Van Morrison : Brown Eyed Girl

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Van Morrison, twinned with Bob Dylan, has been the pole star illuminating my love of twentieth century popular music.

Untold hours, since I was a teenager, spent listening to the treasure house of his recordings and attending scores of live performances have given me some of the signal pleasures of my life.

The powerful nourishing river of his music, fed by deep tributaries, has carried me into love and appreciation of many, many great musicians and the traditions they came out of and worked within.

His deep respect, love and practitioner’s knowledge of the blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, soul and folk music which he has demonstrated repeatedly throughout his career have been an education and a blessing.

From the first moment I heard Van sing, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ in the early 1970s on the Saturday lunchtime show of the estimable, ‘Emperor Rosko’ on BBC radio and was catapulted into transcendent joy I have been an obsessive follower of his musical journeys and a grateful beneficiary. ‘Voyages Around Van’ will be a series tracing some of those journeys.

When Van Morrison at his best sings a song, one of his own or one from one of his approved forebears or contemporaries that has somehow called to him, you are forced to stop, take heed and listen with true bodily and spiritual attention rather than the mere overhearing it can be so easy to lapse into when listening to lesser music.

The rewards more than justify the effort.

Certain songs from other artists have clearly captivated Van’s imagination to the extent that he has felt compelled to record them and return to regularly in concert – mining them for deeper levels of meaning throughout his career.

One of these is the bewitching ballad, ‘Dont Look Back’ Van found within the catalogue of an artist who has profoundly influenced him; his elder brother in the blues, John Lee Hooker.

A discussion of that song will follow very shortly!

In the meantime as a treat on a glorious summertime in England day here’s Brown Eyed Girl – the original lightning strike that lit a still blazing flame.

Muhammad Ali : The Supporting Cast – His Pro Debut Opponent – Tunney Hunsaker

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…. Tunney Hunsaker!!

Muhammad Ali is a sporting and cultural star to outshine Sirius.

He has become a totemic figure occupying significant space in the global collective consciousness and our dreams. Many of us have measured out our youth, maturity and now old age following and being inspired by his legendary deeds and the generosity of talent, heart and spirit he has expended in his regal life.

In the brilliance of his life and career the lives of many others from an extraordinarily diverse range of backgrounds have been illuminated.

The Supporting Cast series of posts will spotlight some of these lives.

David Remnick in his excellent book on Muhammad Ali calls him the King Of The World which seems entirely appropriate to me. And, like Kings from time immemorial Ali has had inner and outer courts seeking and competing for his attention, his financial largesse and his affection.

Beyond the courts there have been multitudes who have witnessed his reign and interacted with him directly and indirectly as bitter enemies, flag waving supporters, sceptical observers and head shaking in wonder historians.

Again, like a King he has had to face internal dissension and threats to his crown from dangerous outside and foreign sources – opponents within the boxing ring and from society at large.

He has had his trusted advisers, his jesters and his nay saying doubters. He has survived it all and not without heavy cost triumphed against all these forces to end his days in seemingly serene repose.

Enter in Act 1 aged 30 from Fayetville West Virginia weighing 192 pounds, Tunney Hunsaker! The date was October 29th 1960 when Eisenhower was in the last dwindling days of his presidency and the seemingly endless promise of JFK’s new frontier was about to begin.

The venue was Ali’s home town of Louisville Kentucky. Some 6000 souls can say they were present at Ali’s professional boxing debut and Tunney Hunsaker’s cameo role in his legendary career.

Hunsaker was by then already an air force veteran and the Police Chief of Fayetville.

He had turned Pro in 1952 and following a promising early start, winning ten of his first dozen bouts, he had taken a long lay off between the middle of 1953 and 1958.

On his return he was coming off a series of 6 straight losses including one against Ernie Terrell when he laced on the gloves to fight Ali. Ali’s management team, like all those wanting to ease a serious prospect into his career, wanted a match that would teach the young cub something about the pro game but not one that would place him in any serious danger of defeat.

Hunsaker was there to be a literal and metaphorical range finder. He was an honest and durable fighter but not one blessed with outstanding talents.

Ali was starting his professional life after a stellar amateur history. He had over a hundred contests under his belt and he was just back from Rome with a gold medal around his neck.

