All posts in July 2016

My Father was a Fire Man

 

wexford-fire-brigade-photo--e1469518022688-680x522

(Please let me know that you are out there, make a short comment, it can get lonely otherwise. And thanks for an amazing gig at Joe’s Pub).

My oldest sister Delores gave me this photo of the Wexford Fire Brigade for my birthday, it’s an unusual one that I had never seen before, my father Jem is the last one front right. He later became the Captain, and so we had the phone (incoming calls only).

My first legitimate musical experience was at the age of nine when I joined a brass and reed band in my hometown of Wexford in the southeast of Ireland.

We had just moved down from a fireman’s bungalow at the top of the hill to a three-storey house on the quay with a shop underneath it. My father had been a part-time fireman, while the other part of his time was spent working in Pierce’s Foundry as a turner, those names are coincidental incidentally. The bungalows up on Davitt Road came with the Fire Brigade. Ten semi-detached houses in a row all connected by a loud alarm bell to the Captain – Mr Crosby’s – house, he had the Fire Brigade’s telephone to the outside world. If someone wanted to raise the alarm, they would call him and he would press a button that would ring through all the houses. He would also turn on the siren in the fire station which would travel through the entire town and beyond. If anyone was at work it was understood that they had dispensation to leave. My father would hop on his heavy black bike with the iron spring saddle and make his way up the many hills on the way to the fire station.

My mother was an ambitious woman and she wanted to move up in the world, so we came down the hill. When we got down there she was a bit nervous about me and my brother Paddy hanging around with a rougher crowd down around the main street, so she got us off the street by having us join an all male Catholic brass and reed band called The Holy Family Confraternity Brass and Reed Band. Father Bernie was the main benefactor for The Holy Family Confraternity Brass and Reed Band and he was a very nice man, but he had an unfortunate style of sermonizing, instead of going up he went down, and instead of going down he went up. It made for an unfortunate effect upon the entire congregation bringing us to within a heartbeat of slumber.

 Father Bernie got us involved in all the main religious occasions of the year, the biggest one being the Mary Queen of May march when we marched out to a grotto on the outskirts of town where there is a statue of the Blessed Virgin. I always thought that we were marching out there because she had appeared there but it turned out we were marching out there to try and get her to appear there. When we got out there, Father Bernie said mass in his usual sing songy kind of voice, and it was then for the first time in my life I came to an understanding of how horses fall asleep standing up.

After he had said mass we would turn around and start shuffling back into town. We sang hymns as we went along the way. We had a female choir and a male choir, the female choir were all dressed as the Blessed Virgin herself and the male choir were not. We sang hymns like Oh sacrament most holy, Oh Sacrament divine, all praise, and all thanks giving be every moment thine. Now it was turning into dusk and we lit candles as we came up the hill into the outskirts of town where people stood in a state of reverence at their doorways, and down to the folly where we dispersed, some people went for a cuppa tea and some went for a pint, but we all felt vindicated, we had done something for an hour and a half with absolutely no material rewards, and now we were floating on the security of tradition and the infinity of a silent conscience.

As much as my father liked being a fireman and the few extra bob that came with it, he soon packed up the house and followed us down the hill. On the evenings during the interim when he was obligated to stay there overnight, my mother would send one of us there to have his tea ready for him when he came home from work. I remember running down the hill in the dark having sliced the brown bread and cheese and laid it out on the small wooden table with a fresh pot of rich amber tea.

“Oh be the holy mack” he would say with discomfort, I knew what he wasn’t saying, he didn’t need to articulate his affection.

“You better go back home now, your Mammy will be waitin for ye”

