With The Chieftains and The Dubliners celebrating their 50th anniversaries in 2012 and new releases this year from Paul Brady, Altan, Frankie Gavin & De Dannan among others, journalist Colin Irwin surveys the evolution of the Irish music scene.
*** We’re sad to report the passing of Dubliners founder Barney McKenna who passed away this morning (5th April 2012) at the age of 72.***
So it’s 1967 and like everyone else full of teen angst I have an ear glued to Radio Caroline (it’s the law).
And right there, right then, something very strange occurs between the sounds of flowers being inserted in hair all over San Francisco and the groovy psychedelia spreading waves of love, peace and dodgy chemicals from the transistor (though oddly enough, the charts are full not of flower power but Engelbert Humperdinck, Petula Clark, Frank and Nancy Sinatra and Sandie Shaw singing Puppet On A String).
Suddenly the daisy chains recoil, the wafting sense of harmony and goodwill disintegrates, the hallucinatory drugs clang back to reality and the tinkling bells dive overboard as an unearthly primeval growl launches itself out of the radio. At first I imagine the pirates must have been taken over by, well pirates, and all my favourite DJs – Johnnie Walker, Emperor Rosko, Tony Blackburn, Tony Prince, Simon Dee and Dave Lee Travis among them – are being made to walk the plank to the chilling sound of this grisly voice.
And yet… there’s something oddly familiar about it too. And I listen more closely. The song is rude. In fact, to someone from a sheltered background in suburbia, it’s downright filthy. It’s Irish and arrives in my small bedroom with a salacious leer from a singer who sounds like he’s just swum across the North Sea, specifically to tell me his outrageously comic tale of booze and deception brimming in innuendo and cackling humour.
The Dubliners have landed…
That song, Seven Drunken Nights, became an unexpected Top 10 single in the UK on the back of unwavering patronage and constant airplay from Radio Caroline, which seemed inexplicable at the time; less inexplicable, however, when you look into the mechanics of Caroline, owned by an eccentric Irishman Ronan O’Rahilly and reliant to some extent on sponsorship. One of those sponsors was the Major Minor record label (whose boss Phil Solomon was also a manager of the radio station) and one of Major Minor’s first releases just happened to be…Seven Drunken Nights by The Dubliners (later releases included the infamous Je T’Aime by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg) .
Already regarded as rebel celebrities, Caroline DJs were apparently up in arms, wondering why the hell they were being forced to play such a bizarre record… but it worked. Seven Drunken Nights subsequently took off in the proper charts, too, causing a storm as it went. Even the Taoiseach of the day, Jack Lynch, became embroiled in the row when it was banned in Ireland, even though an Irish language version by Joe Heaney had previously been played extensively on RTE without a whisper of protest.
What was even more unpredictable was that Seven Drunken Nights would launch The Dubliners on an extraordinary international journey that now finds them touring Europe in celebration of their 50th anniversary, getting loads of publicity and being feted with a Lifetime Achievement gong at this year’s BBC Folk Awards.
“I know, I know, it’s mad isn’t it?” fiddle player John Sheahan tells me. “We used to joke about this sort of thing… you know ‘Wonder what it will be like if we’re still together in 30 years time or whatever, pushing each other around in bath chairs and here we are!”
They certainly never imagined where it would all lead when they first started knocking a few tunes and ballads together on the sawdust floor at Paddy O’Donoghue’s bar in Merrion Row, Dublin, 50 years ago – at a time when few Irish pubs would even entertain the notion of disturbing the drinkers with a bit of music. “Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine where it would all lead,” says Sheahan, famously teetotal throughout the Dubliners’ glory years when stories of their drinking were almost as famous as their music. John, who now admits to partaking in the odd, modest glass of wine, insists that particular legend of constant boozing was partly self-perpetuated for image purposes.
