Luke Kelly: The Performer
May 19, 2008 4:16 AM   Subscribe

Casual fans of Irish folk-punk bands like The Pogues, Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys rarely take the time to investigate the sources of their inspiration. Those who do, cannot avoid coming across the The Dubliners.

Although the band has undergone many personnel changes during the last 45 years, but there's a sizeable contingent of fans feel that The Dubliners lost a sizeable chunk of their magic in 1984 following the death of banjo player and vocalist, Luke Kelly.

Anyone interested in exploring Luke Kelly's life and work might check out the YouTube posts of superfan kellyoneill, or alternatively, the recent documentary, Luke Kelly: The Performer
posted by PeterMcDermott (39 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Damn! I linked to the wrong version of (The Bonny) Shoals of Herring. If it's magic you're seeking, try this one instead.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:20 AM on May 19, 2008

If it's magic you're seeking...

Nah, just Guinness.

Thanks for the post, Peter.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:49 AM on May 19, 2008

Growing up in Everton during the 60's, there were two types of music that were fairly omnipresent among my parents generation, both of which sounded like nails on a blackboard to me at the time. One was Country and Western, the other was Irish folk in the form of either the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, or The Dubliners.

I've always completely ignored the latter because they had a huge gimmicky hit in 1967 the form of Seven Drunken Nights. (The band blame Ed Sullivan's refusal to play this song as the reason they never really broke big in the USA. Ed said, 'I'm not having you play that song on my show. It's immoral'.)

The vocal on this song is by Ronnie Drew rather than Luke, and combined with the gimmicky lyric -- 'This song is called Seven Drunken Nights but our record company say we can only sing five of them' -- it led me to write them off as a pile of steaming horsecrap, basically. Then I recently heard a couple of songs with Luke's vocal on YouTube, and it was like Saul on the road to Damascus.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:05 AM on May 19, 2008

Of course, Pogues officionados would already be familiar with their collaboration with The Dubliners.

As for checking out sources of their inspiration, the trainspotting zeal of The Parting Glass is hard to surpass.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:37 AM on May 19, 2008

afficionados? oh well, whatever, kmria.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:46 AM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, even the nados need someone to officiate, I reckon.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:51 AM on May 19, 2008

Great post, I am a huge fan of Luke Kelly. Surely one of the greatest voice to ever come out of Ireland. Scorn not his Simplicity is fantastic, as is his unsurpassed rendition of the Foggy Dew.
posted by fire&wings at 6:12 AM on May 19, 2008

Sinead O'Connor also does a great version of Scorn Not His Simplicity. Song for Ireland makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck when I haven't heard it for a while. Can't find a good recording of it online right now and gotta run, but this one gives you a feeling for it.
posted by StephenF at 6:33 AM on May 19, 2008

You've just reminded me of how I discovered Luke, fire&wings.

I was searching for a copy of Arthur Mac Caig's film, The Patriot Game, and happened upon Luke's rendition of the Dominic Behan song.

If you haven't seen it (and here in the UK it was rarely shown anywhere besides IRA fundraisers -- 'for the wives and children of the men on H-block'), but the Mac Caig film is essential watching for anyone who wants to understand the background to what we euphemistically used to refer to as 'The Troubles'.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:35 AM on May 19, 2008

Also: Section 8 of The Performer discusses the moving story of how Scorn not his Simplicity became part of the Dubliners repertoire.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:39 AM on May 19, 2008

Nice post. It has been far too long since I have heard anything by the Dubliners.
posted by caddis at 6:45 AM on May 19, 2008

The Pogues are English.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 6:46 AM on May 19, 2008

Am I the only one getting "This video is no longer available" messages from YouTube all day today?
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 6:48 AM on May 19, 2008

The Pogues are English.

Yeah and The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem are American.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:51 AM on May 19, 2008

I guess I can't be considered casual any more since I have (almost) all of the Molly's, Pogues and Murphys on my iPod, along with a double, live CD from The Dubliners. I'm not sure however on this whole inspiration thing. I see it as more about how Irish music has progressed in general. To have it all lead back to The Dubliners would be an affront to Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher, Van Morrison, all of the show bands, The get the picture. There's a pretty good documentary for those interested: Out Of Ireland - The Hit Songs & Artists Of Irish Music.
posted by jsavimbi at 6:52 AM on May 19, 2008

The Pogues are an English band
You'll be telling me next that the Dubliner's standard "Dirty Old Town" is about a town near Manchester.
posted by seanyboy at 7:40 AM on May 19, 2008

I have enjoyed Scots, Irish, and British traditional acoustic music for a good long time, and it has changed remarkably over the decades. In a nutshell, today it's performed (and recorded and engineered and produced) by people who grew up listening to earbleeding rock, and you can tell, and it's better this way. To me it's like the difference between a hand-tinted daguerreotype and wide screen surround-sound technicolor.

