The Humours of Ennistymon

  • By Davoc
  • 19 September, 2012
  • Comments Off on The Humours of Ennistymon
It is 1952 I am cycling to my piano music classes with “Madam” Dunne in the townland of Firmount about three miles from the village of Prosperous in County Kildare.  I am a wee bit fed-up.  Last month, with my older sister Brigid  I got taken in the pony and trap.  Why not this month?  I hate cycling in rough winter weather and I hate boring old music lessons!  And why don’t they teach you popular songs like “Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontiers” instead of these silly weird mini concerto things!  I lasted about five lessons.  The following year, for one year only, I was a boarder pupil in Dominican College Newbridge.  There I came under the spell of a “Doctor” J. Cuypers.  Don’t ask me why these music teachers were given grandiose titles like Madam and Doctor!  It must have been something to do with classical music and snobbery of the times.  Anyway this well known music teacher had his work cut out with this young reluctant musician.  He would grab me fingers and shove them on to the piano keys and if that did not work he would slap me on the knuckles with a wooden ruler.  Now I have to be a bit careful here.  This same man taught my beloved wife Anne, about ten years later, and she loved him to bits and thought he was a great teacher and a pure gentleman.  And when it comes to music, or indeed music appreciation in general, it is difficult to argue with any member of the extended Moore family – forget about it, you will lose!  Anyway the good Doctor Cuypers did manage eventually to drag me screaming along the classical music road.  Oh yes - right up to grade two.  It was possible to get to grade 8 – if my memory serves me right.   So grade two was indeed VERY basic.  The year at college is up and so is the end of my formal musical career!  Of course I breathed a sigh of relief and went straight to Bill Haley and “Rock around the Clock”!   Mind you in the early to mid 1950s that in itself was a mammoth task.  First of all - we did not even have electricity, nor could we afford a battery radio.  We used to go to a neighbour’s house and try to listen to Radio Luxembourg.  And that in itself was not easily done.   The neighbours would not have wanted to listen to a foreign radio station or indeed may not even have had the correct aerial installed.  But as time moved on we got the modern electricity in and bought our own radio. My parents eventually gave up on my education and indeed they may even have breathed a sigh of relief when I failed my Inter Cert at Naas CBS School in 1954.  Pockets could quickly empty trying to educate children in Ireland in the 1950s.  It was just so wildly expensive!  And this brat seemed to spend most of his time mitching.  The fourteen miles cycle ride a day was just way too tempting! A couple of years go by and I am home again working on the farm.  I am listening to Elvis and Chuck Berry on the wireless, with great difficulty I might add.  The AFN (American Forces Network) radio station is based in Germany and very difficult to find and tune in to.   Somewhere in the background my older sister Brigid is playing 78 records.   She has just bought a small second hand portable wind-up gramophone.  I hear Bridie Gallagher singing “The Boys from the County Armagh”, a strong gutsy song in waltz time, with a full backing orchestra.  This was a modern “Glenside” recording – not like the old fashioned Delia Murphy ones that my father used to play.  I become vaguely interested, but in fairness not really too excited.  When you are 17 and your sister is 20 –you are so cool, and your older sister - well you know, she knows nothing about the beat generation - sure she hasn’t even read “The Dharma Bums” because it is banned in Ireland!  And no way would she even find AFN on the radio!  – Older sisters are just not cool. Another couple of years go by and I am in Dublin selling wind-fall apples for a shilling a bag.  I am driving an old battered pick-up truck down Merrion Row when I spot for the first time ever - a couple of beatniks!  I nearly crash the truck I get so excited!  Oh yes indeed - real live true blue beatniks in the flesh.  Ciaran Bourke, tall tangle bearded and dressed rough in a donkey jacket with bits of hay hanging from it.  Jeannie Bonham, a small wee slip of a girl, wearing a hand knit gansey to her knees and walking barefooted.   I park the old pick-up – no problem in those good old days!  I followed them into O’Donohues pub, intent on putting chat on them - but instead I get a dose of shyness, so I observe them from a distance.  But I do remember selling the bean-an-ti, the great Maureen O’Donohue some of me wind-fall apples.  After this first encounter I used to supply this same famous establishment with fresh eggs on a regular basis.  But I digress again!  So let’s get back to the music. Weeks or indeed even months go by before I meet Ciaran and Jeannie again.  In the meantime I had discovered the Fiddlers Club in Church Street.  I stumbled on this place more by accident than design.   