“We had a basic, simple approach. Somebody would sing a song and the rest picked up their instruments and started playing along with it. That was it. We knew nothing about arrangements – we never got beyond five or six chords!”
It all sounded gloriously simple and straightforward… which was sort of the point. The Dubliners were big personalities with colourful characters built around the charismatic front duo and distinctively aggressive voices of Ronnie Drew and Luke Kelly. They also had a sharp ear for a big song with a knack for turning it into crowd-pleasing choruses involving audiences in a unique way… not just the hackneyed populism of Wild Rover, Irish Rover, Fields Of Athenry and Whiskey In The Jar, but thoughtful material like Ewan MacColl’s Dirty Old Town, John Conolly’s Fiddler’s Green and Phil Coulter’s The Town I Loved So Well.
All this while Barney McKenna’s dancing banjo habitually lifted the roof on The Mason’s Apron and Luke Kelly made his own highly individual statements – notably with definitive settings of Raglan Road, Patrick Kavanagh’s poignant saga of unrequited love for an inappropriately younger woman set to the Dawning Of The Day tune; and a show-stopping arrangement of Scorn Not His Simplicity, Phil Coulter’s heart-rending plea for compassion for his Down’s Syndrome son.
Luke Kelly performing Scorn Not His Simplicity
If The Dubliners were my introduction to Irish music, it was a few years later before any of it consumed me. There was a revelatory introduction to the uilleann pipes courtesy of Finbar Furey doing the rounds of British folk clubs with his brother Eddie, plus an early sighting of Christy Moore, to some extent playing the stage Irishman on the same circuit, in addition to a brief bit of radio exposure to the Johnstons (featuring a young Paul Brady); and, of course, Thin Lizzy’s barmy hit version of Whiskey In The Jar and a bit of Horslips flirting with the tradition on The Táin.
Oh, and there was a long, slow coach trip to Newcastle to see The Chieftains… and they blew my head off.
The ebb and flow of their arrangements, the subtle textures, the exhilarating parade of sublime tunes, the impishness of Paddy Moloney’s banter, the consummate musicianship… and the beaming faces as we filed away again afterwards. The painstakingly detailed thought that went into The Chieftains’ music was diametrically opposed to The Dubliners’ fearlessly brazen up-and-at-‘em attitude… but the overall impact was pretty similar.
Odd to think that all these decades later, these two hardy, trail-blazing warrior bands – responsible for taking Irish music to the world in a way that had never happened before – both emerge in 2012 with anniversaries to celebrate and eager audiences to satisfy with new releases and major tours.
Ostensibly there’s not much in common beyond their Irishness but, operating at opposite extremes of the Irish music experience, they’ve both performed minor miracles. Big characters making big music that in different degrees defines Irishness, be it The Dubliners blazing out Rocky Road To Dublin or The Chieftains crafting out beautiful, intricate settings of wondrous tunes like Si Bheag Si Mhor and Carolan’s Concerto, composed around two centuries ago by Ireland’s great blind travelling harpist Turlough Carolan.
The Dubliners – Rocky Road To Dublin
Both bands are 50 this year, both have taken their music to unimagined popularity, both have been pilloried – even ridiculed at various points along the way – both have lost key personnel and both have engaged in unlikely collaborations that have regenerated them and refreshed interest in them when they threatened to drift away from us. They’ve never recorded together and share little musical common ground – although both have recorded The Mason’s Apron and Raglan Road – yet, remarkably, both are still going strong, providing their own colourful legacies in the occasionally anguished story of Irish music.
The Dubliners are milking their 50th anniversary for all its worth with a triple album, a DVD and tours in which they use a big screen to bring fallen comrades Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly and Ciarán Bourke along to party with them, technology allowing them to remain forever young while the modern incarnation of the band (banjo hero Barney McKenna is the only survivor of the original line-up) plays along on the stage.
