How did your collection of songs come about?
PAT CLANCY: Well, some came from our family, and some from our local community. We didn't necessarily learn them all... The Frog and the Well was an immediate family song. There was a whole lot we knew as party pieces from friends and family... Although later on we did go and look up the words, at that stage the collecting had been done without us knowing it.
LIAM CLANCY: Probably the most important person in the formation of the group was an American woman called Diane Hamilton. She was a wealthy woman who was interested in collecting, and who acted as a kind of catalyst in drawing us all together. She was a friend of Jean Ritchie's. She recorded Sara Makem... She was one of the Guggenheim family -- the Museum of Modern Art on 5th Avenue -- and her father was Harry Guggenheim, who was known as the Father of American aviation -- a friend and neighbour of Lindbergh... I helped lug all her recording equipment around Ireland, and discovered music I never knew existed in our own country -- the fiddlers, the storytellers, the folklore. That, for me, was when the whole thing jumped out of the parochial into the universal.
PAT CLANCY: In the meantime, my brother Tom and I, we used to go to the Hootenannies in New York when they were hootenannies, and there'd be fifteen people there, but they'd be Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, Josh White. We were involved in that, swapping songs, and learning that some of the songs had their own versions...
LIAM CLANCY: The thing that really astounded me on my arrival in New York -- the first night I arrived, I was taken by Diane Hamilton to this apartment, on 10th Street, near 5th Avenue, in Greenwich Village. There was a party, and there was Josh White, drunk out of his mind, four or five girls around him, playing my old guitar! He was making this thing talk! You see, Paddy and Tom, there was a thirteen-year age gap between us, and I didn't know them. They had been off in the war, then gone to New York -- they were like my father to me! Tom was sounding me out at this party, this brother, this stranger, asking me if I smoked or drank, if I liked women!
This was, what, 1956? So Guthrie had Huntington's Disease by then?
PAT CLANCY: I remember when he had just got it. I used to see him perform, and one time he wasn't able to do it very well. The story was out that he'd got drunk, had been smoking in bed, burned the mattress and burned his arm. Of course, we knew nothing about this Huntington's. There was nothing wrong with him when Tom and I used to see him at the early Hoots. You paid a dollar to get in, and beer for a quarter... He always used to maintain that his people, the Guthries, were from Ireland.
LIAM CLANCY: Did you ever hear his line after Burl Ives, who was the first one of his group to make it big? The first money he made, he got an apartment, and he had all the old pals, all the old hobos, up to celebrate, but he had no furniture. Woody Guthrie described it afterwards -- all celebrating the success of one of their own -- he said "I spent the night in that apartment with nothing between me and them bedsprings but a skinny woman!"
PAT CLANCY: Guthrie and his wife Marge [Marjorie] used to live over in Brooklyn, and he had this real old Okie jalopy, and he wanted to get home one night, over the 59th Street bridge. But he goes the wrong way, and he's driving against all the traffic. Caused havoc. Course, the police got him in, drove him back to Precinct 6. They tried to sober him up, put him in the back seat, took the keys; but what they didn't know was that he had half a gallon of plum brandy under the back seat! They came along six hours later and said "How you feeling now?" and Guthrie says "Oh, I'm fine."
LIAM CLANCY: I only met him once, when we did a benefit concert for him, and it was pathetic; the arms were going everywhere, and the head. His brain was coherent, that was the tragic thing. But he was delighted: Lee Hays was there, Pete Seeger, Cisco Houston, he was dying at the time as well -- he had cancer. The poor bastard, he was dying of pain, and he had to keep working, because he didn't have tomorrow's meal unless he worked that night at Gerde's.
At the time, that whole 'folk' thing seemed pretty local, and it was people like Bob Shelton at the New York Times who were writing and bringing it to people's attention.
LIAM CLANCY: He, more than anyone, was responsible for Bob Dylan. He pushed and pushed and pushed. He thought Bobby Dylan was a tremendous poet. He had made a very folkie record at that time with John Hammond that wasn't doing anything, but Shelton kept pushing. It was a little later that the whole thing caught fire. Shelton used to bring him to our concerts and tell him "Now this is how you have to put a show together!"
I was coming through La Guardia airport about six months ago, and I had the bodhran on my back, and the guitars, and the next thing I felt this body behind me, and I got this great, hairy kiss on the cheek. Now when that happens in New York, you're going to turn around and belt whoever it is. So I turn around, and it's Bob Dylan. "Hey, Liam, hey man, how's Paddy? How's Tom? Where's Tommy? I'll come down to the Pavilion to see you, we're gonna have to talk. Where's Shelton?" We stood talking for a little while, and suddenly the whole thing flooded back to me, what it was all like at that time. He says: "I love you guys, and I love Shelton for bringing me to your first concert in Town Hall. You know what I remember about that concert, Liam? You sang a commercial about Donnelly's sausages!"
