Larry Kirwan of Black 47 has the history of Irishmusic beautifully written

Celtic Music Fan


I recently got a copy of a new book by Larry Kirwan of the famed Black 47. The book is titled A History of Irish Music. It is one of those books you would grab if you are a music history fanatic. Or if you are just a casual music lover who happens to share a love for Irish music, then this one is for you too! I think I love this book for both its educational merits and its prose. And you will find out more in this interview as you read Larry Kirwan’s witty answers.
1. Why did you write this book?

Black 47 toured constantly from the announcement of disbanding in Sept. 2013 to the actual final date in Nov. 2015. Because we were going back to a lot of places we’d played over the years my memory was stirred, with the result that a lot of…

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Martyn Wylde’s Top Ten Bass Influences

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, or know anything about me, you’ll know that I was/am a bass player in addition to a singer of folk songs. The LA Weekly recently posted a list of the “20 Best Bassists of All Time”. Naturally, the headline jumped out at me from my Facebook page and I was eager to see who had been listed. The list itself though, had a couple of selections I disagreed with along with several glaring omissions. So, to counter the LA Weekly, and in no particular order, here are my “Top Ten Bass Influences”. Music being so subjective, I would never attempt to say somebody was “the best” – it’s all opinion anyway – but these are the players that had the biggest influence on me and my playing style, along with a video clip spotlighting each one.

Martyn Wylde playing bass with Clarence Clemons 1995

Martyn Wylde playing bass with Clarence Clemons 1995

Paul McCartney McCartney is probably the reason I play bass in the first place, The Beatles being the spark that ignited many would-be musicians of a certain age. Although I was already solidly set on a musical path, their influence (and influences) pushed me in a direction I might not otherwise have gone. When my son Bryan wanted to learn bass, this is the song I urged him to tackle first.

John Entwistle “The Ox” was number 3 on the LA Weekly list, but number 1 with me for a lot of my teenage years, beginning with the first time I heard “My Generation”.  At my first (of many) Who show in 1968, I was fortunate enough to be able to stand practically right next to Entwistle. I’d already been playing bass for four years, but I really went to school that night. An unforgettable experience.

Jack Bruce Cream has been my favourite band since I first heard “I Feel Free” on a copy of Fresh Cream I’d ordered from England. Not only was Bruce an incredibly innovative bassist, his soaring vocals and quirky songwriting put him in a class by himself. His solo career was an example of a musician following his muse and encompassed jazz, blues, rock and even opera. The video, unfortunately, isn’t a live performance, but listen to the bass (and the vocal and the composition…).

Dee Murray Dee Murray was Elton John’s original bassist. For musical examples, please listen to the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album. Every track contains his superb melodic bass, always playing “the song” not just the bass. He varied the sound of his instrument and his approach, sometimes playing with fingers, sometimes with a pick. A musician’s musician.

Chris Squire Chris Squire’s playing with Yes is probably the reason why the Rickenbacker 4001 bass is still so popular. Decidedly a proponent of “bass as a lead instrument”, and nobody does it better. I was tempted to include the track “Roundabout” which is my favourite performance of Squire’s, but this live solo might be more of a treat.

James Jamerson One of Motown’s house bassists, Jamerson’s wonderfully rhythmic and melodic playing was the backbone of many of the label’s biggest hits. When I was first learning bass, I’d play with every song that came over the radio waves, and in those days, the selection was remarkably diverse. You’d hear a Beatles song, followed by a country song, another “British Invasion” record, an “oldie” and then a Motown hit. Here’s a wonderful representation of Jamerson locked in, not just with the rest of the rhythm section, but with the vocalist.

John Paul Jones JPJ already had quite a musical career going as a session musician and arranger when Jimmy Page asked him to join Led Zeppelin. Listening to his bass lines, you hear him not only locked tightly with the human sledgehammer, John Bonham, but playing in a highly diverse range of styles and with a variety of techniques.

Ronnie Wood Before we knew him as a member of Faces and then The Rolling Stones, Ronnie Wood played bass for The Jeff Beck Group. Taking a guitarist’s approach to the bass, Wood played chords along with the expected walking blues bass lines. I remember him using a Telecaster bass, played with a pick. Always admired that bass – and his playing.

Roger Glover Longtime Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover is the quintessential British hard rock bassist. He’s played not just with DP, but with Rainbow, Gov’t Mule and has been active as a producer for decades.

Duck Dunn You’ve heard Donald “Duck” Dunn’s playing whether you know it or not. He was the bassist with Booker T and the MGs and the house bass player for Stax Records, playing on recordings by Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, William Bell, Eddie Floyd, Johnnie Taylor, Albert King, Elvis Presley and many others. He was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.

