There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.
Who wrote the damned thing? I thought I would just do a bit of an internet search, or, refer to my good mate Wikipedia, and be able to get out of here in a para or two!
Guess what? I discovered next to bugger-all. Now, I really don’t care if the tune and/or lyrics come from Timbuktu or Ulan Bator. My test is simple: if I like it, I sing it. If this makes me less than a purist- so be it, and, as and one of my Aussie mates might say, if you don’t like it: Go bury your head in a dead bear’s bum.
I did get some somewhere by going to Mudcat.org, which is a great site that I have zoned into over the decades, in pursuit of various snippets: I discovered this: ‘The Green Glens of Antrim’ is a song I grew up with hearing regularly, in the heart of the Glens – Cushendall… The Green Glens of Antrim was written by Archie Montgomery (under the pseudonym of Kenneth North) and published in 1950.
Now, Archie Montgomery sounds Scottish. From living in the Glens from 1964 to 1972 (off and on), I can attest that the Glens were a magnet for Scottish visitors in the 20th Century, right up until the time that the latest iteration of the “Troubles” put paid to casual tourism.
For me, there is no problem about the provenance of a song: if there is a connection made, then it must be right! There is no doubt that this song resonates with many people down the years. It matters not a whit to me whether on not the composer was a native of the Glens of Antrim, or indeed, Ireland.
Maybe I can illustrate the point by reference to my own history and involvement in the Glens: I can remember that my father took his treasured AKAI reel-to-reel tape recorder down to a hotel where there would be a recital featuring the song. This would have been in the mid-1960s. He was proud as punch to be able to memorialise the event, as no one else in the village (Cushendall) has such equipment back then. I can remember him playing the tape for me in the front room of our home.
Now to me: in the early 1980s, after I had returned from Australia, I had the honour to direct a play by the local drama society which had been going for over 60 years- and for which my mother had been an early thespian in the 1920s. Obviously, I was good to go as director! It’s in the blood!
“She tread the boards“, as one member said! “OK!” I said, “I’ll do it.” This, in spite of my having little to no experience of directing a bunch of headstrong actors. I learned later, that no one else was foolhardy enough to take on the challenge, and, a few had been approached! So, guess who was the bunny?
The play was Crime on Goat Island by Ugo Betti. Such outré choices are not unusual in Irish amateur dramatic circles, and I loved the play. I love literature and I recognised the quality of this play. I got a talented artist, Jimmy Crabbe, to design a fabulous poster. After heaps of rehearsals and competition, we got through to the All-Ireland Finals (confined section).
In other words, we didn’t have to compete against the big companies from Belfast, Dublin or Cork. But we were up against a lot of quality opposition from the rest of non-metropolitan Ireland: just ask around to see what the quality of Irish provincial amateur drama is (or was at that time).
Anyway, we loaded up our sets and props and travelled south-west into the west of Ireland. We put on our dark, Italian drama. We got placed! Hey, did we want to celebrate? Of course. We chafed through the speeches and presentations and then…
We adjourned to the hotel in which a few of the travelling acts were billeted, and we started to drink to our successes (and near-successes). As the evening wore on, the Cushendall contingent grew more and more raucous. (We were, after all, from the Glens of Antrim…)
Someone, (it was not me, alas) started to sing: Far across yonder blue… within seconds, the actors, stage-hands, make-up artists, lighting and sound people, supporters, and everyone else (including myself) associated with the Cushendall performance, began to sing, a capella, the quintessential song of the Glens, which is given below.
I have never heard a better rendition! What you hear here (do you like the homophone?) is a mild version, only. In my memory, the real thing would shatter your speakers and take the roof off your abode. Not Lying! Not Kidding! So, please, imagine the scene, and sing along.