a few words of a kind…

From Bob Dylan to Clare Sets

The Reflections had neither a rehearsal space or sound equipment. We just had our instruments, and we hired out gear when we gigged. I never remember us having any formal rehearsal, apart from what we did in venues when we got there early, which was rare.

We were North Clare latchicos, playing songs most people never heard of. And when we did popular stuff, we put our own twist on it and that was always different. Officially we were a four piece unit — Brendan Killoran on piano and keyboards, Johnny Rockett on bass, Jimmy ‘Drummer’ Hill on the sticks and me on electric guitar. Most nights we were joined at some point by a ‘ghost’ fifth member, Aughty Tá, an older multi-instrumentalist from Ennistymon. Aughty played sax, flute, piano, whistles, fiddle, clarinet and saw. Sometimes he just joined us for the National Anthem and the booze up after the gig. Other times he could be at the venue before us, ready to rock and roll, in a blue blazer from Micky Hogan’s band. You never knew how the night could go with with Aughty Tá.

Unwittingly, we were Clare’s poor version of the Grateful Dead. Like them, we arrived late and took a long time to set up. Sometimes band members were a bit canned or maybe well canned, when we hit the stage. Occasionally our starts were disastrous, and we had to stop and begin the number again. But it was all part of the show, and our fans forgave us. And like the Dead, we had long solos that could go anywhere, especially if Aughty was on board. He was a genius to improvise and go ‘out there’.

Ennistymon used have a Happy Family Festival back in those days. It was held in July and the pubs stayed open legally until 2am. The town used be mobbed every night. There was a huge white marquee in Blake’s Field and the showbands played there. Open air dancing was held in the town square, where ceili bands played on a stage. Fr. Easton, a hip padre, asked The Reflections to play for a teenage hop in the marquee one Wednesday night. He offered us twenty pounds, to play from 9pm to midnight, and we agreed. By Aughty’s calculations, that was at least two hundred pints.The same night, the Kilfenora would be playing in the square, and there was sure to be a huge crowd in town. We were looking forward to the gig. We’d be finished early and in good form for a bit of craic.

The Reflections had two roadies at the time: Talty the Vet and Tires O’Dwyer. Talty had a grey Ford Anglia estate, reg number DIE 999. His parents also had a grey Anglia Estate with the same reg. Anyway, he was in charge of things electrical and Tires’ job was to make sure the gig went smoothly, by opening bottles of beer and cider, and rolling spliffs for the band. Tires was a cousin of Aughty Tá’s.

On the afternoon of the gig, Talty and myself went to rent the sound gear from Mr. Tierney in Corofin, a local genius who had recently built a one-man submarine. Mr. Tierney showed us the craft and told us of his plans to launch the sub in Lake Inchequin. He already had 2 crates of Harp larger for the celebration. Talty said we played a song called ‘Yellow Submarine’ and Mr. Tierney smiled and said, “See, everything is connected.” He opened a few bottles and we drank to that. Several more bottles clinked while we listened to him expound on physics, cosmology and hydromechanics.

The rest of the lads were loitering around back-stage when we arrived with the gear. There was a bit of annoyance that we were late and a tad oiled. Aughty said,
“Let there be no panic. Sheo! Sheo and a Box. Galtee, voo!”
I knew he was half-pissed too.

The roadies set up the gear in a hurry, and plugged us in. Father Easton looked a bit nervous and had four frowns ploughed across his forehead. Drummer Hill clicked the sticks and we just hit the groove like turning a tap. We sort of surprised ourselves. Everything was spot on — the sound was just right and the band was earnest and tight. I spotted Aughty playing maracas to ‘Lovely Rita’ and thought, ‘this is going to be a great night’.

