Saturday, March 17, 2012

Irish Accents: An Old Irish Song

Japanese garden in Kildare Co., Ireland

The Rain Book: An Old Irish Song


It's finally March 17th, St. Patrick's Day, and what better song for someone of multi-generational Irish heritage like me to post than something directly from…Japan.

I'm not a video gamer, but I do know that the Japanese take their game music pretty seriously. Three albums of Celtic music alone (and seven other albums) were created for the Playstation role-playing video game series Genso Suikoden. This song is every bit as evocative of the Emerald Isle as some of the other things we've shared this week, don't you think? I mean, it's even called An Old Irish Song, right? That's good enough for me!

Irish Accents: The Troubles

The Roches: The Troubles


"The Troubles" generally refers to the period of unrest in Northern Ireland between the late 1960's and the late 1990's. Ireland is a former colony of England, and won its freedom after a civil war in the 1920's. However, England retained control over the six counties of Northern Ireland. There was much violence during the Troubles, originating from protests against the British Army and the majority Protestant population by the Catholic minority.

This song, off the Roches' self-titled 1979 album, makes mention of the situation, ("We'll try not to get in the way of the guns, as we always do"), but it mostly imagines a forthcoming visit to Ireland and what they expect. Which doesn't include green hills or castles, etc.

Guest post by Paul T

Irish Accents: The Unicorn

The Irish Rovers: The Unicorn


The Irish Rovers were a Canadian band whose members were all born in Northern Ireland. Their highest charting song in the U.S. was this tune, which isn't about Ireland or immigrants, but is associated with the theme because of the band. The words to the tune are based on a poem by Shel Silverstein, which is in a slightly different form in Where the Sidewalk Ends." Silverstein isn't Irish either, but he was successful writing songs for other people.

Guest post by Paul T

Friday, March 16, 2012

Irish Accents: Forty Shades of Green

Rosanne Cash: Forty Shades of Green

[purchase (Johnny Cash original)]

The song "Forty Shades of Green" is not native to Ireland. Arkansas-born Johnny Cash, of English and Scot descent, wrote it in the United States, after returning from a 1959 visit to the Emerald Isle. In his travelogue, Cash recalls the sights of Ireland and the lyrical town names he encountered -- among them Dingle, Donaghadee, Skibbereen and Tipperary. That Cash is a visitor, rather than a native, is underscored as he recalls, "The breeze is sweet as Shalimar." Shalimar has nothing to do with Ireland -- it's an Asian-influenced perfume favored by Cash's then-wife Vivian.

Cash recorded "Forty Shades" in 1961. Though it was never released as a single in the United States, it achieved great popularity in Ireland, where it was adopted as a kind of local anthem. It also is the last song Cash and his daughter, Rosanne, recorded together, for the PBS documentary The Appalachians. (Watch the moving clip here.) In the film, Rosanne recalls an Irish native insisting her father's song must be "a fine old Irish folk song."

Rosanne takes her turn with her father's song on a recording from the BBC TV series Transatlantic Sessions, accompanied by Jerry Douglas on dobro and Scottish fiddler Aly Bain.

Irish Accents: Wake Up Now

Big Bag of Sticks: Wake Up Now

[contact Big Bag of Sticks to purchase the album Short Term Memory]

Ireland is an island nation. As such, music from many lands has reached her shores. The bouzouki is an instrument that has become popular with traditional Irish musicians, but it was brought to the Emerald Isle by Greek sailors. Still, Irish reggae? I’ve got it right here.

Wake Up Now dates from 1997, when the ska craze from England was reaching Ireland, and UB40 were still popular. Still, the fiddle parts here make the song definitely Irish. It’s a combination that shouldn’t work, but does. In 1997, Big Bag of Sticks were a working band. Much later, members would go on to form Queen Elvis, still a highly original group, but with music that connects more solidly with Irish traditions. That’s how I first heard of them. Surprisingly, Big Bag of Sticks still exists, but now they only get together for special occasions.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Irish Accents: Rainy Night In Soho

The Pogues: Rainy Night In Soho [purchase]

I remember it well.