The Chieftains, meanwhile, continue to push the boat out with a tour that hits the UK in June and an album that continues their penchant for entertainingly ambitious collaborations, this time involving some of the younger guns of modern music, including Bon Iver, The Decemberists, Civil Wars, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Imelda May and Paolo Nutini, produced by T Bone Burnett. And just when you thought Paddy Moloney’s flair for capturing the public imagination couldn’t get any more audacious, they feature a track, The Chieftains In Orbit, that includes a whistle and flute solo played in outer space by Irish American NASA astronaut Cady Coleman. Now that’s what I call marketing.
Popularity breeds contempt, of course, and as much as we all love, honour and salute them now, it wasn’t always thus and there have certainly been times when both The Dubliners and The Chieftains had to withstand some stormy critical appraisals. Once or twice, I must shamefully admit, I was that soldier.
I was smitten by both bands in radically different ways in my adolescence, but I wasn’t always fiercely loyal.
Trading in magistrate courts, flower shows and amateur dramatics on a local paper for the supposed glamour of a gig on music weekly Melody Maker, I was summoned into Editor Ray Coleman’s office one day. “I want you to go to Ireland,” he said. “Right,” I said. “Good,” he said. “Fine,” I said.
And he sent me to Dublin to write a patronising feature about the showband circuit there. All because he’d had an idea for what he considered to be a hilarious headline…SHAM ROCK.
I fell in love with Ireland immediately. Playing cheesy versions of country music and looking like they’d raided their childhood dressing up boxes, the showbands were laughably bad, of course, but the innate sense of hospitality, the engaging conversations, curiosity and larger-than-life characters I encountered on every corner and a seductive relish for the sweet art of social intercourse, the like of which I’d never found in England, quickly swung me round. In the words of Shameless, the Irish knew how to party.
And in time I discovered that Irish music wasn’t entirely about The Dubliners and The Chieftains; or Finbar & Eddie Furey and the Clancy Brothers; or indeed those wonderfully awful showbands like The Indians and Big Tom & The Mainliners. Somewhere on the journey I heard the brilliant first Planxty album and the die was cast. Christy Moore, Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny and Liam O’Flynn creating an exciting form of music which sounded thrillingly relevant and modern, yet still had a real sense of history and rootedness.
Planxty live at the National Stadium, Dublin 1973
For the first time I recognised a music that not only had an indelible affinity with its surroundings, but actually reflected the country from which it sprang.
When Andy Irvine sang of Spanish Point and Miltown Malbay on West Coast Of Clare (recently covered by recent BRIT Award winner Ed Sheeran, fact fans!) and Christy Moore sang of Kilrush and Kilkee on Cliffs Of Dooneen with Planxty, it meant something (even if I never could find the Cliffs of Dooneen). It helped that Planxty were brilliant musicians, of course and none was better than Liam O’Flynn, a blissful master of the uilleann pipes, who’d taken tuition, influence and inspiration from three of Ireland’s greatest proponents of the instrument: Leo Rowsome, Willie Clancy and Seamus Ennis.
I became transfixed by Liam’s playing, so elegant, stylish, mellow and sweet and compared it to the radically contrasting approaches of Paddy Moloney (who also learned from Leo Rowsome) and Finbar Furey – who often played at great pace, exuding the jagged wildness of the great travelling pipers. The trail became ever more enthralling with tales of another travelling piper, the faintly mysterious Johnny Doran – reputedly the greatest of them all – who played like a man possessed but was barely recorded properly during all his travels around Ireland before his death in 1950 at the age of 42 after a wall had collapsed on him.
You have only to listen to other pipers talking about Johnny Doran to understand why he’s held in such esteem. Pat Mitchell, no mean musician himself, freely compares Doran’s style with innovative jazz greats like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie – “people driven by the music to push the boundaries and pile variation on top of variation”.
I am already hopelessly in love with this music. Then one night in West London in the mid-1970s, the Bothy Band explode in front of me and the stakes soar higher still.
