a few words of a kind…

Archive for the category “Popular Music”

Carnival Cop

This is an extract from Carnival Cop, the opening story of Borderlines…new book I’ve just published on Kindle


The carnival came to town in mid-August, just as the days began to shorten and school was set to reopen. They pitched in Arthur’s Field at the top of Church Street and in two days, they had merry-go rounds ready to spin. And dodgems, swinging boats and chair-o-planes too, all set to rock in a splash of gay colors. Over the entrance to the field, a big arched sign read ‘O’Driscoll’s Fantastic Carnival.’ At night it would light in red, white and blue neon.

On opening day Todd O’Driscoll fixed a loudspeaker to the roof of his jeep with bungee cords and rigged an amplifier to the onboard cassette player. He pushed a tape in the player and crept up the volume as the jeep crawled down the town. Helter-skelter céili music woke the streets and people came outside. The recorded voice of Todd announced,

Céad Míle Fáilte, fair people of this beautiful land. It is with joy and pleasure that O’Driscoll’s Fantastic Carnival has come to town again. We have thrills and rides to tickle your fancy and swing seats that go so high you can catch a glimpse of heaven. And dear friends, our bumper and dodgem cars are the latest in Chicago gangasta style, and this year we have the spectacular Jules Verne chair-o-planes, direct from Peking’s Tong Hing Park. And if that is not enough, we have a shooting gallery with nightly prizes of great value and The Gold Coast Pongo Tent where you can win jackpots of enormous size. For your entertainment we have sword swallowers and knife throwers, fortunetellers and board players. And while you’re at the carnival, enjoy Todd’s delicious popcorn and organic ice cream. So come early and avoid disappointment. The Carnival opens at 6.30 this evening and the fun just goes on and on till late.”

The music played again and Todd tweaked the volume. Children began to follow the slow jeep, echoing his announcement in gibberish. He watched them in the rearview mirror and notched up the volume again. An urchin stood on the tow bar and Todd speeded up, then braked. The urchin thumped the back window and hopped off. A few kids ran beside the vehicle, but scattered when he did a mean ‘S’ swerve.

To his surprise, a police constable stood at the bottom of Church Street, hand raised, indicating that he stop. “Shit,” he muttered, coming to a halt. He rolled down the window and was taken aback: he had never seen a policewoman here before. She was short, skinny and officious and he read her badge as she approached: Constable Stella Blute.

“Beautiful day, how can I help you?” Todd smiled.

“Turn off that sound. Did you ever hear of noise pollution?”

“I beg your pardon?”

She didn’t respond, and he stopped the racket, watching her examine the tax, insurance and other official certificates on the jeep windscreen.

“I don’t see a Public Announcement certificate displayed,” she said, “and your tax is out of date.”



The jeep was heating up and he began to sweat. An urchin urged the cop to arrest him and she ordered the kid to leave the road and go home.

“I thought everything was in order,” Todd told her, “I mean…I don’t understand it.”

“Your tax expired last December. May I have your name please?”

“Well…Thaddeus O’Driscoll. Better known as Todd.”

He smiled but she was writing and made no eye contact. She said, “Your driver’s license please.”


He took a wallet from his trousers pocket and flicked through the contents, humming as he scanned business cards, credit cards, debit cards, prayer cards, nude cards, medical cards and memorial cards, marihuana club cards.

“Gosh, constable, I don’t seem to have it with me and I could have sworn that I saw it recently.”


“No fixed abode.”

“No fixed abode?”

“None. I travel from place to place. Week here, week there.”

“Where are you residing now?”

“Mr. Arthur’s field at the top of Church Street. I’m the owner of O’Driscoll’s Fantastic Carnival and I’d be delighted if you could come along…all the rides are on me…you can ride all night for free…we’re opening tonight…that’s why I’m…you know, announcing.”

“Announcing without a permit. You need to put your house in order, sir. Please produce a current driver’s license, insurance and public address permits at the barracks within the next 72 hours. Failure to do so will result in prosecution and court appearance.”

Todd winced and looked at her with hurt eyes. “Thank you officer,” he groveled, “and please do come to the carnival…the fun is on me.”

He turned the jeep in the Square and drove back up Church Street in silence. Outside doors, people gathered in knots, speculating on what had gone down between Todd and Constable Stella Blute. She was still writing in her black notebook, standing in the middle of the road.


The carnival people lived in caravans at the back of the field, near a happy stream of fresh water. Some of the caravans were modest, others looked run-down, and a few were big and old fashioned. Todd’s was sleek: powder blue with a red lightening bolt screaming from back to front. What a fuckin’ disaster, he muttered, opening the door. His sleeping partner Izzy Swartz was making coffee. She wore a black robe with a golden dragon printed on the back.

“Hi sweetie,” she greeted, “wanna cuppa?”

“I want a drink,” he said striding to the cupboard beside the fridge.

“What’s up honey? You look upset.”

“I am upset. A cop pulled me for tax, insurance, certs, the works…”

“Oh honey! That’s horrible.”

“A lady cop if you don’t mind…a tiny little midge.”

“What’re you gonna do honey?”

Todd shook his head, poured a tumbler of cheap whiskey and drank it neat.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. Yet. She wants me to produce everything at the barracks within 3 days. She really glammed on to me, like a fucking terrier. Stopped me from announcing. A cop like her could fuck up my whole life.”

“She didn’t ask about the Hagerstown affair? Did she?”

“Don’t mention the Hagerstown business. Please. And don’t mention the shit in Dundalk either. I’ve enough on my plate.”

“What can I do to make it better for you? A little massage?”

Todd drained his glass and filled it again.

Borderlines is 3 long stories by Eddie Stack — Carnival Cop; Bonzo; One for the Rover. The stories are set in the West of Ireland. Kindle edition costs $0.99. Download here

Books by Eddie Stack on Amazon

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The Reflections: doing our bit for Ireland

The Reflections were not a tourists’ band; we didn’t have a broad repertoire of waltzes, ballads, come-all-yahs and the other stuff that tourists can clap hands to. So we were a bit apprehensive when Aughty Taw announced that he had such a gig for us. It was a default gig: the original band had a double booking and a panicked hotel manager got in touch with Aughty. He said it was a lucrative job and there would be a free bar at the event. That clinched it.

