Monday, August 18, 2008

Ronnie Drew & The Dubliners

Ronnie Drew, founder of The Dubliners, died yesterday at the age of 74.

When I was growing up my parents only had a handful of records, mostly albums of folk songs and ballads recorded by The Spinners, The Corries and The Dubliners.

These were three bands who had apparently fallen foul of some folk purists for crossing over to a mass audience: 'The Spinners, The Corries and The Dubliners... have entered the cabaret and concert arenas with great success and have, as a result, largely lost their original folk following' (Fred Woods, The Observer's Book of Folk Song in Britain, 1980). In doing so though they achieved what some folkies had only theorised, the creation and dissemination of a body of English/Caribbean (Spinners), Scottish (Corries) and Irish (Dubliners) songs that large numbers of people sang in pubs, homes and in their heads. I doubt it if my parents ever went to a folk club in the 1960s and 70s, but thanks to bands like these on TV, radio and record, I did grow up knowing some great old songs - apparently my dad used to sing The Wild Colonial Boy to me when I was a baby to stop me crying.

But The Dubliners were in a class of their own, with raucous voices and broad accents quite at odds with some of the effete renditions of Irish songs that preceded their fine example. They popularised a huge repertorie, including not just older traditional songs like Whiskey in the Jar and The Black Velvet Band, but rebel songs, workers' songs (the wobbly anthem Joe Hill and Springhill Mine Disaster) and bawdy drinking songs - their version of The Seven Drunken Nights was banned in Ireland. Their Dublin song Take Her Up to Monto features the Queen being told to "Póg mo thóin" ('Kiss my ass'), the original name for The Pogues (Pogue Mahone), a band whose existence is barely thinkable without The Dubliners.

Here they are singing McAlpine's Fusiliers, Dominic Behan's London Irish ballad reflecting the experience of Irish workers on English building sites (MacAlpine's being a British construction company). In the early 1990s I used to play in a session with Irish and Scottish musicians in a pub in Lambeth (opposite the Imperial War Museum), and this was one that used to get sung nearly every Sunday lunchtime.

I haven't got time to post on some of the other musical legends who' ve died recently, so check out Bob from Brockley for an appreciation of Isaac Hayes (Pop Feminist has the best photo) and Jerry Wexler (a man who once said he would like the words 'more bass' written on his tombstone - so say all of us).


Anonymous said...

(big up for this)

RIP Ronnie.

A gentleman and a scholar.

Transpontine said...

Yes and he was a scholar too. There's a patronising notion that people like Ronnie Drew just imbibed all those songs with their Guinness, actually there was a lot of work and study involved.

Martin said...

Yeah, apart from some of my mum's disgusting Willie Nelson/Waylon Jennings crap, my parents' record collection was almost exclusively Irish folk, more stuff on the Fontana label than I could shake a shelailigh at...when I first tried to fool around with teenage ' bands' in Luton at 14, I really wanted to do a punk cover of "Black Velvet Band", musical incompetence kind of screwed up that plan...

Have to say my favourite version of 'Mc Alpine's Fusiliers' is by Noel Murphy, he did more verses about how the bosses fucked the navvies around, mentions the Blitz and namechecks The Crown in Cricklewood, where I did a fair amount of drinking in front of the fire after Parcelforce late shifts...

One of the old Dubliners LP back cover sleeve blurbs described Ronnie Drew's throaty vox as resembling "a lump of coal being crushed under an iron gate", which is brilliant. RIP

Transpontine said...

There's a later Ronnie Drew version complete with the spoken word 'craic was good in Cricklewood' introduction on youtube here.