Yesterday I took the C train up to W96th Street

Pierce Turner Ensemble at Legends On Sunday April 23rd 5pm-at 6 W33rd St bet 6th and 7th Avenue.

“Yesterday I took the C train up to West 96th Street”

Pierce Turner (c)2017

As apathy and other forms of distraction take a hold on the majority of my already meagre size audience, I wonder if am I doomed to fade into oblivion with the usual trappings, babysitters and T.V addicts, fearful agoraphobiacs.

Still inspired and bursting with ideas, I try to convince myself that it doesn’t matter what size my audience is, just get on with it! something will give, somehow, some way, new freshly inspired lovers will find me and mingle with the still lively ones. Some of us have many more lives to live.

Yesterday I took the C train up to West 96th Street. My friend Jeff MacCulloch invited me to talk with his class of (I think he said 8th Graders?) kids seemingly around fourteen year olds. There was about 16 kids there, two thirds Girls, most of them were African American.
When I arrived at the School (in the nick of time at 2pm) the security guard pulled over the nearest kid and instructed him to bring me to Mr Mac’s class. Mr Mac? I was just about to correct her and say that it was Jeff MacCulloch when it dawned on me that Jeff was Mr Mac.

Jeff had primed his writing class for this event by having them study 2 of my songs “3 Minute World” and “Orange Colored Sun” He also had them read my short story “The Permist” – But I hadn’t really thought about what he had told me.

The event started with one of the young Ladies reading out a short Biography of who I am, and then the questions began. A lot of hands shot into the air, Jeff chose one, it took me a while to realize that I could pick too.

“In 3 Minute World, what did you mean when you said you were stuck in the shop suspended by a heartfelt song?”
I was flabbergasted! these Urban New York kids knew the lyrics to that song? Jeff wasn’t kidding. I mean, it is such a Wexford song. The question came from a cute impish black Girl with a massive head of hair pulled back and tightly tied with a blue velvet band. She had sparkling eyes and a mischievous smile.

“On Saturday evening when all my friends were strolling up and down the Main Street and my girlfriend was probably flirting with them, I felt trapped in the Record Shop listening to broken hearted love songs”

“were you in love with her?”

“It felt like love, I was definitely heart sick in her absence”
She kind of crumbled into a heap, covering her eyes with her fingers.

A young shy boy puts his hand up and Jeff pulls him out of the sea.

“When you say ‘Anywhere is happening better than this God Know’s and wherever you are is where I wanna be’ what’s that?”

Again – shocked at the notion that these black kids are asking me about such an extremely personal song, from what I would’ve thought to be a kind of alien culture – I delighted in digging up the meaning of those words from my memory bank.

” Let me see, I can’t really remember the words to this song” The tall black boy to my left hands me the lyric sheet that Jeff had printed out.
“Oh thank you”

“you’re welcome”

“OK, I’m kind of saying saying, even if I was on a rock out in the middle of a windy ocean, I’d be happy if she was there”

“Oh that’s soooooo sweet!!!!” the little black girl chuckled and all the girls melted into a romantic union of giggling. I was delighted with myself, it took 30 years offa me, my heart was flying, I was at one with these kids, there was no ageist wall between us, I was speaking their language and feeding off their liveliness. And what I was saying resonated with the world they inhabited.

The tall black boy to my left asked a question about “The Permist”

” Were you in love with that girl who danced with your finger?”

“No, but I was infatuated, she had me wrapped around her little finger, she was 19, I was 15 and a half. Girls are more mature than boys anyhow” The girls laughed out loud.

“In Orange Colored Sun, I thought of a warm sun down by the ocean, is that what you wanted us to think?” Asks the the tall friendly girl with the glasses and the headscarf.

I explained that both songs were based on the memory of my first girlfriend whom I realize now was only about fourteen, while I was barely sixteen. And that heat was very much the emotion I wanted to convey.
“I wake up every morning to the heat of your heartbeat, is a strong way of connecting that present (when I wrote the song) to the past, when I was with her in that orange colored sun”

“So are you married to her now?”

“No, but we are very good friends, ironically my wife re-connected us by finding her through Facebook” This brought the house down.

“It’s imperative for an artist to partner with people who are open minded to what we write about, my wife puts up with me writing about all kinds of personal things, I think that I’m disguising stuff, but she knows what I’m at. I lost contact with most of my peers when I emigrated to America, my wife understood the importance of me connecting with my first girlfriend again, we are all good friends now”

Thanks Jeff (Mr Mac) for this great day, and thanks you sweet young students of life, for your curiosity and interest. Maybe one day I will see you out in the audience, maybe I can grow old surrou
nded by the likes of you? and anyone else who feels the same.

The Permist

 

THE PERMIST   © Pierce Turner 2017

 

I remember when there was a hairdresser in my hometown of Wexford called Tony Myler, who gave gorgeous perms, he was known far and wide to be a terrific Permist. And he had an assistant called Kate whom he had taught his technique to, and Kate was nearly almost as good as him- and “nearly almost as good” was the standard in Ireland, at that time.

My Mother got wind of the fact that Kate was nearly almost as good, and booked her to come down to our house on a Monday night do a bit of perming on the side. She roped my three sisters into it too, so that she could get a job lot.

Kate arrived with her bag of curlers at quarter to seven just after the evening news. She went up into the sitting room and went at it hammer on tongs.   She permed the whole bloody lot of em! Anyone that was within reach, got permed.

I had nothing to do on a Monday night, and we had a boarder in our house from Cork who had nothing to do either. We decided to go upstairs and check out the goings on. We entered into that feminine terrain with great trepidation because of the smell of burning hair and sickly perm solution, but once we got inside there, the atmosphere was terrific.

