Tag Archives: Music et al

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

Declan O’Rourke

Declan O'Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

Declan O’Rouke has an amazing voice and a mesmerizing stage presence. He also writes great tunes. He released his first album, Since Kyrbran, in 2004 and has steadily continued releases since then.

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

Irish Famine

Warner Brothers Records released O’Rourke’s most recent album, Chronicles of the Irish Famine, on October 27, 2017. When I first heard about the album I thought that he had covered a collections of songs. How could any contemporary composer come up with a whole album’s worth of new music on such an old topic? He must have researched and found traditional songs written since Ireland’s mid-19th century’s Gorta Mór. Songs that related to one of the sadly too many famines that have occurred in human history that Help would have minimized or eliminated had Help decided to help.

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

15 Years

But O’Rourke wrote all with occasional help and it took him 15 years to complete. I suppose it was one of those projects when Inspiration alone cannot lead to Completion. He did a remarkable job of portraying the Famine’s nightmares without being maudlin.

Siobhan Long wrote in The Irish Times:  “O’Rourke mines the darkest corners of the horrors of the Irish famine with a sensitivity that animates a raft of highly personal stories.”

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

Clogman’s Glen

Over the next 12 days I will write about each of Chronicle’s songs. “Clogman’s Glen” opens the album.

If you’re watch your player’s timer, you’ll notice that for the first five seconds there is silence. Then there is an deep intake of breath. To sing such a collection of sad tunes, such a breath is needed. Knowing what is ahead, we all need to take a breath.

At 11 seconds, a slow fiddle precedes O’Rourke’s gentle voice beginning his narrative. Rather than dropping us immediately into the  Great Famine’s  monstrosity, Declan brings us to Clogman’s Glen , an actual settlement on the side of a lake, called a Clachan. Life is difficult, but the inhabitants survive. The song’s narrator recalls…

Ah, do you remember when, my love

Oh my love, do you remember when

When we were young and life was hard

But beautiful in Clogman’s Glen? 

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

English rule

By the mid-19th century, the English had herded the Irish peasants onto small plots of land to make room for pasturing beef cattle, but even with only an acre and a half, a family of six could grow enough potatoes for a year.

Potatoes grew well, even on poorer acreage. Potatoes were nutritious and easy to cook, and they could be fed to pigs and cattle and fowl. And families did not need a plow to grow potatoes. All the peasant needed was a spade. And they could grow potatoes in wet ground and on mountain sides where no other kinds of plants could be cultivated.

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

Recipe for disaster

As much as it is a stereotype about potatoes and the Irish,  the English policy resulted in more than half of the Irish depending on the potato as their diet’s staple. Almost 40 percent ate almost entirely  potatoes, with some milk or fish as the only other source of nourishment. If anything interfered with the annual potato crop, the peasant would starve.

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

The Blight

It is easy to forget that an atrocity often begins with quiet notice. There is always a time of seeming normalcy before the atrocity. A time “before the winter’s icy chill, And cold stiff wind swept through and blew.”

There had been occasional and localized crop failures, but in the early 1840s the incidence suddenly increased. And in 1845 half the crop failed.

And that is the point.  Recalling that the majority of the 19th century Irish were poor, living off the land, they had been able to survive with the land’s beauty around them, but they were living on the edge of catastrophe.

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine

Yeats

Irish poet William Butler Yeats described Ireland’s Easter Uprising in 1916 as a “terrible beauty.” That same phrase equally applies to this album. The beautiful playing often belies the terror the Irish Famine wrought upon the millions who suffered, who died, who tried to escape. (Irish Times review)

Declan O’Rourke Clogman’s Glen

Clogman’s Glen

Declan O’Rourke Chronicles Great Irish Famine
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Early 20th Century News Music

Early 20th Century News Music

Early 20th Century News Music

I once did a project on what is usually called protest music of the 1960s. What I quickly discovered was that protest music is not limited to the 1960s (as much as we Boomers would like to think it is since we “invented” it–insert funny face emoji).

Eventually, I also realized that protest music comes in a variety of approaches. The 1960s protest music was typically obvious in its approach: Masters of War, I Ain’t a’Marchin’ Anymore, Eve of Destruction, et cetera.

Earlier versions were equally powerful in their own way and I eventually settled on the term “News Music” to describe the genre. I’m not sure whether it is be best description, but one of the things that the songs and songwriters seemed to share was a reaction to current conditions. In other words, they were reacting to a current situation far more often than a past occurrence. Thus “News Music.”

