Friday, December 02, 2005

The best Irish song ever written

If there's one subject about which I know more than I probably should, its Irish songs. I used to play in a band called The Pioneers of the Sacred Heart in the late 1980s (more about this anon), and it was a struggle to keep the more moronic of Irish rebel songs out of our set-list.

The chief offenders on this score were a band called The Wolfe Tones. They were - in almost every way - the worst example of Irish balladeers. A dumb commercialised Irish National Republicanism with cod-trad arrangements and four vocalists singing in unison.

But they had one song - The Streets of New York - that is fabulously written and arranged. And it's all about the sorrow of immigration.

Here's the plot (full lyrics here, but this is a condensed version):
Fathers brother (a New York Cop) phones father in Ireland and says 'send the lad over'. Father weeps, gives son the best wishes of poor dead mother, sends son on plane to New York. While son is actually on the plane over, the Cop brother is shot and son arrives to the news that 'poor Bengy was lying in a cold city morgue'.
Son gets a tough job, then hears of fathers death. Flies back to gaze on 'the poor wasted face of my father'
Ends thus:

"I sold up the farmyard for what it was worth
and into my bag, I put a handful of earth.
Then I boarded a train and I caught me a train
And I ended up back in the US again

Now it's twenty two years since I set foot in Dublin
My kids know to use the correct knife and fork
But I'll never forget the green fields and the rivers
As I keep law and order on the streets of New York"

Now Shane, Brendan and Dominic may have had fine moments of their own, but oddly, none of them will match one song by The Worst Irish Band In The World Ever.

5 comments:

rockmother said...

Talking of annoying Irish bands/acts you mustn't forget Clannad or Enya - very annoying Irish floaty wispy music and grand over-opulent music video's. Oh, and the bloody Corrs. Agh..don't get me started.

Deaglan said...

Very perceptive about the Wolfe Tones - cold-eyed mercenaries the lot of 'em. Though that song was good.

Other good Irish acts (to counterbalance the syrupy Enya factor): Paul Brady, Christy Moore (-ish) and Andy White.

brockway said...

I'd prefer Daniel O'Donnell to U2. At least he's kitsch.

Ivan said...

I know that song because you put it on the CDs you cut me when I left Poptel. Don't know how good it is, though it does have a certain poignancy.
My vote for the worst ever song about 'the Irish situation' goes to John Lennon's Luck of the Irish:
'If you had the luck of the Irish,
You'd be sorry and wish you were .
If you had the luck of the Irish,
You would wish you were English instead.'
Er, yeah, right, John.

IrishPureBlood said...

I don't agree with your comments about the wolfetones, as they have introduced Irish rebel songs to a new generation of listeners worldwide that otherwise would have thought the only Irish music was Daniel O'Donnell or U2, neither of who have any real Irish message in their songs that the rest of the world would give a damn about.
The history of any people is the music that they give to future generations, God save Ireland and her people, and anyone else who is proud to be connected with our proud, glorious and ancient land.