The fire was blazing, they were all laughing and hooting and hollering, telling jokes, hopping around like Tele Tubbies with great big curlers in their hair, telling blue jokes. I was taken by surprise that my Mother was laughing at those jokes, I was not aware that my Mother had any knowledge of sex.

Kate had a friend with her called Joyce, and I couldn’t help but notice that she was a very attractive woman. Joyce started asking me questions-

I think she was confused because the guy next to me was from cork-

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from here”

“Where did you grow up then?”

“I grew up here?”

“And where do you live now?”

“I live here!”

 

After a while they left and the cork guy and myself sat there looking at my mother and my three sisters on the couch appraising the job that had been done. I thought that they looked a little bit like four Irish Jimi Hendrix’s,

but I think that they thought they looked more like four Irish Elizabeth Taylor’s.

Then the Cork guy said; “I couldn’t help but notice like, that that girl like, Joyce like, I think she fancied Pierce!”

I was mortified, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be looking at girls yet, at fifteen and a half – I had never talked to my mother about girls, but I noticed out of the corner of My eye that she seemed a little chuffed.

That Thursday I went to my first dance in the parish hall. I entered into that place with some trepidation too, because of the smell of all the different aftershaves and perfumes mingling with cigarette smoke, which curled up around the huge mirror ball that  had a big blue spotlight shining on it-sending little blue satellites all around the room.

Up on the stage in a blaze of lights, a live Band played an old soul classic.

I was in a state of awe, when out of nowhere came Joyce, she took me by the tip of my index finger and pulled me out onto the dance floor.

It’s not easy to dance like that I can tell you, eventually she let go of my finger, and we danced all night long.. and… I took her home, and… I kissed her..and I had very little experience kissing, but she was well used to it, she nearly choked me ! Of course she was nineteen. (I forgot to say that) That night I went home on the wings of a dove, a man in love, for the first time, I seemed to have a girlfriend.

The following Thursday I went back to the parish hall again, this time I entered with less trepidation, but as soon as I got in there, it was plain to see, everything was going to be very different.

Joyce was already up on the dance floor wrapped around another guy, I went around the other side to get a look at him, hiding behind people’s heads. She was wrapped around him so hard I couldn’t see who he was.

I went over to the other side of the hall to see from there, and still couldn’t.

Then I went back to the front, and hid behind someone so that she wouldn’t see me looking, finally I saw him, he was a sailor home from sea. I knew him too, he was a merchant seaman. Wexford is full of merchant seamen, they are very confident blokes who have been all over the world. They’re always goin on about how beautiful the women are in Guatemala, Yokohama and Panama. I knew he was never going to let go of her.

For the rest of the night I sat there downhearted, and the band played all these old romantic songs that I never cared about, but now I understood them, they were singing in a language that I had just learned.

I went home that night brokenhearted. The following day a mutual friend told me that she said I had been following her around all night long like a lapdog.

I was angry now and decided to get over her, you can do that kind of thing when you are fifteen. When time moves very slowly, when a day last for a month, and a month last for six months, when six months last for a year. You can get an awful lot done in no time at all. But I have to say this;

she did put me off Perms for the rest of my life.

More stories from the house on the Quay

2 Commercial Quay- continued.

 

I looked out the window at the old black Anglia, silently parked on the quay by the tracks where the Boat train runs twice daily. It was a big old black thing that we had bought second hand for a hundred quid. It’s tall and long body gave it the appearance of a nineteen fifties hearse. I picked up my old acoustic guitar and started picking out notes to accompany my thoughts “maybe my Mother and Breda were right about Sputnik? Maybe it was some kind of tragedy?” I had no experience with real tragedy, and I suppose I had never really believed that he was our dog because of the way we inherited him.

 

He was not a housedog that’s for sure. No one kept tabs on his actions at all. He got up in the morning after sleeping on the landing in front of my Parents bedroom, ate his breakfast, usually bread covered in left over tea with milk and sugar, and went off for the day to do whatever he liked. I often met him in far off places just walking along like a stranger. One time he was with an older widowed woman who seemed to know him, she signaled to him that it he should wait for the traffic before crossing the street, he respected her advise and acted like he was hers. He did a double take when he saw me, and came running over, he wagged his tale profusely and circled me a couple of times, going all floppy with admiration and delighting in the surprise of us running into each other so far from home.   I gave him a bemused look and carried on, thinking he would follow, but he didn’t. As soon as he was finished bidding me good day, he went back to that woman, they continued on their way. Was he her dog too? I know that he used to visit his original owner – my Brother – occasionally too, just pop in for a wag and a saucer of tea. If I wanted him to mind the shop I had to grab him before he went out on his daily rounds, tell him to stay where he was. He was very obedient like that. I looked out the window one more time at the old black Anglia, I imagined him in the boot, it all happened so fast. But so slow is the evening upon approach, with that old black machine sat motionless awaiting someone with a key to finish a day of upheaval.

The Dublin Rosslare Boat Train travels so close to the main road; passing cars are often deceived into thinking that it is actually travelling on the road with them. Strangers are confused to find passengers sitting at a train window seemingly driving along side. The tracks follow along between the River Slaney and the road to the foot of the New Bridge where they cross over the road. It’s a very busy intersection from the Dublin Road, it was assumed that cars would know not proceed on to the Bridge at the sight of that mammoth machine cruising along in their path. But sometimes they couldn’t fathom the reality of the train’s route; was it not going to veer off? Was it really going to drive across the road! into their flank…….Yes!… BANG!!! Too late.I’m slightly ashamed to say here, that I did run for my camera on one of these occasions, my resulting photo made the front page of a National paper with full credit; the sight of a car crumpled beneath a train was pretty sensational. However there were people in there trapped! A woman standing next to me said that I should be ashamed, I was then! But I had been there….right there on the spot, wasn’t that my job as a photographer? Thankfully no one was seriously injured, that woman’s words did affect me though, the next time it happened (and there was a next time) I left the camera behind. Eventually they installed traffic lights at the bottom of the bridge, they went red when the train was coming, however they were the towns first traffic lights, and because they were only active if a train was coming, some unfortunates didn’t take them very seriously either, a costly misjudgment. Still no one was ever killed.