The table is strewn with empty pint glasses, the ash tray is overflowing and last orders were called longer ago than the man behind the bar cares to remember.  Reluctantly, you stagger out into the hazy London evening, the streets wet and glistening and the icy drizzle doing its utmost to keep you awake long enough to find your way to the tube station.  At Piccadilly Circus you go your separate ways - some head home, some wander off in search of a late license.  You'll see everyone again tomorrow, of course, thirsty as ever.

Except when you don't.  Rainy nights in Soho seem an awfully long way away now, preserved in romantic memories of the good times, untainted by anything but an intellectual understanding that there were bad times too.  We watched our friends grow up together and we saw them as they fell: some of them fell into Heaven, some of them fell into Hell.  Too true, and one can't help but wonder which way one would or could have fallen had one just tripped one time too many.

The swooning romance of this song always appealed to me, romantic that I was.  That I am.  You're the measure of my dreams, Shane tells his companion, and our hearts soar.  One day I met the measure of mine and she made sure I didn't fall into Hell.  This week's theme is in honour of St. Patrick's Day, of course, but I think I'll break ranks and wish everyone a Happy Persian New Year instead: it's about renewal and hope, and my fervent hope is that when you fall you fall into Heaven too.

Irish Accents: Rise Above It

Afro Celt Sound System : Rise Above It


My very first SMM post featured this fantastic group, Afro Celt Sound System. That week's theme was Instrumentals, so I couldn't post this song at the time, but it's my favorite. To me it exemplifies their sound: a unique blend of traditional Irish melodies with African rhythms and rock overtones. In addition to the regular (large) membership, we're treated to guest vocals by Irish singer/songwriter Mundy and a special treat of Eileen Ivers on fiddle.

Irish Accents: “Danny Boy” Collected

Frank Patterson: Danny Boy


Sam Cooke: Danny Boy


The Pogues: Danny Boy


Richard Thompson: Danny Boy


Jackie Wilson: Danny Boy


Elvis Presley: Danny Boy


“Danny Boy” has to a certain degree become the Irish-American anthem, with its overtones of exile, of loved family left behind, and the hazy prospect of return in the far future. So it’s a touch ironic that the tune – the “Londonderry Air” – is an anthem of Northern Ireland, that the lyrics were written by the Englishman Frederic Weatherly, that the song’s only about a hundred years old, and that the fist recording seems to be by a German singer. None of this means anything, of course; by now, there are any number of references to “Danny Boy in Irish-American culture, books that take almost every line of the lyrics as titles, and even a “Danny Boy” Premium Irish whisky (see picture). Any reference to the song is instant Hollywood shorthand for the Emerald Isle.

Before the song got wrapped up in manufactured Blarney, “Danny Boy” took roots in America in the ‘30’s and the ‘40s – promoted in part by versions by Bing Crosby and (in the movie Little Nellie Kelly) Judy Garland. In the 1950’s, it became one of a handful of ‘white’ standards that R&B artists added to their songbook, and at the same time, it drifted into the country repertory as well, (including Bill Monroe, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash in 1965 and again in the American sessions at the end of his life).

As far as I go, there’s no recorded version anywhere that sounds as good as it does when sung sometime after 1 AM with a bunch of friends, all several sheets to the wind. But it seems wildly unjust to subject anyone not wearing beer headphones to that experience, so – a few judicious nominations.

My own personal favorite is by Frank Patterson, a classically trained tenor who decided to follow in the Irish tenor tradition established by the likes of John McCormack. This is the version that’s best known from the Thompson gun scene in Miller’s Crossing.

Sam Cooke covered it on his first secular album. Predictably, Cooke sang the hell out of it (compare Jackie Wilson's version, from his first album; he took it to some very unusual places that I’m not sure it was supposed to go to).

Finally, two down-to-earth takes: a reverent a capella cut by Cait O’Riordan and the Pogues from the unfortunate film Straight to Hell, and a live set-closer from Richard Thompson. Good stuff.

Guest post by Neil

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Irish Accents: Bull Run Paddy/On the Turnpike

David Bromberg: Bull Run Paddy

Despite appearances, David Bromberg is not actually a NY Jew (as I previously suggested) : he hails originally from NJ and his current domicile is Delaware ( = none of the above).

