A Singer’s Top 10 Pub Songs


When the pub singsong was cresting towards high summertime enjoyment the other night, I was feeling in mighty form altogether when I was called upon for my song. It was for that reason I put back my ears and let them have the full-blooded version of "Carrickfergus."

It is not every night that even far stronger vocalists then me are able for "Carrickfergus." You have to be up for it.

I was up for it. I started low down on the scale, which is critical for this one, and after two lines I knew I would be well able to scale the high vocal mountain at the end.

So with great comfort and considerable passion I swam across the waters to my love, those fabled deepest oceans, and confessed later to being drunk today and indeed seldom sober in Kilkenny where the marble stones are black as ink.

I pretended I could support my sweetheart with gold and silver, demanded a drink before I would sing anymore, and finally and pathetically called on all the young men in the pub to lay me down because I was sick of heart and knew well my days were numbered. Most of ye know the words of "Carrickfergus.”

At the close the pub was hushed for a second or two, and I got as good applause as anyone else on the night as I took that ritual swig from my pint and looked modest. Ye know the way it is.

It was a great summer singsong at the tables in front of the pub, and the man of the house forgot about the clock and kept serving under a three-quarter moon in clear skies. And the police were somewhere else. It was the kind of night that garnishes the pub culture here in the west.

I was back home in the cottage before it struck me that nobody had given us "Danny Boy" during the evening. There was one woman and at least one man in the company who are known for their versions of this classic.
It then occurred to me that I have not heard "Danny Boy" at all yet this summer, and this is remarkable. No singsong was complete up to last autumn without a rendering.

But Ireland is changing fast and it seems probable, given the emerging evidence of my own ears, that "Danny Boy" has at last dropped out of the pub singsong charts of the west.

What was Number One for so long has slipped away. That is historic in its own way. Well worth recording at the very least. You read it first here.

And that focused my mind on the other changes that have taken place in this New Ireland in the unwritten pub singsong charts dominated for so long by "Danny Boy."

I did some real work for the next hour with the help of a half-one of single malt from the Isle of Skye and, herewith, as a tip to any visiting "BAR-itones!" for the summer I am offering the Pubs' Top Ten of the summer of 2010. I hope it will be of assistance to many.

Our eclectic musical tastes at this level are clearly demonstrated by the presence of several new entries that have little connection with the Emerald Isle at all. Come to think of it, nobody over here ever talks about the Emerald Isle at all any more. Maybe that is significant too.

Anyway, the new number one is "The Fields of Athenry." There is a sporting connection that has finally driven the Pete St. John song to the top of the pile.

The singer has only to utter the opening line “by lonely prison walls....." and everybody joins in immediately. It's a winner.

Number two, still, is "Molly Malone," as feisty still in her petticoats as ever she was, selling her cockles and mussels. Her enduring popularity is due to the rollicking power of the "Alive..Alive..O" chorus. Her position is secure.

Number three, certainly in the west, is still "The West's Awake.” It is amazing how often that one is saved to the very end of the night as the farewell song.

Folk join hands, sway and rousingly state that the west is awake and vital yet. It's a good one.
Number four, after a long absence for whatever reason, is "She Moves Through the Fair." It is usually sung by a shy lady with a low voice.

For this reason it requires an atmosphere in which you can hear a pin drop, and always gets it. When sung after a shanty like "The Shoals of Herring" it always gets huge applause as the lady blushes with modest delight. It's another good one.

Number five, holding its position, is "Dublin City In the Rare Ould Times," and nearly everyone who sings it sounds exactly like Paddy Reilly. That is to their credit. It gets the crowd properly singing along.

Number Six is a variable, but it is always a rebel song. In this region it is either "Sean South of Garryowen" or the beautiful "Shanagolden.”

Other regions have their variants like "Woodlands of Loughglynn" above in Roscommon, or "Kevin Barry" in Dublin and Leinster, and several Michael Collins ballads in Cork.

But it is always a rebel song, and there is a subtle difference in the applause it garners and the other applauses of the night. I cannot put better words on it than that.

Number seven and climbing fast, coming in from left field, amazingly, is "Living Next Door to Alice.” Nothing traditional there except that a bawdy version of the song is extremely popular at weddings, and this version contains a bawdy line which I cannot reproduce here but which you know already anyway. This line is ALWAYS included in the pub singsong renderings.

Number eight is another variable, but it is always country and western. There has always been a great love of C&W in rural Ireland, and that song will be there.

It is probably neck and neck between "I've Got Friends In Low Places," the great Patsy Cline version of "Crazy" and, even after all these years, any Jim Reeves song but most likely "He'll Have To Go.” A C&W song occupies this slot anyway.

Number nine, coming from the big wide world out there, is "The Coast Of Malabar". Nobody knows where Malabar is and it is certainly not in Ireland, but the song has a lovely melody, touchingly simple lyrics, and you will hear it for sure before the night is over. Maybe its presence on a Chieftains' album (Ry Cooder) propelled it into the Irish charts.

Number 10 is "Only Our Rivers Run Free." Others might rate it higher than that, but I suffer a bit from sibling jealousy and it was written by my brother Mickey. I am green with envy, but at least have the honesty to include it on the list.

Incoming baritones who are keen to contribute to singsongs might be well advised to study these charts with some concentration. They will then be better equipped to sing a popular song when their turn comes around.

Slainte!

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