 

 

It was a tall shop counter, one that I could easily hide behind while seated on a low stool. I could be as busy as I chose to be. Rec-Pho was my brainwave, I had many, only my Mother could compete with me for brainwaves, I was her brainwave actually, and she displayed a keen desire to see her ideas through, so I tried to follow suit. Before Rec-Pho the shop was called Molly Roche, my Mother’s maiden name. She had already failed with a corner grocery shop, but quickly enough moved on to the Molly Roche idea. She had always been extremely proud of her Father, Jem Roche, who had been a successful heavyweight boxer, a Champion of Ireland who had fought and won against many world-class fighters. His biggest claim to fame was fighting against the Canadian Tommy Burns for the world heavyweight title. Burns was touring the world trying to get away from Jack Johnson, and stopped off in Dublin to fight her Father for a purse of twenty five hundred pounds, a phenomenal sum in
1905. Jem was beaten in the first round; I once read an article that suggested the loss was inevitable. His role in the fight was not just that of a boxer, he had the morale of that entire poverty stricken country on his back. Bets were placed at pubs and marts, not against him, but for which round he would murder the Canadian in. Dublin was besieged with visitors from all over the country just hoping to be near the hall where the fight was to be. Word got ‘round on the whereabouts of his hotel, and drunken enthusiasts gathered outside to show support. Unfortnately they lost track of their intake, and forgot to be mindful of Jems need to sleep, he shouted down at them to shut up from his hotel window.

 

“Aw is datyew Jem?”

“Yis it tiss, now for Gods go somewhere else and let me get some sleep”

 

“Aw look at him, it’s da wan and owndly He’s goin to give yer man some leashing tomorra I’m telling ye now ”

 
Apparently it went on for a long time, pushing Jem’s tolerance to the limit.

 

“If you don’t shut up and fuck off, I’m goin to come down there and knock your block off”

 

“Oh yeah, gettin all big headed now I see, well dares more den one of us down here young fella”

 

Ultimately it did come to blows, the article said, Jem had to get dressed and come down after them, th
eir belligerence continued, he had no choice but to knock the noise out of them, and crawl back to bed exhausted. The next night Tommy Burns had the edge on my Grandfather in many ways – besides his skill and stature – he also had a team around him who knew how to play every advantage. Jem was marched into the ring through the jam packed Theatre for an Eight O’ Clock fight, and left there to stew in the bright lights, waiting for almost an hour before his opponent arrived. Within a very short period a smattering of punters came pouring out of the Theatre in disarray, some held their tickets up high and offered them for sale. One was heard to claim that Roche was murdering Burns and he couldn’t watch it any more, it was a ruse to get their misspent money back. Perhaps because the fight had started an hour late their story was believable. Otherwise the outsiders would have been suspicious of the hasty exits, in fact they were leaving only minutes after it began, Burns had knocked Jem out in 59 seconds.
I never met Jem Roche, he was dead long before I was born. The way his story was presented to me, it didn’t feel like a tragic loss, it seems that the power of the man and his many achievements overcame all disappointment. He went on to manage the County Football Team through a record six All Ireland wins, a massive achievement by Irish standards, and to own his own Hotel in the heart of Town. So when my Mother had the brainstorm to call the shop
Molly Roche she was aware that the neighboring country people still held the name Roche in high esteem. If she sold something that they needed under that name they’d be interested. She knew a lot about them, her Father had come from Killurin a small farming Village outside Wexford Town. She knew that Farmers needed clothes to work in; they weren’t going to wear boiler suits; they weren’t factory workers, they were businessmen. They needed to do all the manual tasks of a Farmer, and also conduct meetings to buy and sell their wares. She knew that they wore suits, shirts and ties. So she stocked the shop up with large dark suits, outsize only, nothing flashy or easily stained. As usual, the most successful brainstorm was to come from the most natural place

2 Commercial Quay (Sputnik)


Tried to find an old photo from the shop, all I could find was this one which had been superimposed on the shot for Love Can’t Always be articulate-shop was cut out!  but this was taken at that time.

The lazy Saturday morning was split into pieces, by the rude screech of a breaking car over on the far lane of the Quay, the driver had done his utmost to stop in time but couldn’t, the two foolhardy victims lay motionless beneath his mud-covered bumper. My friend Ray and I had been standing outside the shop admiring the breadth of our view across the clear horizon, we could see way out beyond the black man at the end of the breakwater, so far out we pondered aloud the possibility that one distant inkling of sparkling sand near the centre, might be a part of the Welsh coast. To its left the silent forest of Raven Point boomed in the bright sun, it’s virgin sand sloping down to the shallow water at the tip of the peninsula.   We stood there in a perfect spell, with the heat of the sun warming our bones, absorbing the communal good humor of Saturday strollers, when our attention got snapped in half by the frightful sound of animal and machine, screeching for the lives of each other.

I shielded my face with an involuntary hand.

 

“Aw…….. Isn’t that your dog?”

 

“Yes!” I swallowed hard, knowing that for this public spectacle, I was not going to be an impartial observer; all that had been expected of me up till then, in my young life.

