Saturday, December 05, 2009

Folkobit: Liam Clancy

Irish folk icon Liam Clancy has died.

Although Irish-born, it was America who made the fortunes of the Clancy Brothers And Tommy Makem. Having already enjoyed success as an actor and producer in his late teens, it was a second burst of fame for Clancy, but what a burst. The singers embraced the The Ed Sullivan Show, performing for JFK and a close friendship with Bob Dylan (Dylan considered Clancy to be the best "ballad singer" in the world).

The Clancy Brothers stumbled onto a trademark by chance - their mother sent them an arran sweater each shortly after they arrived in the US. It gave them a visual image which would be maintained through their career (and, in a large part, lead to the popular image of folk singers being besweatered.)

In 1962, Ciarán MacMathuna reintroduced the band to their home country, and from there it was a short time before they'd become what Gay Byrne would call "the most famous Irish men in the world". The non-Clancy members of the band would slowly drift away, and by the mid-1979s the band dissolved.

Liam struggled to find his feet after the band split, dipping into bankruptcy before being rescued by American TV. A couple of series of a talk-and-music show followed, bringing him back into partnership with Tommy Makem. The pair eventually formed a duo which would endure for thirteen years.

Following the death of his brother Tom, Liam returned to a revived Clancy Brothers in 1990. This version of the band toured for six years before calling time with an elaborate Farewell To Ireland special, after which Liam once again became a solo performer.

Clancy, who was 74, was the last surviving member of the band.