was recognised at Motown and assigned to the ever reliable, Four Tops who recorded it for their 1967, ‘Reach Out’ album. Issued as a 45 in January 1968 it was top 20 in the US and top 5 in Canada, Ireland and the UK.

Here’s a wonderful example of how the collaborative power of the galaxy of talent at Motown could produce records that simply take your breathe away! So many elements of musical brilliance seamlessly integrated. Much of the credit must go to one of the greatest songwriting/production teams of the era – brothers Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier.

They were able to draw on the resources of the stellar team of musicians at Motown to create a record which has subtle detail and immense emotional punch.

From the opening brass flourish we are aware that this is not a record you can turn away from. Benny Benjamin on the drums near matches Levi Stubbs vocal for dramatic effect (near matches for Levi at full throttle is surely unmatchable!).

There’s a delightful rhythm guitar part from Eddie Willis and little remarked upon but beautifully articulated backing vocals from one of Motown’s secret weapons, The Andantes.

In the instrumental break there’s a wonderful confection of softened brass and Woodwinds that shows the refined palette of the storied production team.

And then there’s the always in the pocket vocals of Lawrence Payton, Duke Fakir and Renaldo Benson supporting and encouraging lead singer Levi Stubbs.

Levi Stubbs! Levi Stubbs!

When it comes to describing the singing of Levi Stubbs even the word heroic is inadequate. Perhaps only by overhearing mighty Thor singing the warriors home to Valhalla could we find an apposite correlative for the majesty and power Levi brings to, ‘Walk Away Renee’.

This, in contrast to the swooningly affecting adolescent Left Banke original is a 100% proof adult version with Levi adding layers of inured pain and bruised authority to the song. It’s a wind down the windows and put the pedal to the floor performance that never fails to quicken the pulse.

The next take on Renee I’d like to feature comes from the mercurial RIckie Lee Jones. It’s a track from her arresting EP from 1983, ‘Girl at Her Volcano’ where you can also find alluring versions of, ‘My Funny Valentine’ and, ‘Under the Boardwalk’.

When she’s on form RIckie can take any song – one of her own or one from the classic repertoire – and through a combination of the bohemian off kilter charm of her vocals and piano entirely seduce us.

RIckie doesn’t come at the song head on. Rather, she shines a woozy light on its facets illuminating further beauties within. She takes us by the hand and leads us into a dream world where time is bent and stretched. Where past and present merge. A land where we would not be surprised to see the ghosts of past loves floating, just out of reach, before us.

There’s a touch of shamanistic ritual in Rickie’s version or searching for a literary reference you might call it magic realism. Either way it’s wholly Rickie Lee. The boldness of her imaginative invention is testament to her artistic prowess and a lovely tribute to Michael Brown’s great song.

Now for some blue collar New Jersey soul. No, not The Boss. Here’s a characteristically impassioned version by an artist you can always rely on to give his all to a song – Southside Johnny. I must admit to having punched the air many times when I’ve been to see Johnny in concert.

He has always had the gift of communing with his audience to engage them as conspirators in the enterprise of making a song yield up it’s emotional heart.

This version is the heartfelt confession of a man who’s been around the romantic block more than a few times and has the scars to prove it. But not a man who has given up on love or life.

Finally a lovely, lyrical lullaby version courtesy of Linda Ronstadt and Cajun Queen Ann Savoy. It can be found on their fine album, ‘Adieu False Heart’.

There is something of the polished parlour about this performance which glows in the mind the more you hear it (and I’m sure you’ll want to hear it often).

Walk Away Renee is a song you can’t forget. It speaks to you wherever you may find yourself in the deep woods of life.

You may recall it as you emerge, wet eyed and blinking after struggle, into sunny uplands or you may find yourself singing it softly, softly, as the rain beats down again on your weary eyes.

Few songs can make such a claim. God bless you Michael Brown.

Notes:

Michael Brown after Renee: The recorded legacy of The Left Banke was best captured on the 1982 compilation, ‘There’s Gonna Be a Storm: The Complete Recordings 1966-1969’ on the Mercury label. It includes their 2 albums, ‘Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina’ and,’Left Banke Too’ with an added handful of tracks. Sixteen of the 26 tracks were written by Michael Brown. It is a marvellous record.

On the strength of Renee and the wonderful, ‘Pretty Ballerina’ alone Michael Brown deserves entry into the top echelon of pop songwriters.

