Monday, 5 September 2011

Putting the band back together?

“Play the Unicorn!” some drunken voice would call.

“I am not playing that shite!” Frank would mutter just loud enough.

“Come on Man, It’s a request.”

“I don’t give a shite if it is in your last fuckin’ will and testament – I am not playing that shite – besides,” he would whisper to one side, “I don’t know it”

Even when they sent us drinks, Frank would not accede – “There are far better songs.”

“Okay, let’s us hear them.”

As I was going over

The far famed Kerry Mountains

I met with Captain Farrell

And his money he was counting

“They love this shite,” he would shout across to me, loud enough for his voice to spread across the hall.

The band began as a tight little trio that could make the Irish bars rattle and hum but we had aspirations towards the more artistic sounds of Moving Hearts and set about approximating the same. And the musicians arrived as if called by the muse. It was around the time of ‘The Commitments’ and the similarities were many.

Ray played the Uillean Pipes and struggled to find his place in the melee of it all. To be a piper one has to be committed, like an apprentice. Behind him were the drums and bass – the artillery of the band – and he was often in the line of fire. Fiddles, guitars and mandolins traipsed around as we weaved and bopped to the tunes – they had the liberty and could wander from the melody. Singers and Frank were to the fore – the front men. I wandered where the music took me and often became tangled in cords and wires but on so many nights it was perfect. Steve gave us solidity and a groove that only the best bassists can. He was jazz at heart but could play anything. He worked with some fine drummers, the best of whom was Marty. With the two of them at the back of the stage everything was tight.

Jamie played fiddle and guitar and was as happy sawing out an east coast jig as he was whining through some time honoured guitar riff. But it was Bobby who topped it all off. He was a black fellow from North Carolina who played Sax in New Orleans but secretly wrote country and western songs for piano. Bobby slid into every tune with a feline grace and a big smile. He often introduced me to our female fans as his little brother and was always late for the show. Sometimes he told us of when he rode the buses in the old days when only the white guys could get off and go into the diner. The black guys had to stay on the bus. I am sure it was true but with Bobby you never could tell.

A drunken young man approached me during a break. He was bearded and sweaty looking and his eyes were glazed. “How’s it goin’?” he muttered in the old familiar accent.

“Not too bad, and yerself?”

“You guys are fuckin’ brilliant.”

“Thank you.”

“No! I mean it, you guys are fuckin’ brilliant. I have been over here a few months and I am getting sick and tired of it. After hearing you guys I think I am gonna go back.”

“Oh! And why is that?”

“’Cause everyone here is tied down too tight.”


“Fuckin’ right, it’s like they’re all afraid that if they let go of their grip that they will blow away like bubbles.”

“And you don’t think like that?”

“Of course not, I think that when you let go that you get to go where you need to go – know what I mean?”

I think I did but it was time to get back on stage and we opened with a tune called McBride’s. The pipes lead us on the odyssey stopping and starting like gusts of wind and the fiddle joined like an echo. I spread my fat chords across the middle while Steve slapped the bass – a metallic anchor to the offbeat punctuation of the drums. It rose like a wedding cake until Bobby sprinkled the top with the swirl of the Sax.

The young man was there at the end of the show. He was drunk, but he was still talking. “The future is in front,” he said to no one in particular and he wandered off.