Poignant last interview with Liam Clancy in Irish America magazine
The luck of the Irish
“It was like getting a blessing from the Pope,” recalled Liam with a laugh.
Two years later came the historic concert at Carnegie Hall, where they cracked jokes about the new Irish Catholic president and earned loud applause simply by mentioning the IRA.
Clearly, something momentous had changed in Irish America.
With their Aran sweaters, tin whistles and banjos, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem might seem to be the quintessential Irish trad artists. But they were, in many ways, a radical departure, who then went on to change Irish-American culture. How did they arrive at their unique musical sound? Why did some Irish-Americans consider them threatening? And how did they fit into an extraordinary moment in musical history, crossing paths with the likes of Bob Dylan?
The Clancy brothers – Paddy, Tom, Bobby and Liam – were born into a musical family of nine children in Carrick-on-Suir, Tipperary. Paddy and Tom served in Britain’s Royal Air Force during World War II before emigrating to Toronto, Canada.
After crossing the border and living in Cleveland, Ohio for a spell, the duo moved to New York City, where they planned to work as actors. They had some success on the stage and screen, but also felt the need to raise a little money. So they turned to an art form that came so naturally to them: music.
Particularly memorable were some of their “midnight special” performances in the early 1950s at the Cherry Lane Theatre, where they were joined by their brother Bobby, who had also served in the RAF and traveled widely in Europe before ending up in New York.
As luck (or fate) would have it, New York in the mid-1950s was turning into a breeding ground for a new kind of folk movement.
It was in the mid-1950s that Liam, the youngest brother, joined Tom and Paddy in New York when Bobby returned home to Ireland to take over his father’s insurance business. Liam too wanted to act, but he had also spent time performing, as well as studying and collecting the traditional music of Ireland. During his travels, Liam had become familiar with a particularly talented musician from Armagh — Tommy Makem.
Many members of the Makem family had made their way to the U.S., to work in the textile mills of Dover, New Hampshire. Tommy did the same. He was injured on the job, however, and so joined the three Clancy brothers in New York.
When it came time to record their first album, The Rising of the Moon, in the Bronx apartment of a young folklorist with the fine Irish name of Kenny Goldstein, they turned to a reliable formula: songs about drinking and Irish rebels. But it was clear from the beginning they were also breaking from the past.
Not only did the quartet avoid sentimental ballads, they also infused traditional Irish songs of rebellion and revelry with strands of fast-paced American folk, the improvisational feel of jazz and even the banter of cutting-edge beat poets and comedians.
The result was something familiar, yet very different. As the 1960s dawned, the group had a following, but nothing like mainstream success.
- Gay wedding cakes latest target of anti-gay...
- Racist incidents in Ireland up by 85 percent...
- An open letter in strong defence of capitalism.
- A Magdalene Laundry US adoptee who holds...
- Irish radio presenter suspended after anti-Isra
- Nelson Mandela was against IRA decommissioning.
- Families as well as Catholic Church and governm
- Baby dies in horror birth at Belfast hospital...
- Gay teacher fired from Catholic school after...
- Sarah Palin is saving Christmas