‘Fairytale of New York’ – the best Christmas song ever?

In late November 1987 The Pogues, featuring Kirsty MacColl, released ‘Fairytale of New York’. It went straight in at number one in the Irish Charts and peaked at number two in the UK, only kept off the top spot by the Pet Shop Boys’ cover of ‘Always on my Mind’. ‘Fairytale of New York’ was composed by Pogues’ banjo player Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan, and featured on The Pogues’ album If I Should Fall from Grace with God. By November 2015 the song had sold 1.18 million copies in the UK alone and was certified platinum in 2013. Its popularity with listeners and critics shows no sign of abating and every December it re-enters the singles charts in the UK and Ireland and many other countries around the world. In Ireland, at least, Christmas hasn’t officially started until you hear ‘Fairytale’ on the radio and it’s often the closing song of the night in pubs and clubs across the country during the festive season.

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Shane MacGowan

What’s so good about it and why is its appeal so enduring?

Fairytale of New York’ is quite simply a masterpiece. Like all great Christmas songs, it’s not really a Christmas song at all. The events just happen to take place at that time of year. Apart from the last line of the chorus and a couple of other cursory references, most of the lyrical content would be considered anathema to everything that the common conception of Christmas brings to mind. Far removed from the Disneyesque setting of most other, more well known, seasonal staples — featuring smiling Santas, prancing deer, and ‘chestnuts roasting on an open fire’ — ‘Fairytale’ would be more at home in the world of the Abbey Theatre of a century ago and has more in common with Synge and his Playboy of the Western World than with Bing Crosby and his ‘White Christmas’.

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Jem Finer

Shane MacGowan’s ingenious tale of modern Gaelic tragedy contrasts beautifully with Jem Finer’s uplifting melody, and the verbal tug-of-war between the male and female characters, constantly teetering on the brink between tenderness and outright venom, is littered with sardonic wit that could have come straight from the pen of Brendan Behan or Patrick Galvin.

Thematically, MacGowan — who, coincidentally, was born on Christmas Day in 1957 — deals with matters very close to his own heart. This is a song about emigration, addiction, hope, broken dreams, and lost love. It’s an anthem for the downtrodden.

Kirsty MacColl
Kirsty MacColl

When the song was released in 1987, Ireland was experiencing its worst recession since the founding of the state and the country’s youth were leaving en masse in search of a better life elsewhere. The UK was deep in the throes of Margaret Thatcher’s anti-socialist regime and it’s no surprise that the song struck a chord with people in both countries and, by extension, with Irish emigrants around the globe. Here, at last, was an honest Christmas song that spoke to the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. The song is as popular today as it was when first released, which is hardly surprising, considering that in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland the youth are again leaving in their thousands. You can be sure that ‘Fairytale’ will be sung by many of them this Christmas wherever they are in the world. Also, it’s a damn good song with an infectious melody and a hypnotic 6/8 folk-waltz rhythm that would incite anything short of a corpse to tread the boards!

As the winter solstice approaches and the sky darkens, it’s not only those smug crooners in snow-sprinkled ivory towers that reflect on the year past and on what’s been lost or gained, but also the homeless, the exiled, and the addicts who look to the rising of the new sun with hope for a better year to come. ‘Fairytale of New York’ is a song for the latter group.

 

The Road to Hamburg

‘A Question & Answer Session with Johnny Campbell’

Cork City Library, Thursday, 27 August, 7pm

During his musical apprenticeship with the Fontana Showband, the young Rory Gallagher, a mere fifteen when he joined in 1963, learned his craft as a touring musician. Never to be content as a cog in a machine churning out safe, dance-hall friendly, pop hits, night after night, Rory would inevitably push himself to the fore. As his reputation as a guitarist began to grow, the Fontana changed their name to The Impact in 1965 to reflect a more blues/rock-oriented set list showcasing Rory’s fiery guitar work.

Ireland’s conservative music scene was hardly the ideal stomping ground for this new direction, however, and The Impact was forced to find work abroad. As a natural metamorphosis, a stripped-down three-piece version of the band — featuring Rory on guitar & vocals, Johnny Campbell on drums and Oliver Tobin on bass — eventually found themselves on the club circuit in Hamburg, Germany.