 

We made our way over to confirm the worst; Sputnik lay there with his eyes closed, still hot. He had been in some fierce scrapes before I thought; maybe he will survive this one as ably as the others? But Ray knew better. He pointed at the pool of warm water surrounding his body.

 

“That’s a sure sign! There’s not a scratch on him, but ye see…. their liver gets split. There’s no way of surviving that”

 

He pointed down with forensic detachment, but Ray knew these kinds of things, he was only two or three years older than me I believe, but he was a lot older than me by a different measurement than time. If information, confidence and facial hair had it’s own clock, we’d be a decade apart. He was a good man to have around in a spot like this.

 

“We better get him off the road” He advised.

 

I grabbed Sputniks back legs, he the front, and we ferried his taut body over towards the railway tracks where our old Anglia sat idle. I opened the unlocked boot and we gently swung him in there to await his final journey. As we walked back over the road, brushing the dust from our hands, I noticed the man who owned the other dog being more upset than I expected. He carried him off the road towards the shallow railway bank.

 

The driver of the car was beside himself with apologies, he looked like a farmer who was just popping into town for an errand from the country, I could tell by his mucky wellingtons and the tell tale suit; a Farmers uniform in Ireland at the time.

“I have an ould dog at home that’s not worth a curse, but sure I wouldn’t want anything happening to him either, I’m very sorry, the two of em just came outa nowhere”

 

It’s true, they had! Sputnik was very territorial, and his territory was everywhere. The other Dog must’ve been the same; maybe they even knew each other, wandering warriors looking for trespassers. Anyway they both laid eyes upon each other from opposing sides of the street and were so filled with rage that they lost all awareness of the fact that it was the busiest road in town. At the point where they met, with the intent of all out battle, there happened to be a big black car flying along at a healthy pace with no knowledge of their impending action. The dogs screeched, the car screeched and a heavy price was paid for the blindness of their rage. Two dogs that seemed to belong to no one had more going for them than you would think. That black dogs owner carried him off like a dead child. And when I went into the kitchen and announced nonchalantly that Sputnik was dead, my Mother and my Sister Breda went into a fit of loud keening.

 

“What’s wrong with the two of you” I chastised.

 

They looked at me with pale curiosity, shocked it seemed that I made so little of our loss.

 

“What happened to him?” my Sister sobbed, I had never noticed her notice him very much. Me Ma I could see, she had nursed him back from the brink of death when he had been in a battle near our house while out for one of his patrols of the Town. He wasn’t our dog; he was belonged to my Brother Seamus who lived all the way up in Fishers Rowe at the other end of Town. Instead of ferrying him back up to Seamus’s house, she took him in and bathed his wounds every day with hot water and Dettol; he was in bits! I had never seen such raw wounds, hadn’t thought that what lay beneath a dogs coat was similar to the carcass hanging in a Butcher shop. She nursed him for weeks, and gradually the raw red withdrew beneath his pale brown mane. I supposed (upon thinking now) that they had created a greater bond than I had given credit for. So I got it that my Mother had a special place for him, but Breda I hadn’t noticed caring about him too much, obviously there was a lot that I hadn’t noticed about Sputnik. I was fond enough of him myself; he was a clever mutt, and a great guard dog. I would leave him minding the shop when I was in the dark room. If I heard him barking I knew there was customer out there. I often went out there to find him baring his teeth; crouched in attack position, his back hair up, only the bravest customer or most desperate would hold position until I appeared.

 

“Don’t mind him…… Sputnik, Shut up or I’ll brain ye! ” He immediately obeyed and cowered behind the counter.

 

I had always assumed that his bark was worse than his bite, but knowing how fierce he could be in a dogfight, meant that he had a fair enough bite. He was gone now, they would have no reason to even see him again. I had acted like the man of the house and locked him away out of sight. I presumed that someone with more experience in this area would take him from the boot of the Anglia to where dogs get dumped when they are dead – probably where the surplus of newly born pups go – sinking in a stone filled sack. My parent’s generations were less sentimental about such things. Obviously some of that had rubbed off on me though. I had acted surprisingly mature, and calculating. However, I wasn’t going to finish the next part of the job, I‘d had enough maturity for one day.

 

While I was casually informing my Mother and Sister about Sputniks demise, Ray kept an eye on the Shop. When I returned, he was out on the footpath having a chat with a Girlfriend, leaving two friends of mine, who had come by for a Saturday chat, in the Shop. I told the lads about the dog and they gave it a couple of seconds attention, they were at that anti sentimental age, it wasn’t cool. So we turned the conversation to our favourite subject, music. Deccie walked around with an acoustic guitar strapped across his back, he would swing it around and start playing at the drop of a hat. He started to play a chord sequence that was familiar and beautiful, I recognized that it was the Beatles song “Something” he played a chord that I didn’t know how to play. I asked what it was, he hid the fret board so that I couldn’t see. It was a competitive place, Wexford. Dick asked for his favourite song, he would never own it, a lot of people did this, our record shop was like the Bank where they kept their favourite songs. They come in and made a request.

 

“Play that one by the Byrds that you have here”

 

“What from the EP?”

 

“Yeah, the single”

 

I put “8 Miles High” on the old Phillips Gramophone, it used to be our house player, but I claimed it for the shop. The house never got a replacement, but I put speakers in the kitchen and ran a long wire with a switch. They didn’t sound great, it was a long journey, but the Gramophone itself was high fidelity, it had a lot of punch. Ray had left his cigarettes on the counter and the lads thought it would be pleasurable to have a smoke while listening to the jangling guitars and harmonies of the Byrds at full volume. I cautioned restraint; Ray was a big man, in every way! He was a bit of a Hemingway character; he believed that it was honorable to have a boxing match over a disagreement. The two lads were his polar opposite, they were both scrawny musicians like myself, if they had any muscles it was just an adequate amount for ferrying their young skinny frames up and down the Main Street. They giggled as they offered each other a fag from the silver lined pack of Afton’s. I cautioned them again.

