I just heard that Ronnie Drew, a singer and founder of The Dubliners, passed away in August.
I was living in Tucson, Arizona in the 1980’s, and my brother Greg, then in grad school, came to visit me. While floating down the Salt River in inner tubes, he sang a few Irish folks songs–drinking songs–and I was enchanted. They were funny and clever. Most of them were by The Clancy Brothers.
About the same time, I began listening to an Irish music show on the community radio station in Tucson on Sunday evenings put on by a fellow named Scott Egan. Among the bands whose songs were played regularly were The Dubliners. There were hilariously funny drinking songs, such as “7 Drunken Nights”, and sad, story songs such as “Donegal Danny”. Although Ronnie shared singing duties with Luke Kelly, it was Ronnie’s songs that I liked the best. He had a rich, gravelly baritone with a great Irish accent that I just loved.
Since my teenage years I’ve been into both rock music and quiet acoustic songs. Now I had a third love–Irish folk songs.
Today bands like Flogging Molly, which combine punk rock with Irish traditional music, are big. Flogging Molly was directly influenced by The Pogues, the first band to play and write Irish traditional music in a punk style. And The Dubliners were a huge influence on The Pogues. Without The Dubliners, there would have been no Pogues, and without The Pogues, there would have been no Flogging Molly.
Here’s a great summary of The Dubliners history:
What I found interesting in this article is that, back in the early 1960’s when The Dubliners started out, Irish pubs generally didn’t have live music. It was O’Donoghue’s Pub in Dublin that allowed Ronnie and the boys to play a little music. The Dubliners are credited with reviving Irish traditional folk music in Ireland in the 1960’s. During my last visit to Ireland in March of this year, I stopped in O’Donoghue’s for a couple of pints. Old photos of The Dubliners were all over the walls. I felt like I was on sacred ground.
In 2004 I began taking up songwriting in earnest. In 2005 I was doing my 3-days-a-week jogging around the local park, and began thinking of a melody for a song. It sounded like an Irish melody, an Irish drinking song melody, the kind of song The Dubliners would sing. While jogging, it seemed like the lines should be saying, “here’s to this, and here’s to that”. I asked myself, “ok, that’s cool, but what are we drinking to?” I didn’t want it to be the normal stuff, and I had been working on another song where I was exploring the consequences of making mistakes, and not being able to go back and undo them, but what would happen if we could go back and undo them? After working on the song off and on for 5 months, “The Screwup Song” was born.
I couldn’t have done it without you, Ronnie. Thanks, man.
Here’s a beautiful video of Ronnie singing “In the Rare Old Times”, with footage of Ronnie singing interspersed with photos of old Dublin. Damn, the tears poured down my face watching and listening this.