I’ve always had music in my life. From the time when my brother and I shared a bed in the home of my youth and my father would allow us have his portable transistor radio to lull us to sleep.
These were the days when Radio Luxembourg ruled the airwaves. The heady mix of early Beatles, Stones and Cilla Black as well as the Beach Boys and Elvis would soon send us to the Land of Nod and my father could retrieve his radio for some late night jazz.
My father was a huge influence in my early appreciation of, and eventual eclectic taste in, music. He had an exquisite voice and before those transistor radio days would sing my brother and me to sleep to the strains of Stephen Foster and Paul Robeson and the shanty songs of the American South. For the Christmas of my 12th year my father gave me Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits and that started me on a life-long love affair with the man from Duluth, Minnesota.
‘ Big Tom McBride, standing tall and determined and true to the genre …’
When my father died in the Millennium year, I put his tin whistle and his harmonica into the coffin with him, along with his old peak cap. I would have done likewise with his tenor and G banjos and his bag-pipes but space, as it were, prohibited such a magnanimous gesture.
Music, that is its various genres, has formed the backdrop to my life.
There was the pop of my formative years when I would save up my pocket-money to buy singles and spin them endlessly on my first record player,bought in Clearys by the Pillar for the princely sum of five pounds, 19 shillings and 11 pence.
Then there was the rock music of my late teenage years when I discovered The Doors, Jefferson Airplane and a myriad West Coast bands as I delved into Hunter S Thompson and dabbled with Timothy Leary’s psychedelic psychobabble.
My autumn years are now being played out to the inimitable Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Chet Baker or the masterpieces of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.
The middle years,though, were my wonder years of falling in love, marrying and bringing three children into the world, and were played out to the cold-stone kick and heart-tugging strings of Country music. I was no novice as I was familiar with such ‘crossover’ artists as Jim Reeves and early Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles notwithstanding.
But the mid-Eighties saw a renaissance in Country music, influenced by the phenomenon that was Garth Brooks. I began by getting into the emerging artists that were Nanci Griffith, Vince Gill, John Prine, or Guy Clark. I then went back to its roots, to the raw talents of Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and early Johnny Cash.
I started penning a national newspaper column on ‘roots’ music and got to interview the greats of the genre, Cash – whom I had first interviewed back in the early 70s – Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and the late Waylon Jennings and the enigmatic Emmylou Harris among many.
Of course, Country, or, perhaps more precisely, Country ‘n’ Oirish, had since the late Fifties been part and parcel of the Irish musical landscape, with countless bands playing to packed-out veritable ballrooms of romance the length of the land.
A lot that passed for Country then was, and in some cases still is, total twat but there were some who held fast to the fundamentals of the genre. Ray Lynam and Roly Daniels from the early days stand out: later still, Mick Hanly, while today Kathy Crinion comes to mind as does the pared-back, stone-cold delivery of young Jordon Mogey.
There though down the decades has been Castleblayney’s Big Tom McBride, standing tall and determined and true to the genre. Until last week, that is. Listening once more to his music has brought back wonderful memories of my middle years.
Those years I fell in love, married and brought three wonderful children into the world. Moments in life, love and the whole darn thing that Country music celebrates and applauds. Even if at times I cried tears in my beer, or turned my back on Jesus, though I never cheated nor ran over the dog with my pick-up.
Thanks Big Tom, you gentle giant. You’re a lifetime away now from Glenamaddy …