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June 2008

May 2008

Condolences to Sharon Shannon

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Just after Salut! Live had requested a review copy of the Sharon Shannon compilation - The Galway Girl: The Best of Sharon Shannon - and suggested an interview by e-mail, a visit to her own site brought this unwelcome news:

Sharon Shannon's partner, Leo Healy, died a sudden and unexpected death in Galway on 7th May 2008. Leo passed away peacefully in his sleep. The Healy family and the family of Sharon Shannon would ask for privacy and respect at this terrible time of grief

There is a pictorial tribute to Leo at Sharon's site.

The album is on its way and will be reviewed here in due course (though I am away for a fortnight from tonight and further postings here on any topic are unlikely before mid-June).

Sharon will understandably be doing no interviews for the foreseeable future. Salut! Live offers its sincere sympathy to her and both families.

NB: Some time later, Sharon did give a great interview to Salut! Live in which she described Leo as a "really good, loving, amazing person." See it at http://www.salutlive.com/2009/10/sharon-shannon-the-salut-live-interview-1.html

Boys, bylines and missing fivers (2)

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As a useful ps to Salut! Live's recent look at the two songs with the same title - The Boys of the Byline Brigade, on the working lives of journalists, and specifically newspaper reporters - my old friend Geoff Lakeman has duly popped up again with the lyrics to his version.

Still no word from Mickey MacConnell, like Geoff a folksinging journalist, who wrote the original song and was therefore the man who came up with the title. But attempts have been made to make sure he is aware the issue has been discussed, and credit suitably given.

In the case of Geoff's song, which he put to a tune of his own, there are references that require a little explanation to those unfamiliar with Fleet Street. These, with minor editing from this end, is his glossary:

* "The bank in the sky" was the cashier's office on the top floor of the Daily Mirror's Holborn Circus office, to which hacks would turn for the money to get to assignments (or, more likely, the pub). It was eventually closed down because so many people got advances (against expenses) and were too slow in paying them back.

* "The stab in the back" was the Mirror office pub of choice,, actually part of the building, reached by a glass bridge across the road, so nicknamed in honour of the score-settling and office politics that typically influenced conversations over pints of beer and stout.

*"The mink-lined coffin" was how one Robert Maxwell - who later did an even better job of cleaning out the place - described the Mirror because of its profligate spending, when negotiating to buy the paper. He also, famously, said: "The gravy train is about to hit the buffers..." Boy was he right when he ran off with about £800million!

* (and one from Mickey, describing his own song in the notes to his album, Joined up Writing): Boys of the Byline Brigade - a byline in newspaper parlance is when your name appears on a story you have written. This is my genuflection to all of the old time heroes who populated the journalistic days of my youth, and who were badly paid, badly regarded, and who were relegated to working the nightshift - the Doomwatch - at the end of their days.

And now for the lyrics.......

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Karine Polwart. Honestly!

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Karine Polwart This Earthly Spell (Hegri)

It started as just the name, Karine Polwart, listed among others in Salut! Live's Coming Soon list of items expected to be posted in the near future. From memory, the "others" included Marie Little, Graham and Eileen Pratt, Leon Rosselson and Cora Smyth. You may have noticed that reviews of albums by the last three, and an interview with Marie, have been up here for a little while.

As each of those other articles was posted, the name was deleted from the list. Until there was only Karine's.

False promise? Not a bit of it. And when Salut! Live was assured that the very busy Ms Polwart was on the point of delivering the answers to our interview questions - I am in the Middle East and she, of course, isn't; face-to-face chats are impossible, long phone conversations beyond our meagre resources - the pledge was beefed up to read: Karine Polwart. Honestly!

Watch this space, or one near it. The honesty refers at this stage to my intentions, and Karine's willingness - time permitting - to respond. I am sure, however, that it will be translated into action. Not soon enough for my liking, though, and not soon enough to fit my original plan to run a review of This Earthly Spell at the same time as the interview.

But the delay has one highly positive consequence. What would have been a quietly appreciative but hardly rapturous review, say a month, ago is now going to be a corker.

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Boys, bylines and missing fivers (1)

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Reporters care a great deal about their bylines. This is absurd, since the only people who take notice of them are their mothers, other reporters and people intent on suing them and their publications for some real or imagined slight.

Given that they do care so much, it is perhaps not surprising that a journalist/folkie should have written a song called The Boys of the Byline Brigade.

But it does seem odd - at first glance - that not one but two such characters should have written different songs with the same title.

I am grateful to "Captain Ginger" and Anne Kennedy Truscott for helping to clear up what I initially thought was the simple issue of who had written a single song of that name. Each contribution to the discussion contradicts at least one other, but for the happy reason that - rare in such a dispute - everyone is at least partly right.

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Cora Smyth's efficacious prescription

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Cora Smyth
Are We There Yet? (Claddagh)

You can just imagine the conversation in the Smyth family household, say 15 years ago.

The two sisters, Cora and Breda, are spending altogether too much time practising on their fiddles and whistles, not enough on their biology homework.

"But all we want to do is play music," the girls chorus, only for their parents, for all their own love of traditional Irish sounds, to retort: "Music's all very well, but it's not going to put bread on the table. You have to get some real qualifications behind you, and proper jobs."

If any exchanges of the sort ever happened, it would explain why the sisters went on to qualify in medicine. But it certainly didn't stop them making music. Girls being better at multi-functioning than boys, I'd wager that they simply took it all in their stride.

And Cora Smyth's new album Are We There Yet? gives cause for celebration that however conscientiously she followed her studies, the music was never sidelined.

Not another Irish fiddle album, I hear some saying. And if I am to be honest, the thought occurred to me, too.
But I am delighted to report that this one has quality and spark in such abundance that Irish fiddle album is a pretty inadequate description.

Produced by Smyth's husband Sean Horsman, it has all sorts of influences - "from blues, funk, Dixieland, gypsy jazz and Latin via Manchester and Co Mayo," it says on the tin - and just about everything you'd want in an instrumental set: virtuosity, changes of pace and mood, innovation and fun.

There is an occasional lapse into easy listening muzak, but I instantly forgive her this blemish each time I come across the lilting beauty of Banyuls.

And the rest is so good in any case that after 10 years of touring with the Michael Flatley and his shows, Smyth has established herself, with one solo(ish) record, as a force in Irish music. She has also performed a service she is unlikely to have envisaged.

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