 

“Ray won’t like this, I’m tellin ye”

 

The two lads exaggeratedly pulled on the fags, creating a fog of nicotine around their bravado, giggling like schoolboys. Which of course they were! They were still attending the secondary School with two years to go before their leaving cert. I should’ve been in their class, but had left school the previous year. They weren’t real smokers yet, but Ray was. Ray was working as a lifeguard over in Ferrybank, so he had a few bob. He was also a fine painter and had sold some to the local café’s. It was a common summer sight to see him at his easel beside the lifeguard chair, fearlessly spreading great swaths of paint with an oil knife across a canvas; depicting his view of the Town and the River from the other side of the Bridge.

Unlike the two lads and myself, he lived in his swimming trunks while there, we thought hard of removing our suits as we gawped in awe at Johns painting skills, We seldom dipped into the river after we heard the Beatles. He was a sand devil browning in the sun, fearlessly diving off the rocks when he needed to cool down, drying off in the sun, a mans man! He was not going to take kindly to the lads smoking his cigarettes.

 

Youth has a funny effect on danger and time. Deccie and Dick seemed to think that they had all the time in the world to finish off the fags before Ray would return, and because danger wasn’t imminently present, they seemed to presume its non – existence. But danger was just outside on the Quay having a chat with his latest crush Mary Gilltrap, and I noticed with some alarm through the shop window, that their chat had come to a close. Ray was smiling when he came through the door, the chat must’ve went well, he was swinging his strong tanned arms playfully in unison. I hoped that his good humour might supersede what he was about to discover, but I knew he was a moody character and that he could switch from pleasantness to anger in a flash. The two lads had their backs turned and hadn’t seen him come in, they were chatting away, having a grown up moment with their ciggies burning away, picking the tobacco off their tongues. Ray did a quick double take; he looked at me, then at them, then down at the wooden counter where his cigarettes lay. Keeping the smile frozen on his face, he coolly went over to the two lads and took the cigarettes out of their mouths simultaneously, dropped them on the tiled floor and crushed em with the ball of his foot. He then picked up his cigarettes and matches off the counter and left. Deccie and Dick stood semi paralyzed with just their eyes following his movement, the Byrds sonorous harmonies, wilted into background noise as we stood there in silence.

 

Ray had shown us once again how much more he knew about the world, embarrassment was more powerful than violence. The two lads left the shop nervously smiling, they probably wouldn’t do that kind of thing again, and they weren’t going to admit that they felt a pinch of discomfort. Ray smarted up Charlotte Street after Mary, chuffed I imagine with himself that he had been so cool. I looked down under the counter where Sputnik used to sit and felt what I had withheld before; I hadn’t noticed his presence until he was gone. Like most of us, Sputnik’s stature had increased with his demise.

Flying back in the snow

Flying back in the snow!

 

We were flying over JFK in the snow, Dublin had been a hairy experience, sitting at the departure lounge with regular ding dongs and muffled PA announcements. “Flight mmmmm to New York is cancelled”

“Which one did they say?” Clare, looking as worried as everyone else.

“Fuck knows”

The lounge was looking pretty empty and those who were there; were scrambling to check the monitors to see what was going on. It turned out that most people from the canceled Air Lingus flight were transferred over to our Delta flight, and we took off pretty much on time, with me wondering why JFK was fit for us, but not for the other planes?

Now (seven hours later) I was getting the answer as we circled over Long Island, waiting for the one runway that was open to be cleared of snow. The Pilot had warned us that we only had enough fuel to hang around for fifteen minutes, and then we’d have to fly to Cincinnati! Fucking Cincinnati!!

“What was that song, by someone?”

“The Lights of Cincinnati, by Scott Walker, we used to do it in the Arrows, Dave Heenan sang it, Dave’s coming to the gig in the Harp, he’s retired now, stopped doing the cruises as a stand up”

 

“Well I’m afraid we have run out of time, so here is the plan that I have just received from the ground, we are to head for Dulles Airport in Washington DC, where we will put down and refuel. Once we have achieved that, it shouldn’t take any more twenty minutes, we will turn around and return to New York”

“ Jesus Christ, I was just about to run up there and tell him that was enough circling, I mean fifteen minutes worth of fuel”

 

Dulles, was dull, lots of anonymous jets sitting there with no logo’s, big tan coloured things, I wondered if they were Government, odd but not odd enough to be more than dull.

The Captain again, speaking in low frog range “We are just waiting for the oil truck to come and refuel us now, shouldn’t be too long, once they fill us up we’ll be out of here, about a half an hour or so I’d say” If he was any more relaxed he would stop.

On comes a female voice, full of outside world vigor.

“Hi my name is Madeline I am part of the Delta ground crew here in Dulles, while we are here, if there are any of you who would like to get off, please hold your hands up when I come round the Plane and I’ll do my best to sort you out”

Clare and I laughed, “Yeah right! Who’s going to just hop off the Plane here, I mean it’s not a fucking local bus”

Madeline, a tall young one with dark skin and a massive head of ragged energetic hair came through the cabin like a whirlwind, addressing those who were interested, and communicating with the ground through her mobile. To our astonishment a heap of people wanted to get off. So we sat there, with the cold fresh air coming in through the open cabin doors. A long queue of pale, over coated passengers formed along the isle with back packs and hand luggage, stacked up and waiting to get off.

