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December 2009

Tim Hart and Liam Clancy: the debt we owe

Tim Hart, who was one of the founders of Steeleye Span, died of lung cancer at his home in the Canary Islands on Christmas Eve, aged just 61. Liam Clancy, last survivor of the Clancy Brothers, died at home in Ring, Co Waterford on Dec 4, aged 74, having suffered from another lung disease, pulmonary fibrosis ...

From quite different parts of what I still think of as the broader folk movement, Tim Hart and Liam Clancy were responsible in large measure for two of the biggest events in the development of my musical appreciation.

I grew up, much the same as my contemporaries, listening to pop music and was as excited as anyone else when the Mersey Sound arrived to displace American stars as my boyhood favourites. The Crystals and Ronettes, Del Shannon and Roy Orbison, and many more, stayed in my affections; they just had to take a back seat as I devoured the output of the new wave of British upstarts.

Within a few years, there were also British bands branching out into the blues, pale-faced boys singing the songs of downtrodden American Blacks and playing neat guitar solos. And there were Dylan and Baez with their anthems of protest and youth.

Q: where to hear such sounds live if you lived in small-town northern England?

A: in the more open-minded folk clubs, where kids with decent acoustic guitar styles and passable voices were presenting often worthwhile imitations.

But I was open-minded, too. And along with music I'd gone into the clubs to hear was something else, the clubs' staple of Irish ballads and British traditional songs.

The Clancy Brothers had been at the forefront of the popularisation of Irish music, and it was a combination of their pioneering work, and the separate efforts of such traditional musicians as Seamus Ennis, that helped open the genre (or genres, if you prefer) to the initiative and enterprise that would bring us the Bothy Band, De Dannan, Patrick Street and the rest.

For me, it was all part of the same mix: from the Clancys I moved on to the Dubliners, from John Sheahan to Tommy Peoples and so on.

Meanwhile, Tim Hart and Maddy Prior were not only a star duo on the English folk club circuit but on their way to becoming part of Steeleye Span, with a magical fusion of traditional music and rock that appalled purists but proved irresistible to those of us who simply thought it some of the best sound they'd ever heard.

I met Maddy for the first time in the Golden Cock, Darlington; she and Tim were the guests that Tuesday night at the Folk Workshop. She was reading abook in the snug, banished by men only rules from the bar where Tim was playing darts. Their performance, Maddy's Labcashire clog dancing included, was one of the finest I was to hear at that club, and I remained a confirmed fan as the Steeleye experiment progressed.

Of the many tributes that have been paid to both artists, I especially liked these:

Marc, on Tim at

The world has lost a great man. You and your friends and compatriots have brought me great pleasure over the past 35 years. I’ll miss you!

Beachcomber, on Liam at Mudcat

... Yesterday I attended Liam's funeral. Shay Healy's eulogy was perfect , I have never heard one better, he caught the essence of Liam ,and all the Clancy brothers and their era, very well indeed. Later, as we all stood around Liam's last resting place a full, bright rainbow formed above his grave, arching across the sky . Everyone was delighted and we sang The Parting Glass and Donal shouted "Have ye any homes to go to?" and we dispersed. But not to our homes, because the music in Mooney's Pub nearby, went on long into the night. It was lovely to see a son of Tommy Makem's there singing his heart out, among all of Liam and Kim's talented brood as well as the sisters and the cousins and the aunts. My only regret is that I'm too old and feeble now to last the pace with these vigourous young people. God bless them all, they could well be still singing for all I know.

Thanks, then to both Liam and Tim, both departed far too soon but leaving not only grieving relatives and friends but also armies of admirers grateful for the way one or both enriched their lives.

* See also, Phil Davison's obituary on Tim Hart in The Scotsman.

** Click here for the Liam Clancy website.

Salut! Live albums of 2009: the Unthanks, Cara Dillon, Topic?