In no time at all, we had the marquee hopping, and lashed out all sorts of stuff. We knew the melody and chorus of many songs, but not a lot of the lyrics. Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ was in that zone, but we did it anyway. Killoran played a masterful introduction, swirling on the keyboards, and I invoked Bob, making up the words as I went. The rest of the lads joined in the chorus and so did the crowd. A few girls from Liscannor swayed in front of the stage, screaming “How does it feel? How does it feel?” and that drove us further. I think our version had more verses than Dylan’s one.

The gig was flying, when one of the roadies thought we needed a light show. We were in the middle of a Stones’ number — ‘No Expectations’ or ‘Sweet Lady Jane’ — a slow, check to cheek song anyway, when I noticed activity a little away from me. Tires was standing on a beer barrel with a black cable, which was strung with colored bulbs. Soon a string of flashing lights ran across the top of the stage, with a huge Christmas Star shimmering in the middle. We went into another orbit.

Whoever was ‘doing’ the lights — switching then on and off — couldn’t keep time to the music, and Drummer Hill got pissed off by the distraction. But it’s hard to tell a roadie anything. Eventually the light switch burned out and everything returned to normal on stage. Johnny Rockett sang a Doors’ number and the drummer did “Sunny Afternoon,” by the Kinks. We were back in the groove.

Just as I twanged the opening of the Beatles’ “Revolution,” the light show began again. It was horribly out of time, and I shouted at the roadie to stop. No good. When Aughty did a searing sax solo, I smelled electrical discharge and looked around. I saw a spray of sparks coming from behind the stage, like there was welding going on. Everyone else seemed oblivious, as if it was part of the show. Aughty stood on one leg like a yogi, eyes closed and he blew his heart out. Suddenly there was a boom, total darkness and a little sizzle. Then confusion.

The audience began foot stamping and shouting, “We want more! We want more!”

But there was nothing we could do. It was an emergency beyond the band’s control. A man from the Festival Committee appeared in a hurry with a long silver flash light and announced that the gig was over and told everyone to go home. Two cops arrived and shouted “Home! Home!” Then Fr. Hannon and Fr. Easton rushed into the tent with flashlights, and escorted the audience outside. The Committee man fecked us out of it, said we couldn’t play for nuts and our shit had blown the town’s electrical transformer. We had plunged Ennistymon into darkness. He was drunk, and Aughty told him to shag off before he banjaxed him. Fr. Easton passed me twenty quid and sighed ‘thanks’. Then we were left to ourselves in the dark, until Aughty produced a candle from his sax case.

While the gear was being packed away, we finished the beer and smoked a few spliffs. Aughty decreed that we, The Reflections, did NOT blow the town transformer, per se, BUT we may have conspired the circumstances for such an event to take place. He said it MAY have been written in the planets, and that strange stuff could, and DID happen when great music was being played. He reminded us that the crème de la crème were playing in the town that night: the venerable Kilfenora Ceili Band, and us, The Reflections. Timidly, one of the roadies suggested that he might have helped the situation along, because he recalled something going wrong while he tipped two naked electric wires together, to the beat of Revolution.
“Anything is possible,” Aughty conceeded, “Strange things are done in the midnight sun, by the men who mine for gold. Sheo! Sheo!”
I knew we were not far from launch time.

We left the marquee and strolled up the road to the square. The town was in beautiful blue darkness, and night was happy to see us. There were stars in the July sky and candles in every pub. The Kilfenora Ceili Band played on without amplification, warriors that they were. Dancers did sets in the dark and battered sparks from the road stone. It was magical to hear the rousing cheers from the town when the band changed tune, like someone had scored a goal. And they had. We stood listening to the jigs and reels, tapping and shuffling our feet as good as the rest of them. A few West Clare girls who had been to our gig, dragged us out for a set. From Bob Dylan to ‘The Pigeon on the Gate’, in no time at all. That was Clare in those days. Music had no boundaries. We were all tuned in, in some inexplicable way.