He was also the proud owner of a hatful of golden gloves titles – all these triumphs attained while still a teenager. His early trainers, Joe Martin and Fred Stoner, knew he was something special but how far could he go? Tunney Hunsaker was the first step on the unfolding story which would answer that question.

As Tunney stood in his corner looking across the ring the young Ali he saw was a superb physical specimen. Six foot three in height and weighing 186 pounds with the sheen of youthful fitness and condition.

More than that he had a personal aura, a glow that said this is somebody who will make a mark on the world.

Hunsaker’s hope would have been the knowledge that frequently lions of amateur boxing do not deliver on their promise in the brutal mans world of pro boxing. Most of them will not become contenders let alone champions.

Did this jive talking flashy pink Cadillac kid from Louisville have a true fighting heart? Could he take a heavyweight punch and recover?

Hunsaker was not to know that Ali, at this stage of his career, virtually lived in the gym spending long sweat soaked hours forging the fighting skills that he would so thrillingly display in the decades ahead. Or that he had a fighter’s heart as big as his imagination which was virtually limitless.

The six rounds of the bout were an education for both fighters. Ali learned that a heavyweight punch did hurt but that he coud handle the pain and not let it distract him from his work.

Hunsaker learned that the kid was much faster with his jab, his movement and his thought than any boxer he had ever faced. All his old pro tricks, the holding and pushing and feints were to no avail against an opponent who had talent and fitness to burn.

Tunney Hundaker became the first pro to learn the hard way how Ali’s lightning jab and the slashing combinations of punches that followed could sap the body’s strength and befuddle the mind.

At the end of the fight Hunsaker was bloodied and well beaten and Ali elated and looking forward to a future as a champion of champions. Hunsaker with typical honesty admitted that Ali was just too good and predicted that he would become heavyweight champion of the world.

We all know what happened later for Muhammad – tales of impossible glory, triumph and tragedy celebrated in story, song and myth.

But what became of Tunney Hunsaker after he had banked the three hundred dollars he got for the fight and the caravan moved on?

Well, he had six more fights winning two before he faced his final opponent in the ring, Joe Shelton, in his home state on April 6th 1962. He lost this fight when he was knocked out in the tenth and then faced the toughest battle of his life as he lapsed into a coma from which he did not emerge for nine days.

His fighting heart and devoted medical care pulled him through and he returned to Fayetville to resume his role as a community cop for decades after. He was inducted into the law enforcement hall of fame and was thrice awarded the title of Sunday School teacher of the year.

Tunney Hunsaker died on April 27th 2005.

There is a bridge named after him crossing the New River Gorge. He served his sport and his community with steadfast courage and loyalty and won their respect and affection.

That’s an epitaph any one of us would be proud of.

This post dedicated on Father’s Day to my Dad, Wally Hickey, with whom I spent many happy times discussing the life and lore of Muhammad Ali.

On Drums: Charlie Watts !! (Get off of my cloud)

Charlie Watts, gentleman, scholar and drummer at large was 73 this year. Here’s a short tribute.

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Famously, at the live show captured on Get Your Ya Yas Out Mick Jagger informs the patrons that,’Charlie’s good tonight ain’t he!’. Well yes Mick he certainly was and then some.

Charlie Watts has been the heartbeat of the Rolling Stones for half a century and more providing calm craft in the midst of all the hoopla and madness.

While he has surely seen about everything a man can see he has remained steadfastly and stoically himself.

A wry, unimpressable observer who loves to listen to his beloved jazz and play the drums with the scratchy rhythm and blues band who somewhat to his amazement transformed themselves into the greatest rock and roll band the planet has ever produced.

Charlie’s role in the band is crucial to the DNA of the band’s unique sound. Keith is released to sway and swagger to his heart’s content because Charlie is always there behind him urging him on and on while being ready to catch him if like an over ambitious trapeze flyer it looks like he might fall.

Whatever else has changed that partnership has endured and thrived through the years ensuring the distinctive leery vitality of the band remains in rude good health

One of the many glories of the Stones is the majestic way in which they build and hold tension in their rockers – say Tumbling Dice or Brown Sugar. You’ll notice how groups covering the Stones almost always rush and ruin the songs because they can’t match the rhythmic control marshalled by Charlie.

