Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Loyal Friends, Dublin 1991, Paul Brady and Kevin Conneff

Both of these guys have something in common with me and that is their loyalty. If they say something they really mean it. I first got to know Kevin in the early 60s, as I attended different fleadhanna around the country. One of these in particular was in Elphin, Co Roscomon in 1963. The fun was mighty as I set about painting the town red and every other color over that weekend. That's where I met Kevin for the first time. Each time I meet Kevin, he jokes "remember Elphin!" and we just laugh. As I remember Elphin, there are so many memories, I'll post them (the ones I can!) separately here.

In those days, Kevin had founded a great club in Slattery's of Capel Street called the Tradition Club. He went on to master the bodhrán and a fine repertoire of songs, to become by 1976, a member of the Chieftains.

Occasionally, when I return to Ireland to play a concert, it's Kevin who shows up to give me support.

Paul and I go back to the early 60s to the time of the Folk Revival. Paul Brady was a member of The Johnsons, who were becoming famous in that era, and had a regular spot in Tallaght at The Embankment, once a week. There guests would include Paul--solo--myself, and Joey Walsh bodhrán. Paul sang songs from across many traditions. I remember "The Flower of Sweet Strabane," as was often sung "I Gave My Love a Cherry." I asked him to back me one night, and he said he never backed reels and jigs before but that he would give it a try. This was beginning of a long musical friendship, and to this day Paul credits me with introducing him to Irish traditional music.

Paul shared an apartment at the time with Mick Moloney in Rathmines, and I was more often there than at my own home four miles away in Drimnagh. My mother never knew about this other address, and would wonder where I had been all night, as I screeched to a halt outside 92 in my Volkswagon. I can see her looking at me now, with raised eyebrow, but I knew how to smooth things over, and make the best of it. And so, just before crashing for the morning after a long night of music, I'd open the car door for her, and drive her down Mourne Road to church for the mass she attended every morning at 6am--just as I was getting in.

In 1991 I was invited to play at the Dublin Folk Festival, but there was a scheduling conflict with Paul, who had another gig open for him in London. He was sorry that he could not play with me. The current great guitar player, Mark Kelly, from Altan, obliged and we ran through the tunes in my room before going to the venue where the concert was to take place. We got the call that we were up next and headed for the stage. While standing in the lobby, among old friends, the door behind me flew open and hit me in the back, and this this wild looking man burst through and said "James! we'll take no prisoners!" Paul had managed to swing a last minute flight from London, and we explained to Mark about our friendship and feelings for old time's sake. And Mark was gracious to agree to let Paul take his place, and accompany me. It was a last minute change-up, but Paul, Kevin and myself took the stage. It was like being at the Embankment and the Old Sheiling again.

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