By Earle Hitchner
PADDY CLANCY MEMORIAL CONCERT. At Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, NYC. Nov. 21.
First on stage after intermission, veteran American folksinger Tom Paxton fired a quick song salvo over the bow of Jerry Falwell, lampooning his lit-crit-lite interpretation of one of the Teletubbies as homosexual and concluding that Falwell has too much time on his hands.
Many of today’s young folk wannabes avoid tough socio-political subjects in favor of relationship insights seemingly cribbed from self-help books and "Oprah." The stalwarts of America’s folk-music boom in the 1950s and ’60s also looked inward, if not so narcissistically, but they looked outward as well, striving to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
That made 62-year-old Paxton’s gibe all the more refreshing, a sign there’s still plenty of fire in his musicmaking and that of his compatriots from that era. Odetta, who will be 70 years old this New Year’s Eve and has just released her first full-fledged studio album in 14 years, opened the concert with a stirring a cappella rendition of "The Foggy Dew," an Easter Rebellion song that Paddy Clancy (1922-1998) had made famous over 40 years ago.
On a mountain dulcimer she learned to play as a child in the Appalachian foothills of Viper, Ky., 77-year-old Jean Ritchie gave a heartfelt performance with her sons John and Peter of such classics as "Love Somebody" (based on the Irish tune "Soldier’s Joy") and "Now Is the Cool of the Day."
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Both in their 60s, John Stewart, who was not in good voice, and his Kingston Trio colleague Nick Reynolds, who was in good voice, mustered an expressive "Whistling Gypsy" that the Clancy Brothers had made famous. Though his stage patter tended to get as wheezy as his radio show "Folk Song Festival," Oscar Brand belied his 79 years with lively versions of Leadbelly’s "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" and Hamish Henderson’s "51st Highland Division’s Farewell to Sicily."
Galway-born singer, guitarist, and keyboardist Gabriel Donahue gave a creditable performance of "Heather on the Moor" and his own composition "Shannon Road," native Dubliner Danny Doyle sang an emotional song about a close family member, and ex-Barleycorn member Liam Tiernan offered a spirited "Rocks of Bawn," another song recorded by the Clancys.
Carmel Quinn prefaced her version of "Moonshiner" with jokes about Texas, and Tom Paxton added two of his best-known songs, "The Last Thing on My Mind" and "Rambling Boy." The latter, however, might have described his partner, banjoist/guitarist Eric Weissberg, whose logorrhea compounded the lifeless way he sang two songs on his own.
In stark contrast to Weissberg were Tommy Makem and fiddler Patrick Mangan, both of whom delivered the evening’s most memorable performances. With his son Rory, Tommy Makem robustly sang "A Jug of Punch," another song closely associated with Paddy Clancy, and his own composition "The Winds Are Singing Freedom."
A sophomore at New York’s Stuyvesant High School, where emcee Frank McCourt taught, 15-year-old Patrick Mangan embodied the purpose of this concert: to raise funds for a scholarship that will nurture talent as promising as his. With a commanding touch, he performed two jigs, a hornpipe, and a medley of an air and two reels, occasionally to a quartet of stepdancers featuring Donny and Eileen Golden.
Graying gracefully, most of Paddy Clancy’s contemporaries gave an admirable account of themselves. The concert was a fitting way to acknowledge the important role the Tipperary-born singer had played in a folk-music past that shapes us still.
Contributions to the Paddy Clancy Memorial Scholarship Fund can be sent c/o Mary Rowley, P.O. Box 169, Warminster, PA 18974.