Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Tommy Makem (1932-2007)

Man, it's been a rough couple weeks for artist deaths. There's Bergman (I'm still finishing my post on him) and Antonioni, on the same day. Meanwhile, I just learned that Irish folk singer Tommy Makem, a giant in his field, died on August 1st. He was 74 and apparently in poor health for the past few years. Here's his Wiki entry and his site.

I saw Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy perform a few times when I was a teenager, and they always were high energy, giving a very good show. In fact, their live albums are easily their best, for any combination of Makem and Clancys. Many of the first songs I learned to play (when I was first learning the guitar, at least) were Celtic or other folk songs, and quite a few were performed by Makem and Clancy. Some of the videos below aren't great quality, and some are just audio, but they give a good taste.

(One warning: The Makem and Clancy Concert is a fantastic album, and probably the best Tommy and Liam did together, but the CD messes up the original song order and cuts their astounding cover of Maine folk singer Gordon Bok's "Peter Kagen and the Wind." As far as I know, that's only available on the cassette version, which these days is likely to be hard to find.)

Well, here's a little YouTube wake for Tommy. "Rambles of Spring" is a rollicking tune written by Makem, and he often kicked off concerts with this. (I played this one in a band in college.)

"Four Green Fields" is probably Makem's most famous original song. Some folks just assume it's a traditional song, and by now I suppose it is. This video is just stills of Makem, but the audio's clear.

This is just audio as well, "The Patriot Game," with Liam I think singing, from the old Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem days. There's another YouTube video of the song, but the video is either wrong for the audio or horribly out of synch. I always think this ironic, biting, poignant song makes a nice balance with the patriotic overtones of "Four Green Fields."

"The Rocky Road to Dublin" has a great, infectious rhythm:

Here's "Will You Go, Lassie, Go," also known as "Wild Mountain Thyme." I've always thought this is one of the prettiest of Celtic tunes.

Much covered, the song "The Irish Rover" is a fun, well-known song:

Finally, Tommy's remaining most famous song is probably "Red is the Rose," still one of the prettiest tunes I've ever heard. The melody is lifted from "Loch Lomond," of course, so Tommy can only take credit for the words, but it's still lovely. This video is only audio (and lyrics), but you can hear Tommy and Liam sing it.

Here's Nancy Griffith singing it with The Chieftans, in a decent version:

But this version by the Holohan Sisters & Joe Kerr is very pretty indeed. (I don't think I've ever seen someone sing lead while clutching her knees!)

There are also many tribute videos springing up on the web, and I hope more original video will be posted in the next month as well. Tommy Makem is already missed, but his influence undoubtedly lives on. Makem and the Clancys brought folk music, and Irish folk music in particular, to new prominence in America and around the world. Rest in peace, Tommy.

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