The tour continues as the journey unfolds.
I consider myself very fortunate to have new generations coming to hear the songs. Many of these listeners were not even born when I first began recording some of these tracks. Many enquire about a collection of the most popular songs. This collection has been gathered from gigs recorded over the past 3 years. It features new versions of the most requested songs. They were recorded at 17 different venues in Ireland, England and Scotland.
Its been a fulfilling project, comparing different versions, hearing old songs with new arrangements and different musicians.
Its a great buzz for me … to have such great listeners, to be still out here "On The Road".
Ordinary Man — Written by Peter Hames in the early 1980s, this song came to me on a cassette tape as I left the Winter Gardens, Cleethorpes in 1985. I began listening immediately on the journey back to London. By the time we arrived I had the first verse chorded. It became the title track of my subsequent 1987 Album "Ordinary Man". It has been in the set these past three decades and is always well received when the opening chords ring out. Quoted in many headlines, it has often been parodied and covered. This version is from Barrowland in Glasgow where the Gallowgate Choir was determined to sing the 1987 version. Half-way through I thought it best for me to follow them.
Ride On — This was the title song of my most popular studio album which was recorded in Killarney in 1985. Jimmy MacCarthy shared "Ride On" with me in Lombard St. Studio late one night in 1984. I first heard him sing in The Meeting Place when Southpaw came to play there in the late 1970s. Many of his songs have since entered the national repertoire. Never a night passes without a "Jimmy Mack" song in the set. "Ride On" always stills the night. This version features a unique solo from Declan Sinnott. He picked up his Fender Strat instead of the usual Spanish Guitar which led us into this lovely version of Jimmy's great song.
Joxer Goes to Stuttgart — Has a goal ever been more celebrated than Ray Houghton's?
It works every time … the mad dogs howl, Big Jack still sings, the Daughter of Germany turns up yet again, Giles and Dunphy still hold sway, Moran, Whelan and McGrath always certainly to play there are those who come to a gig mainly to hear this song; I can sense their unease as the full time whistle approaches. I wrote it very quickly on the way home from a gig in Kerry back in 1989. We took on a nail outside Portlaoise and the spare was also punctured. Without that nail, Joxer might never have gone to Stuttgart.
Black is the Colour — I first met Hamish Imlach in the MSG Club in Manchester in 1967. We became firm friends and I travelled with him to many Folk Clubs. I changed his strings, lit his cigarettes, filled his glass and studied his techniques. I learned this song from him after my first Scottish gig at The Glasgow Folk Centre in 1968. I carried the song home and recorded it in 1976. Since then it has become a "standard" in Ireland and has also been covered by many singers around the world.
Don't Forget Your Shovel — This version was recorded at Chuck Feeney's (UCH Limerick). Christie Hennessy's classic ballad marked a turning point in my working life. Before recording it, I was a ballad singer working around the Ballad Lounges and Folk Clubs. I covered Christie's song in 1983 after leaving Moving Hearts. Back then Ronan Collins had an early morning show on Irish Radio. He took a shine to the "Shovel" and played it every morning for weeks on end. I had my first solo hit … everything began to change … a sign of things to come was when a bus driver called out "Don't forget your shovel Christy" as I walked down Patrick St. in Cork City.
I first met Christie Hennessy at a folk Club in Kent in 1970. Four years later I got a copy of his first album which remains one of my favourite albums to this day. He performed a beautiful collection of songs in his unique way and the "Shovel" was among them. Subsequently Christie became one of our most popular singers and was much loved until his untimely death. I was honoured when invited to unveil a beautiful Bronze Statue of my friend where it stands handsomely in his home town of Tralee. The smiling Troubadour back once more in his beloved Kingdom of Kerry.
The Voyage — I first heard Johnny Duhan in 1968. He was lead singer in a band called "Granny's Intentions".
I covered his song "El Salvador" on my 1986 album. Later again we met up in Rialto where he shared this fine song with me. It became the title track on my 1990 album.
Johnny's song brought me to places I had not been before. I appeared on The Terry Wogan Show, met Melvyn Bragg, Gloria Hunniford, Ned Sherrin, Libby Purvis and Michael Parkinson. I used to frequent a gym in Dublin back around that time. One day I was simmering in the Jacuzzi when a man said to me "I heard you on BBC Radio 4 with Ned Sherrin last Saturday morning … I had no idea you were that good". Still tugging the forelock, still doffing the cap.