I sit at the front as they slink on stage, with nary a glance at the audience, Donal Lunny meandering into the opening rhythmic drive of The Kesh Jig, before the opening drones of Paddy Keenan’s pipes and….whoosh, away they go in a blitz of Keenan’s pipes, Tommy Peoples’ fiddle and Matt Molloy’s flute. It’s sensational and before I know it I’m upside down on the ceiling screaming my head off. Peoples electrifying us all with the ferocity of his bowing through The Green Groves Of Erin and The Flowers Of Red Hill, the mood switching from frenzied exhilaration to heartfelt sentiment in the flick of Lunny’s bouzouki. Irish music, folk music, no music sounded like this before…
They played with a strength, passion and intensity that would have blown any electric band clean out of the hall – the Bothy Band in full flight were a musical whirlwind; yet, with some ease, they were still able to balance the rhythmic frenzy and storm force instrumental interplay with the grace and charm of keyboard player Triona Ni Dhomhnaill, singing songs like Do You Love An Apple and Pretty Peg learned from the vast repertoire of her aunt Neillí, while there was the odd Irish language song to add to the thrill-a-minute variety of it all.
That gig at Hammersmith Town Hall in 1975 – or was it Fulham Town Hall in 1976? – still ranks as just about the most exciting concert I’ve ever seen; though Moving Hearts – the third seminal Irish band involving Donal Lunny – were to push it close a couple of years later.
The Bothy Band were sensational, but that level of intensity couldn’t be sustained. Here were a bunch of incredible musicians at the fearless peak of their ingenuity, fired up and goaded on to hit ever greater heights by the instinctive brilliance of the band member next to them, be it Keenan and Peoples, Molloy and Lunny or Triona Ni Dhomhnaill and her singer/guitarist brother Mícheál. I once described Paddy Keenan in Melody Maker as the Jimi Hendrix of the pipes, a quote that has followed him around ever since… and is still quoted back at me whenever his name is mentioned.
It didn’t last. The disciplined formality of concerts never suited the Bothy Band psyche and the alien travails of touring never sat easily with them – particularly as, in common with most Irish bands emerging in the same period, they weren’t making any money. There was also occasionally the small problem of dragging them out of the nearest pub to go to work.
Tommy Peoples was an early departure and, while they replaced him with another magnificent fiddle player in Kevin Burke and went on to record several albums, they never quite matched their recording debut in 1975 with the album called, well, 1975 – or indeed recapture the furious magic of that first time I saw them. Then again, nobody else did either.
And when they split in 1978 there was Lunny at it again, masterminding another crusading bunch of Celts called Moving Hearts – in league with Christy Moore – to add bass and drums and a jazz soul courtesy of sax player Keith Donald. Perhaps most crucially, they introduced another terrific young piper, Davey Spillane, another product of the travelling tradition with an important helping hand from Finbar Furey; yet who was also well versed in an unusually wide array of styles and genres. Moving Hearts were another stupendous band – raising the roof with blitzing instrumentals one minute and silencing the rampant audience the next as Moore stepped forward with quiet authority to sing ‘Once upon a time there was Irish ways and Irish laws’ in that uniquely intimate fashion now so familiar to us.
As the Troubles escalated in the north, their songs adopted a distinctly political edge – an approach that continued with even more determination when Mick Hanly replaced Christy Moore as lead singer – that didn’t always sit well in some quarters. Davey Spillane, who effectively became the band’s driving force after Moore, Lunny and Mick Hanly had left, later admitted he felt very uneasy about the political element and he transformed the new Moving Hearts into a more mellow, primarily instrumental outfit built around texture and spirituality, straying into the new age.