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For three Irish teenagers arriving in Hamburg in 1965, a city still reverberating with the aftershock from legendary performances at the Star Club, from the likes of The Beatles and Jerry Lee Lewis, it must have been like walking on to a film set, such was its legendary status. Even today, Hamburg is a city which pulses with primal, hedonistic energy. We can only imagine what it was like back in its heyday of the 1960s.

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Monument to the legendary Star Club in St. Pauli, Hamburg

Throughout this relatively short but formative period in Rory Gallagher’s career, Johnny Campbell was the man behind the drum kit. As part of the 2015 National Heritage Week programme of events, Johnny will be in Cork City Library on Thursday, 27 August, at 7pm, for a special ‘Question & Answer’ session on his time with The Impact Showband and Rory Gallagher. So, if you’d like to hear it ‘from the horse’s mouth’, then here’s your chance!

In 1966, Rory Gallagher quit The Impact and went on to form the Taste. The rest, as they say, is history. And what a history it is! even if it ended prematurely. Like another Irish hero, Cú Chulainn, Rory Gallagher lived a short life that was filled with glory and his name will live on as part of musical lore until the last Fender Strat is plugged into the last Vox AC 30.

 

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Acoustic Tribute to Rory in his Hometown

This year’s Cork Rocks for Rory weekend was a great success and attracted Rory Gallagher fans from all parts of the globe to the city on the Lee Delta!

 

The Rory Gallagher Music Library played host to the fabulous Dave McHugh who played an acoustic set of blues tunes which inspired Rory himself. This is Dave’s own rendition of ‘Gamblin’ Blues’, a tune associated with the great Lil’ Son Jackson and which features on Taste’s record, ‘Live Taste’. Rory played a smokin’ hot version of this tune at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 on his Fender Telecaster.

Rory Gallagher Photo Gallery!

Rare Images of Rory

As part of our Rory 20 commemorations in the Rory Gallagher Music Library we have made available online for the first time, an amazing collection of rare photographs of Rory & band in full flight, taken in Manchester in the late 70s!
The photographer is Stephen Smith and we would like to thank him for donating his collection to our Rory Gallagher Archive.

Click on the image to view the gallery

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Let us know what you think!

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Cork Rocks for Rory 2015!

Cork’s annual tribute to guitar legend Rory Gallagher will take place this weekend, the 5th and 6th of June, and the Rory Gallagher Music Library will of course be playing its part!

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Well known axe-men Dave McHugh and Brian Tambling will perform a set of acoustic blues songs that influenced Rory Gallagher in the cosy setting of our music library at 2.30pm on Saturday, 6th June.

Dave McHugh
Dave McHugh
Brian Tambling
Brian Tambling

Admission is free for this event so don’t miss this rare opportunity to experience the music that helped to shape a legend, played by two of the best musicians in the game today.  As 2015 marks the twentieth anniversary of Rory’s passing you can be sure that this year’s Cork Rocks for Rory event will be one to remember.

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Colorado to Cairo. Martin Gilmore’s World is a Song!

Earlier this month  the Martin Gilmore Trio played a hugely successful Irish tour and despite their busy schedule they managed to squeeze in a morning show in the Rory Gallagher Music Library! If that doesn’t show dedication to your art I don’t know what does! Band leader, Martin Gilmore also kindly took some time out from his hectic schedule for the following interview. We hope you enjoy it and if you have any comments we would love to read them!

You guys just finished a fairly intensive tour of Ireland. So, how did it go?

The tour was inspiring, educational, tiring and fantastic. We saw a big chunk of the west of Ireland and logged quite a few hours on the left side of the road. Our concerts were successful and we made a lot of new friends. Audiences in Ireland are so wonderful. The average Irish person has such a depth of knowledge about music and you can feel that on stage. People know where the song comes from, they know its lineage and they aren’t afraid to sing along if they know it. You don’t get that in the United States as much.

