13 Nov 2013
My Beautiful Children.
In part inspired by Cathy Ann Mac Phee, real life and my imagination.
Here now in the inside it is quiet. They have all gone to school. The birds outside are chattering, it's a cold, brightening October day. It's fresh with crispy, newly coloured leaves whirling about in the winds sighing and happily making music for themselves. Autumn has announced herself in timely fashion, appearing when she wants to appear. Dictating when the heating should be turned on. Bow down to her, keep your back to the woods.
Longing for the silence all summer, now, I miss them. The humdrum and chaos of family life. The getting up, the finding the socks, the rummaging about in the press, the "where is the cereal...on the table in front of you" bits, the making up the song, singing along, dancing in the kitchen, raking the fire, hanging out the clothes, where is the hairbrush again fight, shouting at each other, the "have we no cheese left, ah no not chicken casserole again," the laughing, the togetherness and the not togetherness, the deciding not to do more laundry today or any tidying but to sit down and listen to or look at the wind, the thrills and spills of family life.
Before going back to school we spent the week having to go into town again for another copy book or a different edition of the same book. In fact this year it was better than most, we ended up in Easons. The eldest does allow me to go into town with her still, as long as I don't say or do anything stupid. And I have to have plenty of money, there in lies the rub. I have to walk a few paces behind her and definitely no singing in the aisles of Lidl, especially not "Yankee Land." This is too weird and I am behaving like a homeless person seemingly! I end up arguing the side of the homeless person even though I am not one. When this doesn't work I try my reenactment of "Thriller." And then alas I do my Irish mother ventriloquist act, hissing "Jesus Mary and holy Saint Joseph," behind my teeth.
The younger one is somewhat confused at this point and says very loudly that Mammy is a nice singer and she even gets gigs, in fact. Oh god. We are driving into town then and the younger one announces that she is going to be a famous singer when she grows up and be a gymnast too. This is scorned by the elder who says you can't be both. I decide not to argue the case for being whatever you want to be. We find parking and I note that the sun always shines in the last week of August before school. It is really a lovely day, should I have just gone to the beach I ask myself in my head, carefully not saying my thoughts out loud. This gets me into trouble.
Easons is packed with angry parents and thriving children ignoring their ridiculous elders. People have flung caution to the wind and are spending. We buy packs of pencils, pencil cases, folders, sets of copy books, hard and soft backed, large and small, rulers and compasses, more folders with different colours and designs, different editions of school books if they have them, cross checking against lists, saying no to the fancy pens and folders, worried looks about all the cost, then a lot of sighing.
Easons has had a make over. There seems to be more space. Looking like the programs on TV about creating more room in the house, with a new young trendy architect. It feels more airy. But the loo is still dire.
Deciding to go downstairs to look at the books with the younger one and let the elder browse in the shelves herself. Heading to the six to nine year old section I am told that "those books are too young for me." "Emm" I muse "I don't think so, I mean you are seven." Her look explains to me that I am going to lose this one so I move to the older section which has a lot of vampires in it. As I am trying to find something here I feel a swishing in the air behind my ears. Turning around I find the youngest has been true to her word as ever and is now doing cartwheels in Easons. She is actually doing really well, getting the legs up in the air at last, she has been trying to achieve this all summer on every beach between here and Waterford. So I have to cheer really. "Whoopee" I shout and she is delighted with herself and her mad, silly mother. The smile is huge. Who cares about school when you can do cartwheels in Easons.
We rejoin the oldest who doesn't believe the smaller little woman when she tells her everything in her loud, excited, racing words of ecstasy. But pretends that she does in fairness to her. We drive home, have a cup of tea, sigh and realise that we do need to go back into town again for a different book. But I decide that I can't make any more decisions today and have more tea.
Months later, I miss them now and their goings on. I feel their presence and the mad energy they have and give me. Where would I be without my kids, I ask the wind and she doesn't need to answer. She just dances away, reminding me of someone else I know.
7 Sept 2013
SUMMER OF 2013
So I have had quite the summer folks. Between working, as in heading off and doing gigs, having the kids at home all summer, finishing recording my new album and now doing the final mixes, trying to get a few moments between myself and my husband, visiting or feeding visiting relations, cleaning for the relations, going down to Waterford to do more visiting, I am bloody wrecked. I can't wait for Monday.
With the kids back in school and the schedules sort of organised I think I will sit in bed for the whole day and eat chocolate and crisps and watch Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. I have to admit I am running out of Miss Marple episodes as I have watched most of them.... A sad state of affairs some of you may muse but to those of you who know me getting me to sit down is an advancement for all of humanity who have to live with me or be near me. God almighty. The Blue Geranium is definitely the best one.
