Tag Archives: Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem

Tommy Makem, 74

Those who know my music know that Tommy Makem’s was one of the first singing voices I ever heard, and to this day, one of my favorites. Somehow I was blissfully unaware of his passing six weeks ago.

CNN has a factual, if inadequate, article.

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Parting Glass for a Fisherman

A lottery winner dies of the shock of winning, and, in a dream, tells his friends to collect the winnings and divide them among all 52 residents of the village. Along the way, we meet a romantic pig farmer and his olfactory-sensitive love interest; a boy who may or may not be his; the witch, the fiddle, and a flying phone box; nearly all the colorful characters who inhabit the quaint Irish village of Tullymore. Along the way, we hear marvelous Irish music, old and new, and in one brief scene, a rarely heard verse from one of the best Irish songs ever recorded.

Waking Ned DivineWaking Ned Divine” isn’t for everyone; the humor is subtle, the accents are thick, and the climax of the story bizarre. I love the movie, but for those who might not, the music transcends the story line (and is available on CD so you don’t have to watch at all.)

The star of the soundtrack is “Fisherman’s Blues” by The Waterboys. I still remember the moment, driving up the Silver Strand to cross the Coronado Bay Bridge to San Diego, that I heard the opening guitar strums, the fiddle joining, then the whole band: drums, mandolin, bass, settling back down into a deceptively simple folk tune about yearning for a simpler life away from the complications of modern things. Steve Wickham’s fiddle is irresistible, and Mike Scott’s singing as ardent as ever.

 I wish I was a fisherman tumbling on the sea, far away from dry land and its bitter memories. Casting out my sweet line with abandonment and love, no ceiling bearing down on me save the starry sky above; with light in my head and you in my arms.

One quibble with the credits on the soundtrack: Shaun Davey, brilliant Irish composer that he is, was only 11 years old the first time the Clancy Brothers recorded “Parting Glass” in 1959, and I’ll bet with digging I could find earlier recordings of it. It seems unlikely, then, that it was written by Davey, as is credited on the album.The final verse holds out hope:

 I know I will be loosened from the bonds that hold me fast; that the chains all hung around me will fall away at last and on that fine and fateful day I will take me in my hands I will ride on the train I will be the fisherman with light in my head and you in my arms

Light in my head, you in my arms—there’s a dream worth chasing.

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem In Person At Carnegie HallOne of the first recordings I ever heard was the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem recorded live at Carnegie Hall in 1962. They closed the concert with what is my favorite version of a great Irish song, “The Parting Glass.” Sung in two different places in “Waking Ned Divine”, it’s the farewell of a dying man.

While the closing scene of “Ned Divine” uses the song in the traditional way, to pay respects to a comrade who has passed, in the middle of the movie, Finn the pig farmer sings the middle verse, which I’ve never heard before:

 If I had money enough to spend, and leisure time to sit awhile. There is a fair maid in this town, that surely has my heart beguiled. Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips, I own, she has my heart in thrall; Then fill to me the parting glass, Good night and joy be with you all.

Taken on its own, out of the context of the lament, it makes a good love song, which is how Finn sings it, loudly, in the middle of main street as he makes his way home from the pub. You’ll have to watch the movie to see whether his dream

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