Happy St. what day? Well, that’s what my mom said I used to call St. Patrick’s Day……”Saint MY Day” when I was a wee lad. I’m sure some of y’all are nodding your heads and saying something to the effect of “Wow, you were arrogant even as a child.” Nah, not arrogant, at least not then. Just call it a child’s view of the world.
My love of St. Paddy’s Day is of the music! Forget the green beer (amateurs!) and the “Kiss me, I’m Irish” t-shirts. I don’t need any of those gimmicks. I’m Irish on both sides, with ancestral names like O’Madden and Kilpatrick in my family tree. I live it year round. Yeah, I’ll be happy to sip on a Guinness or a Harp’s Lager to celebrate, but I’m NOT going to contaminate good beer with green food coloring. Nope, not gonna happen. I’ll forego the corned beef and cabbage for dinner as well. I’m still a Texan after all, and some beef sliders with roasted red potatoes will do just fine, thankyouverymuch.
Back to what I first mentioned, though, the music. For being a predominantly auditory medium, music is also very visual for me, especially Irish folk music. I often wonder, when listening to this music, if it’s just my fertile imagination or something buried in my DNA that evokes such mental imagery. Sinead O’Connor’s version of The Foggy Dew always conjures images of fog shrouded hills, and smoke rising over crumbling buildings. I can see the fishing boats, and even smell the peat fires in a small cottage when listening to Killybegs. It’s amazing just how visceral some of this music is!
Naturally, when writing or talking about Irish music, the two most common groups that should immediately come to mind are The Chieftains and The Wolfe Tones. I have many CDs from both of these groups, as well as from other Irish groups and have had the pleasure of attending a couple of live Chieftains concerts in Houston. Of course, there are many other groups, but these two are probably the most well known.
Another very visual song is an instrumental called The Fox Chase. It was written for the Uilleann pipes, which is the Irish variant of the Scottish Highland pipes. My favorite version is by Leo Rowsome, but neither YouTube nor an extensive Google search yielded a suitable video of it. You can find a sample of it here, though. I do have this on CD, but am hesitant to post it on YouTube for copyright reasons. The Chieftains have a version of this song which you can find on YouTube here. This is a fun song to listen to, as with Rowsome’s version, all of it is done on the uilleann pipes. You can hear the bugle of the hunt master and the dogs barking if you listen carefully.
Of course it’s easy to visualize these scenes with an instrumental, as there are no words to influence your mind. Having just written that, though, some of the traditional songs with lyrics can also create a powerful mental image. Consider the song Kilkelly, about a father writing to his immigrant son. The words alone are powerful, but I can listen to this song and see a withered old man, sitting at a table, dictating his letter to a friend. Compare this to Spancil Hill, which is from the viewpoint of the immigrant, missing his homeland. You definitely don’t have to be Irish to appreciate the longing for family demonstrated in either of these songs.
Whew, this is starting to get a bit heavy. Let’s lighten it up a bit, and look at some of the famous “Irish drinking songs” that are fun to sing along with. Before every cruise, my wife swears she’s going to participate in karaoke, which is fine by me. I can’t carry a tune to save my life, so I’m doing everyone a favor by not singing. The other reason, though, is the lack of a good Irish drinking song on the karaoke list. Seriously, if there were even a few of those, I’d be tempted to belt out a few. If a, well, let’s just say less than talented person could sing My Heart Will Go On (while on a cruise ship....in Alaska!), and still receive a polite, yet warm response, surely I could get away with a rousing pub tune like Whiskey in the Jar, Finnigan’s Wake, or The Wild Rover. I guess I can always host an Irish drinking songs karaoke party at my house. Who’s in?
Several years ago, I attended the King’s Feast at Texas Renaissance Festival with my sister and brother in law. Audience participation was pretty much mandatory, and one of the songs we had to sing was Here’s a Health to the Company. Hey, I know that song! The Chieftains have a great version of it. When it was time to sing it, my brother in law opened the program to the lyrics and held it up to share with me. “No thanks, Mikey, I already know it.” He looked at me and started to argue. It took a few minutes for me to convince him I actually knew the lyrics and wasn’t just faking it. Adding insult to injury, my sister just rolled her eyes at him and told him he should’ve known better.
Earlier I mentioned how I must have some sort of coding in my DNA from my ancestors that provide such clear imagery. Besides the famous “drinking songs” of the Irish, their music also has many “rebel songs.” I can listen to these rebel songs and have it speak to some deep part of my soul. The Wolfe Tones are known to perform many of these, and the upbeat tempos make for a good accompaniment to a proper pint of Guinness. The melodies are typically pleasing to the ear, and on the surface they are fun to drink and sing to. Once you actually listen to the lyrics, though, you’ll see just how potentially inflammatory (to some) they can be. You can listen to a playlist on YouTube here. Go ahead and give it a try. Hey, if it’s on St. Paddy’s Day, all the better, right? If you don’t have the time or inclination to listen to almost three hours of Irish music, I invite you to at least sample Rock On Rockall or Broad Black Brimmer. You’ll get a good idea of what I’m referring to. One caveat, though: You may want to listen to Rock On Rockall at home. There are a few words, not too bad, that really aren’t suitable for a work environment.
I can’t finish today’s blog without mentioning a more contemporary group: The Pogues. A good friend of mine, John Myers (you’re always gonna be John to me, not “Jack”), turned me on to The Pogues many years ago when I was still doing EMS up in Colorado. I can best describe them as “Irish Punk,” although that isn’t entirely accurate. Just listen to Dirty Old Town, Fairytale of New York or A Pair of Brown Eyes and see what mental images you can come up with. Maybe you can come up with a better description than “Irish Punk,” too. Thank you, John, I'm glad you told me about The Pogues. You were absolutely right!
So, wherever you are, and whatever you are doing on this Paddy’s Day, 2016, I wish you much joy and pleasure. You can bet that I’ll be listening to my Irish music and enjoying everything about it. And if you happen to enjoy some adult beverages along with the music, please do so responsibly.
Until next time…….