Anyhow I started writing this post to thank all the wonderful people I met during the summer. I headed off to Montana in July on my owneo and made the big trek to Seattle first and then flew back over the Rockies to Montana. It was a pretty spectacular view from the plane. The Rockies are just huge. I know ye know this but they are spellbinding. When I got to Bozeman I was collected by a lovely woman called Lynn. She is the mastermind behind all the travel arrangements for the Montana Folk Festival. This festival is held in Butte Montana and I have to say I was really captured by Butte both romantically, it being the real wild west and all, and in an inspiring way especially when I learnt some of the history behind the place.
More about that later... Lynn was very kind and took me to my hotel. It was fairly late in the night and I had been going since early morning. To be honest I don't remember what time I got there. But I do remember the lovely pillows in the Hampton Inn and I actually slept... Well for a few hours anyways. There was also a massive box full of presents which I wasn't expecting. The next day I met up with my old pal John Doyle who also came from Ireland so I couldn't complain then which is always slightly annoying. We teamed up with the fantastic Duncan Wickel who is a wizard on the fiddle. We spent most of the afternoon practicing and it was great to be back in the thick of things with JD. Duncan can basically do anything he wants on the fiddle and he set up a lovely atmosphere for a lot of our songs. Sometimes this doesn't happen or work out so it is always a relief when it does. I mean what can you say to someone out in the middle of Butte Montana at the Hampton Inn... Ehh I don't know? Thank you Duncan for playing so beautifully and travelling to Butte. Thank you John as well for always playing your heart out and for working so hard and for being such a good friend.
We went and did a gig that evening and I just love the festivals that have been set up by the National Council for Traditional Arts in America. Essentially the N.C.T.A. go into areas that need help, financially and culturally. They teach people how to run a folk festival for three years and then they leave you to it. It's a brilliant idea as it injects much needed money into an area, the people from the region really respond to the work and appreciate it, the musicians get a gig and get paid, the people hear great and varied music and everybody goes home happy. I mean I ask you what more could you want. At least that's the way it seems to me.
Julia Olin, a wonderful woman who runs the N.C.T.A and someone I have always been pleased to see for the last eighteen years, was introducing us that night and when she said that she knew myself and John since 1995, I turned to Duncan and asked him what age he was in 1995? He said he was six!! it got us off to a good start and we all played our hearts out and sure the crowd just seemed to love it. I certainly did. Went to bed early and then didn't sleep. Alas I have given up on the old sleep on the road. Anyhow we had a fair few gigs the next day and we even did a gig under what is called a gallow frame which is the part of the old mine that stands over the ground, looming, a massive metal bit of scaffolding that from the distance looks like a drawing in the game "hang man." It was impressive and ominous being under it and singing away thinking of all the miners who go down underground to work.
Now as it happens I have been down under ground singing in a salt mine in Germany. It is a bit terrifying going down the shafts and very tight. I did a couple of gigs down there with Niall Vallely my husband, Paul Meehan and Robbie Overson and then later with Kate Ellis and Caoimhín Vallely and Ross Martin. We even brought our daughter down there with us and Olga Barry an old friend of ours came down too... The brave soul that she is. I didn't tell my mother that I had brought Muireann down a mine under the ground to sing... she would have killed me! Anyhow it is great once you get down the 800feet as it all opens out and you drive around the place like mad eegits with the mad German who gave us the gig and shouted his head off as he tore around in the jeep. Muireann had a great time.
The first trip down, the German took us to this shrine for a saint (I think it is Saint Anne). It was magical as there is no sound down there. We all entered the well area talking and then ended up quietly standing at the water which is like a small lake that laps up to the edge. It was a really peaceful moment. Then the German said "oh no I forget" and he pressed a switch and low and behold Enya was piped into the place. I couldn't stop laughing and Robbie groaned. It was astonishing there we were going around in a boat 800 feet under the ground listening to Enya. Anyhow I digress.
So back to Butte. Butte known in the earlier part of the last century as "the richest hill on earth" is quite something to look at. It is built on top of a copper mine and the town decided out of desperation to do open mining in the 1950s and in the process knocked down 60 blocks of the old town. This makes for quite a bizarre looking view. It is all stripes and squares with the land cut into different shades of orange and beige and everything in between. Something you haven't thought of before you see it. Go there if you can, it's amazing.
