Saturday, 23 August 2008

Ronnie Drew 16 September 1934 – 16 August 2008

'Twas in the year of 'thirty-nine
When the sky was full of lead
Hitler was heading for Poland
And Paddy for Holyhead
Come all you pincher laddies
And you long-distance men
Don't ever work for McAlpine, For Wimpey, or John Laing
For You'll stand behind a mixer
As your skin is turned to tan
And they'll say 'Good on you Paddy'
With your boat-fare in your hand

The craic was good in Cricklewood
And they wouldn't leave the Crown
With glasses flying and biddy's crying
Sure Paddy was going to town
Oh mother dear, I'm over here
And I'm never coming back
What keeps me here is the reek o' beer
The ladies and the craic

I come from county Kerry
The land of eggs and bacon
And if you think I'll eat your fish 'n' chips
By Jaysus you're mistaken'

Last week saw the passing of another great character of the folk world - Ronnie Drew, founder member of The Dubliners - thank christ we still have CD's and videos to enjoy those wonderful vocals on the likes of McAlpines Fusiliers, Seven Drunken Nights, Spanish Lady etc.

I was just a lad of 15 when I saw the Dubliners in concert (probably the first ever concert I ever attended) and was mesmerised not only by their appearance (these were not clean cut aran sweatered folk singers like The Clancy's) but also by their earthy singing, this was singing that struck your very roots and penetrated to the bone. I was also fascinated by how, every so often, some members of the group would disappear from the stage and it was a while before I realised they were nipping off to sup some of the black stuff.

Joseph O'Connor writing in the Sunday Independent says:

It wasn't the soundtrack to a Bord Failte commercial; it was the music of the real place we lived in then, with its evasions, compromised options and terrible beauties. And nobody sang it like Ronnie. There was only one Luke Kelly, a Caruso of his craft, a maestro we will never see again; Ronnie's genius was different, crackling with subtlety as well as muscle, alive to every phrasing and silence in a song, and together they fronted the kind of band that mattered, and will always matter to lovers of real music.

Luke's voice could lash you like a whip-crack when he wanted it to do that, but Ronnie's gravely rasp seemed to come from someplace under the sea, a sound, as one critic put it, "like someone crunching coal beneath a boot".