While he is the engineer driving the awesome power of the Stones streamliner in full flight he is also the brakeman making sure they make it round the sharp turns safely and arrive on time at their destination.

The listening audience are taken up, held and thrilled as the band, anchored by Charlie, progress through their set taking care to pace themselves – allowing ballad breaks before the celebrated avalanche ending sends everybody home exhausted and elated.

Charlie Watts is the zen master of rock drumming. His inherent restraint, informed by the jazz heritage he so treasures, allows him to play what needs to be played and nothing more.

He is at the service of the music, the sound and the dynamic shape of the individual song. No band has been better served by its drummer than the Rolling Stones.

So, as the Rolling Stones embark on one more last hurrah Charlie will endure the travelling, the media and the endless waiting for the wonderful pleasures of those few hours on stage when he can just play the music along with his faithful companions of so many years.

Charlie was fabulous in 1964, fantastic in 1974, fervour filled in 1984 and 1994 and remained unflashily fluent in 2004. Things will be no different in 2014.

So, if you’re in the audience make sure that you really put your hands together for the drummer!

Alan Gilzean: Elegance In Action

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Elegance as a quality in life, sport and the arts is hard to define but easily recognised. It’s surely something to do with speed of thought, economy of movement, grace under pressure.

The elegant glide to triumphs without overt strain so that we catch our breath and sigh, ‘that’s how to do it!’. And, having seen the elegant work their magic with such panache we queue up to see them do it again so we can exclaim I was there and saw them do it.

Fred Astaire in every dance routine of his career. Lester Young launching into a saxophone soliloquy, Barry Richards caressing the cricket ball to the boundary, Barry John casually wrong footing an entire All Black defence.

P G Woodhouse crafting a perfect inimitable paragraph. Maria Bueno conjuring a Wimbledon winner.

The elegant performer wins your heart and your allegiance to their cause. This is not a matter of statistics, of heaped titles or medals but of indelible memories, stories of famous feats to be retold to your own and the following generations.

My own exemplar of elegance is the one and only Alan Gilzean a footballer whose fabled history at Dundee, Spurs and for Scotland feels more wondrous as each season passes.

At Dundee he scored an incredible 169 goals in just 190 games between 1959 and 1964. He was the glory of the best side they ever had under the tutelage of the great Bill Shankly’s brother, Bob.

With the Dark Blues he won the the league title in 1961/62 and the following year he was the spearhead of their thrilling run to the semi-final of the European Cup where they lost to the eventual winners – the lordly AC Milan.

At the end of 1964 the ever shrewd Bill Nicholson bought him for Spurs where he was to remain until the endof the 73/74 season. The Spurs fans quickly came to adore Gily recognising a player who met their demand for style as well as success.

In no time he was lionised as the King of White Hart Lane – a title he will hold in perpetuity!

The statistics relate that he scored 133 goals for Spurs in 429 games and that he was a member of the sides that won an FA Cup, two League Cups and a EUFA cup.

But, with Alan Gilzean it’s not the numbers that you remember it’s the breathtaking elegance of his play – the way he could amaze you game after game with the subtlety of his footballing imagination.

He insouciantly brought off feats of skill and technique that other fine players could only dream of – leaving opponents admiringly bemused and teammates exhilerated.

Alan Gilzean was to use a fine Scots term a supremely canny player. He seemed to have an advanced football radar system that allowed him to know exactly where he was in relation to his markers and his team mates. He could compute the trajectory of any pass that came towards him on the ground or in the air and instantly assess whether the ball should be held up or delivered on.

He had exquisite touch on the deck regularly wrong footing defenders before setting up goal chances for himself or one of his strike partners. His sense of football space and keen eye for opportunity made him one one of the great collaborators.

He forged a legendary striking partnership (the G men!) with the peerless Jimmy Greaves who profited greatly from Gilzean’s vision. No one has ever been better at coolly converting chances into goals than Jimmy Greaves and Gilzean provided him with a wealth of those chances.

Indeed, Jimmy has called Gilzean the best player he ever worked with – some accolade. Where Jimmy was all poise and deadly sureness Gilzean’s other principal strike partner, Martin Chivers, was all power and swagger. Gilzean was a superb foil to both.