Old vinyl of even the best groups (Dubliners, Clancys, Chieftains) tread so softly. Shhh, don't sing loud, you'll wake the baby! And as for old recordings of trad Scots stuff--typically recorded as "art songs," sung by a soprano, tenor, or baritone trained for lieder and accompanied by a diffident pianist using a short stick--fuller rolls eyes and passes on. It's worth lifting a pint and/or pouring out a 40 for electric folk groups like Fairport and Steeleye Span who showed how great trad stuff sounds through Marshall stacks; and another for the unknown session engineer with an acoustic group in the studio who first thought "I know enough tricks to crank these guys' energy level back to what it was when they were live in the pub--and beyond. Screw this business of everybody gathering around one omnidirectional mic and singing in each other's faces. Each singer gets a mic of his very own. Contact mics on all the instruments. Two mics on that bodhran--no, make that three, it's gonna sound like a full drumkit. Desk guy, more separation! More EQ! More cowbell!"

I wish Luke Kelly and some of the other greats were in their prime and recording now. (Though what time-shifting them like that would do to their influence on later performers is a bit more than I can work out in my head. I'll leave that one for Stephen Hawking.)

> Yeah and The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem are American.

If you're actually giving 'em away, we want Cara Dillon and Kate Rusby. We'll give them a good home!
posted by jfuller at 7:43 AM on May 19, 2008

Not to forget Davey Arthur & the Furey Bros.
posted by ornate insect at 8:47 AM on May 19, 2008

The Clancy Brothers were living in NYC and working as actors on the Broadway stage. Tommy Makem was working as a printer in New Hampshire. They met during the early days of the Greenwich Village folk scene, and started working the pubs of Boston and NYC. They were struggling and about to split up when an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show gave them their breakthrough moment and then the following year, they were appearing in front of JFK at the White House.

I don't think anyone had even heard of them in Ireland at this point. They're as American as Pizza Pie, Mission Burritos and that Irishman currently running for president, Barack o' Bama.

To have it all lead back to The Dubliners would be an affront to Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher, Van Morrison

I wasn't arguing that it all led back to The Dubliners. However, I think that would be a more accurate characterisation than the claim that the Pogues are nothing more than the natural evolution of Irish rock music. I'm just guessing here, but if I had to lay money on it, my bet would be on the notion that the Pogues pretty much loathed Irish Rock of the 1970's, and so deliberately skipped it as an influence, harking back to the music of an earlier generation -- the hornpipes, jigs and rebel songs that they'd heard at family parties. I'm guessing that there's a reason why they're covering the work of English and Scottish folk singers like Ewan McColl, Stan Kelly, Eric Bogle, etc. -- and that reason would be because they're familiar with The Dubliners earlier covers of these songs.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:54 AM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Not to forget Davey Arthur & the Furey Bros

Daragh Phelan's YouTube posts are a fantastic resource for anybody interested in exploring traditional Irish music.

Despite my surname, my own family came over in the potato famine, so any personal connection with Ireland has long since died. My wife, OTOH, is first generation British to Irish immigrants. One of her relatives (by marriage rather than birth) is a man named Seamus Innis, who is apparently something of a whizz at the old Uillean Pipes.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:03 AM on May 19, 2008

on a related note, Does the ‘Real’ Ireland Still Exist? And regarding the Fureys, I saw them perform footstomping jigs and reels in 1986 at a rustic inn in rural Tipperary (I think), and I remember they had a very old toothless guy playing spoons with them who was straight out of central casting; a blast.
posted by ornate insect at 9:10 AM on May 19, 2008

I'd be interested in seeing how much of this stuff was inspired by The Bothy Band, whose arrangements of trad sets were already fairly heavily influenced by rock.
posted by bokane at 9:17 AM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, thanks. Next thing you'll tell me is getting drunk and punching people isn't inherently Irish either.

Don't. Just don't.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 10:22 AM on May 19, 2008

I find it fascinating how the Irish folk/punk movement has evolved along the same lines as some southern/Apalachian music. I can easily slide a tune like Kings of Leon's The Bucket in my Murphys/Molly/Pogues playlist, and it fits right in.
posted by thanotopsis at 10:42 AM on May 19, 2008

on a related note, Does the ‘Real’ Ireland Still Exist?