PAT CLANCY: It's funny, just talking, it brings flashes of memory back. Our first time at the Blue Angel, which was the ritzy, uptown nightclub -- all mattresses on the walls, no English spoken -- we were up there in the heart of winter, right out of Gerde's. Our hearts were there, but we dressed up, and all the Gerde's crowd came up, and it was a blizzard that night, and when we came out we couldn't get a taxi, and the whole crowd of us walked down to Gerde's, a big caravan of all the Village beatniks and ourselves... Do you remember that night?
LIAM CLANCY: I do. And do you remember who was out in the front lounge and who wouldn't come into the show? Edward and Mrs. Simpson. Ava Gardner was there for the first show.
For a lot of people, certainly English people, that whole period in Greenwich Village in the late 50s and early 60s, there was a feel that it was a golden period...
LIAM CLANCY: It was. It was a certain sort of spontaneous combustion. It's a thing that happens around the world at different times. It happened in Paris in the 20s when Hemingway was writing -- a mini-renaissance. It moves from place to place, and there are people who try to find out where it's going to happen next, to follow it. But you can't control it, you can't predict it. What was happening in the Village at that time -- it was a surprise to find ourselves in the middle of it... it was years and years later that I discovered the reason for all that. It was in O'Donoghue's in Dublin. I was in there with Seamus Ennis -- the old folk-lord himself -- and there was a banjo player, Barney MacKenna of the Dubliners, surrounded by girls, devotees, aficionados, who was totally oblivious to their presence, and playing incredible music. And Seamus Ennis, who never had a good word to say of any other musician -- like all the great bards, he was immensely jealous of his own talent -- and he leaned over to me and said: "There's a man who takes delight in every note of music that he makes." And suddenly I realised that's what it is. That was what we had always done unconsciously, just taken delight in it, and that delight is infectious.
PAT CLANCY: But there was more to it than the music. There were stories, associations, whereever we went, we'd sing a song, tell a story, recite a poem, have a row, whatever it was, and somehow, because we didn't give a fuck, everybody gravitated towards us, because they had inhibitions. It was an attitude towards life.
I remember you saying about Richard Farina, earlier, now to someone like me, Farina is this legendary figure, who wrote a book and died the night it was published, and you sometimes forget that he lived, and drank...
PAT CLANCY: Dick Farina and I went to the White Horse one night, and no singers turned up except Farina and I. Now Farina could play a fairly good mouth organ. Now we held forth that night, and we had a ball! And when our mouths were sore from playing mouth organs, we sang our fucking hearts out! He was an amazing guy, and it was typical of him, if you knew him, that he would be killed on a motorcycle...
LIAM CLANCY: I always thought he was a bit of a loser. I was very fond of him, but I never sensed that he would accomplish the completion of a book. I remember my wife Kim and I, and Dick and Mimi, went up to Woodstock, to Al Grossman's house for Thanksgiving. Beautiful house, haunted, very strange. Bob Dylan had been living there. I don't know if you remember an album of his -- Bringing It All Back Home? He was sitting there with a cat, and there was a kind of frame around it. Well, as soon as I walked into the house, I realised this is where the picture was. The cat was there, and rolls of coloured cellophane that the photographer had used to get the tunnel effect. Dylan had just had the motorcycle accident [SIC -- WITH ALL THE TALK ABOUT RICHARD FARINA'S MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENT, LIAM SEEMS TO CONFUSE THIS WITH ANOTHER VISIT TO AL GROSSMAN'S] and Farina said all of Dylan's stuff was locked in a room downstairs, we had to nail it shut, because so many visitors were visiting Al Grossman, and Dylan was very protective of his stuff; there might have been manuscripts in there that he wouldn't want anyone to get their hands on. But we spent a couple of lovely evenings up there, and coming home in the evenings and lighting a big fire, and Farina started telling us about a book he was writing, and when I read the book [Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me] later, I could find absolutely no similarity whatsoever in what he was telling. It was all based upon those recurring dreams he had about this monkey figure, and it was involved with his father, who was Cuban, and his mother, who was a real Irish biddy. The day the book was published, it got a whole page in the literary section of the New York Times, and I came into the Lion's Head with this under my arm, and Pat was there, with Tom, and Tommy was up at the top of the bar, and I went over to him and said "Jesus Christ, did you see this? Did you see Farina's write-up?" And he had this very sombre look on his face, and he said "Farina was killed last night." We were all very young, and this was the first time that a contemporary had died. At that time I thought we were all immortal.