Madeline; “ Those passengers who are getting off, your bags are now being taken off the plane, you can pick them up at the arrival hall, you may need to show your ticket tabs”

“What, Now we have to wait for their bags to get off” I felt like going up to Madeline and saying “couldn’t you have kept your mouth shut” we were getting cranky now.

Pilot; “ Well it turns out that the fuel guy was here, and just as he was about to fill us up, discovered that his tank was empty, so he’s gone back to get more fuel”

 

“Is he joking? I mean this wouldn’t happen on the Wexford Dublin Bus”

I decided to walk around, got talking to two flight attendants while looking through the open doors, one was a bald sixty something year old, he shared stories of insults that he received because of his age and lack of hair, one guy told him he looked like Kruschiev, another said, within earshot, is this old guy really working here? The Woman had put my guitar in the closet when I boarded.

“My husband plays guitar too, he has a six string and a twelve string”

“Great, everyone has more guitars than me, I really just use one”

“What’s a twelve string sound like?”

Before I could answer, she jumped in.

“It’s a very specialized sound, you can’t play songs on it, it’s just for expression”

This was a very unusual way to describe it in my book, but couldn’t be bothered arguing. Still he was a nice bloke, and puzzled by her description.

“Have you ever heard a Band called the Byrds?”

“Yes of course, and how kind of you to suppose I am too young to not know them”

“Well I always assume that everyone is too young to know these things, anyway the sound of their guitar is an electric twelve string”

“Oh, yes I know that sound”

 

The Captain; “Well the Fuel guy is back, this time with a tank full, and he is now filling us up, however; we have been on the ground for so long now in the snow, the wings have gotten iced up, so we need de-icing, as soon as all that is done, we will close up and fly back to JFK”

I crawled back to the seat, disheartened.

“Oh no” said Clare. “I’ve been through de-icing before, it takes fuckin ages”

Another hour passed, I went up to look out at the de-icing, there was a black man in blue over-alls washing the inside of one of the jet engines with a mop. I decided not to tell Clare ( a nervous flyer) about that.

We figured out that by the time we got off the Plane in New York we’d be travelling for over eighteen hours.

Eventually we got out of that big smelly hot thing, and just in time, it had run out of food and booze.

So after all that, you better be planning on coming to the Harp on March 12th! ! (if you are in NY that is?)

Of course I’ll still Xove you if you don’t.

Pierce Turner Ensemble (dignified pre ST Paddys Day) March 12th at The Harp (upstairs) 729 Third Avenue bet 45th and 46th-doors 5pm show at 6pm The Pierce Turner Ensemble with Fred Parcells and Andriette Redmann, Kath Green, John Rokosny (AKA Avon Faire-check out their debut album)

Only holds 60 call 212-818-0123-Food and booze served, with the lovely hosts; Bruce and Jim.

Irish Summer tour in the making; major announcement;

WHELANS !!!Dublin with the TABLES!!! For the first time in years at the top Indie club in Ireland-on Sunday June 25th at 8pm-this will be magic, tickets on sale imminently.

AND The Wexford St Iberius on Saturday June 17th – tix at the Wexford Arts Centre.

Also big news, BBC6 has been playing “Tantum Ergo” from Love cant Always Be Articulate” If you could drop a line of encouragement to this DJ I would really appreciate it. Stuart Maconie stuart.6music@bbc.co.uk

BBC – Music – Pierce Turner

The BBC artist page for Pierce Turner. Find the best clips, watch programmes, catch up on the news, and read the latest Pierce Turner interviews.

BBC.CO.UK

“Steven’s Preparing To leave” PT 2

                      My Father is the last one on the right, front row

“Steven’s Preparing To Leave” Part 2 (Tom in the morning) © Pierce Turner 2017

 

The seagulls began the new day with their usual tiffing over slop from the Dutch coal boats , they were my pre alarm. I was well used to their baying, they appeared to have little or no effect, other than to introduce the day, and prepare my ears for the official wake up call.

 

“Pee-arce!! It’s twenty a past eight”

 

I dreaded leaving my cosy bed for the cold linoleum floor. Ten minutes later my Mother called again, this time closer and softer over the rattling of delph on its way to the sitting room for Toms breakfast.

 

 

“PIERCE, this is my LAST time calling you mind” Her strong sinuous voice travelled like an arrow even when she was restrained, she was now only one floor away by the sitting room, the nearer she got, the more trouble I was in.

 

“That shop needs opening!!”

 

This one carried a warning tone with it. I opened the shop at nine, regardless of the fact that there were no customers until ten at the earliest. Sometimes the Band would have gigs hours away, and I wouldn’t get to bed until seven or so, it didn’t matter, I was expected to open the Record shop on time. My Mother didn’t fool around with this kind of stuff, her Father had been an entrepreneur, owning a Hotel and Bar on the South Main Street, apparently he was undisciplined about how he ran it, way too soft hearted with staff and the customers. The result was a well – loved man that ran his business into the ground because of unpaid credit, flexible time keeping and a one way till – the wrong way!

 

I never knew what was best to start with, once the pajamas were removed, the preferred thing would be to somehow put all my clothes on at once, but failing that impossibility, I usually went for the socks and underpants first, with the phrase “balls naked” always horrifying in the imagination; it was best to expel that image first. The under shirt, the shirt and the jumper will have stayed dressed within themselves on the chair, they would go on next with arms stretched high to avoid tearing. Shivering then with crocodile skin, the trousers and shoes got fitted while skipping towards the door in an effort to get away from that God forsaken ice box as quick as possible. Down that stairs I’d bolt two to three steps at a time, swinging around the bannisters, to the smell of heat and tea in the comfort of the brightly lit kitchen

 

My Mother was in the back Kitchen having brought the house to life.