The answer to my own question is that I am having it all ways. This has been a thin year for Salut! Live, a consequence of the time I have necessarily spent on the day job (and developing another of my sites, Salut! Sunderland). The records don't flow my way quite as they did. But I could not let the year end without sharing my thoughts on the best I did come across in 2009 ...


The organisers of two British folk awards approach me each year for my nominations in their year-end polls.

Cara Dillon's Hill of Thieves may seem an obvious inclusion for CD of the year, her outstanding version of Spencer the Rover for best traditional track.

And so I voted, in the BBC Radio 2 Folk awards. The album was also among those listed by me in the fRoots poll (for which judges are not required to place their choice in order).

So Hill of Thieves is Salut! Live's album of 2009? No. That is where having it all ways comes in.

A misunderstanding on the release date led me to name it my album of last year. The confusion may have been mine but I am stuck with the choice I made. Since the album was considered a 2009 candidate in both the BBC and fRoots polls, I had to nominate it there.

Salut! Live is under no such obligation, and will continue - however erroneously - to regard Hill of Thieves as last year's event. I had the album in November, for heaven's sake.

So to my top 10 folk albums for 2009. One note of caution: I no longer receive albums in the numbers that I once did. Some that would probably have featured in my list in other circumstances have not come my way.

Partly for this reason, I have made no distinction between new CDs and reissues. The effect of this is that I have decided, for the first time since I began naming my album of the year two decades ago, to place two albums - one new, one a compilation - in joint first place.

Here goes:

Continue reading "Salut! Live albums of 2009: the Unthanks, Cara Dillon, Topic?" »

Seasonal greetings from Salut! Live


We don't yet run to a staff photographer, but this is Kevin Dooley's third outing this week at Salut! sites.

The traffic towards Salut! Live has been thin of late, as have been the postings, but I wish all readers, present and past (and, indeed, still to come) a happy Christmas and great new year.

I will return soonish with more thoughts on Liam Clancy's death - and life - and my own list of best albums for 2009 ... à bientôt.

The BBC, James Findlay and a story of award-winning folk


James Findlay, a 20-year-old singer/guitarist is the 2009 winner of the BBC Young Folk Award, chosen by a six-strong judging panel on Friday evening (Dec 4).

One immediate prize for James was an offer of a performing slot at Fairport Convention's annual Cropredy festival, to be held this year between Aug 12-14. Simon Nicol, a Fairport founding member, and the organiser of Cropredy, Gareth Williams, were present for the final round of the awards.

Continue reading "The BBC, James Findlay and a story of award-winning folk" »

fRuits of the fRoots critics' poll: congratulations to Staff Benda Bilili and Topic


The result of the fRoots 2009 critics' poll is that Staff Benda Bilili's Très Très Fort (Crammed) is the folk/roots/world album of the year. That make it an album I have to acquire.

In both the Best Re-issue/Compilation and Best Packaged Album categories, the vote went unsurprisingly and bhy some distance to the important and gloriously presented Topic Records 70th Anniversary set Three Score Years And Ten.

Where did Salut! Live's votes go?

Well, the result of my changed status - no longer writing for The Daily Telegraph and living abroad - means that many fewer review albums come my way. Frtom those that have, I chose the folliowing as my six albums of the year (I list them alphabetically and will return to this subject with my own winners at a later date:

Debra Cowan/Fond Desire Farewell (Falling Mountain Music)

Cara Dillon/Hill of Thieves/Charcoal Records

Ruth Notman/The Life of Lilly/Mrs Casey Records

Show of Hands/Arrogance, Ignorance, and Greed/Hands on Music

Martin Simpson/True Stories/Topic

The Unthanks/ Here's The Tender Coming/EMI


Various/ Topic Records Three Score and Ten/ (Topic)

Shirley Collins/False True Lovers/ (Fledg'ling)

Louis Killen/Ballads and Broadsides/ (Topic)


Various/Topic Records Three Score and Ten/ (Topic)
Show of Hands/Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed/ (Hands on Music)

Continue reading "fRuits of the fRoots critics' poll: congratulations to Staff Benda Bilili and Topic" »