- 20 Mar 01
A long way from there to here With 35 years on the road behind them, THE DUBLINERS are the roots of Irish music. Interview: Colm O'Hare. The Rolling Stones aren't the only ones celebrating 35 years on the road this year.
A long way from there to here
With 35 years on the road behind them, THE DUBLINERS are the roots of Irish music. Interview: Colm O'Hare. The Rolling Stones aren't the only ones celebrating 35 years on the road this year. Those other hardy perennials, the Dubliners are also 35 years-a-greying - and with a new livealbum and a European tour in the offing, they're still showing no signs of slowing down. However, fiddle player and founder member John Sheahan reckons his rumbustious outfit have played far more gigs than Jagger's blues boys have.
"We still do about 130 shows a year," he states, "though we've slowed down slightly in recent years. We used to do 30 dates on the trot, without a break, but now it's down to about 18
at a time." As to their amazing longevity and stamina, Sheahan has his own theory: "We never got into pot or groupies or anything like that," he says. "Just plenty of serious drinking!"
Along with the endless touring and equally vigorous cultivation of facial hair, the Dubliners have recorded and released dozens of singles and albums, making it onto Top Of The Pops
on two occasions - albeit 20 years apart. Their latest album Alive Alive O, recorded on last year's hugely successful German tour, features a selection of songs and tunes from their entire
career. For Sheahan, it was yet another opportunity to reminisce and look back on those early days. "There's no doubt that the '60's was a special decade for us", he says. "There was a
whole new ballad scene, we were in the middle of it and there was a great air of excitement about the place. Our attitude was 'Here we are, take it or leave it'. The way we presented the
music made it exciting. The guitars were the key to it, I think. Before that, Irish music had been played in celidh bands on accordions. Though he partakes of an occasional drop now, back
then Sheahan was the only non-drinker among a bunch whose reputation for sinking pints was legendary. Was the drinking as wild as it was reputed to be at the time? "It was probably
slightly exaggerated, but there was a fair share of it involved," he recalls. "The worst thing for me was trying to get them out of a pub and to the gig on time. Or even worse, getting them
home after the gig. It was always 'Ah sure, we'll have another one'. "On one occasion I was getting frustrated - it was three in the morning with no sign of the boys moving out of the bar.
I passed the barman a fiver to close the bar. But it stayed open. I was chatting to Ronnie the next day and I was complaining about the barman: 'I gave him a fiver to close the place and
throw us out', I told him. He laughed and said: 'We paid him a tenner to keep it open.'." However, there was a lot of hard work involved too, and at one point the group was so popular that they'd perform several times in one day, as Sheahan recalls. "We used to do an early evening gig in the Royal Hotel in Howth on a Sunday and then head in for a midnight show in the Gafton Cinema. There was no bar but people would smuggle in carry-outs. I remember one night Luke Kelly was doing an unaccompanied version of 'Blackwaterside' and there was an almighty crash of bottles. He stopped singing and said: 'I've absolutely no time for anyone who can't hold their drink!' "Luke was always great for the one-liners. At one gig in Galway
a bloke shouted up: 'Hey woolly head!' Luke glared back and said: 'At least mine is only woollen on the outside'." The biggest change the group has witnessed in recent years has been the departure of founder member Ronnie Drew and his replacement by balladeer Paddy Reilly. Though this came as something of a surprise to outsiders, the members of the Dubliners were well prepared for it. "He gave a warning about six months before he left. He was working on a solo album at the time anyway, so it didn't come as a great shock. My firts choice to replace him was Paddy Reilly. He'd filled in a couple of times over the years such as when Luke became ill." However, according to Sheahan, Reilly was apprehensive when first
approached to fil Drew's shoes on a permanent basis. "He gave it a lot of consideration. He was a bit concerned about losing his own identity. So we came to a compromise. We don't do much work in the springtime so that leaves him free to do his own thing. But it's worked out well - he hadn't played much in Europe over the years, so it was a new experience for him."
Sheahan feels that bringing new blood into the group usually gives a new lease of life, citing the addition of Eamonn Campbell in 1987 as an example: "It was his idea to do the song with
the Pogues ('The Irish Rover') and introduced us to a much younger audience. I remember shortly after that, we were playing a venue in Sweden," continues Sheahan. "Downstairs there was a rock club where there was a line up of punks in leather jackets queuing up. One of them came upstairs to our gig and we said: 'The rock venue is downstairs'. 'But we're here to see the Dubliners', they replied." Sheahan, always known as the quiet man in the group, has had his own share of solo success. His fiddle tune 'The Marino Waltz' became popular after it was used in a Bord na Mona advert, and he's also played sessions for a variety of stars including Kate Bush. "She was recording her Hounds of Love album in Windmill Lane with Bill Whelan and I was asked to play on it," he recalls. "She was a lovely girl. At the time I was interested in origami - the Japanese art of paper folding - and I was messing around with it in the studio while waiting around. A few weeks later I got a parcel from her in the post. It was special origami paper from Japan where she was touring. She still sends me cards every Christmas."
The Dubliners 'Alive Alive O' (Live in Germany) is out now on Baycourt Records