When I sang it in Pettigo last year Declan found some lovely notes on his Gretsch Guitar. The beautiful village of Pettigo straddles an invisible Border that still seeks to separate the Counties of Fermanagh and Donegal.
Delirium Tremans — I sometimes dream about Brandy & Port. I'm always very relieved to wake up. It's 28 years since, yet I remember the distinct tastes and smells of many potions. Thankfully, reality now outweighs euphoric recall which always led me back to the bottle. These times I feel fortunate to enjoy my work enormously, to have listeners in front of me, to have good colleagues around me as these songs mature and grow old with me.
I always cherish the memory of my good friend Martin Egan who once sang:
"I bust me skull off a gable wall at
the end of a top-shelf stagger"
And I often think of that rainy day in East Berlin when my good friend Tony Small sang:
"as my life is passing through me I'm mostly satisfied,
The old songs keep calling me, calling through the night"
Fairytale of New York — It's getting on for 35 years since I first became aware of Shane McGowan's lyrics. A true songsmith, he is like no other. His words reach into the darkest corners. His songs and his singing have always carried me away. This recording was made days after Shane's Mother died tragically in Tipperary. It felt to me as if the audience were offering condolence on the night. There was an atmosphere around the song that I'd not felt before.
Back in the 90s I played at the New York Fleadh on Randall's Island. My spot was late on Sunday evening. The crowd was laid back and listening. When I came to sing Shane's Fairytale I was distracted by a line of NYPD officers who marched across the front of the stage and saluted the song. I have no idea how or why this happened, whether it was planned or spontaneous. Whatever the reason, it was a moment of magic that I will always cherish. Every time I sing this song, Shane's lyrics and Jem Finer's music mesmerize me.
"Shine On Shane McGowan"
Lisdoonvarna — When I played Lisdoonvarna festival in 1983, it was challenging to go on before Rory Gallagher, who was hugely popular at the time. I had visions of a field full of Rockers becoming restless as this solo balladeer delayed the arrival of their Hero. I wrote this as a peace offering to Rory's listeners. Thankfully it worked and has been working ever since. Over the years it has undergone many additions, diversions and detours.
When the song was published in the Penguin Book of Irish Poetry in 2010, I sent the 2008 version to Patrick Crotty who edited the collection. He declined it saying he preferred the 1983 version as he had first heard it.
This latest version comes from a hot sweaty night in Vicar Street when the audience was in lusty fine fettle.
Cliffs of Dooneen — repertoire of Andy Rynne, it was an instant success when recorded by Planxty in 1972. Gay Byrne took a shine to the song which led to my first appearance on his Late Late Show. The Song has ordained "The Cliffs of Dooneen" with status akin to the Cliffs of Moher. However, they bear little resemblance to their North Clare counterparts. I've yet to see them myself but I've heard that The Bomber Liston may be taller I've travelled the world with this song. I still love those nights when the audience sing along … just like this night in Killarney.
PS. The Cliffs of Dooneen are in Kerry.
Weekend in Amsterdam — This lyric was written by Paul McCormack who is a "townie" of my own. We both grew up in Newbridge, County Kildare. Paul uses the melody and structure of Barney Rush's ballad "The Crack was 90 in The Isle of Man". He allowed me to take a few liberties with his lyric.
Both of us were influenced by the music scene in Newbridge back in the 1950s and 60s. From Jimmy Dunny's Dance Band to Bobby Roger's Orchestra, from Tom Wilmot's Ceili Band to the annual Panto, we both grew up in a town that always had music. Our Brass Band could be heard rehearsing in The Barracks. We had spiritually uplifting Choirs in both St Conleth's and Dominican Churches. Mortal Sin and Everlasting Fires of Hell prevented us entering St. Patrick's Church of Ireland … doubtless there was uplift there as well. The Curragh Music Society staged Musicals every year when we swooned to the sounds of "Oklahoma" and "Showboat". Then came The Clancy Brothers followed soon by The Liffeysiders and The Rakes of Kildare.