It was in a venerable hotel in Ennis on a July Saturday afternoon, and we had nothing else to do that day, apart from an unplugged gig at Johnny Burke’s in Spanish Point later in the night. Johnny’s was a ‘trad and beyond gig,’ low pay, hi-jinks and free porter. We had fans down that side of the country and the plan was to camp out afterwards near the beach, have a bonfire and whoop it up until maidin geal. I was looking forward to that more than the tourist reception.

Tires the Roadie got the loan of a pick-up truck and brought drums, keyboards and other gear to Ennis; the rest of the outfit traveled with Aughty in a little green mini which was used to running on empty. On the way, I began writing out a set list. ‘Lovely Leitrim’, ‘Rambling Rose’, ‘Goodbye Johnny Dear’ and so on. I knew the melodies and would ad-lib the words as per normal. Aughty suggested instrumentals he could do on sax or clarinet — ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’, ‘Moonlight in Mayo’, ‘Christmas in Killarney’ and the likes. If worse came to the worst, he volunteered to croon old chestnuts like ‘Gentle Mother,’ ‘The Mountains of Mourne,’ and other vintage numbers. On whistle and fiddle he would play jigs and reels to give them a bit of diddly-eye candy. We had it all sorted by the time we passed through Inagh. Though we had never played these numbers before, we would ensure the tourists were happy campers.

Aughty said, “Jaysus lads, it’ll be a piece of cake. Money for shag-all and free drink for the boys. Sheo! It’ll set us up nicely for Johnny Burke’s — where, if we play our cards right, we’ll get more drink agus go leor ladies. Sheo!”

We echoed a chorus of “Sheo! Sheo! Sheo!” and Drummer Hill rattled on an empty petrol can with two coins.

We got to the hotel on time and Aughty met the manager, who brought us upstairs to the function room. I was taken aback by the size of it. The bandstand was in the corner opposite the bar and there were dozens and dozens of tables around the room. At the back, a team of chefs were setting up a banquet and I wondered if we had bitten off more than we could chew.

As Aughty had sourced the gig, he was the de-facto bandleader for the show. He called the shots. Tires set up the gear with Killoran and Drummer, and Aughty and myself massaged the set-list at a table. A waiter appeared and asked if we’d like a drink. I ordered a pint and Aughty said he’d have a brandy and port, with a pint of Harp. I gave him a sharp glance, indicating that it was a bit early to be hitting the hard stuff. He just muttered ‘Sheo!’ and jingled coins in his pocket. Shortly, we were joined at the table by the rest of the lads and we went over the set-list.

I don’t know how much we had drunk by the time the tourists arrived into the room, but it was a lot even for a Saturday afternoon. I remember the invasion of oddly dressed people, baseball caps, cameras, perfume, blue perms and ill-fitting toupees. They were mostly middle-aged and older, American, German, Asian, British. Hundreds of them. Ten busses, a waiter said. Reality shifted. We were in a Fellini movie. Killoran, now verging on speechless, leaned towards me and muttered best he could,

“I don’t…I…I don’t think we’ll get away with this one.”

The manager had requested that we play while the visitors dined and we took to the stage when a gong rang. Sax hanging from his neck, Aughty frowned at the set list and said, “Achtung! ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’. 3-4 time, two sharps. Over and out.”

We had a wobbly start but got it together after the first verse. I looked around and Drummer nodded, so did Killoran, we were in the groove and it was mellow. Aughty was playing fluid as a river and all that was missing was Bing Crosby. I was next up with ‘Lovely Leitrim,’ followed by ‘The Boys from the County Armagh.’ The visitors clapped cautiously and we ploughed along with ‘Katie Daly’, ‘The Butcher Boy’ and god knows what else. The clapping got louder and people came closer to have a look at us.

An American woman asked if we knew ‘Danny Boy,’ and Aughty said,

“Yes indeed, madam, and it is one of our all time favourites.”

He gave the usual commands, then blew a funky version of the song on the sax. It was a stand-out performance, totally out-there stuff, blues on the green, pure magic. Killoran took a solo on the ivories and Aughty gave a back-beat on a tambourine. He nodded to me to take a solo, and I went to the mic and spoke the words, like I imagined Van Morrison would do — “Oh Danny, Danny-Danny Boy…the pipes, the pipes, yeah man the pipes are calling…” I made up most of the rest of the words but the crowd didn’t mind, and clapped enthusiastically when I finished my piece. Then Aughty topped off the number on the clarinet and we got a huge applause.

The Asians were the first to twig that Aughty was a star and they gathered around the stage and took pictures of him. The attention sent him further out there and he took up the fiddle and blasted out a set of rocky reels. It was a Reflection’s gig like no other and we morphed into a Clare version of Horslips cum Fairport Convention. The tourists loved it and danced and pranced like Deadheads. We just couldn’t go wrong and Aughty controlled the show with commands like:

“Five-four on the two-eighty. Engines ready. Check, check. ‘Thank God We’re Surrounded by Water.’ Visibility good, prepare for takeoff.”

And away we’d go. Everything we did was a hit and so I asked Aughty if we might chance ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. I figured it would be awesome to have all the Yanks and the Germans, the Asians and everybody else sing ‘How does it feel? How does it feeeel..’ Aughty was horrified and said,

“Jesus, H Christ…is it daft you are? There will be no fucking Bob Dylan played at this engagement. I’m in the fucking cockpit!”

I was sorry for asking and drained a pint in two slugs. Then he had me sing ‘I’ll Tell My Ma,’ and as a peace-offering he funked it up a bit and that was as near as we got to Bob.

