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Archive for the tag “bob dylan”

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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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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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…

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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