Paul recently recorded a song about Brigadista Frank Conroy. He is mentioned in the final verse of the next song. Frank lived in Kildare and worked in Kilcullen before volunteering to fight in Spain where he lost his young life. 20 years later he was written out of the History as taught in our Irish Schools. We learned everything about Fionn mac Cumhaill and Brian Borü but never a word about a local man who died 20 years previously fighting Franco's Fascists in Spain. Nor was there ever any reference to Irish Republicans hanged nearby in Newbridge Jail only 30 years previously.
Viva La Quinte Brigada — Since writing and recording this song I have been privileged to meet Brigadistas in Ireland, England and Scotland. Memories of their courage, sacrifice and ideals still linger and inspire.
I wrote the song while reading Mick O'Riordan's book "The Connolly Column". I still meet members of his family at singing sessions in The Goilin Singers club which gathers every Friday night in The Teachers Club, Parnell Square, Dublin at 8.30 PM (Irish Time). I'd like to dedicate this version to the memory of Bob Cooney, Aberdeen, and to Peter & Biddy O'Connor, Waterford.
City of Chicago — This song has rescued many's the gig. I might have overstretched the audience with too many unknown songs. Other times a gig might have begun to wane. When I break into my Brother's song the audience will be right back with me as they join this familiar chorus.
My brother, Luka Bloom/Barry Moore has just recorded a new version which can be heard on his latest album REFUGE.
Go Move Shift — (AKA "The Moving On Song") I first heard Ewan MacColl sing this when I guested at a Folk Club he ran with Peggy Seeger back in 1968. It was part of a set of songs Ewan wrote about the nomadic lives of Travellers. He wrote and sang of the hardships endured with songs like "The Travelling People", "The 40 Foot Trailer", "Terror Time" and "Go, Move, Shift".
Ewan was one of the most influential singers I have ever encountered. His songs remain inspirational, his spirit lives on wherever his verses are sung. We know many of his songs without realising he wrote them. "The First Time Ever I saw your Face", "Dirty Old Town", and "Shoals of Herring" are now part of our national repertoire. They all came from the creative spirit that was Ewan MacColl.
Nancy Spain — The first time I ever flew to a gig was back in 1968 when booked to play at St. Helier Folk Club in The Channel Islands. It was there I first encountered Barney Rush from Sallynoggin, County Dublin who was a resident singer there. We hit it off well and swapped verses until morning. Barney shared two of his songs with me that night. "Nancy Spain" and "The Crack was 90 in The Isle of Man". I recorded both of them 40 years ago. They are now known far and wide. I sang Barney's beautiful ballad at his funeral in Mount Jerome in 2015.
Lingo Politico — (AKA "I Hate Politicians") Dónal Lunny alerted me to the songs of Pat Quinn from Inis Oirr, most easterly of the Aran Islands. I contacted Pat who generously shared his work with me. His own renditions can be heard to great effect on YouTube. This song has become an instant hit with audiences. A few correspondents have winced at the word "hate". Some of us hate carrots, others hate oysters, the lack of footpaths, jet-skis, Chelsea, Pluckers & Spuckers, Wife-Swapping Sodomites, Voss-in-Doolins or whatever you happen to be hating yourself. Of course I don't hate politicians. Where would we be without them?
The Raggle Taggle Gypsy — So many versions of this song exist around the world. My only regrets with this album are to do with this track. I missed two verses and then played the outro only once around. Unfortunately there is no going-back with live recordings.
This was the first song I heard John Reilly sing way back in 1963. Hearing singers like John Reilly, Luke Kelly, Ewan MacColl, Annie Briggs, Woody Guthrie, Margaret Barry, Johnny Moynihan and Liam Clancy all helped me to find my own voice, to shape my own style of singing. I heard each of them at different times in my young life. I learned a little from each of them and from countless others.
"When first I heard John Reilly,
his singing mesmerized me,
The Raggle Taggle Gypsy has me still"
St. Brendans Voyage — A day off in Dingle and anything can happen. Whether it was Fungi or Tom McCarthy, Charlie Haughey or Mazz O'Flaherty, there was music, madness, mayhem and beauty on the Kerry air. Our helicopter was grounded when someone put red diesel in Charlie's tank … we took a wrong turn up the Conor Pass and got lost in dense fog somewhere between Kruger's and Cill Rialaig … there were Little Sisters of Psychological Warfare, off-Duty Special-Branchers, Voss-in-Doolins, VAT Inspectors, All-Ireland Medallists, Deep Sea Divers and the local curate all squeezed into a tight snug seeking spiritual enlightenment when out of the mist sailed St. Brendan crying:
"Is it right or left for Gibraltar?"