The evening flew and we hadn’t time to drink all that we got. After the show, we spent a good half-hour having our photos taken with giggling tourists. We smiled for Ireland and everyone was happy. Aughty was really spaced out and spoke to the foreigners in his own lingo. They were all enthralled, apart from the Germans. He did dodgy tricks for them with a pint glass, and tried to do somersaults and cartwheels on the dance floor. It was a comic attempt, money spilling out of his pockets before he crumbled into a laughing heap. The visitors clapped and laughed and photographed him. He could do no wrong, no matter how he tried. Up the Republic.

We dismantled the gear and packed away the instruments. Tires helped Aughty down the stairs from the function room, but he got wedged into the corner of a landing and became stuck. How we got from Ennis to Spanish Point, I don’t know.

Talty the Roadie was there before us and frowned when he saw Aughty stagger into the pub. We were late, we were banjaxed but the show had to go on: Johnny was a cousin of mine and family pride was at stake. I switched to lemonade to sober up a bit. Seeing our state, Johnny produced a huge plate of grilled sausages and said, “Ate up lads.”

Somehow or other we rose to the occasion, Aughty got a second wind and though all he could say was ‘Sheo!’ he played whistle and fiddle as good as the best. Killoran tinkled on a piano; Drummer beat bongos and bodhran, I rattled away on the mandolin and gave a few songs with the guitar. When our fans gathered, the bar revved up to ninety and we played anything that came into our heads. We were blasting out ‘Hey Jude’ — the long version — when the cops came, cleared the pub and told us to go home. Nah-nah-nah-nanan-an-nah…

Miltown Girl and a few of her mates pitched the tent for us. Fellas brought driftwood up from the shore and made a bonfire. Killoran and Talty came with crates of drink; Tires rolled joints and a few of the local heads gave him a hand. I lay on my back and looked at the stars, listened to the the surf lapping on the shore below. It was a beautiful night, surrounded by friends and happy ghosts, a salty freedom in the air. It had been a long day, but we did Ireland proud. Aughty played ‘The West Clare Reel’ on the whistle, and Miltown Girl sat beside me and rubbed my head.

“Hey you,” she said, “how did the Ennis gig go?”

“It was a bit of a detour,” I replied, “but they’re always the most interesting ones.”

“How about taking another detour?” she asked, pulling me to my feet.

We linked each other down to the beach and walked between the sea and the starry sky. From the bonfire came whoops and screams of merriment. Aughty blew a few notes on the whistle, Killoran strummed the guitar and the revelers sang Dylan’s ‘Mighty Quinn’. Then Drummer sang ‘Lay Lady, Lay’ and Miltown Girl and myself danced close and slow under the West Clare sky; danced until long after the music had stopped.

Books by Eddie Stack

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A Musical Youth in West Clare

The Tulla Ceili Band, 1952, Georgie on piano, far right

I read the news today, oh boy, and learned that Georgie Byrt had died. It put me thinking about my musical journey and the musicians I played with, back in West Clare during the 60’s and 70’s. Piano player and taxi man, Georgie was from my hometown of Ennistymon and the first time I ever played on stage, it was with Georgie and Mickey Hogan’s Dance Band. I was fifteen and scared and excited as if I was going on my first date.

Mickey Hogan had invited me to his house a week or so beforehand, and I figured it was just to play a few tunes; he played the fiddle and tenor sax and had the reputation of being a maestro. I brought my electric guitar and amp and we played for an hour or two — tunes and songs that my parent’s generation danced to.

After the session, his wife served us tea and plain biscuits, and we chatted. It turns out Mickey was checking my musicianship, and asked if I was free to play at an upcoming wedding with his band.  I said yes, yes of course. We shook hands and his wife said that a musician would always find a wife. She told how she fell in love with Mickey when she danced to his music, forty years beforehand.

“It was the uniform that got me,” she said, “Mickey had a beautiful band uniform, snow-white with gold buttons and I was smitten.”

At the wedding, Mickey wore a red tunic with gold buttons and the rest of us wore blue blazers, which he supplied. Mine was oversized, and I had to turn up the cuffs so I could play the guitar. I forget who the other band members were apart from Georgie, who told me to stand near him. When Mickey announced the next number, George would whisper to me, something like: “Key of G and there’s an E minor in the second part.” That’s how the evening went. The band blasting out tunes and songs, and Georgie telling me the keys and the chords. Georgie was a gentleman, may he rest in peace.

Ennistymon, 1961

For a town as small as   Ennistymon, there were more  musicians than houses. Fiddlers, drummers, piano players, accordionists, sax players, trumpet blowers, guitarists, flute and whistle blowers — you name it, we had it. Some musicians had regular gigs with bands like the Tulla Ceili Band and the Kilfenora; others were hired hands and could flit from trad to country to old-time, jazz to soft pop. We were crossover musicians, guns for hire and in spite of my father’s disapproval, I was sneaking out and playing with some outfit most weekends. School took a back seat and I used fall asleep at class on Mondays. Eventually it was too much for my parents and they decided to pack me off to boarding school in Galway, telling me to ‘mind the books and forget about the music for the time being.’ Of course I didn’t, both parents came from musical families and music was in my blood.

A few weeks before I left for boarding school, I was invited to join a ‘pop’ band in Miltown Malbay, a few miles down the coast from Ennistymon. It was Fintan Malone’s band and called The Merchants. Another Miltown guy — Alsie Clancy was the singer, Malone played lead guitar and Willie Healy, a friend from Ennistymon played drums. We had no bass, but it didn’t occur to us that was odd, as we rehearsed Kinks, Beatles and Rolling Stones songs in Malone’s Markethouse. We were rebels, playing rock and roll in the sacred shrine of Irish traditional music. In shop doorways around the street, local teenagers listened to us rehearse, and when we had a few dozen numbers together, we did our first gig.

That was on a Sunday afternoon and called a ‘hop’, something less serious than a night gig, which might have freaked parents and Fr. Kelly. The gig went well, even though we fluffed a few numbers. I made a shambles of a Kink’s song ‘Tired of Waiting’ and Malone cracked up laughing and the drummer lost time. Alsie took a song in the wrong key and we couldn’t find where he was until the second verse. It must have sounded woeful, but the Miltown crowd was loyal and clapped rather than booed. Afterwards, Mrs. Malone had dinner ready for us, and excited as Oscar winners, we plotted our course to the top of the charts. We also decided to let our hair grow long.

