Obituary: Paddy Clancy

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
FOLLOWING THE death of Paddy Clancy, only one of the original members of the Irish folk group the Clancy Brothers, Liam, remains to carry on the tradition of table-thumping Irish ballad groups which they originated 40 years ago. However, the Clancy name continues, with Liam supported by the next generation, Pat, the third generation, Bobby, and Liam and Paddy's nephew Robbie O'Connell.

It was Liam Clancy who formed the Clancy Brothers, in 1959 in New York, after he met Tommy Makem, when both of them were working as actors in an off-Broadway production of the play Shadow and Substance, by Paul Vincent Carroll.

The owner of the Fifth Peg bar in Greenwich Village approached Clancy and Makem with the idea of singing a few Irish songs as a nightly warm- up act. He offered them three times what the theatre was paying them, and after a week as support, they were promoted to headline status.

Shortly after that, Liam's other two brothers, Paddy and Tom, joined for a gig at Alan Ribback's Gate of Horn club in Chicago, and the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were born. They'd been wracking their brains to come up with a suitable name, but since they couldn't agree to anything suitable, the billboard outside the club just said that.

Their impact on the nascent New York folk scene was considerable. Bob Dylan took the melody of their outlaw ballad "Brennan on the Moor" for his song "Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie". Thirty years later they were to repay the compliment, when they sang Dylan's "When The Ship Comes In" at his 30th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden, in October 1992.

Paddy Clancy was born in the little Tipperary village of Carrick-on-Suir in 1922, the eldest of 11 children. With Liam and his other brother, Tom, he arrived in the United States in the early Fifties.

Paddy started the well-respected Tradition Records label with the folklorist Ken Goldstein, devoted primarily to issuing the work of the great Irish traditionalists, such as Padraig O'Keefe, Tommy Makem's mother Sarah, Denis Murphy, the great Fermanagh stylist (and IRA activist) Paddy Tunney, and Sean MacDonnchadha.

The company's sixth album, a collection of rebel ballads featuring Paddy's brothers with Makem, recorded on a domestic tape machine in Goldstein's apartment in the Bronx, was a break from the intricate subtleties of singers such as Tunney, who sang unaccompanied, with elaborate decorations like a vocal equivalent of the Book of Kells.

But The Rising of the Moon, and its follow-up collection of drinking songs, Come Fill Your Glass With Us (both in the late 1950s), brought them to the attention of Columbia Records, already with an unexpected hit on their hands in the shape of Bob Dylan, and the group graduated to playing in night spots like the Blue Angel in New York.

It was there that the television presenter Ed Sullivan spotted and hired them for a support spot on his programme. When the main act failed to show, they had to improvise an extra 10 minutes, and the 20-minute exposure to 50 million viewers consolidated their cross-over success outside the confines of the folk scene.

After building up a huge international following, through which they changed at least the popular image of Irish folk music, laying the ground for the punk folk of groups like the Pogues (though the roots tradition continued on its own sweet way, as it has for centuries), they disbanded in 1966.

Paddy returned to his native village to become an innovative dairy farmer, Liam and Tom returned to acting, and Tommy Makem worked as a solo artist. The group had a reunion in 1984, and got together for occasional tours, the last concert of which was at the National Concert Hall in Dublin in 1996. Tom had died in 1990, from cancer.

Their last album, Older But No Wiser, for Vanguard in the 1990s, was billed as the Clancy Brothers and Robbie O'Connell, and featured an entirely new collection of songs, apart from Dylan's "Ship".

Though Paddy had been ill for some time, as recently as February this year he was running a "pub tour of Ireland", when for $979 per person, including transatlantic airfare, US visitors were taken on a musical drinking tour of the country, concluding with a visit to his farm for a parting glass, though not necessarily of his excellent milk. It was there he took his own parting glass, dying in the village where he had been born.

Karl Dallas

Patrick Clancy, singer: born Carrick-on-Suir, Co Waterford 1922; twice married (three daughters, two sons); died Carrick-on-Suir, Co Waterford 11 November 1998.