PAT CLANCY: Who was out there was Judy Collins, who was with Mimi after he'd died, and two days later she came back, and we went for a drink on McDougal Street, and she was high. I was asking "How's Mimi?" and she was saying "not here, not there." Jesus, two hours went by; she called me into a doorway: "The word from Mimi is... love!" She was high as a kite,
Just getting back to Dylan, he'd obviously picked up a lot from the folk tradition, setting his words to traditional melodies?
LIAM CLANCY: Do you know what Dylan was when he came to the Village? He was a teenager, and the only thing I can compare him with was blotting paper. He soaked everything up. He had this immense curiosity; he was totally blank, and was ready to suck up everything that came within his range.
PAT CLANCY: Let me tell you some of the mechanics now, because I was very close to it. Al Grossman's father's neighbour... Grossman started in Chicago, and he wanted to come to New York to find out about folk music. I was contacted to show him around the Village. He arrived at night, at 240 West 10th Street, in a suit and tie. He was a very bright man... You want to know where Dylan got his stuff? There was a little folk club here in London, down in the basement; we sung in it one night, where the fellow was singing about the tiger in the grass and the bullet up his arse, do you remember that? Anyway, Al Grossman paid somebody and gave them a tape-recorder, and every folk-singer that went up there was taped, and Bob Dylan got all those tapes. And when you hear The Leaving of Liverpool adapted by Bob Dylan, it is from one of those tapes!
LIAM CLANCY: Yes, and the tune of "Farewell"... because whoever was singing harmony was closer to the mike than the guy singing melody, and when [Dylan] wrote his version, he wrote it to the harmony not the melody line... But one of the nice things about people like Dylan, and Barbra Streisand who made it big... there's an old saying "Be nice to everyone you meet on the way up, because you'll meet them all again on the way down!"
Dylan had this image of the lost waif, and all the girls wanted to mother him -- he made out like a bandit because he was a lost waif!... But chickens come home to roost in more ways than one. When we were doing this documentary on The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, Dylan hadn't given an on-camera interview since he did the thing for The Weavers and Woody Guthrie, and our manager, Maurice Cassidy, approached management through Los Angeles and all the bullshit. There was a very remote possibility that Dylan would ever do this sort of thing again, and he gets a telegram back the next day saying "Yes, Dylan wants to do a film interview." So he rang to thank the manager guy, who said "Hey, don't thank me -- the man himself wants to do it." And he did a lovely tribute, and it was out of old friendship...
As we were saying earlier, it wasn't just music. Presumably around the time you were around the Village you'd see people like Lenny Bruce?
PAT CLANCY: Oh Jesus, Lenny Bruce! We shared a bill with him a couple of times, and he was the only guy I'd leave our dressing room to see. I always thought he was one of the most brilliant guys I ever watched. Tommy Makem hated him.
LIAM CLANCY: He took every sacred cow in the world and milked it! ...In retrospect, of course, what he was doing was so valuable in breaking down, taking another view of everything we ever took for granted... But you know, Patrick Sky was someone who had that same warped sense of humour. Big man, his real name was Patrick Lynch, but he took his mother's name -- she was genuine Indian. One time I remember he said to me "Liam, do you realise that outside of every fat woman there's a thin man trying to get in?"
What about people like Phil Ochs, who were around at the time?
LIAM CLANCY: God, he was too depressing to be with. I could never cotton on to him; he was always hanging around, like the jackal in Hemingway's Snows of Kilimanjaro. Every time I saw Phil Ochs around the Village, he reminded me of that jackal.
And Peter LaFarge?
LIAM CLANCY: He committed suicide in my bathtub. I had an apartment on Sullivan Street -- Bob Dylan lived next door. Peter LaFarge married this Swedish girl and they had nowhere to live. I discovered my girlfriend then had been two-timing me with Dylan, so I quit, and Peter and his wife moved into my old apartment, and died in my bathtub.
What did you feel about Dylan's electric set at Newport in 1965? That seemed to be the divisive event in the folk music fraternity.
PAT CLANCY: Well, there's a lot of that in Pete Seeger's new book, but I think he overemphasises the whole thing. I think Bob Dylan went off and did his thing, and I'm sure he made mistakes along the way; but for people to go through beating their breasts and their foreheads about "was he using an electric guitar" was silly.
LIAM CLANCY: I was actually filming at the Newport Festival that year. I was up a twelve-foot platform, filming with a telephoto lense, so I could zoom in close. And Dylan came out, and it was obvious that he was stoned, bobbing around the stage, very Chaplinesque, actually. He broke into that Tambourine Man, and I found myself standing there with tears streaming down my face, because... I saw the butterfly emerging from the caterpillar. I also saw, for the first time, the immense value of what the man was about. When he sang: "My ancient, empty street's too dead for dreaming," I knew it was Sullivan Street on a Sunday. So it was not only a street, it was our street. I suddenly realised that this kid, who had bugged us so often, had emerged into a very major artist.