Miltown, 1973

The following summer, we were a tight outfit. Willie Healy got a job in Dublin and our new drummer was my good friend Jimmy Hill. We practiced a few of times a week, Jimmy and myself hitching to Miltown, often staying the night in Malone’s house.

Every Sunday night we did a gig in the Markethouse and it was always crammed. We did a mixture of pop and rock, dressed in mod gear, inspired by Limerick band, Granny’s Intentions. In West Clare we were hotshots, an up and coming young band which priests were wary of. Getting gigs in parochial halls was tough work and a lot of padres turned us away from their doors. But we got other breaks — playing support to top band in ballrooms around the county. For those gigs, we had a roadie-cum-driver called Christy Body, who had a sister called Annie.

People in West Clare still talk about The Merchant’s gigs, and hindsight makes the band appear a lot better than we were. One night, a group of Girl Guides from Limerick who were at camp in Spanish Point came to our gig and screamed every time we played a number from the charts. It was like we were the Beatles, the way they crowded around the stage, beaming and waving at us. The local girls were a bit miffed and there were a couple of cat-fights. When I began ‘I Saw Her Standing There,’ the place went gaga, and I struggled with stage fright until Malone joined in the chorus.

Since I was a toddler, I spent the summers with my grandmother and grandfather — Susan and Tommy O’Sullivan — in Lahinch. Grandma played fiddle and concertina and tried her best to get me interested in traditional music. She played tunes every night of her life and my grandfather tapped a box of matches for percussion. She used finish the session with a reel called ‘My Love is in America,’ but granda didn’t tap for that one. Many years later she told me she had fallen in love in America in 1922, when she was on the run from the Black and Tans at home. Grandma never forgot the cop from Cork who arrested her for picking flowers in Central Park, on her first Sunday in New York. He let her go and asked her for a date. She fell in love, came home to do her duty in the Civil War and never went back to New York. I’d say she went to bed thinking of him every night,  after playing that tune. She called my guitar ‘the yaw-yaw’, inspired by the Beatles ‘She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.’ She rooted out an old mandolin she brought back from America and encouraged me to learn it, but my head was with the Beatles, Dylan and the Stones.

And then I was struck on the Road to Damascus…or rather the road to Miltown. It was in the month of August, when Miltown hosted the ‘Darling Girl from Clare Festival.’ Every night there were big crowds in town and we were gigging heavy, we had groupies and girlfriends and were waiting for our big break. I hitched from Lahinch with my guitar and got a ride to Spanish Point crossroads, about a mile from Miltown. It was late afternoon, warm lazy weather that brings out the best of West Clare. I walked towards town, in the distance I could hear music playing from the speakers mounted on telegraph poles, ceili bands, flutes, pipes, fiddles. This used be the fashion, to ‘warm the town’ and invoke a festive feeling. Paddy Flynn was the local DJ and PA expert. I wasn’t paying much heed to the music, probably thinking of the girl I would meet after the gig, a good-looking chick called Bríd, who wrote love poems and gave me one every night we met. The old railway station was on the outskirts of the town and here was the first telephone pole which had a speaker. As I was approaching it, Paddy Flynn put on a record that I hadn’t heard before. It began with harmonica, guitar, mandolin and maybe another instrument. Then a guy began singing and the first words brought me to a standstill.

‘Sullivan’s John to the road you’ve gone,
Far away from your native home…’

Sweeny's Men — Johnny, Andy and Terry

The hair stood on the back of my neck. I leaned against a stonewall and listened, not with my ears as much as with my heart. Something came over me and I’ll never forget those few minutes. I remember thinking, ‘who is that?’ Then Paddy Flynn played a tune I knew — The Exiles Jig— by the same group. I’d never heard traditional Irish music played like that, with counter melody and harmonies weaving around the tune. It was Sweeny’s Men — Johnny Moynihan, Andy Irvine and Terry Woods — musicians who I would become friends with a few years later. Traditional Irish music suddenly became relevant to me, after listening to it for well over a decade.

I don’t recall how our gig went that night, or if I got a love poem from the girlfriend. The following day I took out the mandolin grandma had brought back from New York and asked her to teach me The Exiles Jig. I remember her blessing herself and saying,

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what has come over you?”

She got the fiddle and we sat in the kitchen while bread baked in the oven. She showed me how to tune the mandolin and then played The Exile’s Jig until I got it. Then she taught me Banish Misfortune, Patcheen Flanagan’s Jig and Hardiman the Fiddler. Local tunes which rose easily from my  genetic memory. Later I went up to the attic and practiced on my own.

That night when she took down the fiddle, we played my new tunes and granda tapped the box of matches. I vamped along and picked a note here and there when she played her own selection. As she drew the notes at the beginning of ‘My Love is in America’, granda put the box of matches in his pocket. And for the first time, I felt the wistful longing and loneliness she channeled into that tune. I had finally arrived at the Well.

Tom Barrett, Susan O'Sullivan and Kevin Houlihan

All Clare images courtesy of Clare County Library

more about Eddie Stack…

Electric Picnic Sat, 5.30pm

Electric Picnic Sat, 5.30pm.

there’s a fashion thing going on here….a mix of anything goes, ‘look at me’, rave gear, outrageous naff…and costumes. Any sort of costumes…I’ve met at least six Charlie Chaplins…dozens of white faced people tickling others with feathers. And lots of wellie wearing now…even though for the most part, the rain has held off…but if you got a pair of designer wellies, this is the place to sport them…a cheer has gone up because the sun has broken through the clouds.

Thought this is interesting — long queues at the tarot reading stalls and longest of all outside a fortune telling gaff…mostly anxious looking young women. Maybe it’s the recession..maybe it’s love…only the fortune tellers knows.

