Sunday, August 5, 2007


The 20th annual Dublin (OH.) Irish Festival ended just a couple of hours ago. And of the many certainties to emerge from this latest gathering of my well-lubricated people, two stand out:

1. With apologies to The Hold Steady, Jesse Malin and anyone else currently plugging in and rocking hard, the best live band going right now is Flogging Molly. As Trip might say, "These guys believe." As Scott might say, "They were un-fucking-believable." What I say: To have been in that steamy, stinking, sweaty tent in Central Ohio when Dave King (above) and his cohorts ripped through their set of joyous Celtic powerhouse rock and roll is to have forgotten all the bullshit and regained your faith.

I've never seen the generational mix — and I mean, enthusiastic, fanatic and willing mix — that we saw tonight. Lacoste-wearing boomers were jabbing their fists in the air alongside redneck kilt-wearers who were next to pierced, mohawked teens who were pogoing in the personal space of , well, us. And we (the missus and I) were screaming at the top of our lungs.

In between long pulls of adult beverages. (Killian's for me and Coors Light for the wife — hey, that's all they had!!!!)

It was rock and roll. It was Irish. It was beautiful.

Frontman Dave King — a Dubliner of the Irish sort — led the band from searing punk-folk tales to soaring heartbroken ballads to all-out fiddle-fueled rave-ups. Christ! I can't sit still even now! Just writing about it!

Ok. There. I'm back.

Dave King is a true believer. He is a storyteller with a punk rock bent who never, ever forgot the old country. He is currently Ireland's most vital rock and roller and Flogging Molly is the band you need to see.

No one needs a set list but I will say that Flogging Molly paid angry, loving tribute to the great Tommy Makem, dedicating "What's Left of The Flag" (from Drunken Lullabies) to his memory.

Flogging Molly was turned down by every label in the universe. Nobody "got " them. Except their fans. Now they have three records out and a cult following and you'll never hear them on the radio.

Believe the non-hype.

See them. Hear them. Be a Rebel of the Sacred Heart.

The Mickey Finns are the next great Irish/NYC bar band and lead growler Ray Kelly is the heir apparent if the throne were shared by Shane MacGowan and Mike Ness.

I had never even heard of these guys before this weekend. In fact, I was a little skeptical of the name. Mickey Finns — it conjured up images of a bar filled with cheesy faux-Irish neon signs and that served green beer on March 17th.

Shows what I know.

Ray Kelly is relentless and intense and has a classic Irish rock and roll snarl. He led the Finns (a band culled from the original line-ups of The Prodigals and Raglan Road) through a tight, nasty set of Irish rockers. The fiddle player, Matt Mancuso, is a virtuoso. He's also an Italian dude from Brooklyn. See, we are a nation of immigrants. Even the Italians are down with paddy.

Here's the thing. The Prodigals played as well. And they are a very good band. And fun in concert. Gregory Grene, the lead singer, is as genial and energetic a performer as you're likely to come across. He is alot of fun.

Ray Kelly moves you.

And he provided the moment of the festival. Taking the mike — and singing a cappella with a barely concealed rage that seemed to shoulder the entire troubled history of his native Ireland — Kelly purged himself of "Sean South", an anthem about a fallen Irish republican made famous by the Wolf Tones. The performance gave me chills and nearly brought me to tears. I'll never forget it.

There were other great moments as well — not the least of which was the furious rendition of "Star of the County Down" by Homeland — a Dayton-area band. It was their tribute to Mr. Makem. Homeland is a solid, reliable band with a lead singer my wife kinda digs so we'll never be seeing them perform live again. They also have a fiddle player who is flat-out brilliant and looks like Oliver Reed circa Tommy with a perpetual hangover. Take a moment.

Finally, the wonder of Black 47. The ageless, nearly translucent and always ecstatic Larry Kirwan never fails to deliver the goods. And he unleashed two heated, politically pointed anti-war songs from their forthcoming record. The reception from the Columbus crowd was decidedly mixed. The reception from me was Fuckin' A, Wally. The songs were great and tragic — less funk and more punk. Which is how I like my Black 47.

If an Irish festival is coming near you — join Paddy Nation for the day.
If not — buy some Irish music, turn it up, tell the neighbors and drink a pint.
Hell, I'll kiss you.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Rough '24 Hours' Continue

World-acclaimed Irish singer, songwriter Tommy Makem dies in N.H.

By David Tirrell-Wysocki, Associated Press Writer | August 2, 2007

DOVER, N.H. --Acclaimed Irish singer, songwriter and storyteller Tommy Makem has died of cancer, ending a worldwide entertainment career that spanned more than five decades. He was 74.

Makem died Wednesday at a nursing home near his home in Dover, surrounded by family and friends, his son, Conor Makem, said Thursday.

Makem grew to international fame while performing with the band The Clancy Brothers And Tommy Makem in the late 1950s and 1960s.

President Mary McAleese of Ireland led the tributes, saying Makem brought happiness and joy to fans all over the world.

"Always the consummate musician, he was also a superb ambassador for the country, and one of whom we will always be proud," McAleese said.

Liam Clancy also remembered his life-long music partner.

"Tommy was a man of high integrity, honesty, and his courage really shone through towards the end," he told RTE Radio in Dublin, Ireland.

Clancy and Makem teamed up after emigrating to the United States from Ireland in the late 1950s where they began careers in acting, before turning to music.

Armed with his banjo, tinwhistle, poetry, stagecraft and his baritone voice, Makem helped spread stories and songs of Irish culture around the world.

"He just had the knack of making an audience laugh or cry... holding them in his hands," Clancy said.

In New Hampshire, Makem performed at the Statehouse this year for Gov. John Lynch's inaugural celebration.

"It was known that he was not well, yet he played with typical passion and wit, evoking tears of joy and sadness from those assembled," Lynch said on Thursday.

He called Makem a state, national and international treasure.

"With a strong voice and even stronger spirit, Tommy inspired millions," Lynch said.

An ailing Makem visited Belfast last month to receive an honorary degree from the University of Ulster and returned to his native Armagh.

Son Conor, accompanied Makem on the trip.

"He had very much wanted to get over there," Makem said. "I think he knew it might have been his last time over."

Conor Makem said his dad basically held court in a hotel.

"Friend and relatives came to visit him and I think he had time of his life visiting with people," he said.

Makem was best known for songs such as The Green Fields of France, Gentle Annie and Red is the Rose.

He brought audiences to tears with perhaps his signature tune, "Four Green Fields," a 1967 folk song about a woman whose sons died trying to prevent strangers from taking her four green fields.

With the Clancy Brothers, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show and on every major television network show in the United States, and they soon became the four most famous Irishmen in the world, according to a biography on his web site.

They played to audiences from New York's Carnegie Hall and London's Royal Albert Hall to every major concert venue in the English-speaking world.

Even while battling cancer, Makem was maintaining a performance schedule, with gigs listed through this fall.

His final performance, Conor Makem said, was last spring at a Gaelic festival in Chicago.

"He had trouble finishing, so I think he did just a few songs in one set," he said.

His web site reported that Makem once was asked if he planned to retire.

"Yes, of course," he said. "I retire every night and in the morning when I awake I realize just how lucky and privileged I am to be able to continue doing the things I love to do."