Tommy Makem - Irish Folk Singer
Tommy Makem, I think it's all started subconsciously I remember first time I ever performed in public was at the market house in Keady. I was 5 years old and I sang the little beggar man which had learned from my mother and I remember my sister Mona get my bed that's open pushed me up against a wall and she says if you start this too high I'll murder you before you get home to mama and she'll more do when you get home would you bigger answer so would you please now put your hands together and give a welcome to your own Tommy Makem [Applause] [Applause] the home-wind gentle swing was reading all around but bitten slung across my back my hazel stick in hand I knew it fine good music in long days yet to come put pressure on the company all winter long home those long winter nights the Firebird and right the Fiddler's in the court of by the flickering firelight the company will make your spirits right there's music in the rafters all along winter nights.
I was born and raised of course in Keady County Armagh and I always refer to it as the hub of the universe the linen industry was very big in Katy you know hundred years ago our less much less my mother and all her family worked in it my father worked in the Flex Mellie it was a scorcher my mother was a noted singer and she had a huge collection of songs all in her head very good folk songs and my father led the fiddle and flute and there was always music in and around the house all the girls in the Millers my mother told me and would all have these songs and if someone came with a new song it was like a gift to everyone I know my mother had the great capacity for here in a song maybe twice and she would know the entire lyrics and the tune and would never forget them.
My mother also told me about down on the parade as we called it this the footpath this the street where we lived they used to dance every night when there were young girls after coming out of the middle they'd be working from like 6:00 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening and when they get out of the Middle's and had a bite eat the beard dancin' and if there wasn't a fiddle player around or harmonica player or a whistle player they were all singing and lived for the dancing in the wrestling would dance just on the street.
I wanted to be an actor and failing a theatrical life I thought maybe a journalist would be good or a photojournalist even I was offered a job at the Old Vic which seemed very glamorous to go to the Old Vic in England but then I began to think well there's a tremendous amount of excellent actors around around London and around the old vacant Bristol or wherever and I thought thought there be more opportunities in America so I decided I would come to America and try my fortune in America as an actor.
I had more relations in Dover New Hampshire than ahead in Ireland my mother's entire family moved here her two sisters and four brothers all had moved here they had all been weavers and spinners and so forth in the middle Katie and then they came to America and that's where they went to work here in Dover New Hampshire in the cotton mills and later on in woollen Mills alas none of them left here now they're all along the mills and my aunt snuggles I must have been 20 21 somewhere in there I gone to New York see the Patrick stay rain and Paddy Clancy asked me if I would sing at a concert in a theater called the circle in the square down in the village in New York and I said sure here we were living oral tradition we had these songs that were handed down, not necessarily said here's a song you should learn but just it was there by osmosis.
I knew hundreds of songs that I didn't learn you we spent two or three days and endless foolscap pages with names every conceivable name you could think of the moonshiners and the blacksmith's and the Chieftains and the Druids and that fili whatever we had pages and reams of names and we couldn't agree on any of them we all agreed that the four of us would have that would have to be unanimous before and Inge would be pushed down anyone's throat so we arrived out in Chicago still not knowing what we would want to be called an Allen Rebecca had the name up on the board in outside the gate of horn in Chicago the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and that's where the name came for my most memorable moment was we did a there was a show done for President Kennedy in Washington and there were a lot of performers on it and we did the whole diary spit on it and I wrote new words to an old song called no Irish needed, like no we want no Irish here and he got a good kick home but that's alright ill I go home I left in 1969 I left the tanzy brothers because I felt we were in a very comfortable groove and I felt that there was no challenge for me there either as a performer and I hadn't really gotten into writing you know had written a bit but I wanted to get in a bit more to that and everything was much too comfortable you would go to do a concert somewhere the place would be packed you could sing the songs and you knew you were going to get a great reaction to them but there wasn't I this was just a personal thing I felt the need to a bit more challenge guns as brave as were the far uhh my 4/3 well blue once again say see.