Here are some examples of what are early 20th century news music:

Early 20th Century News Music

Harry Dixon

Around 1920:  Harry Dixon (1895 – 1965) wrote “This Little Light of Mine” as a gospel song. It became a common one sung during the civil rights gathering of the 1950s and 1960s. It continues to be a song of hope today. (BH, see January 4, 1920)

Early 20th Century News Music

Fats Waller

Early 20th Century News Music

In 1929: composed by Fats Waller with lyrics by Harry Brooks and Andy Razaf, Edith Wilson (1896 – 1981) sang “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue.”. It is a protest song that did not speak of how something should change so much as it spoke of what life was like for those who suffered inequities.

Early 20th Century News Music

Blind Alfred Reed

Early 20th Century News Music

In 1929: Blind Alfred Reed (1880 – 1956) wrote “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” The song describes life during the Great Depression.

Early 20th Century News Music

Florence Reece

In 1931: Florence Reece (1900-1986) “was a writer and social activist whose song ‘Which Side Are You On?’ became an anthem for the labor movement. Borrowing from the melody of the old hymn ”Lay the Lily Low,” Mrs. Reece wrote the union song…to describe the plight of mine workers who were organizing a strike in Harlan County, Ky. Mrs. Reece’s husband, Sam, who died in 1978, was one of those workers. Pete Seeger, the folk singer, recorded the song in 1941. It has since been used worldwide by groups espousing labor and social issues.” New York Times Obituaries, August 6, 1986. (Labor, see March 3; Feminism, see Dec 10)

Early 20th Century News Music

Brother Can You Spare a Dime

In 1931:  “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” by lyricist E. Y. “Yip” Harburg and composer Jay Gorney., the song asked why the men who built the nation – built the railroads, built the skyscrapers – who fought in the war (World War I), who tilled the earth, who did what their nation asked of them should, now that the work is done and their labor no longer necessary, find themselves abandoned, in bread lines.

Harburg believed that “songs are an anodyne against tyranny and terror and that the artist has historically always been on the side of humanity.” As a committed socialist, he spent three years in Uruguay to avoid being involved in WWI, as he felt that capitalism was responsible for the destruction of the human spirit, and he refused to fight its wars. A longtime friend of Ira Gershwin, Harburg started writing lyrics after he lost his business in the Crash of 1929.

Early 20th Century News Music

Jimmie Rodgers

In 1932: Jimmie Rodgers (1897 – 1933) was born in Meridian, Mississippi worked on the railroad as his father did but at the age of 27 contracted tuberculosis and had to quit. He loved entertaining and eventually found a job singing on WWNC radio, Asheville, North Carolina (April 18, 1927). Later he began recording his songs. The tuberculosis worsened and he died in 1933 while recording songs in New York. In 1932 he recorded “Hobo’s Meditation.”

Early 20th Century News Music

Lead Belly

In 1938: Lead Belly (born Huddie William Ledbetter) (1888 – 1949) sang about his visit to Washington, DC with his wife and their treatment while in the nation’s capitol in his song, “Bourgeois Blues.” (BH, see Nov 22)

Early 20th Century News Music

Woody Guthrie

“Do Re Mi”

In 1939: During the Great Depression, Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) wrote many songs reflecting the plight of farmers and migrant workers caught between the Dust Bowl drought and farm foreclosure. One of the best known of these songs is his  “Do Re Mi.”

Tom Joad

In 1940: Woody Guthrie wrote Tom Joad, a song whose character is based on John Steinbeck’s character in The Grapes of Wrath. After hearing it, Steinbeck reportedly said, “ That f****** little b******! In 17 verses he got the entire story of a thing that took me two years to write.”

Early 20th Century News Music

This Land Is Your Land

February 23, 1940: Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics to ‘This Land Is Your Land‘ in his room at the Hanover House Hotel in New York City. He would not record the song until 1944. It was a musical response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”: “We can’t just bless America, we’ve got to change it.”

Early 20th Century News Music

In 1941: the Almanac Singers (Millard Lampell, Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie) released Talking Union, an album containing pro-union songs. One was Florence Reece’s Which Side Are You On? Another was I Don’t Want Your Millions, Mister (written by Jim Garland), a song that was used  by Occupy Wall Street protestors.