Two albums was all Michael managed with Left Banke before he fell out with his bandmates. His later work was with Montage (look out for, ‘She’s Alone’), Stories and The Beckies.

Michael died of heart disease in March 2015.

And Renee?

Renee Fladen-Kamm is now a distinguished singer and vocal coach often working with choirs specialising in medieval music.

More versions of Renee to listen to:

Billy Bragg

Cyndi Lauper

Marshall Crenshaw

Terry Reid

Jimmy Lafave

Elliot Smith

Buddy Miller

Bill Withers : American Hero – born on the 4th of July!

The great Bill Withers was born on July 4th in 1938.

He is a great master of American Song who has added significantly to that treasure trove.

As a tribute I am pleased to reblog a post from the very early days of The Jukebox which many of you will have missed.

 

‘A good man out of the treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things’ (Matthew)

‘Lean on me when you’re not strong and I’ll help you to carry on’ (BIll Withers)

Bill Withers stuttered painfully as a boy and young man which meant he didn’t say much.  What he did do was listen carefully and thoughtfully to the people around him in his family and his community. 

Bill was  born and brought up in poor blue collar West Virginia mining communities where every day was a struggle with the constant background threat of injury and disaster.

In such communities loyalty, mutual reliance  and co-operation were not painted storybook virtues but living realities.   People worked with and for each other so that everyones burden would be a little lighter and thus more bearable. 

Bill was and is a proud working man who knows the labourer is worthy of his hire and worth listening to.

After leaving home at 17 Bill spent 9 years in the US Navy where once again you learned that if you wanted your back covered you had to perform the same service for your comrade – buddy or not.  Your life literally was often in your brother’s hands.

He also listened with intent and attention to the songs he heard in church and on the radio. His imagination became infused with the enduring resorative grace of gospel, the energising pulse of rhythm and blues and the sweet balm of soul music. 

Bill was storing wisdom and treasure in his heart and when the stuttering stopped his voice came through loud and clear. 

Bill Withers would draw from a deep well of resources to write and perform songs that would always be fresh and relevant because they addressed fundamental questions about how our lives were and should be lived.

Which is to say that in many senses Bill Wither’s vocation combined that of a songwriter and singer with that of a preacher ministering to his community through the uplifting medium of music. 

The prolific country songwriter Harlan Howard defined the essence of a great song as three chords and the truth and that’s exactly what Bill Withers offers us in his wonderfully vivid songbook.

Lean on Me is a simple song that tells an eternal truth.   We all have pain, we all have sorrow: we all need someone to lean on.  It opens with plain repeated piano stabs calling the listener to attention – listen up I got something to say! 

The melody and rhythm echo the tradition of a gospel service: state your theme, tell your story through examples we can all recognise from our daily lives then call on the audience to respond. 

Invite your listeners to testify that the seemingly unbearable can be borne if you call out to your brother or if your sister calls out to you – ‘I’ll help you carry on’.

Show that we can all be the leaning post for our brother or sister in need .. ‘I’m just right up the road, I’ll share your load if you just call me.’ 

For, as long as the moon lasts we are  all bound to stumble and fall in this life – it’s just a question of who falls when and how far and whether a helping hand and load bearing shoulder will be at hand to help you up and lead you on. 

The foolishly proud always think they can stand up alone while the wise now that with help we can all make it through today’s troubles to tomorrow.

Lean on me acknowledges, indeed celebrates our weakness and vulnerability but also our strength.  We are supplicants but we are also enablers, uplifters and  restorers. 

Yes, life will batter us and nobody walks in the sunshine all through their life but if we are honest, admit to our difficulties and failings and call for help we can be amazed that others are ready to come to our aid. Family, fraternity and faith in each other will get us through.

Of course, where a song is concerned having good intentions and a good moral to impart does not mean that the song will live. And, if a song does not live, get up and walk by itself on its own merits, then you won’t capture your audience, won’t get them to listen once – let alone sing along and punch that number on the jukebox. 

Lean on Me passes this test easily: it’s a wonderful up and walking living song!

First and foremost Bill Wither’s warm, supple and alluring voice commands your attention and wins your allegiance – you want to listen to what this man has to say.  This is the voice of a strong, mature man with hard miles over rough ground on the clock. 