One of Alan’s great attributes was his ability to change the direction of play to open up seemingly closed paths to goal. He was the master of the shimmy, the feint and the dummy – leaving many a defender bewildered and bamboozled in his wake.

He turned the back-heel into an art form and won the plaudits for artistic impression from the White Hart Lane faithful.

However, the defining skill of his genius was his heading of which he was the supreme master.

To watch Alan Gilzean working his way through his heading repertoire was an intensely pleasurable privilege. The power header, the precisely placed in the corner of the net header, the chance on a plate for Jimmy header, the eternal glory of the Gilzean glancing header and the masterpieces that were the Gilzean back headers will forever define the art and science of heading a football.

He seemed to intuitively understand a geometry too complex for Euclid when it came to directing headers.

Given his eminence and elegance as a player I propose some additions to the language to reflect his unique contribution to footballing and sporting culture.

Gilzean: Noun – A sporting term for a perfectly executed back header or back heel gemerally resulting in a goal being scored.

Gilzean: Verb – To display enormous technical skill with nonchalance.

Alan Gilzean was brave, hugely talented and gave unstintingly of those talents.

He is a footballing immortal whose legend will burn bright wherever elegance and beauty of style are celebrated.

God bless you Alan Gilzean – long may you amble!

Further reading: Happily there is an excellent book on our hero, ‘In Search Of Alan Gilzean: The Lost Legacy of a Dundee and Spurs Legend’ by James Morgan.

Monochrome Memories: Britain In The 1950s

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Let the memories cascade!

Aldermaston, CND, BBC, TV Westerns, Sputnik, Burgess and Maclean,

Never Had It So Good, Teddy Boys! Hula Hoops, Derek Bentley, Oh Boy!

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Jack Good, Michael Miles, Take Your Pick (You did say yes, didn’t you?)

The Goons, Who is the third man? The Sky At Night, Poodle socks,

 

Much Binding, Brains Tust, Tom Finney, Keep Off The Bomb Site!

David Attenborough, Brighton Rock, Don Cockell, Kenneth Horne, Llandow,

Mortimer Wheeler, The Great Fog! Polio, Jackie Milburn, Rock around the clock.

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Lynmouth Flood, Wealdstone Railway Crash, Four Minute Mile, Hydrogen Bomb!

Ducks Arse! Hilary and Tenzing, Coronation, Nuclear Power, Dennis Compton,

England’s Won The Ashes! Tommy Farr, Magic Magyars, Rachman,

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Riots in Nottingham Hill! Naked into the Conference Chamber, Mau Mau,

Malaya, Get Some In! ITV, Boom goes Bikini! Fanny Cradock, Jimmy Clitheroe,

Skylon, Films about the War, Morris Mini Minor, Tommy Cooper, Push and Run,

Festival of Britain, ‘He had a good war’, Victor and Hotspur and Hornet, The Mekon,

 

Gilbert Harding, Gilbert Ryle, Bertrand Russell, Tommy Steele, Skiffle, Sidney Miles,

It’s Trad Dad! Humphrey Lyttleton, Ken Colyer, 100 Club, Crane River Boys,

Lonnie Donnegan! Buster Crabbe, Angela Mortimer, Derek Ibbotson, Devon Loch!

Fred Trueman, Life With The Lyons, Take It From Here, Juke Box Jury, Busby Babes,

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Hancock’s Half-Hour! Whicker discovers the world! Under Milk Wood, Raymond Williams,

Pinky and Perky! Evening All, Cross at the Zebra, Klaus Fuchs, Laker takes all ten!

Six-Five Special coming right at you! Eamon’s got the big red book! Munich crash,

VHF, Quatermass, Muir and Norden, Galton and Simpson, Kitchen Sink!

Waiting For Godot, Cliff Michelmore, Coffee Bars, Don’t Look Back In Anger,

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Pillar Box War, Gunnister Man, Clyde win the cup! Stratocruiser crash, Eddie Thomas,

Cumbernauld, Auchengeich, Hibs Famous Five! Listen With Mother, Under Milk Wood,

Silverstone, The Archers, Korea, The Turing Test, Narnia comes alive! Corgi Cars,

Gormenghast, Dennis the Menace, ‘It’s an X!’, Easington, Randy Turpin,

Billy Budd, Study for your Os and As and you’ll get on, Pevsner’s Guides,

Watch out for the Triffids! Princess Victoria sinks, 10 Rillington Place, James Bond!

