March 20, 2012
"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry."
William Butler Yeats
As is my usual annual wont, in preparation for getting my Saint Paddy’s Day game face on last week, I dragged out the music and literature I most closely associate with the old sod: Yeats, James Joyce, The Chieftains, The Boys of the Laugh, Brendan Behan, Planxty, the Clancy Brothers, Samuel Beckett, Solas, Flann O’Brien, Sean O’Casey, and a recent CD by Irish guitarist, singer, and songwriter John Doyle.
Of course, as the day itself neared, various spirits, some otherworldly, some distilled to their essence, also made their presences felt. Mesmerizing words, airs, reels, and potions combined with equal parts blarney to set the stage. The day was nigh and inner quarrels were afoot.
In past years, when I would embed myself in these collective Salt Lake shenanigans as a solo act, my entire prep consisted of brewing a thermos of coffee, flavoring it to taste, and shoving a copy of Joyce’s "Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man" into my back pocket. There’s something to be said for being able quote young Stephen Dedalus after the caffeine kicks in.
Of late, however, having joined an ensemble cast of equally effusive and quirky balderdashians, the preparation timeframe, by necessity, gets underway somewhat earlier. It’s about the casual perusal of classic Irish literature with the sounds of pennywhistles, flutes, uilleann pipes, harps, bodhráns, fiddles, and such wafting overhead.
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Although unable to acquire the Chieftains new 50th anniversary album, "Voice of Ages," in time to toss it into the mulligan, I did happen upon them on Letterman the other night performing a cut from the highly collaborative affair with The Low Anthem, probably my favorite band of recent acquaintance. So I had that going for me.
But, as I mentioned, I did successfully procure "Shadow and Light," the new John Doyle release, and that was quite sufficient to soothe my jones for something both historical and contemporary on the Irish front.
It was love at first sight with Doyle. I had stopped by the brand new Eccles Center a day shy of the Ides of March of 1999 with my brother McGee in tow to pick up our tickets for that night’s performance by Solas on their first trip to Utah. It would be PCPAF’s first-ever show at the venue and, as far as I was concerned, they couldn’t have picked a more impressive opening act.
Upon entering the building, Teri Orr caught our attention and invited us into the auditorium to catch Solas’ sound check and to show off the Eccles Center’s state-of-the-art sound system and acoustic ambiance. It was mind-blowing all the way around.
And although it was the brilliant instrumental virtuosity of Seamus Egan that hit me like a shillelagh, I soon defaulted to the highly impressive rhythms forming the net over which Egan effortlessly embellished the melody line. And, both aurally and visually, it was John Doyle and his guitar fueling the ensemble.
If memory serves, by the next time I caught Solas opening for Mary Chapin Carpenter down at Red Butte Garden Doyle had moved on. I’d come upon mentions of his instructional Irish-style guitar tutorials on DVD every so often but not much else. So, lo these many years later, when I stumbled (there’s that word again) upon news of the impending release of his latest solo effort, I wasted little time.
Dealing, in the main, with the great mid-19th century famine-fueled tide of Irish immigration to North America, it’s immediately apparent what an accomplished composer Doyle has become over the years. Instrumentally, of course, it’s all about serving the song, and, as usual, nobody does it better.
When St. Paddy’s Day finally did arrive, however, the event proved more than worthy of the extensive preparations. Father Patrick Carley of the Utah Hibernian Society once again had the parade and Siamsa running as smoothly as ever, whether or not the revelers had gone through a deep cultural prep or not.
The icing on the cake being Father Pat’s special guests, Tipperary fiddler Jim Ryan and the bevy of young instrumentalists and singers who accompanied him from Ireland to join in this year’s post-parade festivities. It’s become a holy day of obligation for those among us who wallow in the spirit(s) of Saint Patrick. Slàinte! Erin Go Bragh!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.