Though it’s officially springtime, celebrating the sunshine I find myself paradoxically listeing to Paddy Casey’s Ancient Sorrow (rather than the more appropriate Sunnyside of the Street by the Pogues) – a song that, with a brave production that highlights the voices of Casey and the real foundation given by the soulful singing of Terry Sutton. It’s a song that manages to be profound because of the production and performance, rather than because of its banal lyrics.
What’s this got to do with Paul Brady? Well, that ancient sorrow tapped into by Casey and Sutton lives and breathes in Brady’s unmistakable voice. Listen to him sing his pre-Celtic Tiger immigrant songs – in particular Nothing but the same old story, or the majestic (and, once again, banal) Homes of Donegal – and you have a voice that conveys history and all the reasons we choose to sing the blues.
And, though it’s long since been snatched by the supermarket/dinner party moozak brigade thanks to its simple melody, his 1985 hit The Island is one of his finest moments (before you get all hot and bothered, that’s not to dismiss Hard Station, or his work with Andy Irvine).
A songwriter dismissed by many of his contemporaries for the twin sins of a) remaining silent during the Hunger Strikes protests, and b) selling songs for big bucks to stars like Tina Turner and Bonnie Raitt – sins from a small Island where Independence is sanctified but independent spirits are, more often than not, scorned.
The Island was a two-fingered risposte delivered in a honed, radio-friendly ballad that packs as political a punch as anything ever done by any of his more vocally flag-bearing peers (not looking at anyone in particular, Mr Moore). And it all rests on his voice, and that ancient sorrow we’re talking about. But, in this case it’s not just production and performance, with a set of lyrics that – taut as a tripwire – are anything but banal
Well I guess us plain folks dont see all the story
and I suppose this peace and love is just copping out
and I know that young boys dying in the ditches
is just what being free is all about
And all sung in a time when rebel songs were sung like hymns, but the notion of singing ‘we’ll make love to the sound of the Ocean’ outraged the theo-fascists.