Matthews and Mortensen, Gordon wins at last! Piltdown Man’s a fake,

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Down With Skool! Ton Up Boys! Here come the Teenagers!

Maidie and Murray, Terry Thomas, Philosophical Investigations, Omo and Daz,

Let’s all look back at The Good Old Days! Now we can read Linear B!

Fings Aint What They Used To Be! Royal Court, Chiz, Diana Dors, Cliff Morgan,

Ash On A Young Man’s Sleeve, Aneurin Bevan, Empire Games,

No more rationing! Who do you think you are – Stirling Moss?

That’s all from Tonight for tonight – until tomorrow night goodnight!

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Paul Brady: An Irish Bard

Paul Brady was 67 this month. Here’s a tribute.

Bard: A tribal poet – singer skilled gifted in composing and reciting verses of satire and eulogy on heroes and their deeds.

‘Craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake’. (Richard Sennett)

‘Some guys got it down …. Paul Brady …. Secret heroes’. (Bob Dylan)

Paul Brady harbours and husbands extraordinary talents. He is a great singer of traditional ballads in the Irish and American traditions able to breathe life into ‘set texts’ through his exquisite instrumental and vocal control and his natural discretion.

These craft skills allow him to reveal the often buried wit, vigour, romance, tragedy and flat out strange power of those remarkable works composed by the great ‘Anon’.

He is also an accomplished guitarist with the quiet unflashy discipline of the skilled accompanist who can anchor a tune setting a virtuoso fiddler like Andy McGan free to fly.

He also has driving rock ‘n’ roll chops learned through ingesting whole the riffs and rhythms of the Shadows and Chuck Berry as a youth.

As far as traditional ballad performance goes Paul Brady’s version of Arthur McBride is rightly regarded as an enduring triumph.

It was wholly appropriate that he performed it at the recent Dublin memorial evening for the late keeper of the Irish word hoard, Seamus Heaney.

Heaney would have understood how the seeming ease of Paul Brady’s performance of Arthur McBride was based on a deep understanding of the ballad form and hard hours spent honing his instrumental and vocal craft.

It takes a great artist to make the artful seem artless.

The song is an Irish tall tale featuring protagonists Arthur and the unnamed narrator encountering a military recruiting party led by a bumptious sergeant as they take the early morning air one Christmas day.

The Sergeants blandishments and promises of glory, riches and female favours are satirically shown to be counterfeit coin by Arthur who though he chooses not to join the army would clearly have been a first class barrack room lawyer had he chosen to enlist.

Arthur and his friend turn the tables on the sergeant and the unfortunate little drummer boy leaving them bloody backed on the beach and the boys then merrily continue their seasonal stroll.

The drummer boys instrument, his ‘rowdeydowdow’ having been made a playful football bobs uselessly in the tide. The song represents a victory for the native over the coloniser, of hedge school wit and satire over the prepared script. Brains beats bullshit.

Paul Brady’s performance of the ballad as shown here is peerless. Nothing is pushed too hard, the song virtually seems to sing itself with Brady as the pilot who knows every ripple of the tide and currents as he steers the song home.

Now he allows a little drift, now he touches the tiller, now he adjusts the tempo and volume to bring out the full salty tang of the song. His guitar playing throughout is astonishingly deft and alert to every nuance of feeling.

Arthur McBride is a big song filled with lovely sly dramatic touches which Paul Brady inhabits with unshowy assurance.

Listening to the song you naturally follow the arc of the narrative and feel yourself drawn in to the world it presents. In traditional song Paul Brady wears the bards cloak teasing out the shape and character of the song sure in its proven potency to cast a spell over its audience.

As a contemporary songwriter he has at least two hatfuls of wonderful songs and he is the author of two certifiable classics; the euphoric ‘Crazy Dreams’ and the heart rending ‘The Island’.

He has also found himself in demand as a supplier of quality material for artists of the calibre of Tina Turner (Steel Claw, Paradise Is Here) and Bonnie Raitt (Luck Of The Draw, Not The Only One).

