seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Christie Hennessy, Folk Singer-Songwriter

christie-hennessyChristie Hennessy, Irish folk singer-songwriter, dies in London on December 11, 2007. Although Hennessy is unable to read or write due to severe dyslexia, he still writes his own songs such as “Roll back the Clouds” and “All the lies that you told me.”

Hennessy is born in Tralee, County Kerry on November 19, 1945. His first guitar is made, especially for him, from a tea chest when he is six years old by his friend Jerry Quirke. He leaves school at the age of eleven.

Hennessy’s first job is as a messenger boy, and it is then that he discovers that it is important to be able to read. He is unable to read or write due to severe dyslexia, but still enjoys his library of books. He later works on building sites in London.

In 1972 Hennessy releases his first record, The Green Album, on Westwood, a small label. With scant publicity or promotion, the album makes little impact and only 500 copies of the record are pressed. He returns to labouring on building sites in the UK and does not release another album for twenty years. When he does, his 1992 release The Rehearsal outsells U2 in Ireland, eventually attaining triple platinum status. His following albums, A Year in the Life and Box also sell extremely well in Ireland.

A renowned songwriter as well as performer, Hennessy writes several songs that become hits for other singers including Don’t Forget your Shovel, made famous by Christy Moore, and All the Lies that You Told Me, recorded by Frances Black. He also composes the theme tune and incidental music for the BBC TV series Get Well Soon written by Ray Galton (of Steptoe & Son fame) and composes and writes a musical/feature film about his native Ireland, Two Stops to Paradise.

In 2005, Christy Moore’s rendition of Hennessy’s Don’t Forget Your Shovel is referenced in a UK Number One single JCB by Nizlopi. It is further referenced in the video for the same song. As the line is sung, the characters in the JCB pass a shop called “Christie’s Shovels.”

Hennessy returns to the studio in 2007, one final time to record an album with both Luka Bloom and Christy Moore sharing vocals on one of the tracks.

Christie Hennessy dies on December 11, 2007 in a London hospice, at the age of 62. He is reported to have died from pleural mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer, which has been attributed to his younger years spent working on building sites in London where he was exposed to asbestos dust. Just before he dies he had been touring in Ireland but had to cancel due to the illness. His ashes are buried in Old Rath Cemetery, Tralee. A commemorative statue of Christie is erected in Central Plaza, just off the town square in Tralee in November 2009.

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Birth of Luke Kelly, Founding Member of The Dubliners

luke-kellyLuke Kelly, singer, folk musician and actor, is born into a working-class family in Lattimore Cottages at 1 Sheriff Street, Dublin on November 17, 1940. He is noted as a founding member of the band The Dubliners.

After Dublin Corporation demolished Lattimore Cottages in 1942, the Kellys become the first family to move into the St. Laurence O’Toole flats, where Luke spends the bulk of his childhood, although the family is forced to move by a fire in 1953 and settles in the Whitehall area.

Kelly is interested in music during his teenage years and regularly attends cèilidh with his sister Mona and listens to American vocalists including Fats Domino, Al Jolson, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. He also has an interest in theatre and musicals, being involved with the staging of plays by Dublin’s Marian Arts Society. The first folk club he comes across is in the Bridge Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne in early 1960. Having already acquired the use of a banjo, he starts memorising songs.

Kelly befriends Sean Mulready in Birmingham and lives in his home for a period. Mulready is a teacher who is forced from his job in Dublin because of his communist beliefs. Mulready’s brother-in-law, Ned Stapleton, teaches Kelly “Rocky Road to Dublin.” During this period he studies literature and politics under the tutelage of Mulready, his wife Mollie, and Marxist classicist George Derwent Thomson.

In 1961 there is a folk music revival or “ballad boom,” as it is later termed, in waiting in Ireland. Kelly returns to Dublin in 1962. A concert John Molloy organises in the Hibernian Hotel leads to his “Ballad Tour of Ireland” with the Ronnie Drew Ballad Group. This tour leads to the Abbey Tavern and the Royal Marine Hotel and then to jam-packed sessions in the Embankment, Tallaght. Ciarán Bourke joins the group, followed later by John Sheahan. They rename themselves The Dubliners at Kelly’s suggestion, as he is reading James Joyce‘s book of short stories, entitled Dubliners, at the time. Kelly is the leading vocalist for the group’s eponymous debut album in 1964, which includes his rendition of “Rocky Road to Dublin.”

In 1964 Kelly leaves the group for nearly two years and is replaced by Bob Lynch and John Sheahan. Kelly goes with Deirdre O’Connell, founder of the Focus Theatre, to whom he marries the following year, back to London and becomes involved in Ewan MacColl‘s “gathering.”

When Bob Lynch leaves The Dubliners, John Sheahan and Kelly rejoin. The ballad boom in Ireland is becoming increasingly commercialised with bar and pub owners building ever larger venues for pay-in performances. Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger on a visit to Dublin express concern to Kelly about his drinking.