New York New York sizzzzle

N Y Skyline

Thursday morning 11:07 it’s 85 degrees and 90% humidity, not sure if we should open the windows or keep them closed.  We’ve had the AC on all night in the back of the house where the bedroom is, and it’s nice and cool, but we don’t want to live in AC all day with the windows closed, Clare says its like living in a cave, and I agree.  She is heading out for a breakfast meeting and I need to work on the set for my gig at Joes Pub next Thursday, she suggests that I should go to the Italian cafe on the corner of 10th to get out of here.  As I’m heading out the door I am confronted with a dilemma; should I open the windows or keep them closed? For someone living in Ireland this is a no-brainer, but this is New York, in the centre of Manhattan.  When I came here first I remember being astonished when someone told me that they aimed their fan outwards in order to exhale the humidity, as opposed to blowing the air in. Humidity is the real problem here, not so much the heat, obviously you would only do this if you have no AC. The next best cure was to keep the windows closed, try and keep the humidity out, just grin an bear the dryer heat, that seemed nuts to me. Truth is if you don’t have an air conditioner you’re fucked no matter what you do, and I didn’t even have a bloody $26 fan at that time. Anyway I never bought into it, kept the windows wide open, and nothing moved except the mosquitos, not an ounce of air or wind. I just walked around in my underpants with the sweat dripping down my chest, hadn’t acquired shorts yet, went against the Irish grain, I found them a little embarrassing, or uncool, not David Bowie enough.

However now I’m a grown man, and I have AC! (and shorts) but I don’t want to have it on all day. So should I leave the windows closed as I’m going out, or close them? I decide to leave them closed and keep whatever cool air that is there within. I’ll re-appraise the situation when I’m out there; decide what I should do upon my return to the cave.

I push the tired old metal street door open – top-half cracked glass, covered from head to toe in graffiti – and there it is the force of damp heat bearing down on the half naked sweaty citizens hauling their tired arses along the pavement.  A tall unshaven man in a sweaty undershirt thuds his beaten body towards me, soggy denim shorts, off white socks and shapeless dirty sneakers, he has a long tired face, long hair in a ragged pony tail, ear buds attached to his phone and an old cloth bag twisted around his hand. He is an ugly unhappy looking bugger, almost dangerous, but probably not, he only has half of my attention until he makes an ugly leeching sound “chu-wawwwww” and casts his tired head downwards at two passing women passing him by.  Now with their back to him and me are two young women in their early twenties, I can’t see their faces, but can tell from their skin that they are young and that the one he is panting at, is black.  The two women completely ignore him, obviously used to this shit.  I am always astonished at this, I see this all the time in New York, big ugly looking assholes oogling women to their faces, what do they think; that they have a chance? That the women like this?  I try to imagine what it is like to be the woman, it seems like they are used to it as part of the daily routine in this city, I can’t imagine adding this to my life as part of the difficulty commuting in this overcrowded city.

Only once did I come close to this experience, it comes back to me now as I try to get inside the thoughts of these women.  Back in the eighties my friend Larry Kirwan and a guy called Jacque from Lyon used to bounce around New York bars looking for fun.  When our usual haunts were dull and too familiar, Jacque would exclaim “Gypse!!” imminently we would hop in to a yellow cab and head towards 49th and First Avenue where there was a cabaret club owned by a transvestite performer called Gypse, of course it was predominantly a gay hang-out, but that never even crossed our mind.  One Monday night with nothing going on anywhere, we swung into Gypse half stoned and up for the Craic.  Gypse was up on the stage, a tall skinny drag artist with a sharp tongue and wicked sense of humor.  We were glued to the stage laughing and yelping in support, when suddenly I noticed a table of men to my right, they were all staring at us, looking us up and down, one of them said ” alright…that’s more like it” I felt like a lump of meat, it made me withdraw and want to hide behind something, that is the nearest I ever came to what these women must feel like, and this guy was not being rude, he was doing what people do in singles bars, I can’t imagine experiencing that when I’m just popping out to get some milk.

To my surprise, the apartment was pretty cool when I returned, even without the air conditioner, keeping the windows closed had kept the humidity out, they were right all those years ago when I didn’t believe them.

Just rehearsed “Thunderstorm” with the full ensemble, including the original drum part with Mark Brotter, Andriette Redmann on Bass Synth, John Roksony on Guitar and Fred Parcells playing the original Trombone that he played on the album Now Is Heaven. Forget all the agony of the world, leave the heat on the street, and come to our love fest at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan on Thursday July 21 at 7pm.