You’re no stranger to Irish music. Did you get a chance to catch a show or session while you were on tour?

One of my favorite places to visit while I’m here is Ring, near Dungarven in County Waterford.  I have played at the Tig An Cheoil in Ring twice now and Seán Mac Craith is a fantastic sean-nós singer.  The crowd is always wonderful there, but I can’t help but be excited for the show to end so I can hear Seán sing.  Joe Powers is also a fount of knowledge and songs.  He always teaches me Irish words and songs.

John Nyhan is also a fantastic resource for songs and music. He sang songs to us just about everywhere we went and he played a few jigs on the banjo while we were in Clonakilty.  There was some sort of impromptu session every night while we were there so we got some good exposure to lots of great traditional music. We didn’t get to see any concerts though.  We were busy every night while we were there.  Even if we had seen something, it’s never enough.  We all love Irish music.

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When the Martin Gilmore Trio play there is a solid country base to the music yet influences from Jazz, blues and various forms of folk music are evident throughout.  Is this deliberate or just the result of years of exposure to so many musical styles?

What a good question. I have a friend who talks about being in different bands to satisfy his different musical personalities.  Ian, Nick and I all play in different bands and know a lot of different types of music.  The nice thing about this trio is that I can find a song that I like and the guys can tackle it for the most part.  We aren’t specific about the genre of music we play, we just find a song that we think is good and we see how it works with the three of us.  I can write something and these guys will bring their own flavor to it.  If we were just playing one thing I think we would get bored so it’s refreshing to have the variety on the set list and it makes me excited for each song as we go through the show.

I think that’s a good representation for American music in general.  The Appalachians were a “melting pot” of musical styles that created bluegrass and country music.  You can hear Blues and Spirituals in Bluegrass just as much as Irish fiddle tunes and English ballads.  People from all over the world came together there and their influences on one another created something completely new.  It’s the same with jazz and Dixieland music down in New Orleans as well as with Mariachi and Conjunto music in Texas.  I suppose we fit into that same mold.  We have a common thread of American “Roots music” but we mix and match what we play and it sort of morphs into something new.

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With the recent passing of BB King and other musical legends who defined blues, country, rock & roll and folk music in the 20th century there seems to be a certain sense of melancholy creeping into the musical mind frame. Phrases like ‘the death of the Blues’ have been cropping up in some commentaries. As an artist how does this make you feel?

We are really living in an interesting time in music.  I think there is a lot of cynicism about commercial music and the model that the major record companies have followed for years is really changing.  There used to be a really defined path to success in music and if you were good enough, lucky enough and worked hard enough you could follow that path to some sort of success.  That’s not really the case anymore. Some people thing that is a bad thing, but I’m not so sure that it is.  There isn’t as much “big money” in music as there used to be and record companies don’t take as many risks these days.  However, it is so easy to write a song, record it and put it up for sale on the internet that the large record companies role isn’t as necessary as it used to be.  I don’t think any genre of music is “dying” but it’s not presented to the public on a silver platter like it used to be.  If you are willing to put in the time looking for something you can really find people making the honest thing.  You can find people playing the blues for the sake of playing the blues.  Denver, Colorado, has dozens of awesome honky-tonk and swing bands and it is just one city.  Record companies were a stamp of approval about the quality of something.  If it was on a record label it was probably going to sound good and be well presented.  That still exists, but each person has to find their taste.

It makes me excited to hear all the new music that is available. There’s an endless pool of interesting, virtuosic, creative and inspiring music out there.  It’s easy for me to spend a few hours on YouTube exploring new sounds.  My friends are always telling me about new things. I constantly find things that make me excited about music and that is really an advantage that comes with the new technology.  I know musicians are struggling, I’m right there with them, but the commerce side of music will sort all of those challenges out.  Meanwhile we get to enjoy the largest variety of music ever available to humanity — and you can access it from the phone in your pocket.

Your band mate Nick Amodeo makes that Squier Telecaster sound like a million dollars! Did he have it modded in any way or is it as stock?

Funny you should ask. We actually borrowed that guitar from John Nyhan’s son Gearoid.  Gearoid lives in Cork and he was nice enough to let us travel around with it.