 

“Good mornING” she exaggerated, glancing sideways with a glint of sarcasm”

 

“Ga MorNING”

 

I cut a large wedge off the Kelly’s Loaf and covered it with creamery butter, sat at the table with a cup of tea from the massive pot drawing on the Jubilee, a fair size wedge of sharp Wexford cheddar often sat in the centre of the table and the combination of a chunk of it sat upon the bread , washed down with the scalding hot tea was a very pleasing combination. My brother Paddy sat across from me having the same breakfast, we had little to say as we sat there in a pleasant enough daydream listening to the radio from the back kitchen. Normally we would have been out the night before playing in the Travellers, a semi professional band that we were in, but the gig had been cancelled because someone died at the Hall, so we were fresher than usual, he after his date, me after a good nights sleep. My Sister’s Breda and Bernie rushed around in their black cardigans and skirts putting on make-up in readiness for their shop assistance job at Healy and Collins, – one of Wexford’s large female clothing establishments. – And chatting about last nights dance. My Mother turned to me for assistance, being the youngest and in family employment.

 

“I’d say the heart is going crossway in Tom up there waiting for more tea, you might bring him a fresh pot Pierce will you?”

 

Tom sat at the good dining room table by the window, someone had pulled the lace curtains across so that he could have the view of the harbour, it wasn’t too sunny, a typical limbo day, not raining, not shining, but there was a Saturday bustle on the Quay, and looking down upon it from the second floor through the bay window entertained away the weather’s shortcomings. From there it felt like you could almost touch the cranes unloading coal while the Sailors shouted directives in Dutch, Tom was mesmerized. It was certainly not a dull view while eating breakfast. The Cat seemed to have taken to him too; she sat patiently by his feet watching what he watched. He had opted for boiled eggs and soldiers for breakfast, the cat was partial to boiled eggs and was hoping that Tom would read her mind and accommodate that pleasure, she was an expert at exerting pressure with inaction; she’d put Mahatma Gandhi to shame.

 

“Morning Tom, I’ve brought you a fresh pot of tea” He turned stiffly in my direction.

 

“Good man, thank you kindly”

 

He seemed quieter than the night before, maybe he wasn’t a morning person?

 

“Are you ok for everything now?”

 

“Yes”

 

(What? no “young man” or “good Sir.” Hmm!)

 

I took the empty teapot back to the kitchen where my Mother was voicing a complaint to me Da as he sat at the table eating his late Saturday breakfast, reading the Irish Independent.
“Well there was no mention of it last night, and none this morning either”

 

He crackled the paper and looked up from under his ill-fitting glasses – gripped to his head above his ears. He was studying form! He backed the horses on Saturday, was probably figuring out how to back three or four horses on a four shilling bet, a frugal weekend extravagance. He would often run me up to the bookie office with the ticket, a very complex cross plot, if the first horse won, the winnings would go on the second, if that horse won it would all go on to the third, and so on, the chances of them all co-operating with each other were slim. I don’t recall any big winnings. It really didn’t matter. He was working off whispered tips from his mates. The whole experience of it, win or lose, fed into their conversation during the post-Mass Sunday pint.

 

“Is that so? I mean to say, do he know the arrangement?” He said half annoyed.

 

“Yes he does, I told him when I showed him the room”

My Mother made a point of speaking properly, and my Father pointedly refused to, he was a Wexford man, an ordinary one, it was important to speak like that.

 

He crackled the paper again, tightened his cheeks and squinted out the kitchen window to the hall as if to send his appraisal all the way up to the sitting room. He didn’t like having strangers in his house; he had come from a quiet unadventurous family on the outskirts of Town, the polar opposite to my Mothers industries roots down here in the heart of the action. But he was protective of her dreams and schemes; no one was going to make a fool of her either.

 

Tom’s soft footsteps were heard descending the stairs at a steady deliberate pace, my Mother rose on her toes and leaned over to look towards the sound. There was never a dull moment with my Mother, I had thought she was so enamored with Tom, now all of that was history, his charming company, his beautiful strong but sensitive touch on the piano, his apparent classiness had all become fading speculation. Our lodger’s final review would be determined by his next move. My Father still held the paper like he was reading it, but was now in a state of readiness as he scrutinized the dark hall, still squinting. The main front door had been hooked open so that the sun could brighten the hall through the secondary glass doors. But the backlight made it only harder to see who was coming in or going out. He folded the paper as he walked, quickly turning the doorknob and dipped under the coalhole to the bottom of the stairs. He let himself be known with a perfunctory giggle as he smiled at Tom who was about to land on the ground floor.

 

“Ha-teh , g’morning to ye I say” At times like this my Father sounded like a highway man from Robin Hood with his antiquated terminology

 

“aye, up and at em for the hard day ahead, ha?”

 

Tom curtsied with a raised hat.

“Oh yes indeed, you must be the man of the house, thank you so much for your hospitality. Please give my gratitude to your good lady”

 

“Oh definitely, I’m sure she’ll be delighted, Gob a man, shur, I dare say you’ll be back this way again”

 

Tom’s grandeur of action and speech was starting to affect me Da now too. He was opening his mouth more and broadening his words to their proper width: agAIN instead of the more Wexford, ag-IN.

 

“If I am, I will certainly make sure to avail of your wonderful hospitality once more”

 

Steadily walking towards the street he was now pressing down the handle of the glass door with one hand while he gripped his small leather suitcase with the other. My Father close behind with his glasses in one hand and paper under his arm.

 

“What’s this I was goING to say boss, are you okay about the tally?”

 

My mother and I were now standing with the kitchen door open, mouths agape, wondering how me Da was going to deal with this one, knowing that he was uncomfortable with language at the best of time, now he was talking to a master of the tongue, how long would he beat around the bush for?

