Archive for the St. Patrick’s Day Category

Lennon and McCartney: Which Wrote the Worst Irish Song?

Posted in Irish, Rock and Pop, St. Patrick's Day with tags , , , , , on March 17, 2016 by travsd

It might be argued that the period of around two years after their official breakup was the artistic nadir for former Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney, with both setting back the frontiers of sullen self-indulgence, spinning far, far away from every quality that had formerly endeared them to fans. By 1972, Lennon was deep into a period of political radicalism and enchantment with his avant-garde wife, short circuiting any remotely commercial instinct he ever possessed. McCartney, on the other hand, in a quest for legitimacy as a rock figure, had ironically (as he was periodically wont to do) thrown quality control out the window.  The LPs associated with this period were Wings’ debut record Wild Life (December, 1971), a skimpy collection of jams and half-written songs; and John and Yoko’s Sometime in New York City (June, 1972), a grab bag of underwritten, shallow anthems written in response to current events (and thus dated almost the instant they were released).

Interestingly, though they were diverging artistically, the former partners were still competing with each other. One of the more interesting aspects of this rivalry (given that so many aspects are so uninteresting) was they each wrote their own pro-IRA anthem at around the same time. Lennon’s was recorded first, but McCartney’s was released first, and as a single (Lennon’s was just a track on an LP). Each is drastically sub-par, excellent examples of why they were better together than apart, for each of them would most certainly have corrected the worst indulgences made by the other partner in these terrible songs.

Why did they write these songs at all? Well for a bit of context, this was a very “hot” period in the long-roiling unrest in Northern Ireland. “Bloody Sunday”, in which British soldiers shot and killed unarmed Irish civilians had just occurred (January, 1972). This was a horrible event — so horrible that even the normally unpolitical McCartney was motivated to respond. The instinct was laudable. And both Lennon and McCartney had some Irish in their background, which perhaps (they may have felt) gave them permission to speak out on it.

Yet, one can’t help thinking, the Irish themselves take a back seat to no other people on earth as poets or songwriters. One can’t help smelling something a little patronizing about these British millionaires, making their little “statements” and trying to get everybody to sing along. But…

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Wings’ debut single “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” was released on February 25, 1972. It seems to have been partially motivated by the fact that the band’s guitarist Henry McCullough was Irish. The record was considered too incendiary; it was completely banned from all British radio, although it became a #1 hit in Ireland. But it was heard almost nowhere else, and still hasn’t been. It’s not just because of the content, but because both the lyrics and tune are makework, completely uninspired. I confess to finding the tune to this one catchier than Lennon’s, but it is also marred by McCartney’s patent superficiality. The line that always makes me wince is “Great Britain, You Are Tremendous”, a Las Vegas level sentiment, more suitable for Steve Lawrence than a former Beatle.

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Lennon’s song “The Luck of the Irish”, released June 12, but recorded the previous December, is to my mind, even worse than McCartney’s. This from the pen of the man who wrote “All You Need is Love”, “Give Peace a Chance” and “Revolution”. Though Lennon was doing interesting things vocally and in terms of musicianship and production during this period, he seemed nearly bankrupt as a songwriter. The tunes from Some Time In New York City are his absolute weakest. As he had copped from the blues for “John Sinclair”, for “The Luck of the Irish”, he dabbles in what I call “Irish Bullshit Music”, with a vaguely traditional sounding melody  and ornamental penny whistle as an atmospheric gesture. So this one evokes Ireland more than McCartney’s, but rather lamely. (It was McCartney who would eventually nail this traditional sound in “Mull of Kyntire”, although the theme for that one is Scottish).

The lyrics are perhaps even more embarrassing than McCartney’s. “If you had the luck of the Irish/ You’d be sorry and wish you was dead/ You should have the luck of the Irish/ and you’d wish you was English instead.” Now, when he wrote this, it may have originally been intended as characteristic Lennon humor. If he recorded the song in that vein, perhaps as a raucous drinking song, with many male voices, like Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers, this song may well have come off. But instead he does it SUPER earnest. We can only conclude that he means this drivel. His sentiment is excellent; his method of expressing it, terrible. Even more hilariously, Yoko comes in on the second verse, bringing us her take on the English-Irish question, which I just know the public had been waiting for with baited breath:

Eh, wot? A little skunk cabbage to have with your corned beef. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

 

Talbot O’Farrell

Posted in British Music Hall, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Irish, Music, Singers, St. Patrick's Day with tags , , on March 17, 2013 by travsd

Erin Go Bragh! Sure and ’tis another St. Patty’s Day post!

Talbot O’Farrell (1878-1952) was an English music hall entertainer who wasn’t Irish at all. Yorkshire born, his real name was William Parrott and he initially had tried his luck with a Scottish character named Jock McIver. No soap, the public wanted his Irishman. By 1912, he was a top of the bill performer, known for his renditions of “Dear Little Irish Mother”, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and “Your Dear Old Dad Was Irish”. As you can deduce I think from these song titles, his was not to ridicule the Irish as other Anglos had done onstage before him. His thing was sentimentality, greenface or no. He was also in a handful of movies, although he was usually far from star billing. Because you know you want it, here he is singing “I’d Just Paint the Leaf of the Shamrock” (1920):

To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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Harry Kennedy, The Irish Ventriloquist

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Coney Island, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Irish, St. Patrick's Day, Tin Pan Alley, Vaudeville etc., Ventriloquism & Puppetry with tags , , , , , , , on March 17, 2013 by travsd

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Erin Go Bragh! Sure and ’tis another St. Patty’s Day post!