Among the most eclectic and most accomplished guitarists alive, (his official website lists the multitude of concerts he has performed over the years!), the man is a stringed instrument master. He's a finger picker par excellence (you know when they use those thumb and finger picks that they're serious) in addition to playing slide guitar, fiddle and more. His genres include folk, rock, country ... and span various cultural influences: not the least of which includes the Irish.

For my part (in addition to his obvious comfort on the stage), one of his most endearing skills is the way he can tell a story in the midst of a song. In fact, this is a trademark of his style: he puts the song on pause and adds a few lines of related dialogue - bring in the audience, comment on the saga behind the song, and then continue. His better known tunes such as Sharon, I Like to Sleep Late and Demon in Disguise are classics of this style (and you can watch him do them here.)

As for the Irish, he's done several tunes over the years. Herewith/above, you'll hear a fiddle medley from his 1977 Reckless Abandon album , complete with a call out to the Irish of America in the lyrics: …” if it hadn't a been for Irishmen, what would your Union done ...?”  This song's got the Irish "stomp", the fiddle, the "whistles" -  what more could you want?

A tip o' the hat to both Darius and Bert for their backing "vocals" in bringing this your way.

Irish Accents: O’Carolan’s Welcome

Joe Ross, Janet Naylor and Friends: O’Carolan’s Welcome


There’s little music as dear to my heart as that of Turlough O'Carolan, last of the Irish bards. Born in 1670, he moved with his family to the Roscommon-Leitrim area while very young. His father was employed at an iron foundry. Totally blinded in his teens by smallpox, Turlough O'Carolan was taken in by Mrs. MacDermott Roe at the Alderford house near Boyle. Here, he studied under a harper for three years. A more creative tale claims that O’Carolan once slept on a fairy rath and forever after heard fairy music to inspire him.

In 1998, an album I produced with harper Janet Naylor (from Eugene, Or.) called "The Harper's Reverie" captures some of O'Carolan's fanciful musings such as the piece offered here, “O’Carolan’s Welcome.” At age 21, equipped with a horse, a guide and money, O'Carolan began his career as an itinerant harper in the province of Connacht. In Irish bardic tradition, the harper was popular and held high social status in the "Big Houses," and tunes composed for his patrons are called "planxties" (musical tributes). Much more than a mere musician or composer, O'Carolan was an honored guest of his patrons and regarded as a sage who articulated eloquence, wit and profundity. And, of course, he kept his patrons informed of the latest gossip collected while traveling the Irish countryside. At one "Big House" in Connacht, O'Carolan was no doubt inspired to write “Welcome” in return for a hot meal and soft bed.

If, by chance, he encountered a less than hospitable host (as he once did at the house of Jennings of Mayo), O'Carolan might be heard ranting, "Devil take the glass that was meant for a dwarf, and the same for the hand that didn't fill it by half!" O'Carolan had numerous romantic affections, and many of his compositions written for his lady loves (such as those to Bridget Cruise) have been irretrievably lost. The influences of Italian composers such as Geminiani and Corelli show in some O'Carolan works.

Sources for most tunes played on “The Harper’s Reverie” album are Edward Bunting's collections of "Ancient Music of Ireland." Bunting transcribed many of the tunes heard at the 1792 Belfast Festival of Harpers, a gathering of musicians interested in preserving this important heritage. At the Harpers' Festival, Bunting witnessed only one harper still using the old fingernail technique (rather than the flesh of the finger), and by the 1820s the great school of Irish harp playing had greatly disappeared.

In 1738, O'Carolan died and was buried at the old 6th century O'Duignan Abbey at Kilronan, his grave adjoining the vault of the MacDermotts. In 1990, my wife (also a harpist) and I were fortunate to attend the Turlough O'Carolan Thirteenth International Harp Festival and visit O'Carolan's gravesite. The Festival is held in the picturesque Irish village of Keadue, County Roscommon, near the shores of Lough Meelagh. Near Castlerea, one of O'Carolan's harps can be found at the 45-room Clonalis House, the ancestral home of Clan O'Conor, who gave 11 high kings to Ireland and 24 kings to Connacht. It was a treasure and inspiration to behold. Another of O'Carolan's harps, a large sycamore instrument with 35 strings, is on exhibit in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.

