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Miscellaneous - The Life and Times of Liam Clancy

  by Spencer Robertshaw

published: 13 / 2 / 2010

Miscellaneous - The Life and Times of Liam Clancy


Spencer Robertshaw is impressed by both the raw honesty and poignancy of DVD documentary 'Yellow Bittern' which tells of the life and times of late Irish folk ballad singer Liam Clancy

This is a fascinating production which combines a real life story which in itself is worth following and an important piece of Irish folk music history. 'Yellow Bittern' tells of Liam Clancey’s life and times told by the man himself just before he sadly passed away at the age of 74 in December 2009. Bob Dylan has said that Liam Clancy is the best folk ballad singer/story teller he has heard and he is pretty accurate. The film is well shot with a pleasant, subtle piano backing track. There is also a good second DVD which has historical interviews, performances friom Clancy and other extras. Clancy grew up in Ireland. He recalls how his parents were so in love throughout their time together that he saw them many times holding hands and behaving as young lovers would with the first,fresh caress that true love delivers unconditionally. There is commentary as to Clancy’s stage bound talents came about from his teachers. Clancy was himself a great lover and performer of poetry and it shows in his vocal performances. Leaving Ireland in his late teens Clancy met up with his other brothers who had already emigrated (he is appalled by their American accents) and a wealthy socialite Diane Hamilton who pursued him trying to tie him into marriage unsuccessfully. When her advances were shunned she attempted an overdose. Stunned by the massive differences in New York to the small old time Ireland he grew up in, Liam began a fantastic journey which found him mixing on the blues music scene and joining his brothers (and Tommy Meakin) to form a folk group, the Clancy Brothers, which became very successful. His handsome appearance and enchanting voice worked well. The ‘Swinging Sixties’ started and the band played to television audiences and theatres alike. The film keeps cutting to Clancy sat on a stool telling the tale solo as if to the viewer alone. There are ome great one liners such as "Written history is nothing more than the propaganda of the victor." The story continues documenting events in a magnetic and very watchable format with the band playing for John F. Kennedy, outselling the Beatles and influencing artists from Bob Dylan through to The Pogues. We get a deep insight into proper Irish music and how it should be done. Something had to give and we see the dark side to ‘showbiz’ that often damages popular musicians. You don’t often, however, associate the excesses of a rock’n’roll lifestyle with a folk band, but why not? It’s still the same game just a different style of music and there’s plenty of emotional energy in 'Yellow Bittern' as the band start to break up. Clancey's life took a dramatic turn and we see him reborn as a performer again but this time battling with alcoholism. He beat it but not easily. In hospital his doctor asked him, "How would you like to be remembered? As a singer and performer or as a drunk?" Leaving the band aside there are tear jerking tales of life and death, all well told by Clancey. This film holds you until it wants to let you go and when it does you land with a very heavy thud. 'Yellow Bittern' is unlike no other film that I have seen and is honest, raw and emotional. Put aside a whole Sunday and you won't ever forget it. Liam Clancy RIP.

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