“In the spring of 1978 I released ‘Welcome Here Kind Stranger’ my first solo album and my last, at the time, of purely Irish traditional music and songs. On Friday July 21st of that year the record was launched with a concert in the auditorium of Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union in Dublin and a favourite venue for acoustic gigs at the time. The gig was part of the Dublin Folk Festival series of concerts, which ran from 16th to 23rd July that year..
From the outset it was a special night. In a previous daft moment I had decided to re-create on stage the new album plus some of the songs from my earlier album with Andy Irvine and to that end enlisted the aid of Andy, Donal Lunny, Liam O’Flynn, Matt Molloy, Paddy Glackin and Noel Hill. Andy, Donal and Noel had played on ‘Welcome Here Kind Stranger’. Liam and I had shared the stage many times with Planxty, while Matt Molloy, yet to join the Chieftains and Paddy Glackin were stalwarts of the scene with whom I had played and recorded several times before. I felt very privileged to have such talented company on stage.
Notwithstanding the talents and experience of the band, it was a fairly ambitious thing to attempt. Rehearsal time was at a minimum, everyone being busy with his own thing. The music was pretty complex in its arrangement, demanding that everyone played set parts in most cases. This was to be the first and last ever performance of any of these songs with this line up. It turned out to be the last performance for twenty-three years of The Creel, Jackson and Jane, Don’t Come Again and The Jolly Soldier.
A while before the gig, realizing that this would be a one-off thing, I decided to record the evening just for the hell of it. Brian Masterson was doing the sound that night. He had also just engineered ‘Welcome Here’ in Dublin’s Lombard St Studios and knew the music well…something that proved invaluable, given the complexity of the arrangements and the fact that the musicians, me included, often didn’t quite know what was coming next. We used my own domestic reel-to-reel tape machine, an Akai 4000DB. I went and bought the tape, Fuji FG 150/ 555, again a domestic quality tape, no longer made and certainly not intended for professional recording.
I took the tapes home with me after the gig and put them somewhere. When I went to look for them a couple of months later they had disappeared. Every so often over the years I had a look for them. I moved house. Eventually I forgot about them. November of last year (2000) I was trawling through stuff in the attic and there they were in a box under some old vinyl albums. I decided on a whim to get them transferred to CD. I didn’t even know if the tapes would be in listening condition after nearly twenty-three years. It was a pleasant surprise. The performance was fresh and exciting. The sound was surprisingly good, and the balance of the instruments and voice was for the most part great. Quite amazing, as not a lot of thought went into the evening from the recording point of view…nice one Brian Masterson!
Of course, reflecting the lack of opportunity to rehearse and the amount to be taken on board, there were a few hairy moments from time to time, a few missed cues here and there, a couple of words fluffed, a string or two or a whistle slightly out of tune. Strange little occurrences like me changing from mandolin to guitar in the middle of ‘Don’t Come Again’ while continuing to sing provoked a laugh from the audience. None of this seems important now.
A live gig, with no remixing, replacing or overdubbing? Jump back into 1978 and feel the moment.
Dublin, June 2001.