Paul Brady’s songs are imbued with deep feeling set within satisfyingly well carpentered structures. They are the product of inspiration shaped by a craft won through a thorough musical education.

Paul Brady’s songs are built to last and last they will.

This is not a matter of tricks or sleight of hand but of a deep understanding in his mind, in his heart, in his hands and fingers and in his voice that real songs truly speak to and of the lives we lead both above and below the public surface.

To produce these songs he draws upon traditional practice and the craft techniques of which he is a master. He is then free to follow his inspiration wherever it leads and to choose the right tools for the task at hand.

Like his Irish near contemporary Van Morrison he can mesmerically summon the spirits to open up the terrestrial and mystical landscapes of Ireland. Like Van he is a canny songsmith finding the particular combinations of lyric, melody, rhythm and vocal attack needed to make a song take off on record and in performance.

A perfect example of this is, ‘Crazy Dreams’ one of the great ‘leaving my hometown’ songs where he lights out for the territory to find out if his those dreams of independence, of self realisation in a new world, can be made to come true.

The song has a thrillingly heady melody and a rhapsodic rhythm always flowing forward like waters heading for the falls.

Paul Brady’s vocals achieve tremendous excitement for the listener because of the way he maintains his setting at intense simmer rather than boil.

You can feel the gathering impulse to follow the dream in every second of the performance. Ringing, dazzling guitars and shimmering keyboards surf atop drums which drive the dream forward.

He’s leaving behind the Joycean snow falling on the Liffey, the fog of familiarity that shrouds his true identity as he packs his suitcase filled with his own dreams not those of his city, his friends and his family.

Now is the time for one last look back – closing the door on the hesitations of the past before turning definitively to the future.

Now is the time to drink champagne with your darling companion until you both fall down. Tomorrow the dream comes alive.

This is a journey we all have to take for someone elses’s dreams get you nowhere.

The Island is a miraculous piano centred meditation on the pain and futility of civil wars yoked arfully to a deeply tender love song. In this song Paul Brady incandescently evokes a triumph of love over hate.

As an Irishman he knows the power of death fixation (the young boys dying in the ditches) yet he hymns the nurturing power of another love which finds its expression in lovemaking by the healing waters of the ocean.

His vision for his neighbours rejects a future built on slogans, tombstones and twisted wreckage. Rather, it looks to a future illuminated by the simple dreams we all have for ourselves and our families.

Our children deserve to inherit a country not mired in the hurts and traumas of the past. In so doing Paul Brady willingly takes on tne role of the holy fool opposing the zealots who are willing to sacrifice anyone and everything to achieve their utopian goals.

The simple message of the song is choose love – be prepared to be a fool for love.

Paul Brady’s sublime vocal in this song is filled with bruised tenderness. Who would not want to go to the Island when the invitation is sung with such alluring enticement?

Throughout the song the prayerful piano piano (by the late Kenny Craddock) invokes the redemptive balm of the love of one person for another.

If that’s a foolish faith so be it.

Paul Brady’s performance of this wonderful song makes that faith affectingly real and welcoming.

Paul Brady is a great musician whose work has firmly placed him in the front rank of the the bardic company of Ireland.

An Irish Bard is something to be.

Recommended listening:

Paul Brady has never made a bad record. Here are a few of my favourites with key tracks in brackets.

Paul Brady/Andy Irvine (Mary And The Soldier)

Welcome Here Kind Stranger (The Lakes Of Pontchatrain, Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore)

Hard Station (Crazy Dreams, Busted Loose, Nothing But The Same Old Story)

True For You (Helpless Heart)

Trick Or Treat (Nobody Knows, Trick Or Treat)

Back To The Centre (The Island, The Homes Of Donegal)

The Missing Liberty Tapes a 1978 live recording stands as a high peak of Irish acoustic based music making.

Footnote August 2014:

Thanks to the man himself for reading this post and setting up links from his twitter and Facebook accounts. This post has become the most popular to date in the history of the blog!

Fanfare for Duke Snider – Brooklyn Dodgers Legend, Baseball Immortal

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One thing leads to another. The other morning I was listening to the glory that was the early 1940s Duke Ellington Orchestra playing, ‘Harlem Air Shaft’ – a four minute masterpiece evoking a world and a culture with thrillingly eloquent charm.