Beeswing — Sometimes it's hard to separate fact from fiction. I'm almost certain that I heard Fairport Convention at The Free Trade Hall, Manchester in 1969. Did I hear this song on that night? Or was it at Leeds Festival in 1982 when Moving Hearts shared a bill with the great Band? I think I met Richard Thompson in Los Angeles, but then again it may have been a flight of fancy.
One thing is for certain. This is a great song to sing. After 10 years I'm still finding hidden nuances and new ways to shape the lines. Many of us have history that allows us to inhabit the story. Beeswing creates an atmosphere that is palpable as we all revisit earlier times on the back of Richard's beautiful ballad.
Mcllhatton — This lyric came to me directly from Bobby Sands. It was delivered by Colm Scullion who shared a cell with Bobby in H Block 3. The tune was difficult to unravel. I brought it to Dónal Lunny who added sweet notes to the tune that was delivered. The legend of Mcllhatton still lives in Antrim's Glens. I sometimes encounter people who remember him and tell stories of his exploits. I am forever mindful of the conditions under which Bobby wrote his songs. Cold and naked in a filthy cell, nothing to work with except a sliver of lead pencil and a Rizla cigarette paper. It is spell-binding to hear Colm describe Bobby writing his poems and songs, of him singing them to grateful comrades down those awful H Block landings.
I have sung this song many times to Bobby Sands son Gerard and recently to Bobby's grandaughter at a concert in Donegal.
"He was a poet and a soldier, he died courageously,
And we gave him 30,000 votes,
He was The People's Own MP" (Bruce Scott)
Bright Blue Rose — People interpret this song in many ways. When I sing it, there is no specific narrative running across my mind. I've not heard Jimmy MacCarthy discuss his motive or inspiration, nor would I ask him, for it simply does not matter. His song is a thing of beauty. Some nights it can be divine, mesmeric and, on one occasion, the precursor to what has been described to me as a spiritual experience. I was in my 40s when I discovered that spirituality and religion have very little in common.
If I Get an Encore — A short story of my life as a singer, it's a song that changes constantly, an 'end-of-the-night' song written 30 years ago. It disappeared for a few decades before being resurrected some years back. Johnny McEvoy was in the audience the night we recorded this version.
It's such a buzz to get an encore. These past 20 years my gigs have run to around the 2 hour mark; that people want to hear another song is always gratifying, never taken for granted. It's a privilege when listeners take the trouble, spend their time and hard earned money to come out and listen to a performance. I well remember my early days when struggling to get any sort of a gig, then hoping that some listeners might show up. There were nights when not one listener arrived. There was a night in Aberdeen when four people came to the gig … I went home with them.
Songs need singers, singers need listeners, listeners need songs. We're all in this circle/cycle together.
North and South (of the River) — Started this with Colm Scullion in Bellaghy and finished it years later with Bono in Dublin. A few versions kicking about but for me it's hard to beat the Barrowland version. I enjoyed working with Bono and The Edge 20 years ago. It was a creative experience that I still cherish and I still love singing this song.
The Time Has Come — I wrote this lyric after The Hunger Strike of 1981. Dónal Lunny wrote the melody. It was inspired by time spent with Peggy O'Hara in Brandywell and The Hughes Family in Bellaghy. When I recorded it in 1982 it was banned from Irish radio but gained a reprieve in recent times. It came back into focus when I sang it at Martin McGuinness' funeral in Derry earlier this year.
Declan Sinnott — We first met in 1972 when Planxty and Horslips were passing in the night. We first played together in 1981 with Moving Hearts. For the past 30 years we have worked on numerous albums and projects. Since 2001 we have been gigging together constantly. Declan is a songster as well as being a sublime musician. He is the only guitarist I have encountered to have said: "This song does not need a guitar break".
In recent years he has begun to work as a solo Artist and has released two albums of his own songs, "I Love the Noise it Makes" in 2012 and "Window on The World" in 2015.