It was a great place for hanging out with interesting alternative looking students, more students than fiddlers I might add!  For me at this time, the traditional Irish music that was played there was really incidental!  The gorgeous cool young women straight from the beat generation were my main interest.  In fact, when I think of it – the Fiddlers Club was a strange mixum-gatherum of people.  The majority of the musicians were men, up from the country, certainly 45 + years old, working as tradesmen and labourers around the city.  A small minority of the audience you could describe as similar to the musicians.  But most of the audience were young students.  There was a shilling entrance fee – half the price of a pint of Guinness at the time.  No drinks, alcohol or otherwise, were available.  It was all very basic, like a seldom used town hall.  It was in this club I again met Ciarán but without Jeannie and got chatting to him.   I found out from him that besides playing the whistle, he was a builder and a general Jack of all Trades.  I told him of a job available in Prosperous doing up an old house.  He hitched down the following week, with difficulty.  Long beards were discriminated against at the time!  He told me he walked with his back to the traffic, thumbing, but when turning around his potential lift would put the boot down.  He eventually arrived in Prosperous with no baggage other than a Clarke’s tin whistle. Ciaran Bourke was salt of the earth, great company and could converse on any subject under the sun.  Hours we spent discussing how to cook a chicken without plucking it.  Any open hearth cooking, using pots, spits, cranes or whatever, he was past master at.  He saw the open fire as the centre of the universe, where all domestic and social activity took place.  Every night he picked a prime position and rolled his blanket down in front of the fire. That first night I took him down to Cribbins bar, (the owners before the famous Pat Dowling and long before Planxty), a local man came up to me with a twinkle “I thought they took the crib down in January!”  Beards were very rare in the early ‘60s and apparently only seen on Jesus and his Apostles.  But once they got over the old tangled beard they became fascinated by him. In the early 1960s Irish public houses and bars could be strange dark places, full of nooks and crannies and of course the famous snugs.  With various signs that declared no singing, no music, no dogs, men only – tall wooden bar stools, tobacco stained ceilings and outside toilets.  But Cribbins was a tiny bit different.  It did have a Lounge Bar with chairs around the open fire and an inside toilet – Oh yes complete with real toilet paper as distinct from yesterdays Irish Press or recycled tissue paper from oranges! Ciaran Bourke sang “The Cruise of the Calibar” – “…’s only forty verses so I won’t detain you long”, played superbly the “Cuckoo Hornpipe”, told stories and to any audience - and an audience could be one person.  I remember a local Garda Sergeant arriving up to Downings House basement in full uniform with his set of uileann pipes.  He played for an hour for just the two of us.  Other sessions weren’t quite so small and intimate.  One night all the Dublin beatniks landed.  There was Dusty, Stan, Ben, Nat, Jeannie, Rusty, Dick, Jake, names that float to my mind.  Some had no names and no addresses.  Fires lit and food was cooked and ten pints could be bought for a pound, if you had a pound! The interesting thing about this period was Ciaran’s amazing ability of bringing the best out in everybody.  He discovered dormant musical talents in people in Prosperous that they hardly knew they had themselves.  Some wouldn't have played for 20 years and he got them to bring out their rusty instruments and have a go again.  We got names of hardly known traditional musicians in the area.  Once, the pair of us equipped with this list went off to hunt them down – literally knocking on doors.  And when the door opened our introduction was “We heard that there was music and singing in this house”.  We had one hilarious day drinking tea, swopping yarns and playing music.  Mind you a tolerance for very rusty playing was needed.  But the really interesting part of these little musical hunts was the background to all these great country people and their buried dormant talent.  I would have known most of them – but for no reason other than they were neighbours.  I might have borrowed a hay rake or brought a cow to the bull or looked for the loan of a clucking hen.  But no way would I have known that some of these small farmers’ recent ancestors could have come direct from the west of Ireland.   That they were part of an official land redistribution policy of the Taoiseach at the time - Eamon de Valera. So they left the vibrant mountainy musical west to settle in the flat pale plains of Kildare!  Others had come from the Poulaphuca valley in Wicklow.   This was given to them as compensation for their original homesteads that were flooded out to build a mighty water reservoir for the thirsty Dubliners!  But there were also others who had the music in them anyway maybe direct from the original Gallowglass Ceili Band.  