Vol. LXX, No. 215 (Saturday, July 29, 1995)
U2's Bono once introduced a tune with "This is not a rebel song!" Then the Irish rock band launched into a blistering rendition of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," a song about the tragic "troubles" of Northern Ireland.
Unlike Bono, Irish folk band Four to the Bar isn't afraid to call a tune a rebel song--even though it's a ballad.
Well, OK, the New York-based band, in concert here August 1-2, considers" Another Son" a "curiously appropriate `rebel' song"--note the quotes.
"It's a rebellion against rebel songs," says Four to the Bar bassist Pat Clifford. "It's a call to arms through civil disobedience rather than a call to arms by picking up a gun."
Still, the title track to the band's new album, Another Son, is also "kind of subversive," Clifford admits during a phone interview form his home in Astoria, N.Y. Though the song speaks to oppression anywhere, it, of course, summons images of the centuries-old domination of Ireland by England.
The ballad's defiant last lines are
This is the way I see it:
This is the ironic, subversive part: Four to the Bar vocalist David Yeates sings that verse in Gaelic (also known as the Irish language).
"The first thing an oppressor will do is outlaw the native tongue," Clifford says. "You can't control what you can't understand, so you make the dominions speak your language so you can control them. Hopefully this song is redundant at this point, with the prospects of peace in Northern Ireland."
Though based in New York City, where the band is a mainstay on the pub scene, the members of Four to the Bar still "think in Irish."
After all, two members were born in the Emerald Isle: Yeates, who also plays tin whistle, flute, and bodhran; and Martin Kelleher, who plays banjo, guitar, and bouzouki. Clifford and Keith O'Neill are New Yorkers, though their parents, as Clifford says, were "off the boat" (born in Ireland).
Though raised in New York, Clifford had no trouble discovering his musical roots amid the sizable Irish population of the Big Apple.
"It's part of the emigration thing," he says. "Leaving your home behind, you want to take a part of it with you. The Irish are a very musical and community-minded culture."
The traditional Irish folk songs--the giddy-paced reels and jigs, the melancholy ballads, the happy-sad drinking songs--always come out at christenings, weddings, funerals. Anyone who plays an instrument brings it along," he says.
Along with his job as an editor for a legal publisher, Clifford was just such a casual musician until he answered a musician-wanted ad in the Irish Voice, a New York newspaper, four years ago.
Since Clifford joined, Four to the Bar has released three independent albums. The band's second CD, Craic on the Road, features raucous, belly-up to the bar, traditional folk tunes. Another Son, released last month, features a more eclectic mix of ballads, reels, and uptempo story songs, many penned by band members.
You don't have to be Irish to enjoy Irish folk music, Clifford says: "That has to do with the folk angle. Regardless of the culture, the bets folk music deals with universal issues, very down-to-earth subject matter.
"Then, with the Irish thing--we're a very musical culture, so the music is melodic and you have that visceral impact as well."
Is Irish music soul music, as singer Van Morrison and even rocker Bono claim?
"I've never considered it that way, but that makes sense," Clifford says. "Even the most standard Irish folk song isn't just `I love you, the sky is blue' stuff. Like the song `Murshin Durkin'--underneath the lighthearted melody is a story about a man leaving his country to make a better life. There are definite emotions attached."
The Four to the Bar concerts August 1 and 2 at the Main Street Bank and Blues Club in Daytona Beach are sold out.
Vol. LXX, No. 215 (Thursday, August 3, 1995)
The smile of singer David Yeates was hard to decipher. "This is a song about death," mused the frontman of Four to the Bar, a New York-based Irish folk band. Maybe Yeates noticed something incongruously amusing among the crowd at the Main Street Bank and Blues Club, where Four to the Bar performed Tuesday. Maybe he realized the absurdity of attempting a sad song amid the bar's blustery, fun-seeking packed house. Or maybe--just maybe--here was evidence of that renowned temperament known as "tragic gaiety," that spirit that once moved some sage to note that "the Irish are only happy when they're sad."
In any event, the band--two Irishmen and two sons of Irish immigrants--then played "Skibbereen," a sad, sad song about Ireland's great famine and its devastating aftermath.
In a house of blues that's heard the powerful, mournful screech of many an electric guitar, here was a band out- saddening the blues with the gentle, dove-like notes of Yeates's tin whistle and the weeping of Keith O'Neill's fiddle.
Indeed, "Irish blues" may be the best way to describe Four to the Bar's spirited, wonderfully engaging concert, an event of the Florida International Festival. Of course, the quartet's music didn't resemble African- American blues in style. But it did recall this country's blues in terms of soulfulness.
That was true with Four to the Bar's moving, lyrical ballads about the Irish diaspora and the Irish "troubles." Such songs as "The Western Shore" and "The Shores of America" conveyed the special heartache of immigrants. "Another Son" and "I Ain't Marching Anymore" evoked the "terrible beauty" of Ireland's tragic, centuries-old struggle against English domination.
That soulfulness was evident with more upbeat takes on the Irish immigration experience. On the delightful "NY's for Paddy," the twentysomething Yeates used his robust brogue to sing about an Irishman's fruitless search for "a decent pint of stout" (Irish beer) in the Big Apple.
And that soulfulness was evident in the band's reels, those giddy, instrumental folk tunes driven by O'Neill's fiddle and Yeates's manic, primeval pounding on the bodhran- -a round, hand-held drum.
The only blemish on the band's Tuesday gig was the mismatch between their beautiful ballads and the club setting. Whether due to the natural rowdiness of a club atmosphere or the possible inadequacy of the band's sound system, Four to the Bar's most poignant story songs were sometimes lost in the din.
But ultimately, Four to the Bar proved that a sad tale, a murmuring tin whistle, and a sobbing fiddle can be more potent than a thousand screaming Telecasters.