Nick is a monster player.  He can play anything with strings and make it sound amazing.  He and I have talked about electric guitars and what makes each guitar player sound unique. We have pretty much settled on the fact that it’s the fingers of the player more than the gear itself. Carlos Santana will sound like Carlos Santana on any guitar he picks up. I could get all the same gear as Rory Gallagher and I will never get his sound. Nick can make any guitar sound fantastic but he always sounds like Nick.

He has a boutique Telecaster and amplifier back in the states but this tour really showed me that it’s more in his touch than in his gear. It’s inspiring and makes me realize that I should practise more.

I imagine the Rory Gallagher Music Library in Cork must’ve been an unusual venue for you but what’s the strangest venue you’ve ever played?

Wow, what a question. Honestly, I have played a lot of shows and concerts in libraries so it didn’t feel too out of place. As a working musician you get to see a lot of wild and crazy things. Nick and I have played gigs in the main terminal of the Denver International Airport. That can be a strange place to play. I have played concerts in people’s living rooms; that can be wonderful, but it can also be a bit strange. The trio once played a saloon in western Nebraska where everyone sat in the front room while we played in the back room. We stopped because we thought no one was listening and the bartender told us that everyone really liked us. That was a pretty strange experience.

I think, more than the place, I pay attention to the audience. I’ll play for anyone who is listening, but if no one is paying attention it really changes the feeling for the performer. There’s not a lot of money in bluegrass music. We play it because we love it and we want to share the love of the music with other people. If people aren’t listening I find myself trying to figure out how to get them to love the songs as much as I do. That struggle is what sets the tone of the gig for me. The crowd at the Rory Gallagher Music Library is always so wonderful. I’ll play there any time.

What’s next for Martin Gilmore and when will we see you and the band in Cork again?

There’s a lot of stuff happening this summer for the Martin Gilmore Trio. We are playing a couple of festivals around the Rocky Mountain Region and we will probably go into the studio to lay down a few tracks for a record. However, I will be moving to Cairo, Egypt, in August of 2015. My wife accepted a job teaching music in an international school and I am going to tag along and write songs. That means the MG3 will probably take a break for a few months and we might not release a record until after I return from Cairo.

It also means that I am closer to Ireland and could return more often. Maybe the MG3 could reunite for a couple of tours through Ireland and the rest of Europe. Ian and Nick have several other projects that keep them busy and there will be no shortage of gigs for musicians like them. I am looking forward to the creative time and people can expect a lot of new original material from the MG3 when we return to Cork — which cannot be soon enough.

Interview: Ian O’Sullivan, May 2015

If there’s one thing that shines through from this interview with Martin Gilmore it’s that he has a genuine passion for music, places, and people. We look forward to seeing the MG3 on our shores again very soon and, more importantly, on the banks of the Lee!

For more information on Martin and his musical endeavors please visit: http://www.martingilmore.com

To read the blog post from 30th April, on the Martin Gilmore Trio, click here:

https://rorygallaghermusiclibrary.wordpress.com/2015/04/30/keeping-it-country-with-martin-gilmore-fri-8th-may-2015/

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“Dowtcha Jimmy boy!”

Jimmy Crowley to launch new book ‘Songs from the Beautiful City : The Cork Urban Ballads’ at Cork City Library.

Jimmy Crowley is a man who needs no introduction to Corkonians and little introduction to the rest of ye! The renowned balladeer has been singing songs from his native city for decades and many of these are to be enshrined in his new book which will be officially launched on Thursday 14th May at 7.00 in the City Library, Grand Parade.

The book will be launched by Mick Moloney, NYU and John Dolan, Features Editor at the Cork Evening Echo.

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Bígí linn mar sin le h-aghaidh oíche cheoil is scéalaíochta ó dhuine de na ceoltóirí is cáiliúla na cathrach seo!

Don’t miss what promises to be an unforgettable night of story and song with one of Cork’s most celebrated bards. For more information please visit Jimmy’s website: http://www.jimmycrowley.com/

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