Not that Donal Lunny had his hand on the tiller of every significant new band coming out of Ireland in the 1970s. Among the surge of virtuoso outfits that were taking what was now being termed ‘Celtic music’ to the outside world were the harp-led Clannad, out of Donegal blending atmospheric jazz arrangements with traditional music in a Pentangle type way (and on their way to a hit single with Harry’s Game as ‘Celtic music’ remorselessly headed further into the new age). There was also Stocktons Wing, fronted by banjo maestro Kieran Hanrahan, who took their name from a Bruce Springsteen song and had, in Tommy Hayes, one of the modern kings of the bodhran.
But, perhaps topping them all, were Co. Galway band De Dannan, driven by the unpredictable flair of incorrigible fiddle virtuoso Frankie Gavin, with Alec Finn holding the string rhythm and another big character Ringo McDonagh doing magical things with the bodhran. De Dannan’s trump card, however, was the succession of magnificent female singers who habitually joined them, notably Mary Black, Dolores Keane and Maura O’Connell. Along with The Dubliners and The Chieftains, De Dannan have been one of Irish music’s few constants ever since… and there are now actually two different line-ups of the band after a bitter fallout between founding members Alec Finn and Frankie Gavin, both now claiming ownership of the name and leading their own versions of the band.
The 1970s and early 1980s were indeed a golden age for Irish music and, inspiring a wave of new young Scots bands to attempt to emulate them in their own country, Celtic music became all-dominant in Britain, too, where English music barely got a look-in.
At which time, prissy short-sighted commentators like me looked at the technical artistry, the youthful vigour and the gut excitement created by Planxty, the Bothies, De Dannan, Moving Hearts, Stockton’s Wing et al and snottily dismissed everything that had preceded them: including the Clancy Brothers; including The Dubliners; including The Chieftains.
The Clancys and Dubliners were still peddling Wild Rover and Whiskey In The Jar and Tell Me Ma. They had no pipes or funky rhythms or Christy Moore or Donal Lunny; or Paul Brady. What was the good of that in this brave new world of the Celts? They were unacceptably basic, primitive and pointless. That’s what I told anyone who’d listen after a few pints anyway.
The Chieftains were slightly different. They weren’t remotely basic, primitive or pointless, but their big crime was that they’d become successful. They’d got themselves a big shot American manager called Jo Lustig, who barked a lot, secured them a major label deal and promoted them at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Paddy Moloney’s downhome charm and genius for self-promotion did the rest and, all of a sudden, The Chieftains were big news, feted by the Rolling Stones and the like and attracting the sort of populist attention that was unprecedented for an instrumental folk group. So naturally, anybody who’d sat on a coach for hours on end to go and see them in Newcastle when Joe Public didn’t have a clue who they were, turned up their noses and accused them of selling their soul to the devil.
I wistfully recall my first interviews with The Chieftains for Melody Maker when they all had day jobs and I’d phone them to ask a question… and had to wait several minutes while they served a customer or answered a colleague’s query before I got an answer.
In fairness, Moloney was also facing something of a crisis in the band at this point as various members, mostly with families and secure day jobs, were reluctant to commit to a full-time music career. As the personnel changed, doubts crept in that, for all their clever instrumental interplay, sweeping arrangements and endearing showmanship, The Chieftains were becoming akin to a novelty act incapable of sustaining the momentum they’d built with the Albert Hall show. The inevitable clash of egos with manager Lustig left Moloney out on a limb facing a real problem in working out how not only to take the band forward, but keep it going at all.
Some of us had given up on them, convinced that they’d had their day in the sun but it was all over now (baby blue). But we severely underestimated the sharp brain that lurks inside the cartoon character Paddy Moloney presents to the world and, in one fell swoop, he signalled a resurgence – musically, critically and in terms of profile. How? He invited Matt Molloy to join the group.
Molloy’s reputation as a flautist was untouchable. He’d played out of his tree as one of the three great instrumental voices with Paddy Keenan and Tommy Peoples in that first torpedo blast of the Bothy Band and subsequently cemented his recognition as one of the true greats of modern folk music when he joined a revived version of Planxty.