William Henry “Harry” Kennedy (1855-1894) was a songwriter and ventriloquist of Irish extraction and English birth. Born in Manchester, he’d taken up the art of throwing his voice when still a boy. For a time he went to sea as a merchant seaman, winding up in Montreal in 1871. Here he met and teamed up with a magician, launching his career as a professional. Three years later he was in New York, where is to perform for Tony Pastor, P.T. Barnum, Haverly’s Minstrels and others, his dummies usually stereotyped Irish and African American characters. By 1886 he was also operating his own saloon in Brooklyn; a Brooklyn Eagle story from that year relates a sordid and drunken altercation with one of his patrons from that year. In 1890 he opened Harry Kennedy’s Theatre near Cooper Union, but after one season he sold it and opened the Alhambra in Coney Island. He also wrote over 200 songs, including “When Peggy and I are Wed” and “Patsy Brannigan”. He wrote the book pictured above in 1891. He was not quite 40 when he died of Bright’s Disease in 1894.

To find out more about vaudeville and the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

 

Hugh Murphy, The Irish Giant

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Giants, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Irish, St. Patrick's Day with tags , , , , , , , on March 17, 2013 by travsd

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Erin Go Bragh! Sure and ’tis another St. Patty’s Day post!

Hugh Murphy the Irish Giant (later billed as the Baltimore Giant) was born in Waterford Ireland in 1842, and employed by P.T. Barnum in the 1860s. A little over 7 feet tall, he was advertised as being closer to 8.

To learn much more about a lot of other Irish giants, go here!

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

 

Sheridan and Flynn, “Down Went McGinty”

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Comedy, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Irish, Singers, St. Patrick's Day, Tin Pan Alley, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , on March 17, 2013 by travsd

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Erin Go Bragh! Sure and ’tis another St. Patty’s Day post!

Frank B. Sheridan and Joe Flynn were a stereotypical Irish comedy team of the 1870s through the 1890s, who became best known for the song represented above, about a fella named Dan McGinty who keeps falling down! They were old school variety (pre-vaudeville) men of the same stripe as Harrigan and Hart and the Kernell Brothers. They toured with Muldoon’s Variety Players and in New York at such venues as Brooklyn’s Hyde and Behman’s.

Here’s the only performed version of the song I could find online:

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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Stars of Vaudeville #637: The Kernell Brothers

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Comedy, Comedy Teams, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Irish, St. Patrick's Day, Stand Up, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , on March 17, 2013 by travsd
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John Kernell

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A Wee Bit O’Harry

Erin Go Bragh! Sure and ’tis another St. Patty’s Day post!

John and Harry Kernell are extremely important in the history of American comedy teams. The only reason I haven’t posted on them before is I couldn’t find a visual of them together; it never occurred to me to look for separate pix!

The Kernell Brothers were among the first of the so-called “sidewalk comedians”, the two man comedy teams who did breezy crosstalk in vaudeville; and as such they pre-date even Weber and Fields (whom the Kernell Bros. gave a leg up in the late 1880s). Born in Philadelphia circa the late 50s/ early 60s, John was the first to go on the stage, and he did so when still a child. With his first partner Harry Bennett, he debuted at the Olympic Theatre in New York, doing the sort of stereotype Irish comedy that ruled at the time. When Bennett died, John replaced him with his brother Harry. Harry dressed as a stylish dude in silk top hat and tails; John was the traditional stage Paddy in red wig and clodhoppers. By the ’70s they were a mainstay at Tony Pastor’s. By 1883, they had their own touring company, which Weber & Fields would come to model their own operation on. A decade later, Harry was dead of syphillis (a depressingly common end in show business at the time). John soldiered on in vaudeville as an Irish monologist, and occasionally acting in plays. He died in 1903.

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Stars of Vaudeville #464: The Russell Brothers

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Broadway, Comedy, Comedy Teams, Drag and/or LGBT, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Irish, St. Patrick's Day, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , on March 17, 2012 by travsd

Since their birthdays are unknown, I’ve saved this post for St. Patrick’s Day.

The Russell Brothers, John (1856-1925) and James (1859-1914), were a pair of Irish-American brothers who cooked up a comedy two act known as “The Irish Serving Girls.”

They had begun in Lower East Side variety saloons as one of the typical Irish acts of the day, doing knockabout comedy, jokes, a little minstrelsy, sentimental songs, and clog dancing. Drag was usually one of the specialties such acts would trot out to keep audiences engaged; Tony Hart of Harrigan and Hart, for example was well loved for his comical dames. The Russell Brothers were such a hit with their drag personae that they simply ended up specializing. Their gossipy, mean Irish chambermaids became their permanent characters.

Weber and Fields (whom they’d gotten to know while performing together at Tony Pastor’s) loved the Russell Brothers so much that in the 1890s they hired them to head up their 2nd vaudeville touring unit. In the new century, they became sought after as a stand-alone act on the just-forming vaudeville circuits, and even starred in some Broadway shows.

In the new century, the team was bedeviled by the complaints of Irish anti-defamation groups for their portrayals. (Interestingly the complaints were not so much about their portraits of Irish people, which were mainstream enough as heinous as they were. But the outcry was more about how they depicted Irish women. ) Towards the end, they switched to playing Swedish women, which was no doubt just as objectionable but had no large organized constituency to protest. After James died, one of the replacements John hired was none other than Bert Savoy — that was how the legendary drag artist got his start. After Savoy left the act to form a new team with Jay Brennan, John Russell hung his skirts up for good.

 

To learn more about the roots of variety entertainmentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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