We're doing a picture about the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and just wanted to have a little chat with yourself. Why'd you think they became so enormously popular and successful in America in the 1960s?
Ah, mainly because of the, you know, the dynamics they sang with, and the subject matter they sang about and... they just reached a lot of people, you know, with their exuberance and their attitude -- mostly it was attitude.
Other than that, I mean, they're all great singers. They were all so different, too, weren't they? The times I remember the Clancy Brothers most was not mostly in the clubs where we played, but in those bars. There was a bar called the... the White Horse bar, and they were in there... you could always go there any time, and they'd be singing, you know, Irish... the Irish folk songs, I... actually I learnt quite a few there myself. But Liam was... for me, I never heard a singer as good as Liam ever. He was just the best ballad singer I'd ever heard in my life -- still is, probably. I don't think I can think of anybody who is a better ballad singer than Liam. Tommy [Makem] was alright, too, but Tommy would sing one of those rousing songs or... you know mostly... but Liam always sang those ballads which always would get to me.
At that time in the Village, when you were knocking about in the 1960s... were they...?
Plus we had the same girlfriend!
Do you think that... were they influential on your own career?
Oh yeah, enormously so. And my... yeah, because I was... you were around them all the time and they just sang so many songs all the time, you couldn't help but... The first album I made, there was one song on it that was an old song from... I'd heard on an old banjo record someplace, but I did that song the way the Clancy Brothers, I thought, would have done it, you know, if... you know, in their style on the very first record I made. It's something which... just that rousing sort of rendition of...
You were a young man from a very large continent; they came from a very small island. What was important to you in the songs themselves and the subject matter of the songs?
Well, I'd never heard those kind of songs before, although I... close up, you know. I'd heard them on record but I hadn't heard them close up. All the legendary people they used to sing about -- Brennan on the Moor, or Roddy McCorley, or these people they... I wasn't aware of them, when they existed... but it was as if they'd just existed yesterday.
They became heroes in your life, is it?
Oh, yeah, I would think of Brennan on the Moor the same way as I would think of Jesse James or something, you know, they just became very real to me.
You appear to have been fond of them personally, you know, and are you still fond of the material that they sing?
Oh yeah. I saw them a few years ago -- about four years ago. I saw Liam and Tommy play -- they had a different band then. I don't think Tom... Tom Clancy or Paddy was there. I think another brother was... but it was a different band. And then I ran into Liam in an airport somewhere last year, I can't remember where. I run across them from here time and time again, you know.
When you come to Ireland on a time, an occasion like this, do you hear echoes of their music in your imagination?
Yeah, yeah, I can see where they, where they get it all from, you know. Then, you know, there are a lot of melodies which I heard them sing close up that I took and I made some myself, you know, I wrote some of my own songs to some of the melodies that I heard them do. That happened too.
Would you put it as strong as saying that every time Bob Dylan sings there's a trace of the Clancy Brother?
That wouldn't be an over-statement, you know. There's some truth to that, yeah. Oh yeah, it was great... I mean, all night long we'd just sing... oh, there'd be some poets there, too, and just get up with a bottle of beer or ale or something, and just recite a poem, and even that was music. You know, that was musical too.
There were stories going about as well, they were telling stories at the same time now. Did you find the stories thrilling?
Yeah, I found it all thrilling. I did. It was just, you know, I'd never heard anything like it... yeah, it was completely thrilling. It was over... it was just something which happened in that period of time and I never really felt that again. I mean, I don't know, maybe they still do that in some place in America, but I don't know where.
Do you regard it as a little, kind of, little paradise in your life... that period in your life? It seemed to be to them... when they lookback in the Village at that time in the sixties, there seemed to be a kind of encapsulated....
Well, yeah. Looking back on it now it feels that way. But when it was happening, it was all happening so fast that you didn't really think about it, you know. It just seemed to be... just where you were... you found yourself in that situatio, that position... and that's just the way it was. But it went by so fast that nobody really thought about it. I don't recall thinking... thinking, you know, making any thoughts in my head about it. I suppose I thought it would have gone on forever, you know, I don't know. Everybody just seemed to disappear. I've gone back to that bar and it's not the same. You know they're out there and....