Don’t worry, I know you’re busy, I’ll play for the Japanese tourists

13043497_265402613795544_8699354443323308267_n

Joe’s Pub Thursday July 21st at 7pm The Pierce Turner Ensemble http://publictheater.org/Tickets/Calendar/PlayDetailsCollection/Joes-Pub/2016/P/Pierce-Turner-Ensemble/

It’s Monday July 4th, it hasn’t been an easy week up till now. The previous Sunday June 26th was a wondrous day at the Sheen Theatre on Bleeker Street in the Village. The author Joseph O’Connor had invited us to perform at the Angela’s Ashes 20th Anniversary Concert in this newly renovated hi tech auditorium, it was a bill filled with a mish mash of talented people, all strung together around one simple premise; respect for the deceased Frank McCourt and his hugely successful memoir. It was mostly an evening of spoken word, other than that; Jean Butler (of Riverdance fame) Danced, Larry Kirwan my old cohort from Wexford sang, and I sang with my NY Ensemble. All performers were asked to stay within a four-minute framework, and most of us did, so it was a quickly paced event that never allowed the usual absent-mided types to hog the limelight.

At the end of the evening Malachy McCourt and his youngest brother Alphie took to the stage in their own time, Malachy at eighty four pushing his grey walker, and Alphie at Seventy Six with his silver tie hanging out and swinging slowly from his forward leaning gait, a dry under-pronounced pleasantness etched into his milky pale Irish skin; skin that suggested his hair had been ginger before it turned grey. Malachy beamed from ear to ear with long grey hair that curled over his large white dinner jacket, it was easy to see in him the child that Frank described in the book as so charming and inquisitive with his little pearly white teeth. Before them Gabriel Byrne had been at the podium, he had just come from the Theatre where he had completed the final performance of the four-hour Eugene O’Neill play Long days journey into night. As had been the pattern throughout the evening his presence was natural and understated, he spoke in a soft deliberate Dublin accent and compared O’Neill’s play to Angela’s Ashes in the way that they both dug deep into the microcosm of one family, the hidden shame, pain and truth. He also talked about how Frank could be charming company one minute and then in the next decapitate you with a knife. It was easy to become totally immersed as he delivered his gentle thoughts on why this evening was important, and why he was there and why we were there, he hadn’t much to say he said, and because he wasn’t trying, he was all the more powerful.

The same applied to Alphie and Malachy, they had no intention of knocking us out. Malachy sat down on his Walker as Alphie underwhelmed with the might of a humble Guru, saddened by the fact that his Brother Michael had died six months previous, he motioned the shape of an arc with his hand and said, I’m sure he’s around here somewhere “Michael was always fighting with Frank, I remember coming out of some place one evening with drink taken, and Michael had been arguing with Frank for some time, Frank just brushed him off with clever reposts, finally Michael shouted, you’re nothing only a tortured version of James Joyce! of course all of us, including Frank, just fell around laughing” Alphie pulled out a hanky from his brown jacket and wiped his nose periodically, occasionally coughing with a dry throat, after a roll of droll humour, then he just quietly strolled off stage through the wing, malachy pulled the goose necked mike towards him and thought out loud He’s probably gone for a drink, OK, so I’ll just say a few words, as King Henry the Eighth said to his many wives, I won’t keep you long! Eventually Alphie returned, and they finished with a song, encouraging us all to sing along, and try we did, even though we didn’t have the foggiest what the words were, but the song was infectious.  The humility of these two unpretentious men reminded me that you don’t have to jump through hoops to touch an audience; you just have to be honest. It was a magical event, and all I can think is that Frank McCourt and his masterwork had hovered over the whole affair and turned the mish mash into a coherent homage.

That was Sunday. The next day, Monday, I was standing in my kitchen leaning against the countertop, still quietly pleased with the previous days happening, there before me seated by the door was Kevin the owner of an Irish Wheaton Terrier called Murphy, and talking to him with her back to me sat Clare, in between them sat upon the floor was Murphy. We had been minding Murphy for Kevin for several days, and I had walked him, fed him, patted him on the head, rubbed him under the chin, and only made him wear his muzzle while I was walking him, he had sat on the couch with me when I watching the European cup. It seemed cruel to make him wear the muzzle around the house, although he had to wear it because of some unclear personality trait. He is a medium size, very muscular dog that is excitable. I was waving my hands about, talking of who knows what, when Murphy with a viscous growl lunged at me and took a lump out of my index finger, I looked at Kevin with the fear of God in my eyes and the word HELP screaming in silence, pulling my hand away only suggested attack to the dog, now he went for my stomach tearing a hole in my shirt and puncturing the skin, his growl was as ferocious as his action, I felt completely helpless, if I moved, he would get worse, all I could do was let him attack it seemed. Kevin jumped up and shouted HEY!! Grabbing Murphy by the collar and pulling him back, a little too late for me.