Tucan are on Body and Soul stage now…loads of the Charlie Chaplin People dancing and grooving to them…happy out and it’s not six o’clock yet…

more later…maybe

more later

John O’Donoghue & The Pogues: a match made in San Francisco?

The Art of the Con

The Art of the Con

John ‘The Bull’ O’Donoghue, former Minister for the Arts, Sports and Tourism, resigned as Ceann Comhairle on the same day the Pogues played in San Francisco. Normally these two events would be mutually exclusive, but with the recession, everything is connected.

The Bull racked up a half-million euro tab over his few years as mandarin for d’Arts and had an extravagant lifestyle, at the expense of the Plain People of Ireland. A martyr for top-shelf brandy, best of wine, fatted lamb, caviar, horses, plane hops, limos, banquets, nothing was too good or too sacred for The Bull. He consumed all before him like a Pac man, while Irish artists waited for the crumbs that fell from his department. How many stories might that half-million euro have helped write? How many tunes could it have composed? How many songs could have it sung? The Bull’s expense account could have kept an artist in clover for 50 years and raised spirits in the process. Instead, it fattened himself and his herd. It’s a triumph for Irish journalism that he was exposed and forced to resign. Take a bow, Sunday Tribune but don’t rest on your laurels.

pogues_cloverA long white stretch limo was pulled at the curb outside the Pogues gig and it reminded us of The Bull and how he loved long shiny cars. We suddenly felt charitable and wondered if he should be rehabilitated rather than despised as a parasite. Then we had a brainwave: what if the Bull could drive the Pogues limo!! Maybe Shane would lend his Mexican Air Force cap to him…just while he’s behind the wheel. He could be cured. Cruising a half million miles up highways and down autobahns and boreens, the Kerryman would get plenty therapy from the lads. Plus, he’d still have a touch of the high life, he’d still be rubbing shoulders with stars and starlets…still be supping good grog, but not at the taxpayers expense. He could get really into it…maybe get promoted to roadie status.

Pogues, SF

Pogues, SF

The idea was exciting and when Mr. McGowan came onstage that night, a red plastic tumbler in each hand, we saw an expanded role for The Bull: he could be Shane’s batman!…carry the bevs for him, place them on the small table at the front of the stage and make sure to top them up now and again. He could light cigarettes for Mac…and anything else for that matter. In fact, The Bull might even test the mike for Shane. Wouldn’t it be a thrill to see him front of stage saying, “One, one, one, two, two. Check, check.” And maybe in true punk form he’d get showered with rotten tomatoes or eggs…

pogues6As the Pogues ploughed through their greatest songs in San Francisco, and Mac weaved this way and that, the idea of The Bull being part of the scene became more clear. The band might even give him a cameo part — take a bit of weight from Spider by having the Bull bang the tin beer tray against his head. And I know this is pushing it a bit, but maybe The Bull could play a bit of bodhran? On say, ‘The Irish Rover’? Would the lads let him join in the chorus? What about ‘Dirty Old Town’? Can’t you just see him on stage, belting out the refrain, sweet Cahersiveen etched on his face? Would he ever get to lash out ‘The Boys of Barr na Sráide’? His very own party piece…

On second thoughts, it may be better to keep him from the limelight for a while. It might be wiser to have him set up the backstage for the band, make sure everyone’s tastes and mores are catered for, and that there’s plenty of everything. He’d be good at that, he’s been freeloading for years and knows every rope in the book. He wouldn’t have an assistant, just an iPhone which he’d have to learn to use…there’s probably a Fás course for that. He’d have to know at any time, where drink, smoke and get-well cards could be got. And he’d have to learn to mix Tequila Dropkicks, Whiskey Windfalls and Brandy Bomb-Bombs…maybe learn how to hand-roll cigarettes. He’d get a much better education with the lads than he’d get hanging around the crowd in the Dáil bar.

We know it’s a privilege to work with the Pogues, and some might say that The Bull doesn’t deserve the chance. We understand all that, but feel it would be for the Greater Good, if he were rehabbed rather than punished or left to waste away on the backbenches of government. As some perverted form of entertainment, the Kerry voters will continue to return his whale carcass to the Dáil, forever more amen. It would take a few Pogues gigs to persuade them to release The Bull for the sake of art and culture. The band could play The Puck Fair, The Rose of Tralee, Listowel Races, Cahersiveen Winkle Festival. The Bull could play support for them at the ’Sive gig — it would be a perfect homecoming for the Prodigal Son.

It’s a win-win situation. The job would be good for The Bull: he’d still be flying around the place, ride limos and drink until maidin geal. He would be indentured to the Pogues. And here it should be said, the band would be better for his rehabilitation than U2. Like, Bono and The Bull could talk shite to each other all night and next morning…but there would be no shite talk with the Pogues. Everything would be straight up and politically incorrect.

The Pogues are The Bull’s only hope. And I know this is stretching it a bit far…but, what about Mrs. Bull doing a bit now and again? Remember, she was also part of his act and liked to jet away too. She’s a lovely singer and maybe she could do the female vox on Fairytale? And when Shane waltzes off stage with her, would The Bull know it’s only rock and roll? Or would he lose the head, like he did in the Dáil, and end up on YouTube again?

Pogues SF photo: Seán Chon

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Long nights, short days with a Clare danceband

The Springs Hotel before the deluge

The Springs Hotel before the deluge

My music career began the year I joined Mickey Moran’s Country and Oldtime Stars. I was seventeen, had long hair and played electric guitar, one of the solid red axes like Keith Richards had. Good for the image, Mickey said. There were four of us in the ‘outfit’, as he called it: himself played a piano accordion, Tats was on the drums, me on guitar and Tony Flynn covered clarinet, flute, maracas and tambourine. Mickey did the vocals and encouraged singers from the floor.

That season, we had a residency in The Springs Hotel, a ghost of a place that had been closed for about forty years, until a nephew of the owner came home from England in a knife creased blue suit and decided to put the clock back.

they're playin' our song, Paddy...

they're playin' our song, Paddy...