Jim Higgins — We first met in 1995 when I toured the UK with Eleanor Shanley and her Band. Jim was on percussion and I watched him side stage most nights. Then he toured the world with River-dance for many years before we met again. Four years ago we began to play together. A solid band man, he keeps it all steady. I was very happy to have him as Producer on these recordings. Jim also plays with The Stunning and guests with many diverse musicians. He teaches Percussion in The Academy of World Music at UL, Limerick.
Máirtín O Connor — I first heard Máirtín play back in the 70's when Planxty gigged in Galway. Years later we got to record together in 1983 on "The Spirit of Freedom" album. 30 years on and we hooked up and I began a series of gigs with his Band. It has been my great pleasure to make music with him these past few years. In 2016 he was voted Musician of the Year at the annual Gradam Ceol awards on TG4. Over a long career Máirtín has played with De Danann, Riverdance, Moving Hearts and numerous other Bands. He has recorded many fine solo albums.
Cathal Hayden — I toured Finland in the early 90s. One icy cold day, between Helsinki and Tampere, I pulled in at services for heat and nourishment. There I met Cathal Hayden as we queued for the dinner. He was working with his Band "4 Men and a Dog" and it was a great treat for me to meet them in such an unlikely place. While his background is steeped in Traditional Music, Cathal has also guested in many different outfits performing different genres of music. He features on both Fiddle and Banjo. His recent album "Bow Brothers" is a stunning collection of fiddle music.
Seamie O'Dowd — A trip to Sligo invariably meant meeting the wonderful Fiddle player Joe O'Dowd whom I first encountered in 1972. 40 years later I found myself sitting beside his son Seamie at a gig in Boyle Co. Roscommon when the Life of John Reilly was celebrated in a beautiful Concert. Since then we have gigged and recorded together occasionally. Last time was at the 2016 Cambridge Folk Festival. Seamie has a "songster's ear" when it comes to creating accompaniments. As I write these notes I am looking forward to playing with him once more in his native Sligo.
Vickie Keating — From Cobh in Cork, Vickie sang backing vocals on recent recordings and on occasional gigs. Currently she is at work with her Band "From The Forest". She will be recording and playing gigs in the near future.
Andy Moore — Andy is our eldest Son. It has been a joy for me to sing alongside him in recent years. He first heard some of these songs when he was a very young boy. He has been listening ever since. His phrasing and natural harmonies blend well with his "auld fella".
Paul Doherty — oversees and assists all my work. We first met in 1978 when, with Jim Shannon, he booked me to play the first Lisdoonvarna Festival. I subsequently played at 5 of those 6 legendary gatherings. In the 80s and 90s I worked frequently with Paddy across the USA. During those years there he introduced numerous Irish Artists to American audiences. Since his return home to Clare we have worked closely together.
Michael Devine — has worked with me for 30 years. As well as having a deep connection he takes care of his artists and bands in a manner that is renowned the world embarrass him by naming the extent and profile of his roster. Michael and I ; brightest lights and a few of the darkest corners.
I first met David Meade at a Bloody Sunday Memorial Concert in The Rialto, Derry over 20 years ago. I remembered the quality of the sound he achieved and his thorough approach. 5 years later I asked him to become my sound engineer and we have been working together ever since. His input to my gig is vital. He plays the desk like an instrument. David recorded all the tracks for this album over the past 3 years and then mixed and mastered the recordings with producer Jim Higgins.
Dickon Whitehead — first worked with me over 30 years ago. Since then he has fulfilled a variety of different tasks. At different times he has done front of house sound, stage production, video recording, photography, guitar tech and, for the past 12 years he has been mixing the monitor sound and setting our stage.
For 15 years now, John Meade has been my back-up for the duration of the gig. He keeps a careful eye on all things technical and is at hand when any emergency arises during the all-important two hour duration. When we arrive to sound check everything is in place for us. No matter where we play, record or rehearse, our set up is always ready and precisely prepared. Along with his brother David he provides the PA system we use on the road.
Jeff Ryan — has been setting the lamps and lighting the gigs these past 12 years. No matter what happens at any gig, Jeff will find a way to light it. As we do not work to a set list Jeff cannot plan his lighting sequence. Like the rest of us, he has to "work on the hoof".
I consider myself very fortunate to be part of such a dedicated collective of Musicians and Crew all working so closely together.