As the music faded the numbskulls (remember them?) in my brain, unbidden, went searching among my memory cells for other Dukes. Slim files came back marked : Duke of Wellington and Duke of Windsor. Middle size files had the titles Duke Fakir, David Duke, Duke Robillard and John ‘Duke’ Wayne.

However the two really bulky files bore the legends, ‘Duke Of Earl’ (a guaranteed jukebox selection for the future) and Duke Snider – the latter one of my very favourite baseball players from my favourite sports team of all time – the late, much lamented, Brooklyn Dodgers.

Here’s a fanfare for the Duke:

There have been few better times and places to have been a baseball fan than New York in the 1950s. The New York Yankees, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers and their fanatical supporters played out an intense rivalry which was illuminated with iconic moments of drama in a series of historic pennant races and world-series finals.

The names and feats of players such as Yogi Berra, Don Mueller and Jackie Robinson are indelibly imprinted on the memory of baseball aficionados. However, it was the star centre-fielders for these teams – Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider, who has died at the age of 84, who came to personify the arguments about which team should have superior bragging rights in the big apple.

Mantle was all explosive power and glamour while Mays was superhumanly enthusiastic and athletic. Duke Snider, the pride of Brooklyn , was a complete player with stellar achievements in all aspects of batting along with brilliant fielding skills combining speed and poise with a whiplash throwing arm.

In the four seasons, 1954-57 that Snider, Mantle and Mays went head to head as centre-fielders it was the Duke who hit the most homers and drove in the most runs. Indeed, throughout the entire 1950s it was Snider who slugged the most home runs (320) and RBIs (1031) as well as placing second in runs (970).

These numbers gave powerful ammunition to Brooklyn ’s blue collar fan base ‘them bums’ in the ceaseless argument as to whose centre-fielder was the best.

The Duke, named so by his father at the age of 5, was born far from Brooklyn in Los Angeles in 1926 (where ironically, chasing revenue, the Dodgers would relocate in 1958). From his early youth he excelled as an all round sportsman and it was no surprise when he was signed out of high school in 1943 by the Dodgers.

Following a brief period in the minors and military service in the navy he made his first appearance in blue in Ebbetts Field the legendary, now demolished, home of the Dodgers in 1947.

Ebbets Field with its short right field fence was ideally suited to a left handed power hitter like Snider and he would go on to become a regular home run hitter there. It was 1949 when he firmly established himself in the team and he was a fixture thereafter until he left in 1962.

During that time he became a key member of a great inter-racial team, a band of brothers, which included heroes such as Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges. The glories, trials and tribulations of this remarkable team were immortalised in Roger Kahn’s classic memoir/history ‘The Boys of Summer’.

This team despite regularly winning the National League Pennant seemed fated to fall at the last hurdle, usually at the hands and bats of the hated Yankees, in their quest to be World Series champions.

The mantra of the long suffering Brooklyn fans became ‘Maybe next year’. In 1955 the dream at last became reality when the Dodgers triumphed against the Yankees with the Duke’s magnificent contribution being four home runs and seven runs batted in.

He became the only player to have twice hit four home runs in the fall classic having previously accomplished the feat in 1952 (though still on the losing team!)

Prior to the relocation of the Dodgers to Los Angeles , which the citizens of Brooklyn have never forgiven, it was fittingly the Duke who hit the last home run in the iconic stadium.

A combination of injuries and the design of the LA stadium meant that he was never the player he had been in Brooklyn on the West Coast though he was a member of the 1959 World Series Championship team. After leaving the dodgers in 1962 he played briefly for the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants before retiring in 1964.

In his career as a whole he hit 407 home runs and was eight times selected as an all star. After retirement as a player he worked as a scout and later as an announcer for the Montreal Expos.

His global achievements were duly recognised in 1980 when he was elected into the Valhalla of Baseball – the Hall of Fame.

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The ‘Duke of Flatbush’ will always be remembered for his heroic feats wearing No 4 for the boys of summer whose legend only grows brighter as the years roll on.

Edwin Donald (Duke Snider) born 19 September Los Angeles Ca

Died 27 February 2011 Escondido Ca.