He brushed away the cobwebs, swept the floors and opened the doors: everything else was the same as the day it closed, maybe even the drink. The place had an eerie feeling about it, like a Frankenstein movie set. Dim chandeliers and dank carpets, huge wall mirrors, long velvet burgundy curtains, weighed down with dust. Shadows everywhere, strange people passing through, like they were searching for their youth.

The bandstand was in the lounge, a long narrow brownish room with a bar inside the door, a huge floor with chairs and tables strung along side walls under huge tarnished gold-framed mirrors. The Springs took a long time to warm up and only got going when the hot spots down town bubbled over. By then, half the band were drunk. This was my introduction to another side of life after school: steamy dancing, free whiskey, untipped cigarettes and the girls in short skirts who sat near the stage. Life became a minefield of possibilities.

The oddest things happened in The Springs. One night, just as the crowd were loosening up, a bat flew into the lounge and half the women in the place and all the men with toupees went hysterical. We played a waltz and Mickey asked for calm while the nephew, drunk as a coot, tried to catch the creature with a child’s shrimp net. Bottles broke, chairs crashed, tables overturned. But we played on, smiling that everything was ace.

The Nephew: Total control, full flight, loaded

The Nephew: Total control, full flight, loaded

Another night, an elf of a man in a pastor’s grey suit danced into the hall embracing a live-sized cardboard cutout nurse, who held an Irish Sweepstake ticket aloft in her hand: I’ll never forget the way she smiled over his shoulder as they wheeled by the bandstand. Then there was the night the cops arrived, a dozen or more, running like troopers, looking for a weightlifter from East Clare who had overturned a chip van in the town square. One of the lawmen fell out of rank and hung on at the bar. Sans hat and tunic, he lashed back gin and tonic and at four in the morning when everyone was yawning he did an Elvis Presly impersonation: “Crying in the Chapel”, “Wooden Heart”, “Blue Suede Shoes”. Eyes closed in ecstacy, while Tats did a drum solo, he danced off the stage and went to hospital with a broken leg.

where did it all go wrong?

the lads from Ballybockock

The final night we performed in The Springs, the place was totally empty. Nobody there. It was the weekend after the Listowel races and the crowd had gone to boogie elsewhere. The party was over, Winter was slicing in and all the sinners had flown. The night was brutally wet and windy and there was a cold blue light on the street. Most other places had closed, but the nephew wanted to go down with the ship. And so he did, keeping himself busy by filling drinks for the band and bringing them to the stage. Have one himself, then another round for the band. I had forsaken bottled beer by this time and was maturely supping shots of vodka with a dash of red lemonade. On we played, windows rattling, breeze whistling through the cracks.
Sometime late, a hippy lady who had a caravan outside the town traipsed into the lounge, black dog behind her. After a couple of pints she came up and sang with us: Marianne Faithful songs. Then the nephew invited her to dance and Mickey slowed down the tempo to a crawl. After another few numbers, the nephew and the hippy were kissing under a fly spattered chandelier, while Tony Flynn warbled “Stranger on the Shore “on clarinet. Vintage stuff. Tats drunkenly tapped along on and Mickey and myself vamped blue chords to fill the gaps.

bar for the band

bar for the band

Before taking his dance partner off to more private quarters, the nephew told us to help ourselves at the bar and lock the door behind us when we were going home. We played the national anthem, drum rolls and all, to an empty hall at half-past midnight, then took up positions at the bar. Mickey asked what we were having and God alone knows what we drank.

At some late hour, I remember being outside, black rain pelting down from heaven, trees groaning in the wind. Tats trying to lock the hotel door and catching the hem of his coat in it. Tony Flynn standing on the lawn, crooning “Blue Moon” towards the one lit window in the Springs. Mickey shouting at us to get into the car.

We proceeded out of town with the utmost caution, took the unapproved way home and got lost. Mickey drove around boreens and bog roads until we ran out of petrol in the middle of nowhere. There we sat in the pitch black, smoking cigarettes, drinking whiskey from a bottle Tats found in his coat pocket. Waiting for daylight, wondering where we were, freezing cold, deafened by the rain dancing on the tin car roof. Tats muttering,
“The road downhill was the easy one, and that’s the one we took.”

Bandwagon, Barrahurra Bog, October morning

Bandwagon, Barrahurra Bog, October morning

A version of this story was previously published in Out of the Blue, a collection of short stories by Eddie Stack

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car photo: kyle cooper, Flicker
all other photos: Michael John Glynne + Clare County Library

The Stroke, The Stunning: Ireland Brewing Up A Storm

After a few days of glorious weather, my late father, Jimmy Stack, would announce, “The few fine days make a great job of the place.”
He was right. Ireland becomes a different planet after a few hot sunny days, and the longer it lasts, the better the place begins to look and feel. I always hope that maybe, just maybe, it could stay like like this, stick with us until we round the next bend in life…give us a bit of a break from the grey.DSC00497

The weather was good to us for almost the last two weeks. It affected everything -people got happy, election candidates sweated more than usual and the sun blessed the nation…people were working in gardens, going to the seaside, cutting hay. We’d received a slice of heaven, the kind of Ireland you’d love to tell tourists about.

Word reached me that the Volvo Race Village in Galway was the happening place. I was getting texts, invites to go in, threats if I didn’t. The Stunning were doing a gig there on Friday night, so done deal, have to support the home boys.

On the way to the gig, my son Jamie and I stopped off to vote. In the lobby between the door of our station and the polling room, there was the mumble of voices – Michael ‘The Stroke’ Fahy and someone else. An ‘outgoing councillor’ of 30 years experience, Mr. Fahy was running as an independent. He was formerly Independent Fianna Fáil and before that plain Fianna Fáil. He is well known throughout the region and beyond as The Stroke and is somewhat legendary in the wake of a much publicized court case last year. He fell from grace, and some thought he paid a heavy price for stroking a few grand, when bankers get away with billions. Fahy was ruined, alone, an isolated party of one, he had no posters this election and adopted a more personal campaign with a low public profile. Seeing us approach, he immediately leaned forward with a gracious bow and shook our hands, like greeting a member of the bereaved at a funeral. We reciprocated with a mumble and the word Michael in it somewhere, and proceeded into the room.