Butte itself has been ravaged by a variety of mining companies who took all they could get over the years and then left to go to South America, Anaconda being the most famous one, but Allende thought better of that and got rid of them. Proper order too. Butte is famous in the American political landscape for the organising that went on there in the early part of the twentieth century. It was a hotbed of leftie organisations and can be viewed as a microcosm of American life torn between the left and right wing forces that gripped the country at that time. Butte being in Montana was one of the last of the territories to be "settled" and one of the most conservative. Thefirst governor of Montana was of course our own Thomas Francis Meagher, a Waterford man. At the time it was isolated with ten of thousands of immigrant workers who came from Ireland, Finland, Austria, Germany and other areas of Europe trying to make a living. The signs down the mines were written in sixteen different languages. It is recorded that people in Ireland were told "not to stop in America but to head onto Butte." It was booming with five theatres going in the town and a population of over 48,000 people in the early 1900s.
I read a great book on the plane home called "Fire and Brimstone" by Michael Punke which was given to me as a present by Pat Burns. It is about the mining history of Butte but mostly about the worst hard-rock disaster that ever struck America in 1917 when 163 men died down the mine. We drove up to the memorial for the miners and stood listening to their words as some letters were written down below while they were dying. It is just heart breaking. Then Pat played a beautiful song written by Brendan O Shea about being an Irish miner. It is a beautiful song. It was hard not to cry. What struck me most was the sheer determination of the people who survived all those years of hardship and still even now there is a fierce resistance to giving in, out in Butte.
Over the few days in Butte I spent a lot of time hanging out with some great people. Mick was our festival buddy who is called Mick by Irish people and Chet by Americans, which had me puzzled at times! Mick and his friend Jim Shultz collected us and drove us to the gigs. They were both very good to us and always eager to help. We did get pulled over by the cops at one stage as we didn't have a license plate but it all worked out fine. We had some lovely meals together in this really great restaurant called the Uptown Cafe. I met another lovely person called Debbie Smith who is an Irish speaker. Herself and her husband joined us for the meal and we had a great old natter about coping as a woman in the various industries that we have worked in. We were delighted with ourselves being able to pay for the meal with our blue tickets from the festival. It was a real treat. I had Sole with a lemon butter sauce and chocolate mouse. Emmm. Brendan McDonough who works with the Ri RA Irish festival also supplied us with oxygen as its a mile higher than sea level and I got a blinding headache for the first day... but the old oxygen does the trick. There I was sitting in the hotel lobby with an oxygen mask on. While I was doing this the radio interviewer from NPR John Floridis came into the lobby. Thankfully he has a sense of humour. John is the kind of radio person I love. Firstly he listens to music, secondly he plays it and then he loves it. We went into the back room of the Finlen Hotel which John had very thoughtfully set up and had a great chat. John cried when we did A Chumaraigh Aoibhinn O. This made me like him even more. He is such a nice guy and of course its my vanity speaking here but he knew everything about us. It's ok though I am owning my vanity. We all went out for another meal then.....and here's me going on about the jet lag. The other person who was terribly kind was a man called Pat Burns. He collected me on the monday and brought me to Breakfast in a lovely little cafe. It has to be said that the only complaint I had about my weekend was my desperation for coffee. There wasn't much around. But it was worth the wait as the coffee in this cafe was lovely. I think it was called the Broadway cafe? OOhh I lapped it up. Pat then brought me to the memorial and then to the museum and then to the Cavanaugh County Celtic shop where I received so many presents that my luggage was overweight without the CDs. One present that I did get, was the new Solas CD, which is great and is all about Butte. Check it out if ye can. It has to be said that the festival was very good in terms of the gift giving. Hand sanitizer was one of the more unusual souvenirs I had in my bag. Pat Burns was very good to bring me around to all these places. He is an incredibly kind person and so well versed in the local history that he is a find.
The museum, the Butte Silver-Bow Archives Museum was extraordinary. At the entrance there is a homage to the native Americans who own the territory and it still amazes me how noble the first Nation tribes have been and are still in their catastrophic reality. The silence is deafening. There was a lot of native art at the Festival and I wanted to buy some but I didn't have the money and I thought I would be mad trying to get it home anyway. So on I went into the museum with Pat who knows everyone. I liked the way he let me pause over certain things and didn't feel like he had to explain them. He often stood in this quiet way letting me take it all in. The woman who runs the museum, Ellen Crain is her name, knows Pat. She is quite the character. I liked her a lot. She has been raising the money for the museum for nearly twenty years.
