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 taken stage.

“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 poem.
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 years later.

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 memories.

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From Tommy's Song

Freedom’s Sons are singing;
singing sad songs,
to their love, songs.
Pretty Maggie O’, Sally O’,
Pretty Saro and Rosie.

for some,
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,
Smiling Mary
I can see her, as she holds
our Gentle Annie in her arms,
listening to
The Listowel Blackbird sing;
Music In The Twilight,
In Newry Town

I will return again.

                  ~ John O'Brien, Jr.

John O’Brien, Jr.
14615 Triskett Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44111-3123
P 216.647.1144

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