During World War II, Guthrie printed the words, “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar as a sign of his support of the war cause. Shortly afterwards, Pete Seeger printed the words, “This Machine Surrounds hate and Forces It to Surrender” on his banjo. Current guitarist, Tom Morello, often uses a guitar with the words, “Arm the Homeless” printed on it.

Early 20th Century News Music
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Mick Jagger Performance 1970

Mick Jagger Performance 1970

Warner Bros Records released the soundtrack album to the movie Performance on 19 September 1970. The album featured Mick Jagger, Ry Cooder, Randy Newman, The Last Poets, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Merry Clayton.

“Turner’s Murder” by Merry Clayton Singers.

I was 20 and thought I knew it all. At least all I needed to know. Ok, most of it.

Mick Jagger Performance 1970

So Sharp

I was learning that there were many more cool things than the half dozen or so things that I already knew were cool: important things like knowing how to tie a Windsor knot or to whistle using my two pointer fingers to curl the front of my tongue. Knowing several nicknames for marijuana (albeit, never using it).

When I saw Mick Jagger on the cover of the Performance soundtrack, I was confused. It was Mick, wasn’t it? Why is he dressed like a woman. He was dressed like a woman, wasn’t he?

Apparently there was one more thing to know was cool, yet not actually doing that thing.

Mick Jagger Performance 1970

Mick in the movies

Mick Jagger Performance

Performance was Mick Jagger’s first movie role. It was done in 1967 and by then those fab four friends of his had already done two movies: Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965).

Jagger was not going to play a musician chased by hundreds of fans for 87 minutes or a musician chased by dozens of villains for 92 minutes.

Jagger played a former rock star turned landlord, sort of.

Actor James Fox plays a gangster on the run and eventually hides out at the house of a Turner (Mick Jagger). There are already sexual shenanigans going on at Turners. Fox joins Turner and the three woman already there. Ménage de cinq.

Mick Jagger Performance 1970

Warner Brothers blinks

Mick Jagger Performance

While Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg directed the film in 1967,  Warner Brothers, the studio, decided it could not release the film. Reportedly, the wife of one Warner Brothers executive vomited while watching it.

Warner Brothers did finally release a version of the film in 1970. A highly edited version.

Over the years, various revised editions have been released. The last one, and most true to the original, was not released until 2007.

At its 1970 release, Roger Ebert said, “Performance” is a bizarre, disconnected attempt to link the inhabitants of two kinds of London underworlds: pop stars and gangsters. It isn’t altogether successful, largely because it tries too hard and doesn’t pace itself to let its effects sink in. But it does have a kind of frantic energy

Other reviews thought it unworthy of the word film.

Mick Jagger Performance 1970

Cult classic

Mick Jagger Performance

Gradually, though, it found itself far more favorable. From WikipediaIn 1995 Performance appeared at number 30 in a Time Out magazine “all-time greats” poll of critics and directors

In the September–October 2009 issue of Film Comment, Mick Jagger’s Turner was voted the best performance by a musician in a film.

In his 15-hour documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey, Mark Cousins says: “Performance was not only the greatest seventies film about identity, if any movie in the whole Story of Film should be compulsory viewing for film makers, maybe this is it.

Mick Jagger Performance 1970

Performance soundtrack

I was more into music than cinema and decided to buy the soundtrack. Powerfully odd is how I would have described it then and now as well.

I again saw the name Jack Nitzsche: the name I often saw on the back of albums, but had no idea who he actually was, Other album names were familiar, too: Randy Newman; Merry Clayton, Ry Cooder, Buffy Sainte-Marie, the Last Poets, and Mick Jagger, of course.

For me, I’ve learned several times that a soundtrack usually needs the movie. I learned why background music is just that.

Here are the tracks:

Side One:

  1. “Gone Dead Train” – Randy Newman
  2. “Performance”  (Merry Clayton)
  3. “Get Away”  (Ry Cooder)
  4. “Powis Square (Ry Cooder)
  5. “Rolls Royce and Acid”  (Jack Nitzsche)
  6. “Dyed, Dead, Red”  (Buffy Sainte-Marie)
  7. “Harry Flowers”  (Jack Nitzsche, Randy Newman)
 Side two:

  1. “Memo from Turner”  (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards)
  2. “Hashishin” (Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ry Cooder)
  3. “Wake Up, Niggers” (The Last Poets)
  4. “Poor White Hound Dog” (Merry Clayton)
  5. “Natural Magic” (Jack Nitzsche)
  6. “Turner’s Murder” (Merry Clayton Singers)
Mick Jagger Performance 1970

mance. 

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