Sorry for the ads in many of the videos. The folks who put them on YouTube have elected to “monetise” them and there’s no way around it.

Just for your information, here’s a link to the LA Weekly list:…/the-20-best-bassists-of-all-time

The Seven Rejoices of Mary


I try to research the traditional folk songs I choose to sing, partially because I am fascinated by history and because I feel it makes my performance better to know as much about a song as possible. I’m often quite surprised at the different versions and variants I find for many of the songs. A case in point is The Seven Rejoices of Mary which is sung to the tune of an Irish favourite Star of the County Down.
The lyrics to Star of the County Down were written by Cathal McGarvey, himself from County Donegal, probably in the late nineteenth century. The story is from the point of view of a farmer who, “one morning last July”, meets a charming lass by the name of Rosie McCann, called the “star of the County Down”. From this brief encounter the farmer’s infatuation/lust grows until, by the end of the ballad, he contemplates wedding Rosie. Here’s a nice version of Star of the County Down performed by Lizzy Hoyt.
The tune, however, is similar to that of several other songs; an old Irish folk song called My Love Nell (a definite forerunner of Star, with Nell also being from County Down),the English folk tune Kingsfold, the hymn Led By The Spirit and Dives and Lazarus, one of the songs included in Ralph Vaughn Williams English Folk Song Suite. Here's a video of Maddy Prior performing Dives and Lazarus.
Music and lyrics to The Seven Rejoices… are attributed “English Traditional Folk Carol, collected by Mrs. Milligan Fox” in the book Two Hundred Folk Carols  (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Limited, 1933), Carol #26, pp. 46-47. The lyrics are a polar opposite to the more earthy Irish song, being heavy with Christian religious symbolism, but then that’s why it’s considered a “carol”.
The most well known contemporary version of The Seven Rejoices is by Canadian musician Loreena McKinnett from her album Midwinter Night's Dream, released in 2008.

Dougie MacLean

Scottish singer/songwriter Dougie MacLean (born 1954) has been sharing his distinctively personal songs with audiences since the mid-1970s. Originally a member of the Tannahill Weavers – named after Scottish poet Robert Tannahill, known as the “Weaver Poet” – he was also briefly a part of Silly Wizard, contributing to their fourth album, Wild & Beautiful. In addition to guitar, he plays fiddle, mandola, bouzouki, bass, harmonica and banjo.


Dougie began his career as a solo artist in 1981, although his classic song Caledonia (considered by many the unofficial Scottish national anthem) was recorded in 1978 and credited to Alan Roberts and Dougie MacLean. Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond said: “Caledonia is a song that resonates with Scots the world over. For those far away it is a reminder of strong bonds, full of the promise of return.” Caledonia is being used by the Scottish Tourist Board to promote “Homecoming Scotland 2014”.

From the Dougie MacLean website: “From his home base in Butterstone near Dunkeld in the beautiful Tay Valley in Perthshire Scotland, MacLean tours the world with his unique blend of lyrical, ‘roots based’ songwriting and instrumental composition.”

Phil Thomas, writing in Living Tradition Magazine said, “Dougie MacLean must be near the top of the pretty short list of folk performers who can boast a truly ‘global’ reputation.” And its the songs that have built that reputation – songs which, though told from a quintessentially Scottish point of view, are universal in their appeal. From a song inspired by his “Uncle Fergus, a crofter fisherman” (Ready For the Storm) to a story/song about his father teaching him to use a farm implement (Scythe Song) to songs of love and longing (This Love Will Carry and Caledonia), Dougie MacLean touches the hearts of his listeners.

Dougie indeed performs worldwide – from the UK to America and Australia – making new fans and thrilling old ones. You know you’ve had an impact as a songwriter when just about every member of the audience tends to sing along with every song in your set list – a commonplace occurrence at Dougie MacLean shows as documented on his album Live: From the Ends of the Earth and on the two live videos included here.

His recordings – over 20 albums to date – include not just the songs, which can be “wistful and melancholic, and at other times are blissfully uplifting and rejuvenating”, but also instrumental and orchestral pieces such as Perthshire Amber. This last album has lent it’s name to an autumn music festival, now in it’s tenth year, at various venues in and around the MacLean hometown of Dunkeld. He is such an institution in Scotland that he even has his own Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky called Dougie MacLean’s “Caledonia”!

dougie portrait

Dougie MacLean was awarded the 2009 Tartan Clef Award for his song Caledonia. In 2011, he was invested as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth, and this year he was awarded the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Lifetime Achievement for Contribution to Songwriting.