Yet, it’s the voice of an optimistic man ready to roll up his sleeves and face unafraid whatever challenges the next day will bring.  So, when Bill Withers sings you listen and when he calls out for you to respond you find that before you’ve realised it you’re singing :

‘We all need someone to lean on’

The song proceeds at a stately pace like a great powerful train allowing lolly gagging passengers plenty of time to get on board – confident they are in safe hands and will arrive at the right destination at the appointed time – the driver clearly knows what he’s doing.

As,’Lean on Me’ develops in come the most primal musical accompaniment of all – handclaps.  These are organically perfect in context: a song addressing our common humanity using the, ‘instrument’ even the most musically illiterate can at least assay when enthused. 

On record Bill uses the handclap as a propulsive encourager of the spirit of the song, ‘Come on! This way’.  In concert it is unimaginable that the bands handclaps aren’t swelled by all of those in the audience.  By now everybody is on board the train and seeing themselves as one body – whatever seat they happen to be in.

As the song moves forward the strings come in to emphasise the swelling strength that acknowledged common vulnerability can unlock – ‘Call on me brother’ and we will get through, we will get through – together. 

This is a song, without doubt as time has proven, an anthem, that proclaims our individuality and our community membership should not be warring forces but aspects of a natural, nurturing whole.  That’s what Bill and, ‘Lean on Me’ are – nurture for our humanity.

The greatest ever political leader once put it this way a century or so before Bill, ‘We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies.’. That is how we will find the better angels of our nature.

Abraham Lincoln said that. Or to put it another way:

‘You just call on me, brother, when you need a hand

We all need someone to lean on.’

Bill Withers said that.  I doubt that popular music has ever had a truer or more passionate guide to our better angels than Bill Withers.

 

Notes, Comments and further listening:

Lean on Me was written and produced by Bill Withers and recorded in 1972.

The musicians featured were James Gadson on drums, Ray Jackson on keyboards, Benorce Blackman on guitar and Melvin Dunlap on bass.

Lean on Me was a Number One record on both the R&B chart and the Hot 100 Billboard US charts.

Bill Wither’s catalogue is filled with powerful melodic songs and taut performances.  His first two albums, ‘Just as I Am’ and ‘Still Bill’ are essential components of any record collection. Songs like the warm, witty and wise ‘Grandma’s Hands’ and the gloriously evocative and consoling, ‘Aint No Sunshine’ are undeniable classics.

‘Bill Withers at Carnegie Hall’ is among the very greatest live records with superlative singing and musicianship responding to an audience that is thrilled to celebrate in his company.

Sony have recently reissued the complete Bill Withers catalogue which is widely available at a ridiculously cheap price given the eternity shale it contains.

Fare Thee Well Muhammad Ali – Fare Thee Well Champ

Regular readers of The Jukebox will know of my lifelong love and admiration for Muhammad Ali.

Tens of millions of words will be written about his legendary life and career. Below is the heartfelt, unfiltered, outpouring of a devotee whose life was immeasurably enriched by the great man’s life.

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As usual the music I have chosen speaks with a purity of emotion and eloquence which my writing can never hope to match.

Dare to dream. Dare to dream. Dare to dream.

Pursue your dream with all the energy at your command, all your talent and every ounce of your will.

Wake up in the morning and work every day to make your dream one day nearer to coming true.

You will stall. You will stumble. You will have setbacks and disasters.

Don’t let your dream be dashed. Dare to dream. Dare to dream.

And, when you need inspiration (we all need inspiration) look to Muhammad Ali.

Look up into the night sky. That’s his star shining brilliant and true. Follow the star.

Dare to dream. Dare to dream. Dare to dream.

Muhammad Ali was a skinny Black kid from Louisville Kentucky who dared to dream.

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He dared to dream on stepping into his local gym that he would become the best fighter it would ever see.

He dared to dream that he would be a Golden Gloves Champion.

He dared to dream that he would win an Olympic Gold Medal.

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He dared to dream that he would beat the terrifying, unbeatable Sonny Liston and become the Heavyweight Champion of the whole wide World!

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He dared to dream that he could invent a style of boxing beyond the imaginations of anyone who had ever fought before – float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. No jive you’ll go in five.

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He dared to dream that little educated as he was he could charm paupers and peasants and kings and have all of them laugh with love and recognise a true monarch of life.

He dared to dream that he could stand up proud before the might of the state and say, ‘I won’t fight in a war I don’t believe in’.

He dared to dream when they took his title away that one day he would win it back.