This band was set up in the town of Naas only 7 miles from Prosperous, in 1950.  This band was internationally well known and consequently achieved almost ‘pop’ status.  I would go so far as to say that this pop thing would have had a negative impact on some of the performers – they were certainly closer to Jimmy Shand’s Scottish Band then they would have been to say west Clare traditional  music. After a few weeks Ciaran was gone.  I am not to sure did we finish the job or did we just run out of money!  But on the music front I was hooked. Sadly Ciaran Bourke passed away on the 10th May 1988.  Only three times I met Ciaran since that time he worked with me in Prosperous.  Once on a fleeting visit to our house in Downings, next at Christy Moore’s wedding when we were all too drunk to converse and lastly at Luke Kelly’s funeral when we were all too sad to talk. Now - I could nearly always scratch out a couple of tunes on the whistle – well maybe less than half a dozen, a jig or two or a slow air.  I struggled for ages to play a reel at any kind of speed.  One must remember that in the early 1960s things were very different.  No way could you get any traditional music books, teachers were unheard of and musical instruments were as scarce as hen’s teeth and / or were wildly expensive.  If extremely lucky you might get a loan of a battered, torn and worn copy of the elusive O’Neill’s 1001 tunes ‘Music of Ireland’.  You might get a Clarkes tin whistle in Naas but definitely Dublin was the only place for the good brass Generation whistle.  If you wanted a flute  forget it, unless you could maybe make one yourself, or that you were very wealthy or very lucky.  Most Irish traditional flute players in the sixties played unbelievably battered instruments, held together with string and glue – not to mention electricians’ insulating tape and plumbers jubilee clips! Around the mid-sixties I was chatting to Frank Burke, a fiddle player and singer from Co. Mayo, who lived in Prosperous.  We talked about setting up a branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.   We approached Nan McCormack from Downings to help us.  We knew she was a good organiser and would be great to hold us together and kind of lead us along.  I mean, let’s be honest, some of us were a bit wild and kind of mad.  Like from the word go I wanted all the activities whether they were sessions, meetings or just casual gatherings to go on in the pub.  Not so much that I was a lunatic drinker or anything – but mainly because the new owner Pat Dowling was a huge fan of Irish trad music.   Well I lost and I won out on that one.   We gathered for our first meeting, in the old disused library beside the church in the village of Prosperous.  I remember well that lots of people turned up into this small room.  I was cute enough to know that if you get elected to any committee, don’t get elected secretary – that person usually ends up doing all the work.   So I let myself be elected chairman and Nan got elected secretary.   Straight away I suggested Pat Dowling’s pub for a weekly gathering of musicians, singers and like minded listeners.  And so the Wednesday night sessions in Pat Dowling’s public house in Prosperous started.  If I was to name all the people - rogues, ruffians and rascals and even some top musicians and now famous household names that passed through this pub – sure wisha I’d be here all day!  And I would surely leave someone out. A great character and friend of ours was old Jack Reddy out the Ballinafagh road at the edge of the bog a mile from Prosperous.  He would invite us back from the pub, to his two roomed cottage for after hour sessions.  One great night out there a gang of us arrived with Seamus Ennis in tow.  The old fire was poked up and the music and singing got away from the word go.  We did notice that night that old Jack was not in the greatest of form.  As the night proceeded he let it be known to someone – quietly like, that the reason he was off form was that last Thursday his old ass had upped and died on him.  He depended on this old ass to get him around and to do a bit of bog work.  Seamus came to the fore very quickly.  Pulling off the dresser a hanging tin mug he made a big announcement to the maybe 15 people scattered around the room. He put two coins in the mug himself and rattled it as he spoke. “The Fear an Ti - this big hearted generous man sitting over there in the corner has lost his donkey and his livelihood….” – he would have embellished the story.  The next day a few of us got together and started a mini fund raising campaign.  I remember a couple of weeks later a dollar cheque from the USA arrived addressed to us, but written out to … “The Jack Reddy Dead Ass Fund”   Old Jack bought a replacement ass – and proud of him he was too, we were all invited to view the wee animal in the small field at the back of his house. Pat Dowling – the Lord be good to him - was a mighty man.   He came from a large farming family near Allenwood just a few miles up the road from Prosperous.  At the drop of a hat he would travel anywhere or everywhere for music and craic.  