I have enjoyed Magic Nights in a thousand places … yet still this tour rolls on. As the end draws closer, I'm enjoying the process more than ever before. Every gig cherished, every song lovingly dispersed.
After the success of the 2017 album On The Road, the team at Columbia Records suggested a follow-on collection of live recordings. This was music to my ears. I never feel entirely at home in Recording Studios.
We began to trawl the archive in search of good recordings (we record every gig). Producer Jim Higgins and Sound Engineer David Meade gleaned numerous versions of songs we felt appropriate for this collection. Then we set about selecting the tracks contained here on Magic Nights. We happened upon riffs that had passed un-noticed, on harmonies that were long since forgotten, on sweet notes that were played but once. We also happened upon good versions of songs that were not on our list … just as we failed to find acceptable versions of songs that were on that list.
Here we go …
Magic Nights In The Lobby Bar — Another gem from John Spillane, this time in collaboration with Ger Wolfe. Each time I sing this song it carries me on a trip around Cork City. Memories flood back from gigs of old, The City Hall with Planxty, Connolly Hall with Moving Hearts, The Opera House, The Everyman Theatre, magic nights with Jimmy Crowley, Natie Comerford, that Woody Guthrie Memorial Gig in The Phoenix, the 1979 Anti-Nuclear Road-Show in The Arcadia Ballroom. John and Ger have weaved a carpet as they created this beautiful song.
Matty — Such a beautifully crafted song from Johnny Mulhearn. My Grandmother Bridie Dowling was a superstitious and lonesome woman. Life lay heavily upon her shoulders. I think of her when I sing this song. She sometimes spoke of those who met their 'Dark Familiar' (Doppelgänger). It was scary stuff for this young boy. Johnny lays it out clearly here. His reference to 'The Curra Line' adds potency as I visualise the 'Curragh' line which runs close to my home town of Newbridge in the County Kildare.
Sonny's Dream — Written by Ron Hynes from Newfoundland this song was carried back to Scotland by Hamish Imlach. I produced Hamish's version in 1983 and subsequently recorded it myself on the "Ride On" album. Subsequently it became part of our national repertoire. When Ron visited Ireland many years later he revealed that he had never heard the last verse before. We have a mystery verse here (But I believe I know who wrote it).
Ringing That Bell — Dylan Walsh is a young Irish singer songwriter working hard out of Nashville. I met him a few years back at The Kilruddery Festival in County Wicklow. He pointed me towards this song and its author Rob Corcoran. Rob is a Dublin singer songwriter working hard at his music in London. Straightaway I tracked him down along the grapevine. He generously gave me the nod and I am very happy to present Rob's song to you. I wish both Dylan and Rob every success upon their journey down the long and windy road. Two hard working and determined Troubadours.
A Pair Of Brown Eyes — Another classic song from the early Pogues repertoire. It remains one of my favourite songs to sing. Seldom in the set for it needs a certain air, it needs the room to be right upon the night. Factors I can neither explain nor analyse. I have a number of songs that are seldom sung. One in particular I have not gigged for 37 years … that's another story …
Sail On Jimmy — Written by Albert Niland from Mountbellew, County Galway. Albert sent me his song from San Francisco. I contacted him immediately and requested permission to cover it. When we first played it, the audience took it up immediately. It's remarkable how they sing on this recording. Hearing it for the first time, they sang as if they'd known the song for years. Many people have had an "Uncle Jimmy" in their lives. A loved one who flew the nest, never again to return.
Burning Times — Since hearing of the cruel murder of Lyra McKee in The Creggan, Derry on April 18th 2019, I've been dedicating this song to Her memory. I did record the late Charlie Murphy's song a number of times but never with the depth of emotion sounded here. This version is from The Waterfront in Belfast and I sincerely hope it is considered appropriate to have made this dedication. Most of us knew little or nothing about Lyra's short life. All of us were shocked by her cruel murder. May her Light continue to shine upon us.
The Tuam Beat — There has long since been a vibrant music scene in the County Galway Town of Tuam. Within the heart of it all is Padraig Stevens. Jim Higgins played this song to me 8 years ago and I was instantly smitten. Every verse a story in itself, a magnetic chorus, a grand three chord tune. What's not to like! I've only ever gigged in Tuam once. That was way back in 1972 with the original Planxty line up.
