Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Clancy and Trigg

Willie Clancy and The Trigg Morris Side Visit to Miltown Malby, May 1972.

I told this story to my piping friend Jeff Byrne in the summer of 2006, and a version of it may have been published by him elsewhere. Indeed I have told the story many times, and doubtless have forgotten and distorted details. But Jeff's interest led me to check the memories of friends in Cornwall who were with me on the Irish trip of May 1972. This is a good time to fix these memories.

I was the first musician of the Trigg Morris Men, a revival side formed in 1971 in central Cornwall, dancing traditional Cotswold Morris. (Their web site (1) gives more details about the side, and the Morris tradition generally). If Cotswold Morris seems slightly odd for Central Cornwall, it was certainly so in remote County Clare at that time in the early seventies.

As an enthusiastic young Morris Side we were eager to show off our own music; but we were enormously enthusiastic worshippers at the alter of all traditional music. Visualize seven Morris dancers, a Morris musician plus two wives and a girlfriend in a Ford Transit minibus, travelling by ferry from Swansea to Cork. We were directed by Danny Linnehan (an Irish lad at the Bodmin Folk Club) to go to his native Knocknagree in the heart of 'Sliabh Luachra' (2) as an excellent starting point for our pilgrimage in search of living traditional Irish music. Our 'Squire' at the time was Vic Legg (a fine traditional singer), and our 'Bagman' was Roger Hancock; both are still dancing with Trigg and have confirmed details of this trip. Vic recalls travelled up to County Clare from Knocknagree, crossing the Shannon by ferry to Kilrush, where we encountered the Horse Fair. ("Anything from a £50,000 race-horse to a £5 donkey" Vic remembers someone saying.) From there Vic recalls we made our way to “… Doolin where we met two of the three Russell brothers, Packie and Micko. (Gussie wasn't there.) Packie. played the concertina, and Micko. the whistle, or flute, or both. Sadly, none of them are alive today”. (Vic was deeply into the Irish traditional music scene, and knew where to go and who to meet.)

The encounter with Willie Clancy came the next day. I wrote some notes at the time which I transcribe verbatim for, though unpolished, they carry an immediacy. This was written on Wednesday the 31 May 1972 [with later ‘clarification’ in square brackets].

"Last night [Tuesday 30th May 1972] we hoped to join a ceilidh at Spanish Point, but found nothing happening at the Armada; nor at Quilty could we find anything. So we drove back into Miltown Malby. We stopped on the way in and Vic [our 'squire'] asked some girls playing in the street if they could tell us the pub habituated by the great player of the Uilleann pipes -- Willie Clancy. They could not, but as we were by chance parked immediately outside his house they offered to call him out. Vic said "No, you cannot do that to a great man!"; then "--but, dammit, I would like to shake his hand." After 10 minutes Vic came out of the house and said that Willie Clancy would like to meet us all; so we [8 Morris men in full kit with bells and baldricks, plus 3 women] trooped into his small house. After we had chatted to his wife for a few minutes Willie came through; a tall, smiling, man with sandy hair, boyish face and a one-day beard. He wore carpenter's overalls complete with boxwood rule. We shook hands and engaged in conversation. Then he took up the long box containing his pipes, and said it was time for a glass of porter, and directed us [to go ahead of him up] to Lynch's Bar. Vic entered the dark bar and O'Fleary [can that be the right name?] came to greet him out of his kitchen beyond the bar, where he had been sitting by the stove. When we explained that Willie Clancy was coming round to play he took us all into his kitchen. [Willie and his wife arrived.] We bought a round of Guinness, chatted a while and Willie played a tune on a whistle. We went out onto the street and danced a few [Morris] dances, but it was very cold outside. So back into the kitchen. Some other friends of Willie's were gathering. A fellow (could it be Martin Talty?) produced a dark wooden flute with an ivory mouthpiece and practically no keys; and Willie and he played. Very, very, fine music. One could go on listening all night. But we got to singing songs and with our lasses we danced a Dorset four-hand reel across the kitchen. And Willie danced a solo jig, and Willie's foil -- old "Farmer" -- was persuaded to tell us a story. "At half past midnight, O'Fleary, who had been flitting about noiselessly smiling all evening, let us out one by one into the street from the dark bar. A very fine evening.”

Vic, Roger, and I have all added further recollections, albeit recalled some 34 years after the event. Vic remembers that, when the minibus stopped beside them in Miltown Malby, the two girls were playing a game with two balls bouncing against the house wall. They might still remember the occasion, as the Morris men were in full costume (for the anticipated ceilidh); and the occasion was only months before Willie Clancy’s untimely death. Roger recollects that the man referred to as “Farmer” was named Michael, and that Willie jokingly called him his ‘manager’. Old “Farmer” preceded his story by protesting that these English youngsters wouldn’t understand him. I found it hard going but I think I got the gist; one of those stories where you wake and find it was all a dream. I thought the landlord had seemed reluctant to open up the pub until told what had prompted us to knock him up, whereupon he sprang to. We soon had quite a throng in the back kitchen, though the pub had appeared shut for the evening. I concluded that someone had spread the word that Willie Clancy was to going to play, which someone told me was a rare event by then. It seemed that the enthusiasm of our visiting Morris Side had proved sufficient to stimulate Willie into playing. Vic visualizes Lynch’s bar as having two counters to walk between; on one side a bar, and on the other groceries. He also recalls that upon entering the empty bar off the dark street it was lit by a single light, which was a brand new electric sign on the Guinness pump, connected to the ceiling rose by a long piece of flex. Roger recollects that, as the Trigg Men drove through Miltown Malby the next day, they saw Willie Clancy and his wife in a throng of others dressed for church, (or possibly a funeral).

This story is but a small thing in terms of all that is recorded elsewhere of Willie Clancy’s life and music; one evening of music and dancing in the last nine months of his life. However, it is an unforgettably vivid memory for most of us who were there, and testifies to how Willie Clancy was appreciated, both locally and internationally.

(1) www.triggmorris.freeserve.co.uk

(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sliabh_Luachra

Monday, 23 May 2011

Injunctions and contempt

Dear Sir,

As far as I am concerned Radio 4 PM programme has committed contempt of court. A 'maverick' MP disclosed the name of a footballer in the house of commons, but that is a priviledged arena; there can be no gagging of parliament. However, to report that outside parliament is contempt.

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Yours sincerely,
L. Cawstein,
12 Longhirst, MORPETH

Thursday, 19 May 2011

False pleas should carry a penalty

Dear Sir,
Ken Clarke is getting into trouble for suggesting lighter sentences for an early "Guilty" plea. It seems to me a good idea to differentiate. So what about Doubling the Sentence for a Mendacious "Innocent" plea. Or a subsequent charge of "Perjury and Wasting Court Time"?
--
Yours sincerely,
L. Cawstein,
12 Longhirst, MORPETH