The Kilfenora Ceili Band

(courtesy of Clare County Library)

Books by Eddie Stack

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20 thoughts on “From Bob Dylan to Clare Sets

  1. What a great story, I feel like I was there now! It sounds like a different world than it is now. This may be a dumb question but can you tell me what the name “Aughty Tá” might mean? I recognize the tá so I’m thinking Aughty comes from an Irish word.

  2. I remember the Ennistymon Family Festivals! Even sang ballads accompanying myself with some horrible chords in various pubs for free pints! As for Aughty, his exploits are definitely the stuff of legend . . . more needs to be said!

  3. The Festivals I remember (vaguely!) were 1967 and 1968, and I do recall the power going one warm summer’s night. ‘Nice to learn after all this time what caused it!

  4. Fergus Tighe on said:

    Attaboy Eddie!

  5. You’re on top form here, Eddie. I believe you not only distill the essence of the time you write about but the distillation itself is of that essence. There was magic. Through you the magic lives on. Thank you.

  6. Oh Lord! How I wish I had been there on the night to witness that gig! I can practically smell the summer night-air; the Old Spice and the Brylcreamed hair of the young bucks in town for the ‘craic’. and the sea breeze blowing in from Lahinch ruffling the crynoline dresses of the young things gathered around the bandstand calling out their requests to the new-age young ‘gods’ on the bandstand!. Guitars DID get girls in those days… and Electric guitars gave a guy instant ‘sex-appeal’.
    Didnt we live through a magical age all the same!
    A superb evocation of a long-gone world. Class work, Eddie!

  7. Gerry Quinn on said:

    Eddie, what a story, it leaves me breathless. North Clare latchicos indeed!

  8. Thanks everyone…

    @PJ @ Ted C — I remember you guys arriving at the Festival in a red sports car…you were like filmstars to us young guitar thumpers. Ye cut a fair dash…remember ye being in our pub lamping down pints.

  9. fantastic Eddie – felt like I was there! great stuff!!

  10. The red sports car would have been driven by TA Reidy, a cousin from Kilrush whose great passion was cars – and music, which was in our genes!.

  11. Lenny Larouchi on said:

    Eddie, I read the story thinking you made it all up. That it was real – or even surreal – makes it all the more special. Anyway, it’s how you tell it.
    I watched Ireland V’s Italy in a pub in the little village of Guerere in Piemonte – great craic in the company of an Italian rugby club – and there on the wall was a picture of Stack’s pub in Ennistymon. Fame indeed.

  12. Bríd MacMahon on said:

    Fair play to you, Eddie, that was brilliant! I was at that Reflections gig and it was a great night. You and me danced set in the square afterwards and that was very funny. A few comments have mentioned magic and that’s what it was. Thanks for the very fond memories.

    • Hey Bríd,
      I remember you being at the gig. It was you who dragged me out for the set, and later yourself and Carol and the Reflections went to the Falls Hotel…it was a long, long night…

    • Hey Bríd — I remember you being at the gig and dancing sets with you in the square. Afterwards, I think we all went down to the Fall’s Hotel and blew Fr. Easton’s 20 quid…we had a long, long night…

  13. Martin Irwin on said:

    I nearly pissed in my pants reading that story. The Mickey Hogan you mentioned I used to dance to his music up in the Thomond hotel in Lisdoonvarna where he was the resedent band every summer. Another lad by the name of Gerry Egan used to play with him and drove a mineral truck out of Galway during the day.Those were really great days and you brought back many happy memorys. The James Tierney you mentioned as well was a good friend of mine RIP who used to hang out on weekends around Ballyvaughan where I am from.That submarine story was not a joke he actually built it and had Mike Murphy from RTE radio down interviewing him about it one morning .James was some character. Keep up the great work Eddie and God Bless.

  14. Maureen McCarrick on said:

    Eddie……this is one of the funniest stories I’ve ever read, I think BD would probably enjoy !! (I’ve not laughed this much since 69/70 when the Dubliners visited Phila)

    …..thanks for the great laughs 🙂


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