CLANCY - LIVE IN CLEVELAND
A yellow and white spotlight casts a larger than life shadow
on the white wall that fills in as backdrop in the small box
of the pub. Like the man on stage, larger than life. The smells
of old smoke and the heavy trail of Guinness keep the air
cleaner hard at work. Every seat is taken and more than a
few of the 150 plus in attendance are left standing.
The sea-captain eyes, startling blue sky but a bit shaded,
take in the room as if measuring the audience for their ability
to laugh and enjoy all that life has to offer. Eyes that glitter
with mischief and half hidden evaluation of all he sees. You
sense this man loves a practical joke and can barely keep
himself from laughing. The sheepskin colored cap corrals in
some of the red hair turning sand and with the small lonely
concertina set alone on the stage give proof --Authentic Irish
-- both the pub and the singer on stage, are authentic Irish.
Liam Clancy, the youngest, and the last surviving, member
of the musical group, the Clancy Brothers, who along with
Tommy Makem, ignited the mad birth of Irish music in the United
States with their appearances on the Ed Sullivan show, has
“Rise Again, Rise Again,” starts without notice
and Liam is off and running in a non-stop feast of song, story
and poetry that just left the audience shaking their heads
is awe. From this very first tune, “The Mary-Ellen Carter,”
Liam is joined in the rousing choruses and listened to intently
otherwise. Poems follow, delivered with all the skill and
drama that Liam has learned over a lifetime of performing,
acting and producing.
A brief tribute to the ‘”savage poetry’
[that’s a compliment] of Irish poet Patrick Kavanaugh
-- “The man who knows his own ½ acre knows his
universe,” reading from his autobiography; The Mountain
of the Woman, and humorous stories of his early travails as
a performer -- “just trying to get home” are balanced
with a thunderous “John Tennaka.” The hard staccato
of Liam’s shoes on the unfinished plywood stage give
the songs a different volume and capture you without any resistance
-- or even awareness.
The poet recites, from memory, “My Soul is an Old Horse,’
and he grabs us by the hand, taking us with him, for he is
so gone, gone back to the time in the poem. Liam has gone
into his mind and wherever the poem is living. His eyes are
barely open and you wonder if he is even aware of where he
is. He is “as regal as the flying horse” of the
Liam comes back to earth to talk of his first time in Cleveland
and meeting John Glenn, who took the Clancy’s to lunch
so he could get to know them better.
“If I had known I was going to live this long, I’d
have taken better care of myself,” he jokes as he pauses
for a drink of water and follows with a preview of the 2nd
half of the show where he will share ‘”songs by
friends of mine and the stories around the songs.”
The first half of the show ends with a dramatic and moving
rendition of Liam and Tommy Makem’s [The Band Played]
“Waltzing Matilda,” written by Eric Bogle. Those
little blue eyes are again striking, not here at all, but
rather, lost in the song, lost in Gallipoli. Except for the
dancing fingers on the buttons of the concertina., the yellow
spotlight brings out that there is not a movement out of Liam
as he performs the song. He is still, the room is stiller.
“I’m a rambler, I’m a gambler, I’m
a long way from home…,” starts off the second
half of the show and the energy in the balladeer has the whole
room singing along to “The Rambler.” “Red
is the Rose,” follows, which Liam recounts he learned
from Tommy Makem’s mother, Sarah. It is striking in
its’ emotion and with the next song Liam sings, “Go,
Lassie Go” forms a beautifully sung change of pace.
Liam’s rendition of Ewan MacColls’ “The
Bonny Shores of Erin” is sung after Liam garnishes the
story behind the song with a little history of MacColl, including
recounting some of MacColl’s other songwriting successes,
including, “The First Time Ever I saw Your Face,”
recorded by Roberta Flack.
But it is when Liam’s voice changes to gravel, edgy,
and launches into “Now I’m Easy,” by Eric
Bogle, that he is at his best. My eyes close and I can feel
the pain of the man in the song as he laments the loss of
his wife and children:
My daughter married young, and went her own way
My sons lie buried by the Burma Railway
So on this land I've made my own, I've carried on a-lone
But it's nearly over now, and now I'm easy
The “Irish Rover” then broke the melancholy of
the previous song and had everyone clapping and shouting out
the words. A loud request rang out for “Dirty Old Town.”
Liam countered “Ahh, it’s not that bad. I’ve
been in worse. Have you ever been in Pittsburgh?”
Clancy masterfully managed the up and down emotions of his
performance again, reciting the tribute that he was asked
to write for a memorial service for Luke Kelly. Liam was on
tour at the time of the service and couldn’t attend,
but sent the tribute for a friend to read at the service.
“Joy & anger mixed in a powerful blend – that
was your hallmark – then as always – joy in the
act of singing, anger in the word that spoke of injustice.
… A small throng of the living, among the great throng
of those gone before us, and behind us come, the new generation.”
The heart felt emotion of the reader as he recited the prose
for Luke that talked of them playing together in Dublin and
seeing Luke again when the time comes was palpable, even twenty
The show then ended with Liam talking of earning his stripes
in Greenwich Village, and the back room of the Whitehorse
Tavern, where so many Irish Folk performers first played.
He reminisced about the influence and liking he had for Dylan
Thomas, reciting from one of Thomas’ poems that Liam
had learned while with Dylan at the Longshoreman’s Bar.
Most appropriately, “I’m a Free Born Man of a
Traveling Man” rang out to end the show.
After a long ovation, Liam came back on stage for an encore
and ended in a soulful and very apt, “The Parting Glass,”
-- just the concertina and the voice. With a wave, he was
gone. A bit of living history, dramatic and too short in duration.
Liam Clancy in concert is a living history lesson. It touches
on so many of the songs, stories and prose that we all touched,
while living and growing up.
Context, Liam gives it all context - and emblazons it in our
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Freedom’s Sons are singing;
singing sad songs,
to their love, songs.
Pretty Maggie O’, Sally O’,
Pretty Saro and Rosie.
a Song For The Children.
In The Time Of Scented Roses,
let they be not black,
The Long Woman’s Grave.
Rather Sing Me The Old Songs;
of Rambling Rivers
in The Rambles of Spring,
Clear Blue Hills
or Grey October Clouds,
among Long Winter Nights.
If I should return,
If You Should Ask Me,
I’m Going Home To Mary,
I can see her, as she holds
our Gentle Annie in her arms,
The Listowel Blackbird sing;
Music In The Twilight,
In Newry Town
I will return again.
John O'Brien, Jr.