And I mean anywhere – I have a clear vision of him coming into Grehans great music pub in Boyle in Co. Roscommon - clapping his hands with excitement as he bought the whole pub a drink.  But that would not be all - he would have a car boot full of wellingtons, alarm clocks, dungarees – as little gifts for all and sundry.  He seemed to be always on the look out for bargains or maybe freebies from Guinness’s or ‘discontinued lines’ from old department stores.  And then he just gave everything away as gifts to friends and customers.  I have another vision of him on an underground train in London with yours truly and the two of us wildly discussing our next stop.  The only difference being I was still having the discussion as I stepped on to the platform but he got caught by the automatic sliding doors – I can still see that expression on his face through the glass as the train sped away!   But he did arrive the next day at Portobello Road as the Grehan sisters and Christy Moore were doing an open air party session.  This was a completely spontaneous event – someone just said (maybe it was me?) Why don’t yez just sing a few songs in the street – like right here and now out in the sunshine?  The whole of this famous London market street came to a stand still – it was absolutely brilliant! The Grehan sisters Frances, Marie and Helen (Bernie) from the pub in Boyle are happy, hilarious lively musicians and singers.  They play and sing raucous, rebellious Irish music and ballads – back then they were mostly based in England doing the rounds of the folk clubs.  We were and are still, all crazy about them. When it comes to music singing fun and craic from the early 1960s on, of all that arrived at Pat Dowlings in Prosperous, the most prominent families without doubt were the Moores and the Lunnys from Newbridge.  These mighty people   would have all passed through Pats.  And indeed most of them would have got up from their seat to give a blast of music or a song.  Strange enough though the first time I met Christy was not in Prosperous but in Grehan’s pub in Boyle at a small county Fleadh Ceol – I guess around 1965.  I was with the usual Newbridge crowd of followers – from bone players, plumbers, whistlers and ragamuffins.  This sweaty young guy gets up in the middle of the crowded pub and in a strong voice sings “The Galtee Mountain Boy”.  Mick Curran had driven us up in his old Bedford van and I could see he was wildly interested. “Who’s your man?” I ask excitedly. “Ah sure - he’s one of our own” – says Mick with great pride. Christy was working in England at the time – sure wasn’t everybody, half of Ireland seemed to be perpetually over there.  I am not too sure what he was doing over there, maybe swinging a shovel or maybe swinging the lead – but he was definitely doing the folk club circuit.  Strange - but at this time he was not really known in song or musical circles in Ireland.  In fact I knew the Lunny family before I knew the Moores.  Old Frank Lunny senior many a time sang “The Flower of Sweet Strabane” through the thick cigarette smoke of Pat Dowlings. “If I had you lovely Martha away up in Inisowen......” But let’s get back - we are certainly not finished with the Moores. Christy and meself became good buddies.  We drank the same kind of porter, chased the same kind of young ones and followed the same kind of music.  We slept in the same kind of haybarns, disused railway carriages, backs of vans, creaky brass beds and once or twice in ditches. It would not have taken long before I spotted his gorgeous sisters.  Now Christy had no problem with me discussing in depth everybody else’s sisters - yes including mine, and indeed all other young women from Boyle to Carrigaholt and even in Cricklewood and back again.  “But leave my sisters out of the equation …..” – He advised me in no uncertain terms! Now the first time I spotted Anne she was standing in the doorway of their home in Newbridge as I picked up the bould Christy to go rambling and rollicking to god knows where.  A fleadh in Wexford she tells me! Anne says the first time she spotted me was in Pat Dowlings when the whole family just wandered in on a winter’s night in 1967.  Oh yes mother Nancy and all – so behave yourselves boys!  I can still see Anne being encouraged by her mother to sing “Blackwaters Side”.  Nervously she gets up and in a wonderful strong clear voice delivers this old county Cork song of betrayal.  She was just 16 years old, and to be honest, I am now even getting wee warm quivers as I write all this 46 years later!  I am not great with dates but within six months Christy marches us up the aisle in the little church in the village of Milltown between Prosperous and Newbridge. We had the formal family wedding breakfast stuff in a nearby hotel.  We quickly got over that bit of the day, with indeed time to spare, before getting down to the serious business of fun and frolics.  Nancy had previously got a fleet of helpers in to clear out the junk from the basement at Downings House.  Fuel was gathered for the big open fire, old scrub topped tables were cleared off and laid out with food and drink to feed and water the masses.  