If The Chieftains were good enough for Matt Molloy, then everyone else was compelled to sit up and take notice. As shrewd as ever, Moloney knew it and getting Molloy on board was all it took to launch a rebirth. The surge of new ideas, energy and joy instantly injected by Molloy’s addition gave Moloney all he needed to not only restore The Chieftains to the front line, but take them to another new level.
For Moloney was always musically ambitious. He’d originally moulded The Chieftains from the remains of Ceoltóirí Chualann, the ground-breaking orchestra defined by Seán Ó Riada’s visionary arrangements of traditional pieces in the early 1960s and has been intent on bursting barriers ever since. Some still claim The Chieftains is merely a conduit for his own ego, but that would be a gross insult to his own considerable gifts as a piper. His playing has always been geared to the service of the ensemble – he has, after all, never made a solo album – and as crucial to the enduring freshness and popularity of the band as his sharp awareness of market forces and the requirements necessary to capture audience imaginations. He’s a figure of fun for those who fall for stereotypes, but a steely determination lurks inside and you underestimate Paddy Moloney at your peril.
Ziggy Marley & The Chieftains – Redemption Song
He certainly recognised the potential of merging that distinctive Chieftains style with other musics and Chieftains collaborations are legendary, ranging from the Stones to Van Morrison, Pavarotti, Elvis Costello, Roger Daltrey, Mark Knopfler, James Galway, Ry Cooder, Tom Jones, Ziggy Marley, Sinead O’Connor, Willie Nelson and a vigorously eclectic further assortment of other household names.
With his natural thirst for musical exploration – not to mention a shrewd, sharp eye on a juicy marketing opportunity – Moloney bent all the boundaries, taking music to all manner of unlikely places. In 1985 Wham! were claiming to be the first western band to play in China, but The Chieftains had beaten them to it with shows documented on the excellent The Chieftains In China album, when they even indulged in their own cultural exchanges in a bout of musical ping-pong with local musicians.
Brazen opportunism? Maybe, but those constant Chieftains collaborations were always under their own terms and whichever megastar they inveigled into their cunning plan – Sting singing Mo Ghile Mear in Irish with them on their biggest crossover album Long Black Veil in 1995 or Joni Mitchell singing her own song about the iniquitous Magdalene Laundries on the 2002 album Tears Of Stone (on which they and Diana Krall also deliver an emotional rebirth of the cheesy old warhorse Danny Boy) – they always ended up sounding like honorary Chieftains rather than superfluous additions crowbarred into the mix because their names look good on the sleeve. Even the notoriously single-minded Van Morrison blended perfectly into The Chieftains’ blanket of sound when he sang with them on the Irish Heartbeat album.
Then there are the numerous film soundtracks composed by the group (Barry Lyndon, Treasure Island, Tristan And Isolde, The Grey Fox, Year Of The Fox, etc) and a regular parade of thematic collections, which began as far back as 1976 with a powerful extended arrangement of Bonaparte’s Retreat marking the recording debut with them of bodhran player Kevin Conneff and featuring a singer for the first time, with an impactful contribution from the magnificent Dolores Keane.
Since then they’ve explored almost every conceivable strand of music that offered even the vaguest historical connection with the Irish tradition – and a few that didn’t – and rarely caught a cold doing it. There were a couple of very good Christmas albums, Silent Night: Christmas In Rome and The Bells Of Dublin (featuring Marianne Faithfull, Nanci Griffith and Kate & Anna McGarrigle and a couple of cracking original songs, St Stephen’s Day Murders and The Rebel Jesus with Elvis Costello and Jackson Browne respectively) which avoided the obvious options of carols and seasonal sentimentality.
