Album of the Week: The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem In Person At Carnegie Hall
The Clancy Brothers
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem in Person at Carnegie Hall: The Complete 1963 Concert
During the early '60s folk boom, no one did more to expose audiences to traditional Irish music than this singin' and playin' quartet of brothers Liam, Paddy and Tom Clancy and cohort Tommy Makem. Just in time for this year's annual unfurling o' the green comes this reissued, greatly expanded record of their legendary 1963 St. Patrick's Day show at the fabled concert venue. And though the Clancys' trademark cream-colored Aran-knit sweaters might give today's hipsters a fit of the giggles, make no mistake - these were fucking men singing and playing, with a full-throated lustiness bringing to mind vivid visual images of hard work, drunken pub singalongs and a rapid movement of feet chasing the lassies. In front of an appreciative audience consisting heavily of New York-based Irish-Americans, the show was also something of a cultural watershed, with a newly-installed Irish Catholic U.S. president - one tune is dedicated to "Big Bad John in the White House." And while the original record release clocked at just over 38 minutes and included two numbers recorded a year earlier, this "Legacy Edition" presents the full two-plus hour show, along with the two other tracks thrown in for good measure. There's an informative essay and Liam Clancy - the last surviving member of the group - contributes some touching memories. The 29 full numbers and accompanying medleys touch on four areas: drinking songs, historical tales, country ballads and rebel rousers. The bragging lad of "Bold O'Donahue" could pimp-slap many of today's rappers; "Haulin' the Bowline" exemplifies an Irish work song; "The Moonshiner" and "Brennan on the Moor" introduce some roguish, ramblin'-gamblin' men; "Legion of the Rearguard" is a rousing battlefield exploit; "The Jolly Tinker" a comical sexploit, and "Bonnie Prince Charlie" a sad ballad. Try not to lift an imaginary pint during "Haul Away Joe." A 13-minute medley of Irish children's songs is also memorable.
One early fan who fell under the spell of these Irishmen included a hopeful singer from Minnesota trying to find his own musical identity. Soon, Bob Dylan would become a rapt audience member and later, close friend to fellow picker Liam. "All through the night they would sing [songs] that would lift the roof," Dylan wrote in his Chronicles Vol. 1 autobiography of the long nights he saw the Clancys and Makem at the White Horse Tavern. He would later borrow the melody from the quartet's version of "The Patriot Game" for his own anthem, "With God On Our Side." All four men were also experienced actors, and it shows in the album's fully-preserved stage chatter, a combination of song explanations, jokes, and observations. Only in those pre-PC times could the lads get away with taking humorous jabs at Protestants, the English, the seemingly piss-poor quality of Scotch whiskey, and the IRA without some special-interest group throwing a hissy. Thus, The Complete 1963 Concert is heartier musical nourishment than a heaping portion of colcannon - and not just during Middlemarch. Slainte!