He dared to dream when he lost for the first time in his career to the great Joe Frazier that he would beat him the next time and the time after that.

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He dared to dream that he could beat the unbeatable colossus that was George Foreman.

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He dared to dream that he could break all the rules of boxing and win the title by laying back on the ropes while the hardest puncher in the world whaled on him for all he was worth.

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He dared to dream that when he was cruelly stricken by illness that he would find peace of mind and heart and spirit in the love of his family and God.

He dared to dream that a skinny Black kid from Louisville would become the best known man in the whole wide world.

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He dared to dream that he would become the greatest fighter who ever lived.

He dared to dream that he would become the greatest and most significant sportsman who ever lived.

He dared to dream that his life would uplift and inspire dreamers all over the world.

He fulfilled all of his dreams and launched millions and millions of others because he pursued his dream with all the energy at his command, all of his vast talent and every ounce of his will.

He woke up every morning and worked as hard as he could to bring his dream one more day nearer to coming true.

Though he sometimes stalled, sometimes stumbled and endured setbacks and disasters he never allowed his dreams to be dashed. He always, always dared to dream.

He was Muhammad Ali. He was exactly what he said he was – The Greatest of All Time.

Thank you Muhammad for all the outrageous boasts. Thank you for all the giddy glory. Thank you for all the thrills and all the good hearted laughter.

May all your tears be dried. May flights of angels sing you to your well deserved rest.

Good Night Champ and may God bless and keep you always.

Fred Neil – The reluctant guru of Greenwich Village

‘He was a hero to me’ (David Crosby)

‘I would prefer not to’ (Bartleby the Scrivener- Herman Melville)

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Some artists songs reflect the busy world being born and dying all around them.

Some artists songs are front line combatant reports showing us how it feels to fall in and out of love.

Some artists songs like those of Fred Neil, the subject of today’s Immortal Jukebox tribute, are invitations to enter a dreamscape where the deep emotions of our unconscious selves are mysteriously evoked, recognised and sounded.

Listening to such songs can be an enormously affecting, liberating and transformative experience.

Everybody knows a Fred Neil song though most don’t know that song as a Fred Neil song.

So, ‘Everybody’s Talking At Me’, a song played on the radio all around the world every day is generally regarded as a Nilsson song or, ‘That song from Midnight Cowboy’.

And, ‘Dolphins’ is usually thought of as proof of Tim Buckley’s soaring imagination. Yet both were written and first recorded in definitive versions by Fred Neil.

Fred Neil was a magnificent songwriter with a voice of extraordinary beauty who entranced and permanently influenced the early 60s generation of singer-songwriters who congregated in the artistic crucible/enclave of Greenwich Village in New York City.

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PBob Dylan started out in the village playing harmonica for Fred at Cafe Wha? David Crosby, John Sebastian, Richie Havens and Karen Dalton all sat at Fred’s feet and wondered, ‘How does he do it?’

How does he play with such relaxed freedom and integrate voice and guitar so seamlessly?

How does he write songs that sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before which yet fall upon your ears like the welcome voice of an old friend returning home after a long journey?

How does every song he sings sound like an epic voyage into uncharted waters?

How does he do it?

One thing you can be sure of – Fred ain’t gonna tell you. Fred, famously, keeps his own counsel. But, if you watch and listen hard he might just show you the way a true musician carries himself.

When he’s singing a song Fred sails into the distance following his own charts to lands that aren’t inked in on any maps you can buy at the store.

Copy Fred and you’ll most likely drown – take inspiration from him and you just might find our who you are and where you’re bound.

Listening to Dolphins we join Fred on a voyage that can have no end. A voyage in search of the essential self we so carefully hide from the wide, wounding world.

The caressing intimacy of Fred’s vocal is that of a man who, at some unknowable cost, has been granted a revelation that has changed him utterly.

Odetta was right to talk about Fred’s voice being a healing instrument. In singing he heals himself and offers us balm for our own wounds. It is a rare and precious gift.

He knows full well that it’s not for him to tell any of us how to get along. Each of us has to steer our own course in search of the secret of our own true self.

The Dolphins cannot be willed to appear; you have to search. and, often, a;most always, nothing valuable can be found unless something valuable has also been lost.

What Fred can offer us through the majesty of his fathomless voice and crystalline guitar is a vision of a mysterious, thrilling beauty which though generally out of reach can illuminate our lives and inspire us like the circling moon and stars above.