Back Home In Derry — Every time I sing this song I'm reminded of the conditions under which it was written. Difficult to imagine, awesome to comprehend. A naked young man in a filthy, shit smeared cell protesting his right to political status. Within two years Bobby Sands made the ultimate sacrifice when he was the first of ten to die on Hunger Strike. I've heard many share their memories of Bobby. Descriptions of his love for song, music and poetry. I learned that he knew the songs of Ewan MacColl, that he had attended Planxty Concerts in Belfast.
Rosalita And Jack Campbell — I first heard Seán Mone sing this song at The Frank Harte Song Festival which runs every September in Dublin. I was smitten by the end of the first chorus. I contacted him some time later to seek his permission to record it. It's taken me a few years to find the setting, to achieve a proper "feel to it". For me, it's a very special song. It contains gentle beautiful love, mindless savage violence, stark imagery, heartbreak, fun and loneliness all rolled into a few minutes. The mark of a great songwriter, Seán wrote the melody too.
Duffy's Cut — Wally and Tony wrote this song to accompany a Documentary about the deaths of 57 Irish Workers at Duffy's Cut, near Malvern in Pennsylvania. History recorded that they died of Cholera. Recent excavations suggest otherwise. Some say they were murdered to prevent the spread of Cholera … others suggest a Labour dispute settled when the Railroad Company brought in hired guns.
Motherland — Introducing this song at gigs, I have incorrectly named Natalie Merchant as being from Canada. Natalie is a native of Jamestown, New York, USA.
Spancll Hill — This beautiful song was written by Michael Considine. He was born in Spancilhill in 1850 and died in California just 23 years later. We have many songs in this particular genre but none that evoke such beauty, loneliness and heartbreak. (The Cliffs of Dooneen comes close!) I first heard it sung in John Minogue's Hotel, Tulla, County Clare in 1965 and obtained the lyrics the following day. I recorded it back in 1971 (on the Prosperous album) and revived it again when it was requested in Barrowland, Glasgow in 2016.The Barrowland Choir bring a beautiful atmosphere to this recording.
Before The Deluge — I first met Jackson Browne in Culver City on my first American tour back in 1984. This is a great song to sing. Frequently it becomes imbued with news of the day. It has the facility to take on many different meanings. I first recorded it with Moving Hearts back in 1981. It seldom features in the set these days but when it was called out in Vicar St. Dublin last year I dived in headfirst. The band followed on tight and inventive.
The Two Conneeleys — I started to write this out on Inis Meáin in 1991 after Tomás and Seán Conneeley were lost at sea while fishing out of Inis Oírr. The lyric came quickly and Wally Page wrote this beautiful melody. I sang it two years back at the memorial stone on Inis Oírr that marks the tragedy and remembers all those lost at sea. I also recorded it once with the late Míchéal Ó Súilleabháin … Wally and I have collaborated on numerous songs. His melodies always blend. He is a true Companero in song.
Missing You — It's 33 years since I first recorded this song and I have sung it a thousand times since. It fell from the set in recent years but was much requested when we returned to London this year. I decided to drop it half an octave. It took on a more appropriate atmosphere and became a different song to sing. However, I subsequently returned to the original setting, we are blasting it out again!
Cry Like A Man — Seldom sung but requested, out of the blue, one night above in County Donegal … I took a chance and launched into it … I always cherish these moments … Nights when an unexpected song emerges from the dark … it's like meeting a dear friend after a long absence.
The Reel In The Flickering Light — Written by Colm Gallagher. Colm is a Dublin singer who has spent his life singing in California. I met him after a gig in Culver City. He was playing downtown in L.A. where I heard him sing this wonderful ballad. A very special song sometimes very difficult to gig. I find the imagery startlingly beautiful, the narrative strange and wonderful. I often place myself at a distance, behind a wall, smiling at the good of it all …
Veronica — Written in memory of Veronica Guerin. I began writing within hours of her murder at Newlands Cross, Dublin on June 26th, 1996. Veronica was a courageous Investigative Journalist. She dedicated her working life to the pursuit of those who subsequently ordered her Murder. This song always stills the night as listeners recall her sacrifice and remember the names of those who killed her. It was recorded in Killashee, Naas on Feb 19th 2019. Let us Remember.
