A long time ago, when I was a lump of a lad running around, I remember many a summer afternoon climbing up into a great ash tree, sitting in the leafy branches near the top singing away to myself, and the only competition I had was from a temperamental thrush in a nearby oak.
Another favourite place for singing was underneath a bridge on an old, disused railway line where the echo roared back at you at the top of its voice and you felt as if there were three or four people answering your song. But perhaps the best place to sing was sitting on a cartload of empty creamery cans where, with the clopping of the horse's hooves, the rattling of the ironshod wheels on the white road and the ringing of the creamery cans, it sounded as if you were being accompanied by a symphony orchestra, and you couldn't help but sing.
Later, when my fingers grew a little longer and I could cover all the holes on a tin whistle, my brother Jack taught me to play. You should have heard how great the whistle sounded being played under the railway bridge!
But that's how it is in Ireland, there's music around you all the time, and it's almost as essential to living as eating and drinking.
I went recently to visit a woman called Ellen Reilly, who lives near Keady where I was born and reared, and we were sitting chatting when she said to me, "You're a bit of a musician, but can you tell me — what is music?" Well, now, I'm sure you'll agree that is a very difficult question to answer, so after I had wracked my brain and come up with nothing, I asked Ellen to give me her definition of music.
"Music," said she, "is the soul of the world embedded in sound." Whether she had read it somewhere, or come up with it herself, I don't know; but I do know that you'd travel around a brave few corners before you'd find anyone, man, woman or child, who could come up with better.
Anyhow, a couple of days after last Christmas we returned to CBS Records in New York City to make this album. As the guitar and banjo rang out, I closed my eyes and sang with a vengeance because I wasn't really in a soundproof room full of microphones and twisted cables, I was sitting on a horse cart loaded down with empty creamery cans. And I'm sure Paddy, Tom and Liam were on their own particular creamery carts, for they enjoyed singing these songs as much as I did. If you like the songs, learn them; and if you feel like singing, just throw back your head open your mouth and fire away. Never let it be said that your mother reared a jibber.