Ellen gave me a lot of time. She showed me the old papers in the vault that belonged to some of the Wobblies who were organising in the town after the mining disaster. I also read through the Irish newspapers, there are thousands and it was like a home away from home in many respects. In fact a lot of people did get to return home which is unusual for the time. I also got to wear the white gloves.. Exciting! And believe it or not I had a letter in my hand written by Eamon DeValera to a man called Brother McCarthy. He was a friend of DeValera's who put him up in Butte when he was on the run or raising money in America. The letter was dated the 6th of May 1916 which made it just as he was waiting to be executed. He did get a reprieve. But in it he had a glorious line.. " the leopard has not changed its spots but we hope to live long enough to see the death of the beast." Christ I am not making any of this up. I was so excited. I was really sorry to leave the museum but I had to head for Helena to get my flight home. Thank you to Lee who sent me a copy of the letter. I will try to post it up soon.
I did get to hear some great music too over the weekend. Emily Gimble is a great piano player and singer and I got to do a workshop with her and three other women on the Sunday. I then headed down to listen to a few gigs with my ever faithful Buddies and got to hear the Texas Swing Band that Emily runs. It was such crack. I loved the whole gig. Afterwards I went backstage to gush and this man came up to me while I was chatting to Emily and said " Excuse me Miss but do you happen to work as an assistant for the taxidermist in Helena? " now, I have never been asked this question before. So I laughed and said "No I am not the taxidermist's assistant in Helena, funny I have never been to Helena." Then he says "Oh do I hear an accent, are you English?" "No" I say and start to head home. So hats off to Butte Montana and your man, the head the ball, from Helena.
9 April 2013
I am just back from my week of collaboration in the Irish Arts Centre
in New York with the wonderful Aoife O Donovan. I am
fairly exhausted but completely exhilarated after the whole affair. I
had such a fantastic week. So I started out flying first class which
I have never done before. (Actually I lie I did fly business class to
my Brother's wedding in Scotland after upgrading on air miles to get
there...not the same.) but anyhow it was brilliant. I didn't know my
ticket was first class because obviously I didn't pay for it. When the
woman on the BA flight said in a very posh English accent "straight
ahead Madam and turn left" I thought oh she must be a bit tired
and headed up the other way only I was unable to find my seat. Yes I
shouted out when I copped on finally where I was supposed to be. I was
missing the girls and Niall just before I got on the flight but I have
to admit all my suffering was removed at this point! It was fairly obvious
to everyone that I had never been there before. They all smiled politely.
I was looking around for the bit at your feet where you put your stuff
but no the air hostess hangs everything up for you. The main difference
up front is that everyone is nice to you, even the air hostess', the
food was lovely and you could drink your head off but I was very restrained
and had a nice glass of wine. And then I STRETCHED OUT and relaxed. Jesus
it was heavenly. I didn't fly back first class but I do have it always
now in my mind's eye to treasure.
Anyway.... This is going to be a really long blog by the way...I got
to New York and had no trouble at the immigration. I have been having
a spot of bother lately with my visa so I want to thank all of the people
who helped me out. Thank you Niall Vallely, Mick Moloney, Joanie Madden,
Earle Hitchner, Paul Keating, Matt and Mitch Greenhill and Mary Katherine
Aldin at folklore, all at Tamizdat, Nancy Groce, Donald Shaw, Kate Gustafson
from Prairie Home Companion, Alison Brown and Garry West at Compass,
Tom Sherlock, Bill Whelan , Cathy Jordan, Mel Mercier, and Michael O
Súilleabháin. Didn't lie about the CDs and got through
customs and then met my driver. I kid you not. Anyhow it all went very
smoothly. And then I got to my quirky little hotel on 51st street, which
is only 2 blocks up from the Irish Arts centre so I was thrilled about
being so near to the venue.
I have been on tour for the last three or four weeks and have been a
good way from each venue most nights if not to say 200 miles away from
the one in Russia! But that is a whole other conversation. So I felt
like this trip was payback for the previous month, well years really,
of really hard slog and some hairy moments.
It was a lovely day last Monday, a big bright blue sky was in the air
and I headed up to Central Park, one of my favourite places in the whole
world. Eight Ave was pretty packed when I appeared onto it earlier at
about half six. Where the hell are all these mad people going I think
to myself. There is a couple in their sixties and matching orange track
suits heading up towards Central Park holding hands and an old Chinese
lady who looks about one hundred and two walking at around sixty miles
an hour galloping up towards the park, a homeless man looking desperate
at the side of the road and then a few head cases wandering aimlessly
about the place nearly getting killed with the traffic and the drivers
shouting their heads off at them. Jesus it's not even seven o' clock
Anyhow I arrive up at the park entrance on Colombus circle and all the
violets and daffodils are out and about in their splendour. They are
shining away blazing back at me in the sunlight. It is so pretty and
I love blue skies, something Irish people cherish because we are so subdued
by the grey clouds sitting on the ground over here. Anyway I just lapped
it up. I said hello to the daffodils and tried to stretch for my run.