During his years of itinerant minstrelsy, O’Carolan was said to have composed about 200 pieces of music, although many have been lost. “O’Carolan’s Welcome” will take you on a musical journey back to Ireland. That song (and album it’s from) shape a portrait of another age, one that displays the joys and revelry of life that marked O'Carolan's day. The Irish simply called it "Luinneach" (merry music). Whenever I hear or play Turlough O'Carolan's musical compositions, I experience an epiphany from the beauty, color, emotion, gentleness and melodic expression. I hope you’ll do the same.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Irish Accents: Trouble (With a Capital T)

Horslips: Trouble (With a Capital T)


For a music geek like me, having access to a radio station’s library of music made me feel like a kid in a candy store. When I started training to be a DJ at WPRB, we were encouraged to come to the station’s beautiful basement studios and listen to music. One of the first records I picked out to explore was Horslips’ The Man Who Built America. I think it was the band’s unusual name that grabbed me at first, then the positive review that someone had written on a sticker on the album cover.

I immediately enjoyed their mix of Celtic music and rock; with the prominent flute, it sounded like Jethro Tull without the bombast. Over time, I investigated the other two Horslips albums the station had, Aliens and The Book of Invasions, and saw them as a trilogy—The Book of Invasions was about Irish folklore, Aliens was about the Irish experience immigrating to America, and The Man Who Built America was about the Irish experience in America. I also thought that these were the only three albums the band recorded—it wasn’t until years later, and because of the existence of Allmusic, that I found out that they had recorded a number of albums before these three, and many of them were considered to be better than the three I knew—their earlier sound was more like Fairport Convention or Steelye Span, with some prog rock influences.

The Book of Invasions is subtitled A Celtic Symphony and tells the story of the mythical, pre-Christian colonizers of Ireland, the Tuatha De Danann. Listening to the album as a whole, the band transforms traditional Irish music into rock songs, and there is a mix of modern, electric instruments, and more traditional Celtic sounds. The critics loved this album, much more than the next two, and after a couple more poorly received releases which progressively deemphasized the Celtic folk influences, they broke up. There was a time, in the late 70’s and even the early 80’s, where music like this would be heard on commercial radio, but Horslips never broke through in the U.S. Nevertheless, they are a band worth exploring.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Irish Accents : Christchurch Bells

Hothouse Flowers : Christchurch Bells


Sorry U2. Hothouse Flowers' 1988 album  People, was the best selling debut in the history of Irish pop. Direct musical and spiritual descendants of Van Morrison and The Waterboys, The Dublin band specialized in a Celtic brand of soul. Bono recently called The Flowers' lead singer, Liam O' Maonlai, "the best white soul singer in the world". You really need to own either People or 1990's Home. Probably both.

 The Christ Church referred to in this cut from Home is the medieval cathedral in Dublin. When ringing a peal, the 19 bells in its tower are among the loudest in the world. Liam told an interviewer he and guitarist Fiachna O' Braonain could certainly hear them as they were writing songs in his apartment.

Irish Accents: One Set Reel

The first name that came to mind for me for "Irish tunes" was David Bromberg. I know that he has an affinity for music from those parts (despite his NY Jewish roots). That said, I had to revert to my tried and true resource: A search there for Irish/folk brings up numerous alternatives

- from which I present the following: Brigan Ensemble playing "One Set Reel". You can find lots more information online than I can (or should) provide here about the "reel", but basically it is a dance style that often includes a fiddle (and a stomping rhythm)

The One Set Reel recording here is part of a free and legal file set from by way of

It is backed by a solid strumming guitar line with numerous winds: several flutes of some kind and what appears to be an accordion.

Since my first edit, Darius has dug a little deeper, and reports that Brigan Ensemble appears to be an Italian trio who focus on Celtic music.

Irish Accents: An Irishman in Chinatown

Luka Bloom: An Irishman in Chinatown


This week, we are going to go a little barmy over St Patrick’s Day here on Star Maker Machine, and celebrate for the entire week. They say everyone is Irish on St Pat’s, so all of our songs will be Irish in some sense as well. The fun will be in seeing what that means from song to song. I’m going to start us off pretty close to home. Luka Bloom is an Irish singer-songwriter, and this song has a very traditional sound, musically. But the scene is New York City. Here is a displaced Irishman, a frequent theme in Irish song and story, who meets a woman displaced from China. Or does he? The song also displays that wonderful sense of humor for which the Irish are so justly known.