If versatility is a sign of artistic talent – painters turning their skills to oils, watercolors and acrylics, landscapes as well as portraits; writers penning cross-genre, including poetry, short stories and novels – then musician-singer-songwriter Pat Gallagher can rightly claim membership of this rare cadre of gifted people.
As amply displayed this weekend at the Balor Arts Center in Donegal, Gallagher – supported by his outstanding group, ‘Goats Don’t Shave’ – can soften the hardest of hearts with poignant songs of lost lives and lost loves as in ‘The Volunteer’ about the 1916 Irish Revolution with its sad but uplifting refrain, ‘Close your eyes my little darling, may the angels keep you safe tonight, tomorrow in the new light you will rise,’ while also setting hands clapping and feet tapping boisterously with the dynamic ‘Crooked Jack,’ about an Irish gigolo, enlivened by mesmerizing fiddle and banjo playing by Stephen Campbell and Gallagher respectively.
As for musical genres: west Donegal-based Gallagher seems to have mastered them all (bar, perhaps, early 17th century flute-based Baroque sonatas, though he’ll probably achieve that too soon). Gospel, listen to ‘Strange Star, Middle Earth’ and ‘Dance For The Crowd.’ Blues, the homespun tune reminiscent of his home county, ‘Turf Man Blues.’ Country, ‘When I Grow Up.’ Traditional, ‘Evictions.’ Folk, ‘God Takes Visa.’ Rock, ‘Let It Go.’ Romantic, ‘She Looked My Way.” Celtic rock, ‘Arranmore.’
To cap it all, Gallagher and his multi-faceted band have just been traipsing the hallowed ground around Dublin’s Montrose House playing on one of Irish TV’s most popular entertainment programmes, ‘The Late, Late Show,’ with yet another creative musical invention – a lively, winning number combining hip-hop and Celtic rock performed with Letterkenny-based group, Phat Kiidz, entitled ‘GAA Jersey.’ So popular is the song it went viral, notching up around hundred thousand views on YouTube and media outlets nationwide and had the Balor audience rocking in the aisles as the hip-hop group emerged side-stage in psychedelic lime green jersey and fur-rimmed hoodie.
If the often less visionary elites of Ireland’s native national sport don’t play this song – repeatedly – during pre-match entertainment at Croke Park before this Saturday’s much-awaited football final replay between Dublin and Mayo, they deserve to be garroted with nylon guitar strings.
One catchy lyrical phrase alone ‘skinny jeans with the GAA, with the GAA jersey’ may set an enduring fashion trend, as well as return to the fold many young players whom some executives of the Gaelic Athletic Association complain have drifted off to ‘foreign’ soccer fields. And if anything is to put an end to the enduring curse that plagues the Mayo team, it could well be this inspiring song.
Who knows, maybe one day, a Platinum album will hang proudly on the wall of the ‘GAA Museum’ reflecting the song’s soaring sales. With lucrative proceeds from two 80,000-plus capacity crowds for the football final and replay (an estimated 8.5 million euro from ticket sales alone), the GAA could easily afford to buy enough copies of the record to move sales beyond platinum into the realm of diamond.
Can anyone think of a better, more timely musical gift for friends and supporters of the nation’s largest sporting organization both in Ireland and abroad? After listening to the rousing rendition at the Balor Arts Center concert last night, it had better hurry and place its order – they could all be sold out soon.
Dressed down-home in white T-shirt and dark waistcoat, his red hair flecked with gray or gray flecked with red, or whatever, with a baldheaded drummer, guitarist in ‘pink pyjamas,’ bass player in check shirt, fiddler intriguingly discreet in the shadow of a felt hat and mandolinist under a flickering crimson light, Gallagher and the Goats featured powerful voice backed by powerful musical prowess.
Such was the evening’s musical feast, even Conor Malone, manager of the Balor, joined in, the sweet notes of his saxophone wrapping themselves naturally around Campbell’s fiddle tones like a loving couple lingering late in bed on a Sunday morning – specially on the song ‘The Killer,’ about a Scottish boxing champion.