I wrote four green fields in 1967. I was driving to Newry and it was between the customs posts and there was a woman on the road and the word she had two or three cows two or three cattle there with her and I began to think you know I I had an inkling that there were maybe bad times coming up and it's always been that's the tradition that in bad times Ireland was always referred to as an old woman like the hag of there and in good times she would be referred to as a beautiful young queen like Kathleen II hula horn but I saw the old woman on the road and here she was in no-man's land between the two customs huts and I began to think there's something in the in the offing here and I don't know what it is but it doesn't it looks ominous in streets of Belfast and here the people will cry for justice long denied them and their Brian fills the sky for the winds of change are singing bringing hope from dark despair there's a day of justice carving soon you can feel it in the air and the winds are singing freedom it's a time laid out for laughing was a time laid out to weep there was a time laid out for sewing and a time laid out truly there's a time to love your brother there's a time for hate to cease of your soul the seeds of justice peace the winds are singing freedom I became an American citizen because this country has been very good to me and I
hope I have contributed something to this country but I'll always be an Irish man of course up along just have maybe a hundred yards less of the of the block here from us there's an old graveyard and I thought it was most peculiar when I saw it first because I went in and was looking around all the headstones and someone quite old by American standards you know 1840s and 1830s 1860s and an inordinate amount of them from our own country Ayanna McGinnis they're also from around Derry news in Katie Brian but the peculiar thing that I found was that they put her there Irish address on the headstone and it was pretty touching because here were people that came out and emigrated and they knew they were never going to get back but they never lost the touch the ties were very strong [Music] you it's midsummer June 14th 16:46 all along the banks of the river black water that divides her long from our man two armies have gathered to do battle the English army were under the command of Munro who was a noted military tactician all over Europe he had been sent to Ireland with thousands of well-equipped battle-hardened soldiers to quell the O'Neill once and for all the O'Neill the great chieftain of Ulster the O'Neill and all his predecessors had been a terrible thorn in the English side for many many years the Irish Army on that day were commanded by a chieftain called Own Roe O'Neill.
He had a right tag of an army some of them were on horseback most on foot some of them had swords and Lance's and Spears but the majority of them had cuddles and rocks and stones over O'Neill set his army upon a little hill at the village of Ben Berg overlooking the Blackwater River and he wouldn't let them start the fight they all were aching to get at the fighting he wouldn't let them start it until the Sun had come round to the West in the evening and was shining in the enemy's eyes on Raw Neil won a very unexpected victory on that day that sort of colored Irish history for many years to come one of his soldiers is telling you about what happened at the Battle of Danberg it's June 14th 1646 [Music] and we kept all at forenoon our fall men at bay we long for their praise we prayed for the fray for our chief bittersweet till leave and be gone then rush and our foals with our backs to the Sun then hurrah for the red hand at dawn to a man our columns fall down like a storm on their man there was panic before us and panic beside as their horsemen flew back in oil Robin time [Music] we took from our foes air that comes when I fall their horses and package their banners and all that we sat around the campfire and drank in the grow ass to our leader Lula brave on roll a lot life to our chieftain the brave Own Roe [Music]
I found in Ireland that a lot of people don't pay much attention to their own culture they're more interested in well we're really European you know and we have all these computer operators that we are sending all over Europe is not wonderful but you could come you can cut a computer operator out of the hedge but where are you going to find poets and singers and dancers and writers and actors and so forth we have a an overpowering deluge of of wonderful artists painters so forth that's what we should be shipping to Europe and trying to take our rightful place as the cultural center of Europe because in in the early centuries the three centers of culture in Europe were Rome, Barcelona and and they still could be we could be the leading cultural country in Europe I hope TV doesn't say they told him opinion on Donna McArdle from the most are offended probably ain't great [Music] and leave the hardwoods in a when the mob Plaza flourish and this clumsy buddy graceful child he said the smudge again from the Fiddler's arm is magic in this town let's magic in the dancer speed and the way people smile.
in a bird song in the morning you're the laughter all the children at airplay or my hope and joy and wisdom you're my reason just for living you're my expression you're my very night and day and if we can pick it up he could help us to sing it Jenny a Gentle Annie you're my treasure you're my very night and day even mountains all come tumbling and the earth has starved it's turning when the winds don't roll stars refuse to show when the moon has left the heavens and the seven seas are empty I will still have gentle Annie on my mark gentle Annie I will still have gentlelady on my mom [Music] gently gently I will still have gentlelady on my mom [Music] well the secret of our marriage is that I don't sing and Tommy doesn't touch the checkbook kids go to Boston when his contract with somebody in Vermont my sons that were all born in Ireland but they were all raised here I'm done and then he's there right and like all kids here that would have been into rock and roll quite a bit but every once in a while I would hear my own recordings coming in the middle of the rock'n'roll and then when they all got through college they had to say that they wanted to be singers and get into folk music and they're very deeply into it quite deeply and they're very involved in Irish culture you [Music]
oh my love retail lament for our departed friend and we remain unto God for what is a we pray that God might guide us and deepest by his hand and send enough spare winds way let's see unknown for you [Music] he's thinking this is son of man he's thinking about taking up the Fiddler's know whether he will or not I don't know pick that one yet you build all the frets on it to make it easy to play for real well I have left them all this songs I might have left them I hopefully with a great desire to learn more about Irish culture in protector and Celtic culture in general and they are all very interested in it love to go to Ireland and have a great deep love and I might add a great respect for their culture and I hopefully that's what I have given to them to carry on to another generation we're saying ooh the summertime is common and the trees are sweetly bloomin' and the wild mountain thyme rolls around will you.
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