The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem
Irish folk group
Bob Dylan claimed in the early 1960s: “I’m going to be as big as the Clancy Brothers!” With the Clancy Brothers dominating The Ed Sullivan Show and performing their sad Irish drinking tales and rebellious stories before thousands of people, Dylan’s declaration at the time seemed bold and impetuous. Its opposite came true, of course: Dylan submerged the Clancys’ pointed and poignant folk ballads into his stew of influences en route to rock ‘n’ roll superstardom; the Clancys peaked around 1964, then slowly drifted into a hodgepodge of break-ups, reunions, and greatest-hits CD collections. But in bringing Irish music into American mainstream culture, the Brothers were key figures in the 1960s folk revival and helped Ireland rediscover its cultural traditions. Every Irish-music movement since then—from the Chieftains to Sean O’Riada, from Van Morrison to U2, from Enya to the Corrs—owes some of its success to the Clancys.
Born in the small Irish market town Carrick-On-Suir, in County Tipperary, Tom and Patrick “Paddy” Clancy were two of eleven children. Their parents, Robert, an insurance broker, and Joan, a housewife, sang Irish folk songs constantly, but neither Tom nor Paddy envisioned a professional music career when they were growing up. They served in both the Irish Republican Army and the Royal Air Force—Pat, a flight engineer in North India and Burma; Tom, an officer in Europe and North Africa.
They left Ireland for Canada in 1947 and, after apparently hiding out in the back of a truck, immigrated to the United States three years later. Landing in Cleveland, Ohio, and then Manhattan, the duo pursued show-business careers. In addition to driving taxis and painting houses, they auditioned for acting roles by day and sang by night at clubs and coffeehouses such as the Lion’s Head and the White Horse Tavern. Tom had by far the most successful acting career, landing Broadway roles in King Lear with Orson Welles and A Touch of the Poet with Helen Hayes. (Much later, he would appear in television’s Starsky & Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, and The Incredible Hulk.) Soon they were producing their own plays, at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village, but after three struggling years, they turned to midnight music concerts to pay the bills.
That was the beginning of the Clancy Brothers as they are commonly known. Drawing on their family singing background and their knowledge of Irish drinking ballads and rebellious folk songs, they began to build a small New York City audience. On-stage acting experience also helped. The Clancys told funny stories between songs and responded to applause with vaudevillian lines like “You have very good taste, I must say.” Soon their younger brother, Liam, and a friend, Tommy Makem, were joining them regularly on stage. Paddy Clancy created his own record label, Tradition, and put out albums of pointed but gentle folk harmonies, including 1956’s The Rising of the Moon, which was recorded around a kitchen table in the Bronx.
Members include Bobby Clancy (joined group, 1975), vocals; Finbarr Clancy, guitar, vocals, flute; Liam Clancy (born in 1953; left group, 1975; returned, 1984), vocals, guitar, concertinas; Patrick “Paddy” Clancy (born in 1922 in Carrick-on-Suir, Ireland; died on November 11, 1998, in Carrick-on-Suir, Ireland), vocals; Tom Clancy (born in 1927 in Carrick-on-Suir, Ireland; died in 1990, in London, England), vocals; Tommy Makem (born in 1932 in Keady, Ireland; left group, 1970), vocals, banjo, guitar, whistle; Robbie O’Connell (joined group, 1975; left group, 1990; returned, 1992), guitar, vocals.
Group formed in New York, NY, 1956; formed independent record label, Tradition, 1956; released debut album, The Rising of the Moon, 1956; appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, 1961; released Columbia Records debut, A Spontaneous Performance Recording, 1961; disbanded (original configuration), 1970; reunited, 1975, 1984, 1993, 1996; performed for Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration, 1992,
Awards: (Paddy Clancy) Memorial Scholarship, Irish World Music Center, established 1998; (Liam Clancy) Emmy Award (Canada), 1973; (Tommy Makem) Gold Medal, Eire Society of Boston, 1957; Congressional Record (Connecticut), 1988; Lifetime Achievement Award, World Folk Music Association, 1999; (Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy) Genesis Award, Stonehill College, Massachusetts, 1988; (Robbie O’Connell) Boston Music Award for Outstanding Celtic Act, 1991.
Addresses: Record company —Columbia Legacy Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211. Website —Liam Clancy Official Website: http://www.liamclancy.com; Tommy Makem Official Website: http://www.makem.com; Robbie O’Connell Official Website: http://www.robbieoconnell.com.
“The crowds got so wild,” Liam Clancy told CBSNews.com in 2002, promoting his memoir, The Mountain of the Woman. “And they would hoist crates of beer up onto the stage and demand that we drink them. It was a wild and wonderful time…. Greenwich Village was an island for people escaped from repressed backgrounds, who had swallowed the directive to be inferior, to know your place, to kowtow to royalty, to hierarchy, and all the other nonsense.”