Johnny Jump Up — Written by Tadhg Jordan, I learned this song from the singing of Jimmy Crowley over 40 years ago. I'd not performed it for over 20 years when a voice called out in Vicar St. Dublin "Give us Johnny Jump Up". I took a chance and had a run at it. Despite faltering once or twice I made it to the end. I recorded it once before back in 1976 alongside Barney McKenna of The Dubliners. That remains a precious memory. Barney arrived at the studio after midnight and 2 days late. He had a box of fresh mackerel in one hand and his Banjo in the other. I subsequently toured Australia and New Zealand with Barney. Once, on a flight from Perth to Sydney, he asked the attendant for "20 Sweet Afton and a Pint of Guinness". There was never a dull moment.
Inchicore Wake — As often as possible we attend the Góilín Singers Club in Dublin. It was there I heard Anna Buckley sing this song. Straightaway I thought it had a Pete St. John flavour to it. I tracked Pete down and was tickled to find that he had indeed written "Inchicore Wake". Even more so when he gave me permission to record it. I had the pleasure of singing it in The National Concert Hall, Dublin on June 19th 2019 with Pete sitting in the front row. When I introduced him to the audience, 1200 people stood and rejoiced at his presence … and we all sang The Fields of Athenry! … surely Ireland's favourite Folk Song.
Tippin It Up To Nancy — From my earliest repertoire, this song came from John Reilly via The Grehan Sisters. It was included on my first album Paddy on the Road 50 years ago. In 2015 I spent some time with Máirtín O Connor's Band. We gathered in The Royal Spa Hotel Lisdoonvama to rehearse and also played some gigs in 'The Hall'. Listening back, I really liked this version of the old song. In so far as I can tell, A Ship In Full Sail is the name of the Jig that follows after it. Máirtín O Connor, Cathal Hayden, Seamie O'Dowd, Jim Higgins between them have a huge store of melodies … No matter what song I might sing, one of them will always have a compatible tune from their traditional archive. My earliest experience of such collaborations was with Liam O'Flynn in the fledgling Planxty. Liam produced many showstoppers to close out songs …
"When I hit the road with Planxty we spent days and nights in that Transit Van.
Crisscrossing the nation from Kildimo we flew to Kilcrohane.
Merrily we Kissed the Quaker, lay down with the Alligator as we sailed upon the Lakes of Pontchartrain.
Oh the Music and the banter, the sound of Liam Óg 's Chanter, I'll never hear the likes of him again."
Liam óg O'Flynn (1945-2018)
Only Our Rivers Run Free — I first heard this song sung by Cathal McConnell at The Irish Club in Leeds back in 1970. It was on Planxty's first album in 1972.
Hurt — A last minute inclusion in this collection. Way back in my teenage years, Dreamland Ballroom, Athy, County Kildare was a frequent destination. Twas there we gathered to hear Brendan Bowyer & The Royal, Billy Brown's Freshmen, Des Kelly's Capitol, just three of the Bands that fuelled our dreams and fed our fantasies. It was there in 1963 that I heard Johnny Cash … Myself, Johnny Flood, LouLou O'Brien, Billy Parkinson and Mickser Reid stood together and gazed up at this Country Music legend. 56 years later I am booked to play on this very stage. In memory of those youthful times I sang this Trent Reznor song which Johnny Cash made his own … Johnny, LouLou, Billy and Mickser could not be there but they still frequent my dreams …
The Well Below The Valley — One of the pillars of my repertoire, this song has weaved in and out of my setlist for 46 years. It is clearly based upon a story from the Old Testament as sung to me by John (Jacko) Reilly. John's version can be heard on his excellent Topic album The Bonny Green Tree. It was the title song of Planxty's second album in 1973. I recorded a version in Glastonbury on the 2001 Traveller album. There are many variations of this ancient ballad. Recently I heard Martin Carthy sing a version barely recognisable from John Reilly's version but certainly evolved from the same root source. I have altered some of the lyrics across the years. Something I do constantly and unapologetically. Such practice often inflames the angst of Folk Puritans which makes it all the sweeter. I love to hear them bellow.
"Two of them where the Angels lie at the Well below The Valley O"
Mandolin Mountain — In 2018 I was playing in Galway, the hometown of my late friend Tony Small who wrote this song. When I got word that Tony's Sisters and Brother were in the audience we played this version. Their presence added emotion to the performance. I was crossing the Shannon near Athlone when I heard Mandolin Mountain for the first time. Some songs have that impact. I can remember precisely the time and location where I first heard, what turned out to be Tony's last song. We knocked about together in London in the 60's, Berlin in the 80's and many's the time and place betwixt and between. Tony was a kindred spirit. He knew the two days.