 

“Are you alright?”

 

“Yeah, I don’t know what happened” I said, shaken, embarrassed and uncomfortable, for the dog and the owner, while my blood was spilling all over the kitchen tiles. Clare who was feeling all the same emotions as me about the dog and owner (Catholics) explained that I was probably bleeding that much because I take a baby aspirin every day. That split my emotions for a second, I was now feeling that some sympathy was in order, and that this was still real blood, so what if it was a little thinner! The dog and the worried owner left, my favourite shirt was ripped apart and we went to the emergency ward at Beth Israel where three hours later I got stitches in my finger.

That was Monday. Tuesday comes and it’s a hot one, Clare and I decide to go for a swim over at Asser Levy, an excellent Olympic size public pool over on 21st Street and First Avenue. I point out to Clare that my favourite American Camper sandals are starting to fall apart, the rubber souls are flapping in the front and in the back, it had been going on for a while, but now they were getting dangerous. She had ordered a new pair with Amazon but they hadn’t come yet. Clare suggested that I wear them over to the Pound Shop along the way, and that we would get a cheap pair for three dollars there that would get me to the pool and back. After going though a heap of very bright plastic sandals we finally settled on a black pair that were a bit on the big side. The pool has its rules though, you must have a lock for the locker, no magazines, no phones, and you must shower before going in the pool. So Clare goes to the women’s to change and I go upstairs to the Men’s locker room. Clare reminded me that you can get verruca’s in public showers, so I should wear my new plastic sandals to the shower, after all they are waterproof unlike my campers. I wet myself and my shoes, lock the locker and swing down the stairs, the wet stairs! BANG!! My feet went flying up in the air… the hard plastic shoes were now like boards in a water slide, I hit that hard stone stairs screaming involuntarily, beyond all Catholic restraint, my pain echoed up the stair well so loud that the two jaded janitors came and asked me was I alright, my feet had gone so far into the black shoes that they were stretched over my ankles now, I had landed on my left arse, and it was swollen so bad I barely recognized it, I was half of a hippie person, half big bum, my neck hurt, the ring on my finger had carved a purple bruise where it tried to travel towards my wrist, every muscle in my body ached, and people were looking at me. I was in agony, and I was embarrassed, AGAIN!

 

I hobbled out to swimming pool where Clare was frolicking around like a baby seal, I hobbled towards the ladder mouthing my agony towards her, finally, after boring a hole into the back of her head she glanced in my direction “ I have just had the worst fall of my life” I mouthed towards her. She had “what now?” on her lips as I descended into the cool soothing water. On the way home Clare insisted on bringing the shoes back to the Pound Shop, I stood outside while she argued with two Chinese teenage girls about how dangerous the shoes were. I think this was her way of showing she cared, so I let her, even though I thought it was unreasonable. She got the three bucks back, and I hobbled home in my flappy campers.

 

To this day I am covered in bruise patterns, a myriad of colours like an angry sky, deep purples, black and blue, with a translucent sulpher yellow, they are in the front of my leg, the back of my leg, my left arse, reaching up over the front of my stomach where they almost meet the ones on my right stomach with the puncture wounds left by Murphy. The ground they cover is so vast, it’s clear now that I had so many spots that were hurt, I had lost track of them, but the bruises are there like a map to show where they were.

 

That was Tuesday. A few days later I heard that Alphie went to bed for a sleep and never woke up. Another bruise, this one on the inside.

 

On Monday July 4th I sat by Clare’s cousin Amanda’s pool in Philadelphia, they had a party that was set to climax with a fire works display by the local Chamber of Commerce come nightfall. It was absolutely pouring rain, and we sat huddled under umbrella’s drinking beer and eating bread and cheese. A woman whom I knew, but wasn’t sure how, lamented that she hadn’t been to an Irish music festival in ages, she heard that the Milwaukie Irish beer festival was great as usual and when was I playing again?

 

“July 21st I’m at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan”

 

“Oh I can’t possibly go to something on July 31st, I have a School………etc”

 

“No it’s not on the 31st, it’s on July 21st

 

“Oh that’s even worse, I can’t possibly go to a gig on the 21st….etc”

 

I jumped in the pool and watched the fireworks over the high trees, above the occasional lighted windows of a passing train, in the rain.