Horizons are there to be scanned. Nothing is ever discovered in the safety of the harbour. Set sail. set sail.

Search for the Dolphins.

 

 

Everybody’s Talkin’ is a song lasting less than three minutes which you won’t ever be able to leave behind. A song which carries us over deep waters. A song which yet has the playful lightness of a skipping stone.

A song that whispers and whispers in the wind. Who are you? Where are you bound?

Fred’s golden baritone and the perfect alluring metre of his guitar help us slip the bonds of time measured in deadening seconds and minutes for the time beyond measurement lived in the chambers of our hearts and the shivers of our souls.

How long does it take to fall in love?

How long does it take to have the scales fall from your eyes and see, see, the world anew?

How long do you have to pray for forgiveness and redemption?

How long will it take before you jettison the baggage weighing down your life?

How long does it take to stop thinking how long will it all take?

How long. How long.

Oh, everybody’s talkin’ at you all the time. All the time.

Even if you knew what it was they wanted you couldn’t give it to them.

What Fred offers is a faith that somehow, no matter how bewildering the sound and fury of the world is there remains a place, a home, where the sun will keep on shining through the rain

There is somewhere where the weather will suit your clothes.

A home where you will no longer be a stranger in a strange town.

Sometimes, early in the blue light of dawn eerily beautiful dreams of freedom float to the surface of my sleeping mind. And, sometimes I can hear a spectral deep voice calling out ‘I’ve got a secret – didn’t we shake Sugaree’.

Then, waking with a lazy grin and a sense of gratitude I know that Fred has been visiting my imagination once again.

By 1971 Fred Neil was weary of the whole hoopla of the music business and the dangerous attractions of New York City (particularly the easy access to the drugs which threatened to mire him in lethargic melancholia).

So Fred simply flew the coop and literally went searching for the Dolphins in Florida. Down there he seemed to find the peace of mind he had always been looking for. There, comfortable in his own skin, he played for his own amusement not for applause or esteem.

He was not an exile. Rather he was a sailor who after many circumnavigations had at last found a place to weigh anchor.

Notes:

Fred Neil died in July 2001.

Fred had early songwriting success placing, ‘Come Back Baby’ with Buddy Holly and, ‘Candy Man’ with Roy Orbison.

His first LP, for Elektra in 1964, Tear Down the Walls’ was shared with Vince Martin. Tracks like, ‘Baby’, ‘Wild Child in a World of Trouble’ and, ‘Weary Blues’ already feature Fred’s honeyed vocal style and ability to make every line seem like a new gleaming thought.

‘Bleeker & MacDougal’ again on Elektra from 1965 was Fred’s solo debut. It is a wonderful record that yielded many treasures particularly, ‘Blues on the Ceiling’, ‘Other Side of This Life’ and, ‘Little Bit of Rain’.

In 1966 Fred moved to Capitol for the all time classic, ‘Fred Neil’ which in addition to the tracks featured above has a mesmeric version of, ‘Faretheewell’ (often known as Dink’s song’.

A live collection, ‘The Sky is Falling’ goes some way to explaining the hold Fred exerted over his contemporaries.

Those who fall fully in thrall to Fred’s genius should seek out, ‘The Many Sides of Fred Neil’ which is richly veined with rare gems.

Philip Chevron (The Pogues) & Francis Ledwidge – The Music of longing

Featuring : 3 Songs written by Philip Chevron

Under Clery’s Clock, Faithful Departed & Thousands Are Sailing 

A Poem by Francis Ledwidge : To One Dead 

One of the roles of a true writer is to bring all the gifts of their being to the task of creating art which though conscious of history and artistic tradition demands that you attend to how it feels to be alive NOW in this particular society and culture in all its messy complexity.

And, if you can accomplish this task by creating songs, lyrical ballads, which speak urgently to their time while having depth of humanity and beauty of composition you will find that such songs do not wither and die.

Rather, they take on a life of their own and become beloved by audiences and fellow artists from different eras and cultures who will find universal truths emerging from these particular songs.

Songs, filed with the quick life of the day, if they are good enough, find entry into the hallowed treasury of traditional song. Such songs will always find an audience and always find singers to sing them.

Philip Chevron wrote such songs.

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Ireland was fortunate to find, in Philip Chevron from his 70s days with Ireland’s pioneer punk heroes,’The Radiators From Space’ through to his solo work and triumphs with The Pogues, a songwriter who wrote with fierce aching truth about the life he lived and the times he lived in.

