“Always the heart,” Irish musician Finbar Furey wrote next to his autograph. It had been his father’s saying, hardly surprising since the ghost of the legendary Ted Furey had flitted around the studio during our interview at SiriusXM.
Family, music and an existential sense of Irishness are at the core of Finbar’s character. Descended from Traveler folk, he is fiercely proud of his heritage yet sees it as a well that all can drink from.
After his success with The Lonesome Boatman, Ted laid down the law in no uncertain terms. “That’s not your tune, young fellah, you were given a gift of it – now it belongs to everyone."
There’s a wildness to that melody; I never hear it without sensing the wind, the waves, the mountains and many other things I don’t have a name for.
During his studio performance, he lashed right into The Boatman and I feared that he’d started at too intense a level, too quick a pace. Where would he have left to go?
I needn’t have worried; by the second verse, like a skilled horseman astride a wild stallion, he had pulled the tune into order before giving it its head again long before the thrilling finish.
“You never play anything the same, do you, Finbar?” I said, more a statement than a question.
“No,” he replied, still wild-eyed from his communion with the Low Whistle. “Every time I play that song I see the boatman rowing me towards shore. The wind and the waves are changeable, and he always has something different on his mind. So, what chance of it ever being the same?”
The Spanish poet, Frederico García Lorca wrote a book about Duende - the moment when the music and the musician, the dancer and the dance, fuse into one all-consuming force.
I don’t know if Finbar is familiar with the term but he seems to enter that realm every time he lays hand on an instrument or delivers a song. For him, I suspect, it’s a union with the soul-tradition that his Traveler forebears shared around campfires in an Ireland far different than the one we know today.
Most of us lost that connection to our heritage around the same time the edge was taken off Irish music in an effort to make it more palatable to Victorian parlors and sensibilities.
Music is an essential part of Finbar’s DNA; it’s the lifeblood that flows through him. Whenever its purity or power is threatened he walks away, as he did from membership with the Clancy Brothers in the 1970’s. He walked away again from his own Furey Brothers at the height of their success.
The current is flowing like a Spring flood on his latest album, Colors, available everywhere on Valley Entertainment. And a fine one it is, full of life, passion, and a rare sensitivity that bleeds from your speakers.
“Walkin’ With My Love” is a sparkling duet with Mary Black that tells the story of his parents’ courtship. Back in 1932, Ted was smitten when he saw Nora playing the banjo at Puck Fair. He followed her back to her parents’ campsite and they were married three days later.
She taught her son how to play the banjo, Finbar’s main instrument now. But most of us associate him with the uilleann pipes. We’d heard them played before in the SiriusXM studios, but not with the same relationship to life and death.
The tune, "Na Connaries," was mournful, defiant, and mainlined right into the heart of the Irish psyche. It was one of the first he learned as a boy and was traditionally played at the funeral of a chieftain.
There was silence in the studio after the last note faded. What was there to say? This wasn’t just music, more like the ache of a people echoing down the centuries.
That’s the type of thing Finbar carries around with him. He has little need of a cell phone, has never sent an email. Facebook is just another word to him – not an addiction. He has the music of his people pulsing though his veins, what matter about anything else?
Always the heart!
Larry Kirwan was the leader of Black 47 for 25 years. He is also a playwright, novelist, and a columnist for The Irish Echo www.irishecho.com
He is the host of Celtic Crush on SiriusXM Satellite Radio and President of Irish American Writers & Artists. He can be reached at email@example.com and www.black47.com
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