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August 2008

Ronnie Drew: a rare auld talent


To many of us in the folk audiences of the 1960s, perhaps introduced to the music by Robin Hall and Jimmy McGregor, the Clancy Brothers and the Spinners, the Dubliners were a breath of fresh air.

Salut! Live will never decry the contributions of the slick, TV-friendly bands, duos and singers. They all served their purpose, and did so well.

But to be drawn into the world of the Dubs - Luke Kelly, Ronnie Drew, Barney McKenna, John Sheahan and Ciaran Bourke - was a revelation. By comparison with the cleaner cut artists, here was a gang of rebellious, hard-drinking ruffians who also happened to be capable of producing magical music, from boisterous chorus songs to maudlin ballads and scintillating medleys of jigs and reels. I naturally exclude the abstemious, mild-mannered John Sheahan from that description of thirsty hellraisers.

And in Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew, they had a sublime balance of vocal power. Close your eyes and imagine Kelly singing Raglan Road or The Town I love So Well, and Drew's gravel tones wrapped around The Rare Auld Times, Dicey Reilly, The Band Played Waltzing Matilda or even the novelty hit Seven Drunken Nights and you may struggle to nominate a better pair of male voices in folk music.

Luke Kelly was the first to die, struck down at 43; Ciaran Bourke was next, just 10 years older. Now Ronnie Drew has gone. He succumbed to cancer, aged 73, at St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, on Saturday (Aug 16).

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The best of iPod folk

Ashleyhutchings2Undervalued contributions: the Guv'nor, pictured by Roger Liptrot

Do I really mean best? Not really. And what on earth is iPod folk? Just an excuse for another list.

If you have been here before, you may have come across lists of Irish songs, political songs, favourite albums and so on. In at least one of them, there will have been a promise, perhaps as yet unfulfilled, of further instalments.

But I was intrigued to note what my battered old iPod made of my tastes, or at least my habits. What would I find in the category headed Top 25 Most Played?

Some of the tracks will have been listened to a lot for professional purposes, that is to say for reviews. Accordingly, I have omitted several of the 25 because they included the whole of Rachel Unthank and the Winterset's album The Bairns.

In addition, I have not updated the library since I moved from France to Abu Dhabi in September last year.

With those reservations in mind, this is the list, pared down to 12:

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