Philip Chevron (born Philip Ryan) in 1957 grew up in Santry, Dublin.

In his writing he chronicled with deep feeling, literary finesse, puzzlement and pain the realities of growing up in the Dublin of the 1970s.

Few punk bands anywhere had a singer and writer with the ambition and artistic scope of Philip Chevron.

The Radiators 1977 debut record, ‘TV Tube Heart’ was filled with urgent songs displaying the frustrations and anger of urban youth in a society that seemed in many respects ossified and coldly indifferent to all those who in any sense lived lives which crossed the borders of catholic propriety.

The Radiators second album, ‘Ghostown’ produced by Tony Visconti is simply a great record including two songs, ‘Kitty Ricketts’ and, ‘Song of the Faithful Departed’ which demonstrated beyond argument that Philip Chevron was a world class songwriter.

Critical acclaim came plentifully but this was not reflected in record sales. Moving to London Philip found a home in the expatriate community and became friends with Shane McGowan of The Pogues and became a member of the band at the time of their second album, ‘Rum, Sodomy and the Lash’.

His abilities as a guitarist, singer and songwriter became crucial especially in view of the increasingly erratic behaviour of Shane McGowan.

To celebrate Philip Chevron on The Immortal Jukebox I’m going to feature three wondrous songs.

The first, ‘Under Clery’s Clock’ is a miraculous song which finds heart rending beauty in a situation where a young gay man struggles to find dignity and love in a world which stonily refuses to admit that love has never been limited to that between men and women.

The use of Dublin districts like Burgh Quay and the cultural landmark of the department store clock – for generations a meeting place for trysting lovers anchors the song in time and place.

The regretful melody adds poignancy to the protagonist’s situation; living with urges he can’t fight wanting to be able to meet a lover in the light not in a dark and stinking place. The sense of outraged dignity and desperate longing in this song is palpable and overwhelmingly moving.

Let’s turn now to ‘The Song of the Faithful Departed’, which may be Philip’s masterpiece. A compendious song which, without strain, artfully and compassionately invokes the literary, religious and historical crosses and legacies that Ireland stumblingly shouldered in the 20th century.

No better man to take on such a song than the eminence grise of Irish music, Christy Moore, whose radar always picks up on songs which speak with power and humanity.

The version here is from a July 2013 live performance – a benefit for Philip in the last months of his life. Christy introduces the song by reading a letter from Philip Chevron which shows the measure of both men.

A line like, ‘The graveyard hides a million secrets’ resonates with increasing power with every passing year as the sins and scandals of Official Ireland have been brought shamefully into the light.

But, impressively, this is not a finger-pointing song it’s a song of empathy and fellow feeling. Its a song from a writer at the height of his powers.

There will be no end to the singing of this song.

The emigrant ballad is one of the staples of Irish song. Philip Chevron with The Pogues produced in, ‘Thousands Are Sailing’ a deeply felt and formally sophisticated song which yearningly evokes the shared experiences of Irish emigrants to America over two centuries.

 

Again the song does not hesitate to face up to the painful realities that spurred emigrants to leave home and the challenges they faced when arrived in the long dreamed of America.

It was one of the signal hallmarks of Philip Chevron songs that they beguile rather than batter and that while conscious of the painful realities of life in the end they urge us to sing out the darkness and dance into the light.

Philip Chevron’s funeral service in October 2013, attended by family, friends, fellow musicians and artist in their hundreds, saw his coffin carried in accompanied by ‘Faithful Departed’ and borne out to the strains of ‘Thousands Are Sailing’.

Among the tears there must have been enormous pride.

For poetry today I turn to a lesser known Irish poet, Francis Ledwidge who died at the third battle of Ypres in 1917.

Sometimes referred to as the poet of the blackbird or as a peasant poet he was, as all true poets are a protean figure always remaking himself to write the poetry demanded of him. Contradictions prove creativity. I urge you to seek out his work.

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To One Dead

A blackbird singing
On a moss-upholstered stone,
Bluebells swinging,
Shadows wildly blown,
A song in the wood,
A ship on the sea.
The song was for you
and the ship was for me.

A blackbird singing
I hear in my troubled mind,
Bluebells swinging,
I see in a distant wind.
But sorrow and silence,
Are the wood’s threnody,
The silence for you
and the sorrow for me.

Happy St Patrick’s Day!