Then I headed off up around the park with all the other runners decked
out in the flashiest track suits I've seen in a while. I was finding
it hard going being a bit wrecked from all my travels but I am buoyed
up by the sights. I go around the Jackie Onasis reservoir and am reminded
of my life in New York when I lived there. I used to live on east 90th
street and so I spent manys a morning walking around this part of the
park. It's really pretty and a bit more subdued than the rest of the
park because of the water. The view of the skyline from the top of the
reservoir is spectacular and I don't remember the fountain in the middle
but I am thinking sure it had to be there all along. I walk for a bit
now and a man in jeans and a shirt and tie passes me out running. Emm
I say to myself. I finally come back around to the west side. It's very
well laid out for all the runners but you have to keep to your bit of
the path or you will get knocked down by a cyclist... Hard core cyclists
out here in the their pink and orange spandex with their skinny arses
up in the air. I say goodbye to the daffodils and the little violets
waving at everyone and leave the peace and quite of the park for 8th
Ave again. Holy mother of god the noise has racked up enormously and
everyone has gone mad. Its half 8 now and it's rush hour. Cars are honking
their horns, people are tearing along the footpaths talking into their mobile phones, men in suits, women in suits and runners, drinking their
coffee, eyeing each other up or staring vacantly at the red hand or flying
across the road when the figure appears on the sign. The yellow taxis
back to back. The construction noise is deafening with men drilling and
digging up the main road and people trying to get across it still. I
am totally exhilarated. Completely alive. Yes this is New York. I am
walking much faster now too but I don't talk to myself out loud. I am
not that much of a New Yorker. Even though I would love to. One fellow
has been shouting at himself for a few blocks now giving out to his boss
I would say. Hello New York.
In the diner now. It's packed. Ordering some porridge. The bowl is huge.
Struggle through it. Drink about a gallon of coffee. Take in the sights
outside. Still on 8th Ave. Its still mad busy outside. There are rows
and rows of yellow taxis but they look more orangey than I remember.
Smiling as I have skyped home and all is good on the Western front and
Niall is holding down the fort. Aine our youngest was too busy to talk
to me. Muireann our eldest was watching Home and Away. Sighing as I would
love them all to be here but to be honest am also glad of this week as
it is for myself, not the normal run of the mill touring in that I get
to be in the one place, really well looked after and I get time to create
something new. Whoopee. For as much as I appreciate my job the touring
can be old and I do feel I need to reinvigorate myself in an artistic
way. The problem as ever is how to make enough money to live on in the
process. An old problem for everyone I know. Anyhow I am mulling over
all this while eating the porridge, they definitely give you too much
food in the diners, and am enjoying contemplating the day ahead. The
diner is full of hungry, tired people and the waitresses are run off
their feet. I take a deep breath and think Jesus imagine doing this every
morning. I would die of exhaustion just thinking about it. I am glad
of my job at this moment and wait for the arrival of my good friend Elizabeth
who I can't wait to catch up with and just hang out with.
All excited about the rehearsal and meeting Aoife I am early. Always
early these days. It's an age thing, liking to get there, see the lay
of the land, warm up the old vocal chords, put on more coffee, drinking
too much coffee, and of course sort myself out...something I have been
trying to do for quite some time now. Greeted by Daniel who is a nice
man he tells me that he will be my production person for the week. The
treatment is unreal my being much more used to doing all of this myself.
Everything is done for me at the Centre. A woman could get used to this.
Anyhow myself and Daniel chat away about New York, what it's like to
live here, what it's like to live in Ireland and decide maybe we should
have more coffee. Rachael who is the boss woman arrives down and introduces
herself. Immediately I like her and feel like I know her as I have been
negotiating with her via email, the fees and visas and per diems and
who knows what else. Rachael is a terribly competent young woman I think
to myself and note that when I was her age I was completely bonkers but
I don't relay this information. Ok I have had way too much coffee.
Anyhow Aoife arrives looking more beautiful than ever and I love her.
