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The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem

Clancy Brothers' Liam - the last man standing

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The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem

The historical frame of reference to the sixties of last century often conjures up times of turbulence and upheaval that overshadows the winds of freedom and expression that came out of that time. 

And in the realm of folk music -- music created by the people for the people that give us glimpses of the times we live in -- that was especially true whether you were talking about America or Ireland.

Out of that milieu came the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, who exploded onto the American landscape in the 1950s poised for greatness in the 1960s who realized their own American Dream in the heady formative folk scene that was Greenwich Village in New York City.  

Only Liam Clancy is alive today, “the last man standing” in his own humorous words of the famous quartet that forever changed the landscape of Irish folk music.

As the youngest of those Clancys who lowered the boom on folk music scene, he remains a vital link to those halcyon days when Irish America was feeling its roots. 

Two recordings that came out recently for commercial distribution help mark the tremendous impact of those men and their music. One is a compilation CD issued by Columbia Legacy Records (Sony) entitled “In Person at Carnegie Hall.” The other is a DVD titled “Liam Clancy & FriendsLive at the Bitter End.”

At 73, Liam still is a captivating performer and storyteller with decades of marvelous stories to tell enhanced by his poetic and theatrical sensibilities.

One of the staples in his act is the wistful song “Those Were the Days, My Friend” which has a sad connotation that doesn’t square with the current wave of nostalgia brought about by these two recordings. 

With a touch of irony, it is great to have Liam Clancy, perhaps the most gifted of the voices in the troupe, alive and kicking and carrying the banner for the other lads as we revisit their work and a part of music history.

First and foremost is the release in March of the Clancy Brothers double CD recorded on a St. Patrick’s Day in 1963 at Carnegie Hall, New York’s most prestigious musical venue. 

Originally released as a 38-minute vinyl LP (long-playing records, remember those?), it remained in request in the Columbia/Song catalog for decades, spurring a recent decision to produce a double CD containing the entire two-hour concert to give the full flavor of the evening.  

Since Paddy, Tom and Liam Clancy (from Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary) along with Tommy Makem (Keadue, Co. Armagh) were all thespians drawn to the more lucrative music and club scene, stagecraft and presentation were a very important element of their act.  

This expanded edition on the Sony legacy label is a very important recording as their spontaneity and humor are very much to the fore amidst the 29 song selections gathered here. They are from the Irish, English and American folk canon, and if they didn’t become the definitive versions they inspired legions of other budding folk artists to follow in their footsteps.  

Even Bob Dylan, the most commercially successful folk singer of those times, drew inspiration from the Clancys as he frequented the same Greenwich Village haunts and taverns, like the historic White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street where late night drinking and singing bouts were the norm.

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