Their timing was impeccable. The Clancys’ Greenwich Village audiences at the time included young folk-music aficionados such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, who would later say, in the CBSNews.com article, of Liam Clancy: “For me, I never heard a singer as good as Liam. He was just the best ballad singer I ever heard in my life. Still is, probably. I can’t think of anyone who is a better ballad singer than Liam.” As legend has it, after hearing the Clancys’ version of Dominic Behan’s “Patriot Game,” Dylan tinkered with the lyrics and re-tooled the ballad into his own “With God on Our Side.” More than 30 years later, in 1992, the Clancy Brothers would reunite with Makem for Dylan’s recording-anniversary celebration at Madison Square Garden in New York City. They sang “When the Ship Comes In,” an Irish ballad Dylan recorded on The Times They Are A-Changin’.
Two major events in the Clancys’ career happened in 1961. First, they received a package from their mother. “It was a very cold winter in New York and my mother in Ireland read about the snow and the frost in New York. And her three sons were in America. So she knitted three Aran sweaters and she sent them out,” Paddy Clancy used to say, as reported at the irishmusicweb website. “We had a Jewish manager, Marty Erlichman. He saw them and said That’s it. I’ve been looking for some identifiable costume for you. It’s perfect!’” The thick, roped sweaters became their trademark—especially when, upon signing with Columbia Records, they wore them on the cover of 1961 ‘s A Spontaneous Performance Recording. The second event was The Ed Sullivan Show, the influential television variety show that gave the Beatles their big break three years later. When a scheduled guest became sick, the Clancys sang for 18 minutes on the air.
After that, they were international celebrities, playing “Fine Girl You Are,” “The Holy Ground,” and “The Rambler” at Carnegie Hall and fancy venues everywhere. Dylan, jazz hero Stan Getz, and a promising young singer named Barbra Streisand were among their opening acts. The Clancys recorded 55 albums and performed for luminaries such as President John F. Kennedy, a fan, at the White House.
As the 1960s wore on, with Dylan and the Beatles steering popular music away from traditional folk ballads and towards electric rock ‘n’ roll, the Clancys’ star power began to dim. They drifted from traditional signatures such as “The Old Orange Flute” and “Whiskey Is the Life of Man” and began writing and producing their own material. Makem left for a solo career in 1970; Liam Clancy left five years later. With Liam’s replacement, the Clancys’ youngest brother, Bobby, the group slowly devolved into a nostalgia act. Makem and Liam Clancy sometimes performed as a duet, and they came together on special occasions (including the Dylan thirtieth-anniversary show) in various singing configurations. But they never approached their early 1960s star power again. Paddy returned to Carrick-on-Suir to raise cattle with his wife on a farm. Tom died in 1990; Paddy died in 1998. Liam and Tommy Makem continue mildly successful solo careers.
Come Fill Your Glass with Us, Tradition, 1959; reissued, Rykodisc, 1998.
The Rising of the Moon: Irish Songs of Rebellion, Tradition, 1959; reissued, Rykodisc, 1998.
A Spontaneous Concert Performance, Columbia, 1961.
The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, Tradition, 1961; reissued, Rykodisc, 1996.
In Person at Carnegie Hall, Columbia, 1964; reissued, Columbia Legacy, 1997; also reissued as In Concert, Columbia, 1991, and Luck of the Irish, Columbia Legacy, 1992.
Greatest Hits, Vanguard, 1973.
The Makem and Clancy Collection, Shanachie, 1980; reissued, 1992.
The Clancy Brothers with Robbie O’Connell, Vanguard, 1982; reissued, 1991.
Reunion, Shanachie, 1984.
Irish Folk Songs & Airs, Columbia Legacy, 1992.
The Best of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Columbia Legacy, 1994.
Favorites: Wrap the Green Flag, Columbia Legacy, 1994.
Irish Songs of Drinking and Rebellion, Columbia Legacy, 1994.
Older but No Wiser, Vanguard, 1995.
Home to Ireland: The Best of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Madacy, 1996.
28 Irish Pub Songs: The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Madacy, 1996.
The Best of the Clancy Brothers, Vanguard, 1997.
Songs of Ireland and Beyond, Columbia, 1997.
Irish Revolutionary Songs, Columbia Legacy, 1999.
The Best of the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, Columbia Legacy, 2002.
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem Song Book, Tiparm Music Publishers, 1964.
Walters, Neal, and Brian Mansfield, editors, MusicHound Folk: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1998.
Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), March 1, 2002.
Chicago Sun-Times, December 2, 1992, p. 4.
Guardian (Manchester, England), November 18, 1998, p. 24.
Houston Chronicle, November 20, 1998, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times, November 9, 1990, p. 35.
Newsday, November 13, 1992.
“About Liam,” Liam Clancy—A World of Music, http://www.liamclancy.com/about.htm (July 12, 2002).
“Clancy Brothers,” CDNOW, http://www.cdnow.com (July 12, 2002).
“Liam Clancy: Irish Troubadour,” CBSNews.com, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/03/15/sunday/main503867.shtml (March 17, 2002).
“Makem FAQ,” Tommy Makem Official Website, http://www.makem.com/faq/index.html (July 12, 2002).
“Robbie O’Connell,” Robbie O’Connell Official Website, http://www.robbieoconnell.com/biography.html (July 12, 2002).
“The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem,” irishmusicweb, http://www.irishmusicweb.ie/texts/clancys.html (July 12, 2002).
Additional information was obtained from Earle Hitchner’s liner notes in The Best of the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, Columbia Legacy, 2002, and Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration, Columbia, 1993.
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