She is a scream altogether. She announces on her arrival that she hates
Manhattan! I am sitting at the piano smiling to myself and I muse that
I quite like it. She has been on the subway for an hour and a half and
is sorry she is late but the ------- subway is useless. She puts down
We chat away then and catch up. I am most interested to find out how
her love life is going and note that all is great. All is well. Who cares
about Manhattan. I have really been sent as a spy by her mother Lindsay
to find out what her boyfriend is really like but I don't tell her this
either. After about an hour or so we decide maybe we should do some work.
Right what will we do? I have a poetry book by Michael Hartnett in my
bag that I have brought over as a present for Aoife. Its his "Poems
to younger women." It's a savage book altogether. Chilling poems
that are quite exhausting in their own way, each and everyone of them,
well Aoife opens the book on the "Pavane for a drowned girl" poem,
puts the book up on the piano and proceeds to sing a song. Its pretty
dark. I sit back and smile. We are off!
The practice or rehearsal or writing or whatever it is we do goes great.
We manage to write one song and then start on the words I have emailed
Aoife and she comes up with a beautiful melody. She is made of music.
It seems to just pour out of her. I like most of the tune but want it
to open up a bit and so we struggle through this for a while. Having
a great want in me, I often long for the arc in a song. I find there
is usually a peak to a song and I make my way towards this tentatively,
tiptoeing. I suppose it's when I most feel alive, present, its certainly
a thrill especially when its going well and I get the feeling that the
audience is coming along with me. When the importance of the story reaches
a point in the song where everybody understands it, the whole room gets
it and then we all sigh.... like the line in Donal Og ..."when you
would not mind me" but you do need the previous set up of the other
8 verses to get to that energy. I am obsessed with this process and the
story within the words and how it transports you to another person's
world and feelings. Maybe thats the attraction or the addiction involved
in loving singing and being a singer.
Aoife is an extraordinary young woman and I haven't felt as positive
about a musical collaboration in ages. The grace and tenderness she brings
to her singing and to her melodies is simply a thing of great beauty.
Aoife seems much more concerned with melody and is totally absorbed with
the chords how they run together where you end up and how the internal
harmonic scaffolding is structured. She hears things I would never dream
of, often saying ...what if we went to this chord?" I love this
and trust her musical intuition enough to head off into the wilderness
with her. We end up with a good start to two lovely songs. It has been
a beautiful day and by our body language we recognise that we are tired
and stop to go for something to eat.
Myself and Aoife both love food and I eat a lot of food. Great, I love
women who love food. We skite around Hells Kitchen looking for somewhere
nice. There are a few falafel places and a Thai restaurant which looks
nice and a really pleasant looking Italian. We decide on the falafel
place and it is lovely, typical New York, small family restaurant run
by immigrants working all the hours God gave them, often being tried
and tested by the spoilt first world clients. They are really nice people
and I am always reminded of my days as a waitress myself in New York.
As a friend of mine at the time who knew me as a "waitress extraordinaire" pointed
out " it's just as well the singing worked out Casey because you
were a fucking brutal waitress!" Yikes the truth sometimes does
hurt. Anyhow the food is great and costs about $10. Imagine. We go back
and work away again until the evening.
Anyhow I then head off to meet my good friend Mary and we have an almighty
chat and more lovely food at the Italian place. Mary is another fantastic
woman I know from my New York days. I do miss all these great women that
I am such good friends with and even though we email or Skype now and
then it's not the same. I feel like they love me for who I really am
having known me before my "career" as a singer started or when
I didn't have an arse in my trousers. I love them too and really cherish
their company. Always good to know who your friends are. I am getting
more fussy as I get older.
I hit the sack early. It has been a perfect day. Singing with Aoife,
eating a lot, meeting good friends, knowing my family is ok, running
in Central Park, drinking too much coffee in the Irish Arts Centre, blue
skies, daffodils and violets, a few head the balls on the street and
a lovely big bed with lovely pillows to retire to. I finish it all off
with an hour of Hercule Poirot. He is fantastic altogether, as is Hastings,
his right hand man..."I say Poirot, something ghastly has happened,
what shall we do?" "Mon Amie, Hastings..." I head off
to the land of nod.
9 May 2007
to Mick Moloney
I just did a gig in New York with a whole gang of
people and I wanted to write a thank you note to Mick Moloney for putting
Mick of course has his own peculiar and particular
fashion and is from the old school of organizing. You know words like
arrange, put in order, sort out, assemble, categorize and systematize
come up when you check the thesaurus, but Mick did none of this by the
way. He is one of the few men I know who can get an awful lot of the musicians
in N.Y. together in a few weeks for two gigs in the Irish Arts Centre
with practice space for two days beforehand in the Landing Tavern, with
lovely food, sandwiches and more food at the gig, the beautiful Maria
who actually did sort out our clothes and faces all along with a film
crew available to record it and make a DVD for PBS for next March, from
a few phone calls. Does he rule the world? If only.
