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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.


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