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.