1987 marks the 25th Anniversary of the formation of the Dubliners as in the backroom of a well-known Dublin pub — O'Donoghue's — a little over 24 years ago the Dubliners were distilled. They were known initially as the Ronnie Drew Group, but Joycean Luke Kelly pursuaded the rest of the lads that they should rename the group "The Dubliners".
The Dubliners appeared at the Edinburgh Festival in 1963, and the group became the "new wave" of British Folk. Regular tours of folk clubs, concert halls and festivals followed. The group soon became a household name with regular T.V. appearances both at home and abroad.
In 1967, their record "Seven Drunken Nights" reached No. 2 in the English Hit Parade. This created a major breakthrough for Irish Music and took the group out of the folk world and into the mainstream of popular music.
The group made a debut at the famous Sports Hall in Berlin in 1971 where they played to a capacity audience of 8,000 people. After this their popularity was established throughout mainland Europe, The Dubliners have appeared in most of the major halls in Britain, Germany, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, and even in Iceland.
Their popularity in Europe is such that they have been doing regular spring and autumn tours there ever since 1971, as well as frequent guest appearances at Summer Festivals. In 1984 as well as their usual visit to Germany and Scandinavia, they accepted an invitation to return to Iceland to do three concerts in Reykjavik.
They have appeared on every major television music show in Britain and Europe. To date they have made four successful tours in Australia and New Zealand, and have made several trips to the States and Canada where they appeared on the prestigious Ed Sullivan T.V. show.
The Dubliners have recorded over 20 albums on various record labels. Their records are available on Transatlantic, E.M.I., Polydor, Polygram, Decca, Intercord and in Ireland on the Chyme label.
While the success of the group is undisputed, they have had their share of tragedies along the way. In 1974 Ciaran Bourke suffered a brain haemorrhage leaving him with some physical disablement. By a strange quirk of fate it was a brain tumour which led to Luke Kelly's death in 1984.
During Luke's illness over the last three years, the group was joined by Galway-born Seán Cannon. Seán, a fine singer of traditional and contemporary songs had been a friend of the group for many years. The current line-up of the group is now John Sheahan, Ronnie Drew, Barney McKenna, and Seán Cannon.
The Dubliners' popularity throughout the world is unquestionable and their contribution to folk music is unparalleled. After 24 years of globe-trotting the Dubliners have never compromised through changing musical fads. They are probably the best accident that happend to the music world and contribute to it, not only with superb voices, but also with their exceptional talent as musicians.
Ronnie is a Dubliner by birth who started 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 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".
Born in Dublin on 16th December, 1939. He lives in Howth, Co. Dublin. Since he loves sea fishing nothing could suit him better. Barney started playing music when he was six, when he broke the strings on his Uncle Jim's mandolin and his Uncle Barney's fiddle, and even blew his Dad's melodeon out of tune. 'Before I could play I was a real smasher'. At twelve years of age Barney tried to join the Number One Army Band, but was rejected because of faulty vision. By this time he had mastered the banjo so well that he embarrassed most musicians who ever attempted to play it. Barney is an admirer of Paul Robeson, Joe Heanney, Segovia and Julian Bream.
He left school at fourteen and a half to become a glassblower, kitchen porter, builder's labourer and even worked in the furnaces of Ireland. During all this time he continued to play banjo at various concerts, going on to become a founding member, with Luke Kelly of the Dubliners.
Born in Dublin on the 19th May, 1939. He studied for five years at the Municipal School of Music in Dublin, after playing tin whistle, while still at school. He used his classical technique on traditional Irish music, which led to a number of awards at various feiseanna — festivals of Irish traditional music, dancing, poetry and literature.
Having finished primary school, doing a two-year course at the College of Technology. He served his electrical apprenticeship and qualified in 1960. During this time he played with a number of bands around the country, until he met with the Dubliners. Just before he joined the Dubliners full time, John got an opportunity of doing a trainee period in the E.S.B. drawing office where he worked as a draughtsman. He enjoys experimenting with new instruments, wiring and decorating houses and drawing plans. John is fond of Blue Grass — irreverently dubbed 'Cowboy Music' by Luke. He contributes fiddle solo to the or rum mandolin duets with Barnev and solo plavs the tin whistle.
Born and reared in Galway, but spent most of his adult life in England. His interest in folk music started in 1962 in Germany where he lived for a short while. For several years he moved throughout Europe living in Germany, Switzerland and Spain and eventually settling in England in the late 60's. He first appeared with the Dubliners, when he played support in two concerts in the 70's at Coventry and Redcar. He has also toured extensively with Planxty throughout Britain and Europe.
For the last dozen years he has played in practically every folk club from John O'Groats to Land's End. Seán is married and based in Yorkshire and is likely to remain there as most of the Dubliners' work is throughout Europe and Britain.
Now older, somewhat greyer in parts, they can still grab even an essentially English audience by the bootlaces and have them toe-tapping along from the start.
But these days, there's a much more cosmopolitan feel to this foursome, which follows gravel voiced Ronnie Drew's teaching sojourn in Spain and the arrival of much-travelled Sean Cannon to the line up.
Their Spanish duet, about lovelorn yoiuns, was a little gem.
Certainly, Gallway-born Cannon strikes an imposing figure and his voice lifts the group into another dimension.
It was said of the late, lamented, Luke Kelly that he could stun an audience with the strength of his vocals. Now we have Seán providing not only strength but a remarkable range.
Over the years, the Dubliners have won legions of fans worldwide with their raucous, earthy, Irish wit. Now they are still pulling them in, with a much mellower sound while still retaining that old oomph.