What can I say!  Anybody and everybody were there from local ragamuffins to broken down gentry!  Extraordinary people turned up that we had never met before.  No invitations were sent out so it was extremely casual.   One of the many highlights of that great night was Liam O’Flynn and Paddy Maloney playing Irish trad tunes on Uileann Pipes in harmony.  That magic moment is still talked about.   Anne and I left in a hired car a couple of hours before the dawn broke.  We gave someone from Celbridge a lift home, we ran out of petrol about six miles from where this young man lived. Of course Christy had been using this car all day and ‘forgot’ to put fuel in it!!  We had an unopened bottle of whiskey in the car and I suggested we throw that into the tank and it would work away on it!  It did – but for only another three miles up the road, and then gazump - gone again.  Our passenger kindly volunteered to run home and get a can of petrol – he knew he had a can of it.  He was back within the hour and we were away again on our ‘honeymoon’.  This dacent fellow had also brought along a present of a replacement bottle of whiskey!  To this day we are not 100% sure who this kind man was! In less than a decade we had five beautiful bouncing children – Davog, Niall and Donnacha, Aine and Turlough!  And that does not include at least three other kids that we fostered.  But the music and fun goes on but definitely at a slower pace.  In 1972 Christy’s album Prosperous was made in this famous old flagged floored basement.  Out of this adventure emerged the legendary Planxty. Around 1975 two programmes from the “Bring Down the Lamp” television series were filmed and recorded in this same old basement. I have just now realised I have completely left out of the equation my younger brother Andrew and my older sister Brigid.   Especially Andrew, when he lived in Dublin – he played and sang his way through his early medical college years.  He was one of the first to get an actual paying gig in the famous O’Donohues pub.  He played and sang in the early 1960s in the equally famous “Abbey Tavern” in Howth with top performers.     Brigid has been mentioned at the start with the gramophone and the old 78 records.  She is a good singer, whistle player and Irish speaker.  Both of them still live at Downings near Prosperous and both of them are playing and singing away - whenever the opportunity arises. In 1976, we have our bags packed and various trailer loads of furniture all tied down and the seven of us are away to set up a new home in the west.  We sell a small lump of land in county Kildare and buy an old rambling cottage in county Clare - on the edge of the ocean at Spanish Point, on an acre of sand.   Lots of people thought we were completely mad!   But it was a warm house with nice low ceilings and certainly manageable.  The up keep of the big cold house in Kildare had us nearly robbed.  Our poor kids arriving for breakfast with blue noses from the cold, not to mention nests of bees, bats, rats and a haunted room!  Mind you I very much missed the space and lots of room it had to display all my old wrecks of furniture and bric-a-brac - my only source of income. We settled down quickly into life in county Clare.  Sending our kids to the local national school and integrating with our new neighbours and surroundings as best we could. The best county in Ireland for Irish traditional music without question is County Clare.  But I am here looking back at the Miltown Malbay in the late 1970s and really not finding much music.  Willie Clancy had passed away only three years before we moved there.  At this time a lot of local musicians had emigrated or indeed were living in Dublin like Bobby Casey, Tommy McCarthy, John Joe Healy, Michael Falsey.  But musicians like Martin Talty, Jackie Fox, Jimmy Ward, JC Talty, Junior Crehan were all living in the general area – but hard enough to get them in any one place to play a few tunes. I do distinctly remember playing a tin whistle to a crowd of enthusiastic set dancers in the square in Miltown Malbay late one night, after being eased out of Friels pub.  A hard enough task at the best of times – I may add.  Fifteen couples dancing and one tin whistle playing the one tune!  I even recall the tune - it was the reel “The Boys of Ballysodare”   I must have played it a dozen times, yeah, but it was three in the morning and the tune does have three parts! Another distinct memory I have, around this period was the young teenager Brid O’ Donohue.  She only lived up the road from us and we had asked her to do some baby sitting for us.  She came fully equipped with a selection of tin whistles. Of course I asked her to give me an old blast of a tune!  I was wildly impressed with her as she went straight into a selection of reels.  Wow – could she make that old whistle talk?! Over the next 25 years I really played very little music as we raised our family and got on with trying to make a living wheeling and dealing in old Irish country furniture. One notable interruption was flute player, singer and writer Fintan Vallely from County Armagh.   