Michael 'The Stroke' Fahy

Michael 'The Stroke' Fahy

There was a man ahead of us and the person with the register was having difficulty in locating his name on the roll. He seemed new to the area and he didn’t have a voting card. He was a little confused as to his townland address, and Mr. Fahy his head in from the hall and verified that the gentleman was a resident who lived near himself. We got our voting sheets and went to the pens on the window cill. Postage stamp photos, party affiliations and one liners…our potential leaders, our mysteries. Where have all the flowers gone, the answer is blowing in the wind. A number here and a number there, best of a bad lot for the most part. Fold like a love note and bring it to the gun metal black box on the table. Battered and scarred by the battles of Erin, it had seen many campaigns. It’s full to capacity with Euro and local government votes.

On the way out, Mr. Fahy takes a break from his conversation and shakes our hands, this time like a concierge who’s hotel we are leaving. All politics are local but it does not get more local than this.

We parked in Oranmore and took the bus into Galway. The wind was beginning to rise with a crankiness that says a warm spell was over and rain on the way. But spirits were high and there was a buzz at the bus top. Loads of BMWs dropping people off, bus comes and fills quickly, another one behind, climb aboard and off to the show.

I wasn’t prepared for the transformation of Galway. It’s a place I have fond and very dear memories of since my student days and it has always been good to me. In the past decade, I generally avoided the city because of loss of character, commercialization and nightmare traffic. But the other night restored my faith in the essence of Galway. The city understood what the people needed and gave it to them. They were able to get a great project together and throw it open free to the public. It was done with precision, professionalism and panache. They polished the jewel that was Galway and it sparkled. And of course, the sun helped.

Galway Graffiti: was artist a Stroke voter?

Galway Graffiti: was artist a Stroke voter?

The Volvo Village was huge, just like stepping into a boutique music festival. There was an immediate sense of fun and relaxation, people enjoying themselves, a party without the frenzy. Galway dockland looked like Barcelona, but it felt like home, sweet home, somewhere away from recession and election, an oasis from the doom and gloom. People were happy, the weather was fine albeit a little cool, there was plenty space. They promenaded, took pictures, ate, drank, looked at the yachts, but mostly hung out and caught up. There was flags and buntings, colour and style and there was few signs of the Tiger. Apart from the yachts, there was little beyond our grasp. We were a happy people, unbroken by incompetent government and golden circles. We were ourselves again and it felt good. The world and its mother were there…it was as if we’d floated away from the rest of the Ireland and her cares. And there was great music up ahead: The Stunning were due onstage at 9:30pm.

Malaysian chicken curry and two veggie spring rolls for €7? Can’t go wrong, in any upscale restaurant it would be 30 at least and maybe not as good. A stroll by the waterfront, dawdling at the arts stalls and the doodad tents, meeting people, including a few readers of this blog. Mr. H from North Clare ordered me to write something happy and Ms N from Galway wondered about last week’s Biddy Early story….and would Biddy appear. There will be an update to this story in the coming week/s.

The Stunning

The Stunning

By the time we got over to the Topaz stage, the band were into their second number and the area was full. Dressed in white, The Stunning cut a dash, Steve with his cap and Jimmy Higgins in the shades. They’re the only band who’d get away with a nautical look…they have style.

Huge screens brought them close and you could feel the Galway pulse. The band formed here in the late eighties: Steve and Joe Wall (Clare), Declan Murray and Cormac Dunne (Donegal) and Jimmy Higgins. They had talent, captured a current, wrote intelligent songs and had a large following as Galway became known as the counter culture capital of Ireland. It felt like that again last Friday night with Steve Wall singing ‘Half Past Two.’ People sang along and you realise a huge amount of the audience have followed this band for years. They know the songs, tap into the vibe.

Steve Wall

Steve Wall

I asked a stranger beside me what made the Stunning special for him. “The sound and the songs,” he said, “the songs are class…Like, there’s stories in them. They’re about real things.” He was in his thirties and from Carraroe in the heart of the Gaelteacht. “Bono and them lads write songs to make money,” he continued, “but Steve Wall writes about what’s goin’ on. The words are mighty.”
Since The Stunning reformed a few years ago for the occasional tour, he’s seen them seven times. “It’s a shame,” he said, “they should have made it. They’re brilliant and they’re so real.”

They played a few Ennistymon songs including ‘Town for Sale’, an evocative piece that always brings me chills. Great lines, pure poetry, wish I could have said that: down the old glen where boys became men and girls lost all.
They played their anthems: ‘Rusty old River’, ‘Everything that Rises’, ‘Mr. Ginger’…They played their hearts out. The crowd sang along. For the encore Steve + Joe + Jimmy Higgins began with the Walls hit ‘To the Bright and Shining Sun.’

The Stunning: Romeo's on Fire

The Stunning: Romeo's on Fire

Then the rest of the lads came on stage and Galway rocked. Maybe it was me, but I sensed we’d turned a corner. We got to vote, saw a great show, a shot in the arm for a jaded nation. Thanks Galway and the organizers of this event. Thanks Stunning, we all needed that blast before we have to deal with the election results.

(As I post this, Michael ‘The Stroke’ Fahy has been elected to serve on Galway County Council again. He topped the poll with 2247 first preferences. No party, no machine, just an electorate who felt he was hard done by. What a long, strange trip, he has had.)

photo credit: Stunning pix + Galway Graffiti thanks to irishwhiskeychaser

The Stunning

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Bob Dylan in Dublin: in the shadows of Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, Wilde and Behan.

With Bob, a wedding could be a funeral and vice versa

With Bob, a wedding could be a funeral and vice versa

The Point Depot, or O2 as it’s now known, is not my favourite venue. It’s cold, hard, with the feeling of a huge warehouse or converted factory, which made steamships for the river Liffey that is on the other side of the road. Ok, it has been refurbished, face lifted, jazzed up and renamed, but it’s still a barn of a place with bad acoustics. It’s the biggest indoor arena in Ireland, and it’s where all the big concerts are. After attending few gaga gigs there, I said never again, I didn’t care if Jesus and the 12 Apostles were playing there, but I wouldn’t go.

