HERE COME THE DUBLINERS
The fame of the group of ballad singers and music makers known as The Dubliners has spread far beyond the city which gave them their name, for they have appeared on the B.B.C. and TV in Britain as well as on Telefis Eireann.
The leader of this group of five is Ronnie Drew. At first one is inclined to regard him as a seafaring man. Strongly-built, with masses of dark, tumbled hair and shaggy beard, he looks like a man who has gazed out over distant horizons. One gets the impression of tossing waves from his expressive eyes, especially when he is singing such rousing songs as "Wild Rover" or "Ragman's Ball" to the accompaniment of his Spanish guitar, with its nylon strings. He has a cosmopolitan air as if he has drifted in and out of many cities and countries, relying always on the international passport of music and song.
Actually he began his career at sixteen or seventeen, when he was in great demand at club dinners as a singer of Irish ballads. What fully awakened him as a musician was a period of three years in Spain — much of the time in Seville — where he kept himself alive by teaching English. His talents as an entertainer before large audiences were tested at the American air base.
In Spain his enthusiasm for the guitar was born. He handles this instrument now with careless abandon while singing with what has been called his "rough, ragged voice." Anyone who has listened to the characteristic "flamenco" singing, with stamping of feet and tossing of head, while the sharp clack of castanets adds snap and vigour, will realise the strong effect this must have had on a young man to whom music was already the biggest thing in his life.
He was not the professional musician, carefully trained from boyhood to occupy a place on the concert platform. As a youth he had worked at a succession of casual jobs, ranging from liftman to dish washer, from a counter hand in an electrical shop to a telephone operator in the Dublin Exchange. So far from regarding these jobs as a waste of time, Ronnie thinks they all had value in helping him to express in music the fundamental feeling of folk song which must embody the joys and sorrows of everyday humanity.
One of Ronnie's earliest successes was when he was asked to supply the background music for Lorca's emotional Spanish play "Blood Wedding" for a University group in Dublin. Soon he was busy with ballads and Irish folk songs, always accompanying himself on his Spanish guitar.
He has played in every county in Ireland and he recalls that when he sang rebel songs in Belfast and Derry he had a warmer reception than he had received anywhere else in Ireland. To return the compliment he has sung and played "The Ould Orange Flute" to enthusiastic audiences in Dublin.
His growing popularity was evident when he was asked to appear in four revues with John Molloy at the Gate Theatre. He sang Irish ballads for TV in Britain and joined with Barney McKenna, another member of the group whose playing of the banjo has made him widely known.
Ronnie Drew claims no credit for forming The Dubliners.
"We just drifted together," he explains, "because we thought we could provide good entertainment. Besides Barney — who has his own record 'Banjo Barney' [sic] — there is Ciaran Burke, who sings songs in Gaelic, John Sheahan who plays the traditional fiddle and the Mandolin, together with Luke Kelly, who, like the others plays several instruments and sings. We owe a lot to our manager and agent, John Sheridan." Under Ronnie's leadership the group has made great headway. They have had B.B.C. appearances in London, Scotland and Belfast. They have been in demand on U.T.A. Their biggest triumph was their appearance at the Albert Hall in London last year before an audience of 4,500. Here were groups from other nations, while The Dubliners represented Ireland and received a tremendous ovation.
THE DUBLINERS are tough looking with long beards and careless hair. They wear shirts open at the neck with sleeves rolled up, which gives them the appearance of hard-working labourers. Their Irish brogue is harsh as well as pleasing, their manner loose but professional, and their personalities are outwardly warm and inviting. Everyone belongs to their songs and music — the worker, the man on the dole, the winners, the losers, the liars, fighters and all of the living.
RONNIE DREW is a Dubliner by birth who stated out as a boy soprano, until his voice broke at the usual age. He picked up a guitar and started really becoming interested in folk music at the age of 19. He would sing and play as a hobby between working as an electrician, draper's assistant, dishwasher, telephone operator and even teaching English in Spain. It was while he was in Spain that he learned quite a lot on the guitar in the Flamenco Idiom, and then returned to Ireland shortly after to work in theatrical shows singing. Ronnie has been saddled with a peculiar corncrake quality in his voice which has been described as various things including the sound of coke bottles being crushed under a door. "I'm not sure whether it is a blessing Or a curse, but at the moment I'm making a living with it." Ronnie met "Banjo" Barney McKenna about six years ago and the two of them teamed up in various shows until a few drinking and music sessions brought them together with Ciarán Bourke and Luke Kelly.
LUKE KELLY is a 26 year old strawberry-haired and bearded Dubliner who grew up in Dublin's dockside area. He left school at 13½ and went through the usual gamut of jobs. "I started singing folk songs after realising that they were not as square as I had been led to believe." His repertoire of songs ran into the hundreds in a very short time, and somewhere along the way he picked up the five-string banjo. Luke is humble when he claims that he is "reasonably proficient" in the many picking styles on the guitar. Anyone can see that he is a talented musician as well as having an extremely powerful voice that goes with the rest of him.
CIARÁN BOURKE was born in Dublin in 1935, learned the Irish language at an early age and was packed off to a bilingual school. Ciarán plays whistle, mouth organ, guitar and sings. He tried studying agriculture and gave it up to become in turn, a labourer, tree lopper topper, a caretaker, car washer, antique dealer's mate and plumber slater. It was about this time that he met Ronnie and Barney who convinced Ciarán to join them. Luke Kelly, who had been singing around the clubs in England, came back about this time and made the group a foursome. Then known as THE DUBLINERS, the boys put together the first folk concert of its kind in Dublin. The concert was a success and a theatrical production called "A Ballad Tour of Ireland" was put on at the Gate Theatre shortly afterward.