Around the mid ‘80s he bought a small house about a mile away from where I am now sitting.  We were good mates and many a pint we drank in the famous house of the O’Friel.  He dragged some rusty music out of me and I was the first one, according to himself, to coax a song out of him.  During this period he compiled ‘Timber’ the first ever flute tutor for Irish traditional music.  A great illustrated music book, full of interesting tunes and playing techniques.  I still use it to this very day. We are well into the 00’s when Seán Malone in the Markethouse pub in the centre of Miltown Malbay started his Monday night sessions. Both Seán and his brother Fintan are fine traditional music players.  These open sessions were mighty for drawing musicians of all sorts from far and wide.  This was when I started to learn some new tunes.  Now Johnny Hehir on harmonica and Trish Dillon on whistle and fiddle would both have played a huge part in encouraging me and indeed nursing me back to learning and playing tunes again.   I bought a wee Dictaphone thing and recorded every old tune at every old session.  Well all very good, if one has a sharp learning ear but not much use otherwise – as I discovered the vast majority of traditional musicians do not know the names of most of the tunes they play.  If you do not have a name you can not link the tune with a music score.  And I need sheet music or I get very bothered and lost.  Johnny has 100s of tunes from waltzes, polkas, reels and jigs and he plays them all note for note with superb timing and rhythm.  But he only has a handful of names so I nearly have to give up on him. So now, how about Trish!  – Ah now, she is different.  I ring her up and inveigle her to call around to Knockliscrane where we live.  She is still only in her 20s and seems to know every goddam tune known to man, or woman for that matter and the ones she doesn’t know she can just soak them up anyway.  Taught by the legendary Gus Tierney (who also taught Sharon Shannon), Trish is playing music since she was seven!  I am exhausted even thinking about it! Young awesome players like Trish could put this struggling old musician right off playing forever!  But no - it did not seem to work that way.  She kind of liked my slow unornamented style of playing and just nurses me along on tunes I am weak on.  Yes – she wrote sheet music out for me, and even played a tune down the phone for me to record!  With a Dictaphone in one hand and a telephone in the other hand – how cool is that!  Good on you Trish!  We become good old buddies. When I first clapped eyes on Barry Moore (aka Luka Bloom) he was 12 years old.  He was way up stairs in a small bedroom in the Moore family home in Newbridge playing his guitar.   I was way too busy courting his older sister to pay much attention to him! Back in those days some of the purist traditional musicians had big problems with guitars.  Donal Lunny recalls that he was once thrown out for playing the guitar in the famous Pipers Club in Thomas Street Dublin.  This was the same premises in Dublin where the first branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann was formed.  But that is all history now. Today there is a gaggle of really great Irish traditional music guitar players and Luka Bloom without doubt is definitely one of those greats.  He has a unique ability to drive a tune forward with a slow distinctive rhythm.  He uses unbelievable chords that just compel you to keep playing. Bar was the first one to suggest to me that I make an album.  He invited me to go to his house in county Kildare a couple of years ago and we would do an album together.  He mentions that I have an unusual style and a great story to tell.  But I got waves of inadequacy and started making excuses in me head not to go. But I take me hat off to you Barry – you were The One that sowed the seed! I did give it some thought though, talked way too much about it and of course did nothing until one day towards the end of last March I am on the phone talking family and stuff to Christy.  Out of the blue I say to him “would you play bodhrán for me in a studio if I made an album?” He answers without any hesitation “Yes and I will sing a song for you too…” I am a bit taken aback with the quick answer. “Can you give me some dates?”  says I timidly. “Sooner or later…?” asks he. Well sooner says I – thinking - this will soften his cough – he is not going to be able to give me any dates as he is a woefully busy man with a tight schedule. “How about Sunday afternoon 22nd April” says he? I am flabbergasted.  “How can you come up with a date like that so quickly?” “Well I have a Diary in front of me!” says he, as cool as a cucumber. “And I am doing a gig in Charleville the day before and I can go home to me darling family, in Dublin, via Ennistymon.”  Wow! Next I am on the phone to Quentin and the whole deal is set up.  Marked up in his diary and all ready to go - Sunday 22nd from 11am to about in the Old Courthouse Studio in Ennistymon.  Now we have less than a month to organise and rehearse.  