But then a few weeks ago I got a call from a good friend, he had a ticket to Bob Dylan for me, plus all the trimmings. All I had to do was get to Dublin…being a decades old fan, I couldn’t let Bob down. Memories of all the times I’d seen him over the years flooded into my heart — Dylan and the Grateful Dead in Oakland, CA in 1987…his 1990 US Tour when the Pogues played support and I was invited along for the ride…Tramore, when Van the Ram danced on the side of the stage while Bob crooned Ramona…The Greek Theatre in Berkeley when Neil Young played with him…Bob and Tom Petty in Sacramento…maybe it was somewhere else, the memory is hazy on that one. When push came to shove, I put prejudices aside, and went to see Dylan in Dublin at The Point.
rs dylan

We got to the venue about 30 min before the gig and were fast-tracked inside — connections, you see. I declined the balcony seat and went down on the floor, weaved and wriggled through the throng until I got to within about 25’ of the stage. Everyone was packed close as sardines ahead of me…all ages, the retired parish priest look alike, latter day hippies, girls with the giggles, serious dudes with very serious cameras, a few drunk cork guys wondering where the jacks were. Heavy breathing, perfume and alcohol, everyone waiting for Dylan. The lights dimmed, the punters erupted as shadowy figures crossed the stage and the show began with a bang.

Under a wide brimmed hat, black suit with yellow trim, Dylan, center stage on sunburst Fender guitar rang out ‘The Wicked Messenger’…an odd opening number. The vocals were muddy but the band was tight. Bobby’s voice was unmelodic, croaking, rasping and if you didn’t catch the words you could be forgiven for thinking he was singing ‘God Save The Queen’, or worse. His three guitarists stood stage left, dark suits and hats they were like the Blues Brothers. The drummer thumped as if he was in a stadium and the pedal steel guitarist beside him looked like he was ducking sniper fire from somewhere. They were an odd lot and they packed a steady punch, swampy blues with a touch of the Chicago Chess sound. Although I doubt a vast percentage of the crowd caught five consecutive words that Bobby sang, they went wild.

Tracks: painting by Dylan

Tracks: painting by Dylan

Sidewalk by BD

Sidewalk by BD

There was no word to the audience —he could have been a dumb plumber coming into someone’s house to fix a pipe — he unstrapped his guitar and stood off center stage behind keyboards…The vocals slightly improved and I recognized ‘Girl from The North Country’ from a run of words rather than the melody which didn’t seem to follow even the chord sequence. But what can you say? Bob is an artist, not an entertainer. He rarely does covers of his own numbers, and as they are his own, he’s liable to do anything he likes with them, including deconstructing the melody completely or matching words of one song with the melody of another…something I thought only Shane McGowan could do.

At a Dylan show you have to throw expectations out the window, preconceived notions out the door. Bob doesn’t stand still. He follows a star somewhere in the sky, like the Three Wise Men did long ago, and he relates his experiences to us poor mortal souls. He doesn’t want to be boxed in, labeled, categorized, rest on his laurels. With Dylan, it’s always Onwards, he takes the road less traveled, sometimes making a new road altogether and when people begin to follow, he gives them the slip and branches off somewhere else. You never know what he’s going to do or how he’ll do it, you may not like it nor understand it, but it will nearly always be brilliant and touch a chord, stir the heart, draw a tear and answer an unasked question.

Bob really enjoyed his gig at the Point. I was close enough to the stage that I could see him smile occasionally. He was rocking, vamping those keys and arching his body like a cat that had the cream and more. His guitarists watched him like hawks…. Bob typically rehearses at least 50 numbers with the touring band and they have to be ready for the unexpected, a change of key, a change of tempo, a change of style. That was the common thread running through the Point Gig — nothing sounded like it did the last time we heard him play it. Not even his great old classics — ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, ‘Desolation Row’, ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again’. But they were all brilliant.

there must be some way outa here..

there must be some way outa here..

After every number, he turned towards the audience and gave a slight nod, a hand gesture, then consulted his set list. He took his time, like a guy wondering if he’d have the soup or the salad. Then he had a word with the pedal steel guitarist and we were away on another mystery tour. Bob boogying, throwing out Georgie Fame sounds…creating chaos out of order like one of those musical quiz shows, until a string of words gave away the title of the number. Then the crowd sang along, many times singing the popular recorded version rather than the revisionist track Bob was on. The only song I recognized from the get-go was ‘Blind Willie McTell’, and that was because of signature piano solo intro.

The one part of the old Dylan sound that remained unchanged was his harmonica playing. Of course the audience swooned every time he blew the mouth organ. And how he blew it…or bluesed it for ‘Blowin’ in The Wind’. The audience sang louder than the band, but Bobby was singing a different version of the old chestnut…it seemed more relevant, not stuck back in the Sixties, a song for our times, a message between the lines.

Dylan and the band took a bow, he didn’t introduce them, didn’t say one word to the audience during the show. He appreciated his response with a nod and a wry smile, gave a flick of a wave and was gone. He’s got everything he needs, he’s an artist and he don’t look back.

Thanks Mr. Dylan, hope to catch you again around San Francisco in late August.

And Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, Wilde and Behan? I’d say Wilde and Behan would probably have not seen the gig at all, they’d have hung out back stage, drinking their fill and avoiding each other…Behan might have staggered on stage for the encore —uninvited. Wilde would have tried on all Bob’s hats. Yeats would have been furious and stormed out after the first number, raged up the Quays composing a letter in his head for the Irish Times. Joyce would have been scared stiff by the noise and the crowd…Sam Beckett might have tried to persuade him that Bob was a fan and had read Dubliners…Joyce would have said ‘The hat worries me. Does he carry a gun?’
And of course Paddy Kavanagh and Flann O’Brien would have given the whole shebang a miss and hissed at each other in McDaid’s bar…

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