BARNEY McKENNA is a 27 year old Dubliner who became interested in music at the age of six. He remembers very clearly breaking the strings of his Uncle Jim's mandolin, his Uncle Barney's fiddle and even blowing his father's Melodeon out of tune! "Before I could play, I was a real smasher!" At 12 years of age, Barney tried to join the No. 1 Army Band, but was thrown out because he didn't have 6/6 vision. By this time, he had mastered the banjo so well, that he embarrassed most musicians who had ever attempted to play it. He left school at l4Y to become a glassblower, kitchen porter, builder's labourer and even worked in the furnaces in Ireland. During this time, he played banjo at concerts, cabarets, etc., until he met Ronnie Drew following a Gate Theatre success with John Molloy. They both decided at this point to turn professional. Today, Barney is considered one of the world's greatest banjo players. He is also a perfectionist on the mandolin and is currently learning to play the fiddle.
JOHN SHEAHAN was born in Dublin 27½ years ago. The ½ is very important, because John is very-precise. He studied the violin for five years at the Municipal School of Music in Dublin and decided to use his classical technique on Irish Traditional music, which led to a number of awards in Feiseanna, where the Irish Traditional Music Competitions are held. Having finished primary school: he decided to become an electrician and did a two-year preparatory course at the College of Technology. He then served his electrical apprenticeship with the Electricity Supply Board and qualified in 1960. During this time, he played with a number of Ceili Bands around the country, until he met up with THE DUBLINERS. Just before he joined THE DUBLINERS full time, John got an opportunity of doing a trainee period in the ESB drawing office where he worked as a draughtsman. He contributes fiddle solo to the group, mandolin duets with Barney and whistle duets with Ciarán. "I also mess about with other musical instruments like the clarinet, guitar, banjo and accordian with some success."
Does the beard denote the personality?
CIARÁN BOURKE, BARNEY McKENNA, RONNIE DREW, LUKE KELLY and JOHN SHEAHAN have beards. Barney's is big, black and bushy and Barney is big, giving an overall impression of a benign Californian black bear. Barney plays the banjo with a dexterity unmatched by anyone else in Britain. Ronnie Drew's beard is still blacker than Barney's, but smaller and trimmer. It encircles his face in such a way that his eyes resemble a eat's peering out of a coal cellar, or a devil glaring out of hell. Ronnie plays guitar and sings in a voice like coke being crushed under a door.
Ciarán's beard is lighter in colour and straggles a little. The hair is not so wiry either. John is the quiet member of the group. He plays the whistle and his voice and beard have a softer texture than Luke's or Ronnie's. Luke has a smart, sharp ginger beard. The others accuse him of being an intellectual. He sings in a voice to wake the dead and scare recording engineers and plays the banjo.
Together as THE DUBLINERS they are enough to warm the heart of any Irishman and to frighten the British immigration authorities. They are Dublin's darlings; impossible for an audience to resist and impossible to describe.
Gone are the days when the folk music of Ireland automatically conveyed the picture of the silver voiced tenor steadfastly singing the praises of the Emerald Isle.
Throughout the world there has been a resurgence of folk music but it is in Ireland where the full measure of a country's wealth of song and melody has been fully realized. In many cases, this has been termed a revolution, and the group identified in most eyes as the leading exponents comprise five rousing rollicking singing sons of Ireland known to the world as The Dubliners. On stage, the Dubliners defy comparison with any previously seen entertainers, truly sons of Dublin, they stand resolutely on stage and belt out their melodies with the verve and vitality that can only draw its roots from sincerity. Bass, Ronnie Drew, Tenor Luke Kelly, Banjoist Barney McKenna, Tin Whistler Ciarán Bourke and Fiddler John Sheahan, insist that the lyrics are the essence of a song, and take liberties with time and tune in order that the words convey their full meaning.
To sing Irish songs in Ireland is one thing, but to carry these typically home-spun melodies to world wide success is indeed a measure of their International appeal. Their recording of "Seven Drunken Nights" has passed "the quarter-million sales mark with "Black Velvet Band" following closely behind. 25,000 Irishmen packed Dublin's National Stadium to pay homage to their favoured sons, and responded to each number with the enthusiasm of a football crowd. Undaunted, the Dubliners crossed the Irish Sea to top an all-Irish bill at the revered Albert Hall in London, to an equally resounding success. For their material the Dubliners sing the songs which came their way through frequent visits to the local public houses, and they defy anyone to prove that their offerings are anything but home-brewed, and traditional. Whereas many folk-singers tend to make their numbers sophisticated, and of the time, the Dubliners draw right back into the grass roots of song and their delivery is in the manner first intended. Hi Fi equipment, echo chambers, and sound effects, are to them, unnecessary, and in fact, unreal. This then is their charm, a complete honesty and disregard for any modern day accessories.
To the Dubliners, success is not measured in terms of monetary gain, in fact, they have no desire to become the highest paid entertainers in the business, but merely to carry on singing their home-spun melodies to appreciative audiences. Success to the Dubliners, has brought its problems. At the start, they would be found virtually working for nothing, sleeping rough, but in fact, enjoying every minute of it. The rise to success has meant that life is not as free and easy as it used to be and they admit that it can be a hard strain. Basically, big business pressures are foreign to their nature, and loving music as they do, they find they are now viable, as a business, and a lot of the romanticism has gone.
Many entertainers today, boast "we never rehearse", but to the Dubliners, this is not a joke, merely a fact. On their first ever cabaret in Stockton, they felt the need to produce something to make the audience laugh, so they immediately went into a song which Luke Kelly had known for years, without any arrangement, and the audience loved it.