I can't believe their slideshow actually references the Quiet Man. Ugh.
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:45 AM on May 19, 2008

You're related to Seamus Ennis? We are seriously not worthy. The man is the god of the uileann pipes.

And I repeat. The Pogues are English. (OK, I'll concede Phil Chevron and Terry Woods, but to call Terry Woods an original Pogue would be stretching it). They may play Irish-ish music, they may be good, but they are otherwise English born.

Anyone ever see The Saw Doctors live? Now there's a gig.

Apart from my penchant for pendantry, I think this is an excellent post, with excellent comments. Thanks Peter.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 11:26 AM on May 19, 2008

The Battering Ram, led by the Irish legend Declan Hunt. Taking on all comers.

Don't be fooled by the generic CD art. This cassette is fiery and earthy and the best damn rebel trad music you will EVER hear. The cassette was distributed throughout the 1970s under the counter, as it was deemed too inflammatory to be carried openly in the record shops.

This is the absolute pure drop, my friends.
posted by Aquaman at 11:57 AM on May 19, 2008

No, the ultimate and absolute pure drop rebel song must be Paul Ramon's (another Evertonian btw) "Give Ireland Back To The Irish". Fenian heaven.

Oh, and you guys can take your Continuity Wolfe Tones with you on the way out.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 12:53 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I meant a (:-" at the end there - see the beret?
posted by Nick Verstayne at 12:56 PM on May 19, 2008

Here's the man doing a medley of Battle of the Somme followed by a rendition of the mighty Hamish Henderson's Freedom Come All Ye, surely one of the greatest songs written in the twentieth or any century. Dick Gaughan has said that Luke is one of the few non-native Scots not to fuck the song up by putting on a cod accent, just giving it all of his great heart.
posted by Abiezer at 1:43 PM on May 19, 2008

Also, Shoals of Herring is great to sing drunk. You kind of have to be to do the lines, "Now you're up on deck, you're a fisherman/ You can swear and show a manly bearing" without cracking up.
posted by Abiezer at 1:47 PM on May 19, 2008

Any fan of the Dubliners should be aware of the recent "Ballad of/for Ronnie Drew".
All those artists- (can you name them all?) except for maybe Glen Hansard, did the song live on on The Late Late show a few months back. Hansard was in LA for the Oscars.
Whether the song lives up to the man is up to you, but the interviews that followed were touching, depressing, and also funny at times. Pat Kenny couldn't resist fawning and shoving the microphone in Bono's face, and when he let Shane MacGowan speak, the guy couldn't string three words together. Everybody had wonderful things to say about Ronnie, though Pat stayed strategically far from Sinead, lest she rip up a picture of some religious leader on his show.
It's a testament to Ronnie Drew that this all-star group of musicians got together to sing about him.
posted by conch soup at 2:01 PM on May 19, 2008

You're related to Seamus Ennis?

Apparently so. His daughter, Catherine Ennis, is an organist who has a habit of turning up to play at family funerals.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:19 PM on May 19, 2008

The Pogues are English.

Shane MacGowan was born in England to two full-Irish parents, and returned to Ireland soon after he was born, then spent most of his later life in England. Jem Finer and Spider Stacy were born in England to parents of strong Irish heritage. You could say they're English/Irish, but to call them completely English is inaccurate.
posted by DecemberBoy at 3:05 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Catherine played the organ at the church where we all mourned
She played it through the vigil to the peaceful early morn'
She soothed the souls of children, and of widows all forlorn
When people left for heaven without warning
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:16 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

There is an Irish piper - I'm pretty sure it was Seamus Ennis -
who was Kevin Burke's mailman during his summers in Ireland.
(Kevin Burke of Bothy Band and Patrick Street fame) Though I
suppose there could be more than one piper named Seamus Ennis,
posted by knolan at 7:40 AM on May 20, 2008

There could be more than one, but I'm pretty sure that the Seamus Ennis wasn't a postman.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:21 PM on May 20, 2008

There once were two pipers called Seamus
Who said "why'd they have to same-name us?
We both play the pipes,
Both sometimes wear stripes,
But if you're confused please don't blame us!"
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:50 PM on May 20, 2008

Two Seamuses, each played the uillean
And one of them made quite a killin'
But the one who was broke
Said "man, it's no joke
I'm sick of you gettin' top billin'!"
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:58 PM on May 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

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