Lew Baxter: Liverpool Daily Post
Given the limitations of space how does one review the last 25 years of the Dubliners and give the most comprehensive/composite picture of these very diverse individuals who have come together and thus enriched the world of music in general and the folk and traditional scene in particular.
This of necessity is a personal view of the Dubliners. I've been there over the years when, to paraphase the slogan of The News of the World "All human life is there". We've had the full gamut of weddings, christenings and alas funerals.
Cecil Sharp House in London has been in the news in recent months. The headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (known by a variety of irreverent names) is like to come under the hammer sooner or later. Doubtless the archives valuable as they are, will be found a good home. The memories I have invested in the place can't be wrapped or treated in any tangible way. It was there that I first caught sight of the Dubliners when they gave a live performance which was later translated into an LP. It was the first album on which John Sheahan and Bob Lynch were featured. Bob was something of a ship that passed in the night in terms of the group for his sojourn was comparatively brief. Come the time when the decision whether or not to turn professional was becoming more and more pressing Bob opted out.
I will confess to a liking for Baileys Irish Cream — but only when the stiff tot of Irish whiskey is added to it. That's more or less how the group has emerged over the years to my way of thinking. Superb musicians in their own right, they could each hold a stage for an entire evening but put them together and the combination weaves a magic which has never waned. If anything it gets stronger and better.
In casual conversation with John some years ago I was asked if I ever got fed up going to Dubliners concerts. Although I hate it when folk answer one question with another it was a tactic to which I resorted in this instance. I countered by asking if he ever got bored playing. His answer was an emphatic 'no' for, as he explained, each concert was a new experience. That's how I feel about the exercise too.
I was in Dublin in September of last year and spent a most enjoyable evening watching the Irish cabaret in the far-famed Jury's Hotel. If the presentation was aimed at our American cousins and not at the native population I could live with that, especially when confronted by a wealth of young talent. One of the foremost was Siobhan Sheahan, eldest daughter of John and Mary was playing some of her father's compositions on the harp. It struck me that Mary O' Kara could well have to look to her laurels.
Where has the time gone to? It seems like only yesterday that we were getting excited about the first tour of the States, then Australia. They broke new ground on the Continent and made lasting friendships into the bargain. Mind you breaking new ground was practically second nature to them by that stage. It's something they have done at every step of their careers. "Finnegan Wakes" is still talked about with affection. That came out of the John Molloy revues.
Luke's flirtation with the stage lasted for most of his adult life. His performances may never have been in the Oscar class but they were entertaining and gave pleasure. There is an LP on the go just now called "Luke's Legacy". Luke was a dearly loved and highly valued friend. Just the same I'm sure that he wouldn't disagree with me when I state that the legacy was not Luke's alone, for we are all touched by those lives which touch ours and the Dubliners are now, and always have been, a group. Each has contributed something unique. Ronnie's voice was once described as being akin to coke being crushed under a door. Whether or not you agree with that description the fact remains that the voice, the distinctive style of guitar playing and the Dublin humour have carried us all through on occasion.
Looking back over the years I take out and look at a host of happy memories. There was the famous exchange on television between Ronnie and Simon Dee. "I hear you have made a new album" from this urbane darling of the younger set elicited "A photograph album?" from a bemused Ronnie. Usually though it is Barney who earns the plaudits for the naive remark which is screamingly funny. Seeing a somewhat battered fighter a few days after a bout Barney pronounced that it was better to be a coward for five minutes rather than a dead man for the rest of your life.
I've lived and moved in the world of folk music for more than the 25 years of the Dubliners. I've found a heartening friendship and willingness to help amongst these musicians. I don't think that anything ever really prepares one for the shock of discovering that one is an exile from Ireland. Realism and commonsense tells one that the exile's dream of home is not practical. It doesn't make the reality any less painful. In that respect I've always found Dubliners concerts something of a two edged sword. It brings thoughts of home very much alive but it also reminds one of what one has loved and lost.
The line-up has changed over the years. Some of those we cherished we will never see more in this life. Luke's death was a body blow to all of us but most especially the Dubliners themselves.
The man himself, so positive always, would be the first to say that life must go on. So it must and will. In the past there has been input from Phil Coulter, Nigel Warren-Green, Noel Pearson and many more. They have formed a circle around a growing nucleus which now comprises Ronnie Drew, Barney McKenna, John Sheahan and Sean Cannon. With the exception of Luke and Bob Lynch the 'Dubliners' are alive and well and living for the most part in Dublin. Ciaran, though disabled, is still very much with us.
Although I have never really taken to "Seven Drunken Nights" the fact remains that it has been the basis, or perhaps more properly the launching pad which took them to the four corners of the globe. Last year they visited Belgrade, thus breaking more new ground — and so it goes on.
It was with a great deal of regret that I took the decision at the beginning of this year to resign as secretary of the Dubliners Club. In recent years I have become more and more involved in raising money to assist the work of Fr. Luke MacCabe, an Irish Carmelite priest and doctor who spends nine months of the year working with folk in the Turkana Desert region of Northern Kenya (about 20 miles from the Ethiopian border.) It grieved me to take that decision but it was the right one. The Dubs, being the men they are have given me a great deal of help and support in the work. It is appreciated. I am, and will remain a dyed in the wool Dubliners fan. Knowing them and their music has enriched our lives. I hope that they will go on to celebrate their diamond jubilee tour. What's more I'll even applaud the playing and singing of "Seven Drunken Nights" — What's more I'll mean it!