Friday, 20 April 2012


I've had to be in London a few times this year, dashing down from Edinburgh and back again for the shortest of stays - so rushed I didn't even take my camera! However, this last trip has been longer - still very busy (with little time for photos) I had my camera with me and was struck by what I observed as I waited to cross a road.

I had stopped on a traffic island in the centre of the Mall (that huge avenue - presented so well on the TV during the coverage of the Royal wedding). Waiting for a break in traffic to continue on my way I suddenly saw a person walking along on the far side of the road with two ferrets! An unusal sight to see in any city - I quickly got my camera out and took a photo. Very well behaved little critters, the way they appeared so happily to bound along beside the man, they made me smile. But as I watched this same stretch of road the man walked out of my gaze as a huge limo pulled up (turning heads as it did, people no doubt wondering what wealthy person, perhaps which celebrity was inside). I would not normally have photographed such a thing but as the car slowed to stop - a man on a bicycle passed by (but no one seemed to notice this man).

A man on a bike with what appeared to be his worldy goods all tied up in carrier bags. Brightly red, white and blue carrier bags but in London's streets - he seemed to pass by as if invisible. After he passed I took this photo and here have cropped out the other people - those so near to him who didn't appear to even give a first glance, let alone a second. No one seemed to care and yet the arrival of the grand limo had turned heads. People seemed to see wealth and power yet poverty had passed by unseen. I recalled Norman Tebbit's comments that the unemployed should "get on their bikes and go and find work" - as I watched him cycle away, he blended into the London traffic until I could see him no more but as I stood looking - along came another limo, this time, one that was bright pink... (to turn as many heads as possible?).

It was a bright sunny day but I recalled Ralph McTell's song which had been written oh so many years ago now and yet, I shivered - in 'the streets of London' it seemed that there was as much as ever which was still so badly in need of change. Yet, how can a situation ever change if so many choose instead not to see, to be blind to the problems of others? From a limo to a home in carrier bags (the expression "there but for the grace of God go I" - people relate to what effects them but society needs to relate to what effects us all. In our world, there are many 'invisible people' in need of help.


Have you seen the old man,
in the closed down market
Kicking up the papers
with his worn out shoes
In his eyes you'll see no pride
and held loosley by his side
Yesterday's paper
Telling yesterday's news 

So how can you tell me
You're lonely
And say for you that the sun don't shine
Let me take you by the hand
And lead you through
the streets of London
And I'll show you something
Which will make you change your mind

Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of London
Dirt in her hair
And her clothes in rags
She's no time for talking
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home
In two carrier bags

In the all night cafe
At a quarter past eleven
Same old man
Sitting there on his own
Looking at the world
O'er the brim of his tea cup
Each cup lasts an hour
And then he wanders home alone

Have you seen the old man
Outside the Seaman's Mission
Memory fading
With the medal ribbons
That he wears
In our wintry city
The rain cries a little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world that doesn't care

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Thank you Barney McKenna (RIP)

I lost a dear friend today, as did many others around the world, for Barney McKenna made friends wherever he went. I first met him in January 1991, I would never have known the exact date (many years on) but it was then because I had gone to do a short interview with the Dubliners on a Friday evening. Finally, I left them to return back to work on the Monday...

Few people have made such a sudden and lasting impact on my life but you couldn't have found a more down to earth group of people and Barney was at the heart of it all. Playing the fiddle I naturally gravitated to learn from fiddler John Sheahan's playing BUT what an enormous amount I also learnt from Barney. In 2011 they did tours in Scotland and England and I joined them there. After, I went on a search for the old interview tapes from 1991 and was amazed by what I heard. And I wondered, did I have ANY idea then of what I was part of. The recorder was left to run on. The banter and craic was/is as mighty as the tunes which were played. But I also hear Barney, chatting away to me. So many things from these first conversations were absorbed without me consciously remembering it all but what a positive influence. Barney talks to me of the need to play, as often and as much as possible. To play at home and to play in sessions - to enjoy and always have fun with the music. And I know that Barney could never have done anything else with his life - a man you don't meet every day, one born to play, perform and have an ever lasting love affair with music.

Barney, the first time I met him
- in a session which went from Inverness to Aberdeen 

Listening to the tapes 20 years on - I couldn't believe how relaxed I am amongst such talented, highly gifted musicians and Barney's playing then - it was amazing. Over the years he'd say "my fingers, my fingers are tired" and indeed his playing did slow but he remained as quick witted, wickedly funny and as entertaining as ever. But perhaps what I liked the most is that he had an amazing memory for all the small details. He met my folks a few times and after they passed on, still he would always talk about them and remember little stories which made me smile. Also, I liked how he would speak his mind (tho' I might not have always liked what he said). The last time we talked he was giving me his unsolicited thoughts on what I should do with my life. I had a notion to move to Ireland but he was saying "no, not just now when there are so many economic problems". But isn't that the mark of a true friend, when they say "no, I think you're wrong on that one". Dear Barney, I will miss so many things about you. So often late to arrive, your wandering off so folks would be sent to look for you and almost, a capacity to be irritating at times because you would so just 'go do your own thing'. Yet already, even in my many tears, I have found myself at times laughing today at some of the many daft and hilarious memories you've left me with from so many meetings, over so many years. YOU WERE SUCH A GREAT CHARACTER (the real deal) and who could ever know you and not absolutely love you? So many tunes, so many laughs, you have left a hole in my world which will never be filled because, without doubt - Barney McKenna you really were a man that people would NOT meet every day, you were such a unique, entertaining and kindly character that anyone would be glad to meet you even just once in their lifetime.

Barney McKenna - Thanks with all my heart
for the music, stories and time you shared with us all

When a person has left us, it is very traditional to say RIP. But this kind of seems inappropriate in the case of Barney - instead, I'd say I hope for Barney that he is sat in the middle of some great almighty session, that his pals who have gone ahead of him are now all reunited around him at last. That Barney is striking up the banjo or playing the box, that the pace of the tunes in his heart are now free to run and dance again at the speed that they once did before his fingers grew tired with old age. And, when the music stops, I wish for some time for Barney to go out fishing, fishing on the sea as he loved to do with his boat. But Barney, you were a fisherman on land as well as at sea - with your tunes and craic, you caught people, gathered them in and brought them to you. You were a friend who I will never, ever forget - a man who left the world a far richer place than it was when you came in to it. Around the world your music and banter has meant so much to so many and your legacy lives on - Thank you Barney McKenna.