So John Doyle and Seamus Egan were there and
it was just fabulous to sit between the two of them and sing a song and
for them to tell me again that I wasn’t coming in right. I was right
of course. What struck me was the ease and I was like a pig in shite for
want of a better term. It was just wonderful and they just made my day.
I’m sure it made Frank Harte’s day too as we did his King’s
Shilling song. Well, it was written by a man called Iain Sinclair but
I got it from Frank. But anyway it is a great anti-war song and I could
feel Frank being happy. For the cream on the cake for my own songs Liz
Carroll was there and she is my hero. She played beautifully on Éirigh
suas a stoirín and corrected us all on our timing, as is her wont!
So for most of the rest of the other two days
I got to be a fly on the wall. The set between Liz Carroll, Eileen Ivers,
Athena Tergis, and John Doyle was electrifying. John Doyle is a mighty
woman altogether! Athena the goddess has the most dotey little baby called
Vivian who I got to hold every now and then. Her knitted purple suit and
pink booties made by her granny were fantastic. I would like to put in
an order myself. And her smile..ah well. I love babies.
Anyway the practice - for want of another better
term - with myself and Mick and Robbie O Connell and Mac Bedford, for
the “Leaving of Liverpool” was something else. We started
out in A which was too low so someone said we should go up so then we
went to Bb and then to B, but someone else decided that this wouldn’t
be good for the musicians so then we went to C and then Mick heard a tune
he knew being played next door so he went off playing that and then Robbie
said “well that’s that”. And then at the gig we discovered
it was too high! Holy Mother of God, so that is why I will be shouting
on the television next March.
I did finally get to spend some decent time with
Robbie O Connell. He is such a tender soul and he sang me some lovely
songs and we had a great chat about Frank and talked about how lonesome
we are for him. Susan McKeown did some beautiful singing as well and
it was pity it was all so short as I would have loved to have had more time
with her and the other singers, who were Mac Bedford and Rhys Jones.
One of the most amazing people there though was
Josephine MacNamara who is eighty-five years old. Josephine did a sketch
with Mick and he could be an actor as well as everything else, but everybody
should watch it next March just for this. Josephine also danced which
is quite something to behold. It was one of the most moving things I have
ever witnessed. Josephine’s hair is bright red and she looks a
bit like Maureen O Hara only much better but she is tiny and it really
like Josephine would break when she danced but that seemed to be the
last thing on her mind. I hope when I am eighty-five I will be as fiery
brilliant as her.
Other people who rounded out the night were Tim
Collins on the concertina, the wonderful Mike Rafferty on the flute,
Niall O Leary and Darragh Carr the dancers, Billy McComiskey on the box, Jerry
O Sullivan on the pipes and Brendan Dolan on the piano who I used to be
in a band with and then all the behind the scenes people for the film
along with Paul Wagner and Ellen Wagner who were making the film. Well
they are probably the most famous but...
The not so quiet woman who I am so fond of was
there too. Joanie Madden played her slow air wonderfully the only problem
was that she didn’t go round again. I had a dream later on in the
taxi to the airport where I was Karan the Irish Oprah and I was interviewing
Joanie. Karan the Irish Oprah was asking Joanie to relax and to think
back on her life in N.Y. And then Karan the Irish Oprah asked Joanie gently
if she could remember when was the last time she had bought her a pint…And
then no, no, to think back further … further…
Joanie did thank Mick Moloney at the end of the
gig and became quite emotional as I think she knows how great he is. Mick
was behind all the scenes, working away quietly sometimes and not so quietly
at others like he has been for years. He is our fearless leader and yet
a very gentle guide who has managed to direct and document so much of
our lives. He is forever offering people songs and the look of delight
on his face when he watches people playing is extraordinary. His very
blue eyes become more blue and he has a sort of mad look in them when
he is happy with us. Mick has been in my own life for nearly thirteen
years now because he gave Solas our first gig in Georgetown University
and he didn’t tell me before I went out on the stage that there
would be 400 people there. I nearly died. And ever since he has been
kind in helping me find songs or suggesting ones that would be good and
also in giving me very sound personal advice. I am very fortunate to
met him, as I know I will always come away from him having learnt something
worthwhile. He said to me that our sense of community was our strength
and that was why we were all there.
