Variously described as purveyors of "transplanted Irish music" as well as "the" group popularly associated with "happy Irish music" in the United States, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem have done more to popularize this genre away from home than any other group of its kind. (Given the existence of the extraordinary Chieftains, as well as groups such as the Dubliners, this a most heady statement!) Founded in New York City in the late 1950s when all were young actors trying to make it as Irish expatriates in America, they were ultimately responsible not only for the successful interest in Irish music in the United States, but similarly started a revival of interest in Irish folk songs in Ireland where it had been fairly moribund. Characterized by their exuberant, lusty and theatrical approach to song, it appears rather safe to ascribe much of the interest in the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s in the United States to these remarkable men.
Characterized as the most famous Irish folk singers in the world (it would be difficult to dispute this), the Clancys and Tommy Makem came together as a singing group in New York City In the 1950s. The Clancys were from a large singing family (9 children) from Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, while Tommy Makem, son of the famous Ulster ballad singer Sarah Makem, was from Keady County, Armagh. Originally, all of the young men came to the United States (as previously mentioned) to pursue acting careers. In the early 1950s they were to be found acting in various off-Broadway productions as well as promoting folk music concerts in New York's famed Greenwich Village. Timing being everything (literally the secret of life insofar as this writer is concerned), the growing folk revival of the 1950s was beginning to mount at the same time and it was obvious that their late night concerts contributed to the forthcoming popularity of folk music, the term used here in its widest definition. By the mid-1950s brother Pat had started Tradition Records and who to record, but naturally The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem (the latter recently arrived in the U.S. with Clancy brother Liam)! I remember well the reception and stir caused by "The Rising Of The Moon" when it was initially released. Rousing, powerful, foot-stomping Irish folk music, a far cry from the Irish "lads and lassies" who had prevailed to that point. I might propose that anyone in the United States who had even the most fleeting interest in ethnic music tuned in on the Clancys and Makem. More recordings followed, including the wonderful "Come Fill Your Glass With Us," as well as various in-person appearances including performing at the Gate of Horn, Chicago's most important folk club which had featured artists such as blues singer Big Bill Broonzy and humorist Lenny Bruce. And then came Ed Sullivan.
By now the appearance of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1961 has taken on the stature of the mythology and folklore which has come to be associated with these extraordinary legends of Irish folksong. Originally scheduled to sing for a mere, paltry if you will, three minutes, they eventually finished after 16 rousing, history-making minutes, partially occasioned by the sudden illness of one of the headliners. The rest, as that most overused of cliches expresses, is indeed "history!" Fortunately for all concerned, the extraordinary Columbia Records producer/talent acquisition executive John Hammond was one of the millions of TV viewers watching The Ed Sullivan Show that evening. Exhibiting the taste and timing which was a hallmark throughout his brilliant career (Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, etc., etc.), John signed the boys to a Columbia Records contract Overnight fame!? Hardly, but sweet just the same.
From this point on, until 1969, the group remained constant: Tom, Liam and Paddy Clancy and Tommy Makem. They recorded and performed prolifically throughout the decade (more about their recording activities a bit later on), the first change occurring when Tommy decided to opt for a solo career. Similarly, Liam left in 1975, at which time brother Bobby and nephew Robbie O'Connell joined and the quartet continued as the Clancy Brothers. There have been occasional reunions, both in the concert hall as well as the recording studio, but for all intents and purposes, despite the continuation in various guises, the "original" Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were finished by 1970. Brother Tom passed away in 1990; Tommy Makem became the owner of a lovely and popular midtown Manhattan pub, and the others would continue on a regular-irregular basis. Hopefully, the final chapter is yet to be written as it would be difficult to imagine a world of folk-song without the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.
ABOUT THE RECORDINGS During their extended tenure with Columbia Records, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem made countless recordings. Sessions were generally held in either London or various US sites. New York City locales included the famed Columbia Records 30th Street Studios which, alas, no longer exists, as well as the world renowned Carnegie Hall. When faced with the task of organizing for the subsequent release of various recordings, particularly material which had never been previously released, we found enormous amounts of multi-track recordings which had never been mixed-down for release. In many instances similar material had been recorded, selected and released instead. However, we found as we started to audition the unreleased material that much of it, although similar in repertoire, warranted release because of the outstanding quality of the performances, and we set about to do so. As near as we can determine, everything in this collection with the possible exception of the closing track sung by Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," is previously unreleased in the form as presented. Working with a distinct lack of paperwork and documentation, we have managed to select a number of performances variously recorded live at Carnegie Hall, live in front of an invited audience at 30th Street, at standard studio recording sessions (again at 30th St.) and at the Newport, RI folk festival. The recordings utilized in this collection were mixed down from the original 3 and 4 track master tapes. It is sincerely hoped that a future collection will deal with 8 and 16 track previously unreleased and unmixed material.
The repertoire as presented begins with the gospel "Kings Highway" and the "Rock Island Line," hardly Irish material, and continues with the inclusion of Clancy-Makem favorites such as "The Rising Of The Moon," "Gallant Forty Twa," "Port Lairge" and the "Irish Rover," to name but a few. There are some lesser known items such as "Good Old Colony Days," "Holy Ground," "Carol Of The Birds" and the engaging "Children's Medley." Accompaniments vary from the Clancys and Tommy playing various instruments to Bruce Langhorns, guitar, and Pete Seeger, 5-string banjo.