Various excursions into country music may have sounded slightly more manufactured both in style and execution, but when The Chieftains really get the bit between their teeth connecting with a different tradition they usually do it superbly. The 1996 album Santiago, for one, inspiringly investigated mutual Celtic connections with Galician music, in collaboration with Ry Cooder, Linda Ronstadt and Los Lobos. There were also leading roles for Kepa Junkera and Carlos Núñez, master of the gaita – the traditional Galician bagpipes – who subsequently became a regular Chieftains co-conspirator (he plays on their new album Voice Of Ages).
Even better still – and vastly underrated – was the 2010 album San Patricio, a Ry Cooder co-production telling the celebrated story of Connemara man John Riley, who led a batallion of rebel Irish emigrants who deserted the US army in 1847 to cross the Rio Grande and side with the Mexicans in the Mexico-America war. Carlos Núñez was on that one too, along with Linda Ronstadt, Moya Brennan, Lila Downs and an impressive array of Mexican musicians, notably the veteran Costa Rican-born star Chavela Vargas, igniting some comments about forming a Mexican Buena Vista Social Club.
It’s not often mentioned in connection with them, but The Chieftains tick all the boxes – and a few more besides – that qualify them as a world music outfit and their willingness to take their very Irish sound into so many seemingly alien territories has done plenty to spread understanding and awareness of traditional music, from different parts of the globe. Long before Riverdance turned art into an industry, they even used Irish dancers on stage and you can’t deny the visionary pioneering element integral to their enduring success.
Always well connected with many famous friends, they’ve assembled numerous Grammies and other awards – again something guaranteed to stir the cynicism in any music commentator – and Moloney is never shy when it comes to bigging up their achievements. But why not? In their 50 years The Chieftains have been extraordinarily prolific, laudably consistent and, in their own measured and tasteful way, undeniably ground-breaking.
Like The Dubliners they’ve lost key members along the way – most grieviously, the great harp player Derek Bell, a former child progidy who was composing concertos at 12, studied at the Royal College of Music and managed the Belfast Symphony Orchestra before answering Moloney’s call to become a Chieftain. His sudden death in America in 2002 hit the band hard and questions were raised about whether or not they’d have the will to continue.
But they did. Of course they did. Moloney still had plenty to say – literally and metaphorically – and, with the great Matt Molloy still with him on flute and the admirable Sean Keane still playing fiddle, The Chieftains have continued to take the music forward. Now rubbing shoulders with a new generation of cool friends like Civil Wars, Pistol Annies, Secret Sisters and The Low Anthem on tracks varying from tried and trusted trad material like Peggy Gordon and My Lagan Love to the classic tune Lark In The Clear Air and Dylan’s When The Ship Comes In, the new Voice Of Ages album might even be regarded as a logical successor to their most successful album, Long Black Veil.
Many other fine Irish bands have emerged along the way… Altan, Patrick Street, Lunasa, Danu, Dervish, Tamalin, Teada, Kila and Fidil among them, but in a sense those great Irish bands – Planxty, the Bothy Band, Moving Hearts and all – were so wilfully adventurous, they set the bar at a height that’s largely proved unreachable ever since.
And it’s somehow wonderfully uplifting to find those twin, unlikely godfathers perched at the two ends of the whole thing – The Dubliners and The Chieftains – still here, still doing it and still sounding rather good.
Folk, Irish and world music would be in a sorry state without them…
Words: Colin Irwin
Photos: courtesy of The Dubliners Archive and Maxine Baldwin (The Dubliners); Richard Wootton Publicity (The Chieftains); Tara Music (Planxty)
Forthcoming releases to celebrate The Dubliners‘ 50th Anniversary include a 50-track, 3-CD definitive compilation representing all 11 members of The Dubliners down through the decades and a DVD of a concert filmed in December 2011 celebrating The Dubliners 50th anniversary.
Paul Brady is touring the UK from the end of April to promote his new album – Dancer In The Fire: A Paul Brady Anthology – out on Proper Records on 23rd April. The first 200 orders placed at propermusic.com will receive a signed copy.
The Chieftains will be touring in June to promote their latest release Voice Of Ages.