The arrival of a new manager for The Dubliners, Derry composer Phil Coulter, results in a collaboration that produces three of Kelly’s most notable performances: “The Town I Loved So Well”, “Hand Me Down My Bible“, and “Scorn Not His Simplicity”, a song about Phil’s son who had Down Syndrome. Kelly remains a politically engaged musician, becoming a supporter of the movement against South African apartheid and performing at benefit concerts for the Irish Travellers community.

Kelly’s health deteriorates in the 1970s. During a concert in the Cork Opera House on June 30, 1980 he collapses on the stage. He had already suffered for some time from migraines and forgetfulness which had been ascribed to his intense schedule, alcohol consumption, and “party lifestyle.” A brain tumor is diagnosed. Although he tours with the Dubliners after enduring an operation, his health deteriorates further. He forgets lyrics, has to take longer breaks in concerts due to weakness and becomes more withdrawn. In the autumn of 1983 he has to leave the stage in Traun, Austria and again in Mannheim, Germany. Shortly after this, he has to cancel the tour of southern Germany and, after a short stay in hospital in Heidelberg, he is flown back to Dublin.

After another operation Kelly spends Christmas with his family but is taken to hospital again in the New Year, where he dies on January 30, 1984. His funeral in Whitehall attracts thousands of mourners from across Ireland. His gravestone in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, bears the inscription: Luke Kelly – Dubliner.


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Birth of Irish Folk Musician Tommy Makem

Thomas “Tommy” Makem, internationally celebrated Irish folk musician, artist, poet and storyteller, is born in Keady, County Armagh, on November 4, 1932. He is best known as a member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. He plays the long-necked 5-string banjo, tin whistle, low whistle, guitar, bodhrán and bagpipes, and sings in a distinctive baritone. He is sometimes known as “The Bard of Armagh,” taken from a traditional song of the same name, and “The Godfather of Irish Music.”

Makem’s mother, Sarah Makem, is an important source of traditional Irish music, who is visited and recorded by, among others, Diane Guggenheim Hamilton, Jean Ritchie, Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle. His father, Peter Makem, is a fiddler who also plays the bass drum in a local pipe band named “Oliver Plunkett,” after a Roman Catholic martyr of the reign of Charles II of England. His brother and sister are folk musicians as well. Makem, from the age of eight, is member of the St. Patrick’s church choir for 15 years where he sings Gregorian chant and motets. He does not learn to read music but he makes it in his “own way.”

Makem starts to work at 14 as a clerk in a garage and later he works for a while as a barman at Mone’s Bar, a local pub, and as a local correspondent for The Armagh Observer.

Makem emigrates to the United States in 1955, carrying his few possessions and a set of bagpipes from his time in a pipe band. Arriving in Dover, New Hampshire, he works at Kidder Press, where his hand was accidentally crushed by a press in 1956. With his arm in a sling, he leaves Dover for New York City to pursue an acting career.

The Clancys and Makem are signed to Columbia Records in 1961. The same year, at the Newport Folk Festival, Makem and Joan Baez are named the most promising newcomers on the American folk scene. During the 1960s, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem perform sellout concerts at such venues as Carnegie Hall, and make television appearances on shows like The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. The group performs for President John F. Kennedy. They also play in smaller venues such as the Gate of Horn in Chicago. They appear jointly in the UK Albums Chart in April 1966, when Isn’t It Grand Boys reaches number 22.

Makem leaves the group in 1969 to pursue a solo career. In 1975, he and Liam Clancy are both booked to play a folk festival in Cleveland, Ohio, and are persuaded to do a set together. Thereafter they often perform as Makem and Clancy, recording several albums together. He once again goes solo in 1988. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he performs both solo and with Liam Clancy on The Irish Rovers‘ various television shows, which are filming in Canada and Ireland.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Makem is a principal in a well-known Irish music venue in New York, “Tommy Makem’s Irish Pavilion.” This East 57th Street club is a prominent and well-loved performance spot for a wide range of musicians. Among the performers and visitors are Paddy Reilly, Joe Burke, and Ronnie Gilbert. Makem is a regular performer, often solo and often as part of Makem and Clancy, particularly in the late fall and holiday season. The club is also used for warm-up performances in the weeks before the 1984 reunion concert of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. In addition, the after-party for Bob Dylan‘s legendary 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration at Madison Square Garden in 1992 is held at the Irish Pavilion.

In 1997 Makem writes a book, Tommy Makem’s Secret Ireland, and in 1999 premiers a one-man theatre show, Invasions and Legacies, in New York. His career includes various other acting, video, composition, and writing credits. He also establishes the Tommy Makem International Festival of Song in South Armagh in 2000.

Tommy Makem dies in Dover, New Hampshire, on August 1, 2007, following a lengthy battle with lung cancer. He continues to record and perform until very close to the end. Paying tribute to him after his death, Liam Clancy says, “He was my brother in every way.” He is buried next to his wife at New Saint Mary Cemetery in Dover.