Got to get Anne on board but she is the easiest – always very willing and always very able. Trish is next - she gets time off from work and she is all set. What about rehearsing?   Next is Johnny who does not really give me a firm commitment but is slowly coming on board!  Sure I’ll see you at the session in Marrinans next Wednesday!  But what about rehearsing?  No suggestions - and anyway I’ve got to busk really hard to earn money so as to make the album!  What about rehearsing?  I contact the great Luka and he says we will play a few tunes the night before the big day – so that we can get the feel of it.  Well at least he is coming down the night before.  But what about rehearsing? My nephew Conor Byrne phones me up and offers to play a few tunes with me!   Conor is a fabulous traditional flute player - a composer of tunes, a singer and a fluent Gaelic speaker.  Now I am getting real nervous.  And what about rehearsing! Two weeks before the studio date Trish arrives in the door.  She has just two hours to spare.  We go through some tunes with a bit of difficulty.  She suggests a few tunes that go well together.  We write down a big list and we link titles with the actual tunes by just playing the first bar.  We play no full tunes and we do no “rehearsing” And she is away to collect her kids!  I get cold feet about the whole project.  So what about rehearsing? Trish suggests we meet at the Cliffs as it is not too far from where she works. We could do some rehearsing up there and maybe even drop into a pub on the way home and do some more.  Sounds like a great idea and you have not been up there for ages and we might even make some money - brilliant!  Wrong on all accounts!  The wind was blowing way too strong for normal playing never mind experimental playing!  And the usually very quiet pub that I sometimes go to had a couple of very well oiled musicians that were all over the place and I do not mean the two of us!  So that was quickly abandoned.  So now what about rehearsing! I completely calm down.   If it happens it happens, if the worst comes to the worst I will just play a few tunes by myself or with who ever turns up! And as indeed Luka always says:  “Just relax and enjoy yourself and have some fun”.  Mind you as a precaution I phone up the bouzouki player, broadcaster and all round fun guy – the great Eoin O’Neill and book him for the day. The great day has arrived.  Luka is here from the night before and we play a few tunes at about midnight – highly unsuccessful I might add we were both tired!  We head off to our beds and sure what the heck!  Next morning Luka drives me very slowly the twelve miles to the Old Court House Studio in Ennistymon.  He first has a little heart to heart with me about deep breathing and yoga and god knows what.  He is the man with the experience with thirty CDs under his belt after all. Quentin is all prepared for us with six microphones and a similar amount of high stools - all geared up ready to go.  Five to 11 and only the three of us are present.  By the time it was five past eleven nearly everybody had arrived.   When are we going to rehearse?  Also of course my Anne has prepared a basket full of delicious grub.  Christy arrives with his driver, the one and only Mick Devine   First tea after hugging and kissing – as lots of us had not seen each other for an age or indeed had never met before.  What a strange and wonderful motley gathering of friends and relatives.  When are we going to rehearse?  We are up and away with a selection of random tunes that seems to me to be all over the place but sounds good.  When are we going to rehearse?  No sign of Johnny!  Trish looks at the list and points to another tune – OK lets blast away at that one.  How will I know when the tune is over and the next one comes rolling in?  Sure you will know by the look in me face. Christy thinks that is a great idea - OK let’s go.  Anne has organised Leah Wolf to come and take photographs.  She is having a tough time because nobody is co-operating or paying the slightest attention to her.  But sure let it – isn’t it all about the music!  An hour or two slips by.   We discover Johnny is outside.  He was not sure where in the building the recording studio was.  The streets of Ennistymon are deserted.    He sees a sign on the wall on the main door that says “Open next Thursday” and wonders will he go away and come back again later on in the week!  But he does recognise a couple of cars.  He joins us on the “Lark in the Morning” and away we go again.  Johnny starts a highly entertaining conversation about bodhráns.   He then proceeds to play without warning or planning “The Road to Abbeyfeale”   OK so much for rehearsing.  Christy of course starts playing with him and some of us slowly join in.  Quentin happens to have the recording machines on - so it is all definitely good fun. We record eighteen tracks in six hours – boys oh boys but how amazing is that considering there was ne’er a rehearsal.  Just goes to show you what can be done by dedicated musicians. The vibe, banter and general craic during the recording was just great and we all enjoyed ourselves immensely.          
Categories: Davoc Stories, music