I have to say that the gig was long. Mick had
twenty-two items on the set list and I did notice that he had 6a and 6b
in each set so maybe he was trying to trick us. The gig was nearly three
and a half hours long and so the two shows ran back to back but it didn’t
feel like that to be honest and as ever all of the parts were necessary
to give the full picture. Mick also spoke in between the songs and as
I said on the night he gave us the whole history of Ireland in about
hour. He really should have a spoken word CD to go with the DVD.
There are loads of other people behind the scenes
who made this gig happen like my good friend Bob Donnelly and Bridín
from the Centre and all who work there and the whole crew who stuck us
all for hours on end and probably people I have forgotten. But it is
who I set out to thank. When I started out this thank you it was going
to be small but like most things with Mick they are never small. So I
just wanted to really thank you Mick Moloney for being Mick Moloney.
So I can't believe that my beloved Frank Harte has
passed away. I am sitting here looking at pictures of himself and myself
laughing and singing away together at a festival in America. I think
was the one in Wolftrap, The Washington Irish Folk Festival. He would
be very cross with me for being so full of self-pity and he would tell
me to celebrate his life because he was brilliant!
I met Frank in America, ten or eleven years ago
this summer at the Irish week up in the Catskills in N.Y. and he said
"come here to me you, young one" and then he quizzed me up
and down about what songs I knew and what was I going to do with my life!
This was just in the first half hour. He then marched me off and bought
me a double c.d. of Luke Kelly and told me to come back to him when I
knew all the songs on it. I spent the rest of the week following him around
and going to his classes, even when I was supposed to be teaching my own.
I just took them to Frank’s class as I figured we all needed to
be beside him and to hear him.
We went from there really. I was living in America at the
time and so I would visit him when I went home. In the beginning I didn’t
speak very much (if people can believe that!) as I was too over awed
him. I was amazed at the amount of books he had in his cottage up in
Dublin and how many old tapes and recordings he had. There were paintings
most of the walls were covered with old clippings from newspapers and
pictures of old singers that I had only heard of. Beautiful sculptures,
especially the one of Jim Larkin that he was so proud of. And reel-to-reels,
dozens of them that he had made himself from all the sessions that he
went to, things I had never seen before. And the books, Jesus I had never
seen so many books. I thought, Christ, he must be an intellectual!
Frank always had time for me. He was always delighted to
see me. He sang me such lovely songs and I would put them on tapes. He
also recommended different song collections and was forever giving out
to me for not reading the song books enough. I would say but sure I have
you and he would sigh. Of course I know why he was sighing now. He was
particularly fond of the Sam Henry collection and would often just browse
through it, as anyone else would read a book. He was always reading poetry
and he would often ring me up and read me a poem. He was a romantic at
heart and adored Yeats; he used to say he was like himself, very fond
of the women.
Most of the songs that I recorded with Solas
I got from Frank. He was mad about Solas, and was forever teasing them,
telling them all to stand back from the mike when I was singing! His good
friend Mick Moloney gave us our first gig in Georgetown University in
Washington and we were almost like their babies the way the pair of them
would go around boasting about us.
Sometimes Frank could be cranky, I think mostly because he
knew what he had, or indeed what he would always stress was what the Irish
people had, and I knew it weighed heavily on his heart whether the songs
would survive or not. He did ask me last year “who will sing these
songs when I die if you don’t?” I often felt frustrated as
if I wasn’t doing the songs justice and also felt the burden of
being a traditional singer. We would spend hours talking about what would
become of the songs or how we were going to get them out there. When
would despair he would remind me that I live the life people dream of
living. I know he is right. I think if anyone wants to honour Frank now
that they could sing a song and he would be pleased. He just simply loved
Over the last few years I became very close to Frank, he
became like a father to me. I am really blessed to have had Frank Harte
in my life. He would ring me up and sing me songs late at night. Ask me
how my head was and give out if I didn’t have a new traditional
song for him since the week before! I would go up to Dublin to chat to
him and to see him more than to get songs and we would drink wine, order
in a Chinese, (Frank would have Colman’s mustard with the spring
rolls!) and he would read me poems and sing me songs and get me to read
him poetry and sing him songs and we laughed and cried and sang.
I am so glad that I did get to spend more time with Frank
and it is one of the things in my life that I know I did right. Times
that I will always treasure the most. I am deeply proud to have known
Frank and deeply grateful to him for all the time he gave me. I also
how lucky I am and how precious that time was. And oh, what I would do
to be able to pick up the phone and talk to Frank Harte tonight.