Then there was ‘Mary, Mary,’ an amusing tongue-in-cheek take on one of Ireland’s oldest talent contests and the swaying rhythms of ‘Drinking My Money,’ ‘The Glasgow Bus’ and, of course, the rousing standing ovation from the hand-clapping, merry swaying throng that greeted the ageless ‘Holy of Holy Hymns From The Goats’ – the pulsating ‘Las Vegas In the Hills of Donegal.’
The band were joined on-stage for a grand reunion by Malone, the lovely Donegal-based singer, Jacqui Sharkey, accomplished harmonica player, Dermot Donohue, singer-guitarist, Dean Maywood, who was the support act for the Goats, and the Phat Kiidz.
Kudos then for a riveting musical evening to Gallagher (vocal, guitar, banjo), Mickey Gallagher (drums), Patsy Gallagher (lead guitar, mandolin, vocal), Odhran Cummings (bass), Shaun Doherty (guitar, vocal) and Stephen Campbell (fiddle), as well as guests, Malone, Donohue, Maywood, Sharkey, and the Phat Kiidz comprising Jay Kay, DoDa and Hapz.
He’s known by many as the ‘all-weather man,’ not because he can control climate but because he possesses the talent to do the next best thing – predict its many mercurial moods.
A postman for most of his working life, Michael Gallagher has used his many hours of cycling throughout rural Donegal, Ireland’s picturesque northwest corner, particularly the townlands on both sides of the Reelin River and around the Bluestack Mountains, to study the idiosyncrasies of Irish weather. Not to mention watching how creatures, both of earth and sky – the birds in the trees, sheep and cattle in the fields – react to imminent changes.
“Close observation of Nature in its many forms, basically everything that’s around us, grants us invaluable insights, giving us many clues as to how the weather might be over the coming days and weeks,” said the sprightly man. “The secret is to learn how to best observe and to know what those key signs are.”
Michael has now parlayed his knowledge into a slim volume entitled “Traditional Weather Signs’ (‘Tuar na hAimsire’ as Gaeilge). Within 36 pages of easy reading, you will find golden nuggets of information, including how hens picking themselves is a sign of rain and how crows fly low and caw loudly just before a storm. He informs readers that if a cat sits with its back to the fire it means frost is on its way while a dog eating grass means a change of weather will happen. Meanwhile, if a horse heads up a hill in late evening, good weather is not far off and if worms crawl on your doorstep beware of floods.
Of course, the sky itself holds the strongest clues as to weather changes ahead. A faraway ring on the moon, according to Michael, means a storm is near while stars ‘shining like diamonds in a clear sky in late autumn, winter or spring’ means a hard night’s frost. Also, ‘a red sunset bodes good weather, a red sun at night is the farmer’s delight,’ a phrase we’ve all heard spoken. A rainbow at night, however, is a sailor’s delight whereas one in the morning is a sailor’s warning. Signs of an approaching storm, he writes, include seagulls flying inland and bees humming around the garden or outhouses in winter.
But it is not just about the weather that Michael has become somewhat of an expert. Forty years of delivering letters and parcels has meant innumerable conversations with rural people. From them he has learned much about homemade, natural health remedies. Such knowledge is contained within the pages of a second book he has penned entitled ‘Remedies and Cures of Bygone Era.’
Organised in alphabetical order, Michael offers health tips that have been handed down from generation to generation. Apples, for example, ‘eaten at night, preferably baked, are excellent for all who are inclined to constipation,’ he writes. Goat’s milk, he believes, is therapeutic for asthma in children. Apricots taken before a meal help digestion. Beans, like peas, contain sulfur and are rich in potassium and lime, ‘to eat them is very beneficial for young people who suffer from any form of rickets.’ Parsley is beneficial for the kidneys while celery can be a cure for rheumatism. A raw onion dipped in salt eases chilblains. And if you suffer from stomach disorders such as flatulence, Michael considers a tea made from cloves to be an excellent remedy.
Both books combine text and photographs and grant insights into the complex world of weather and health. With a better appreciation about how Man and universal elements are inextricably linked and a rising trend among people of all nations towards living in greater harmony with nature, Michael’s two books are a valuable contribution to our increasing knowledge.