 

“The tally? Yes everything should be in order I believe”

 

“Well, the Missus, that’s Mrs. Turner, siz dere’s some class of arrears to be settled”

 

Now me Da had abandoned the nervous giggle, aware that there was some urgency, yer man was nearly out the door!

 

“Oh of course, would you like my address so that you can forward me an invoice?”

 

“What’s this I was go-ing to say, it’d be nearly as easy to fix it up now, I suppose, ye know yerself. As they say, a bird in the hand is as good as two in the bush”

 

‘”Pardon me?”

 

“will! The gineral policy as far I know, is to pay up before ye leave the primises like, ye know what I mean to say?”

 

He had gone around the bush now and was on the other side, had stopped smiling and was making it clear that this was no nonsense. Suddenly Tom seemed aware that me Da, in spite of his humility and verbal insecurity was relentless in pursuit of seeing things right. Me Da was a man of his word and usually left others to their own devices, but he wasn’t too keen on injustice, or bullshitters. Although he wasn’t easily goaded into violence, it was clear that he would be a formidable foe.

 

“Oh of course, dearie me, I am so sorry for the misunderstanding, what is the damage then Sir?”

 

‘As far as I know it’s twenty one shillins all togedder”

 

Tom put down the case and pulled two notes and a shilling coin from his pocket, the exact amount had been in the ready there. He counted it into my Fathers hand, shoving the crumpled money into his pocket my Father offered his hand.

 

“Thanks very much so boss, sure safe travels, wherever you’re off to”

Once that unpleasantness was put to one side, me Da’s soft side surfaced, he pushed his hands through his tussled Saturday hair and held his elbow high for a moment while he appeared to empathise, wondering perhaps about Tom’s destination.

 

“Yes indeed”said Tom

 

“Wherever I’m off to?”

 

I still wasn’t sure where he was going, his accent was not from around our area, his case was so small it suggested expediency; I had so many questions for him, but we had been so overwhelmed with the pleasure of his inquisitiveness, our curiosity had been blanked into resignation. Now we would never know, and although annoyed that he tried to skip out without paying, it seemed wrong to think of him as bad, I had a feeling that I would be a fool for his ilk for the rest of my life. And that life needed him.

Steven’s Preparing To leave

Steven’s Preparing To Leave” (Had to cut this into 2 parts) Part 1

 

Why beat around the bush, when you can go right through it? Of course if you go around it, there would be less damage to it, and if you go through it you get to the other side quicker. My father Jem, had a habit of taking a long time to get to the point, especially if the point was unpleasant. He was a strong physical presence, tall with broad shoulders, never violent, but when someone picked his pocket at a hurling match in Dublin he just turned around and decked him with one punch. So it wasn’t cowardice that made him beat around the bush, it was more like civility, lack of verbal confidence and the desire to make his point without doing too much damage to someone else’s.

 

My Mother put our three-story house on the quay to every commercial use she could muster. If there was a major event in town – like a hurling match up in the park – that drew a rash of visitors, she would fill the ground floor shop with long forms and tables, put a big sign outside “Tea and Sandwiches served all day” borrow some massive tea pots, bribe my Sisters and brothers to become waiters with the promise of pocket money. We were the crew, it was instilled in us that we should be capable of taking part in assisting with any task, I don’t remember ever minding, we were integrated and excited. That evening we would all marvel at the money lying on the kitchen table as we separated the coins from the notes. Inevitably she would reward the house with something afterwards, pebble dashing the front e or fitting new weatherproof windows facing the windy river Slaney. I often crossed that river for a walk if the day was pleasant, taking in the lunchtime music from the BBC on my tiny transistor Radio. Our house was the first home in view when crossing the bridge back into Town; it surprised me to find pride at the sight of scaffolding erected in the front for renovations, it hadn’t dawned on me that it was necessary or registered that I cared. But it was another lesson in the power of action. Life around my Mother was exciting.

 

Because the house had five bedrooms she managed to make two of them available for paying guests. One room had three single beds and the other a double. When we had full time residence like the three girls from the telephone exchange, payment was never an issue. But when we had one nighters for bed and Breakfast: the business was lacking an orderly system of imbursement. If someone did stay, had slept in the bed and consumed their breakfast, but still managed to avoid the subject of payment, the responsibility fell to my Father at the eleventh hour to exact the twenty-one shillings from them before they were gone, with neither hide nor tail of them to be seen again. There was no such as thing an ID card at the time, and even in hotels you were not required to give proof of identification. I always wondered where these people came from and where they were going. How did they happen upon our little B&B sign swinging and creaking on the windy Quay?

 

One dispensable Friday night I reclined in the cozy Kitchen , hands dug deep into my pockets like I was searching for something, when the doorbell buzzed. My Mother looked up from under glasses at the clock and wondered out loud who that could be at twenty minutes to ten?

“Pierce, you might go answer that will ye”

 

She was in the middle of crocheting a large Swan, which she had planned on hardening with sugar water to make it stand up, turning it into a fruit bowl. The idea fascinated me and I pondered the craziness of it as I ran up the dark hallway, flicking the light before answering the door to the silhouette of a rain soaked stranger. He shielded his face from the wind as he held on to his hat, straining to be heard over the howling wind off the River.

 

“Pardon me for calling at such a late hour, I just happened to be passing when I noticed the sign overhead”

 

With the other hand holding a small leather suitcase he nodded in the direction of our overhead B&B sign.

“Are there any vacancies in the house tonight? He grimaced through a pleading smile.

 

He was wearing a green oil coat that had an extra flap on the back covering his shoulders, the kind that you could only buy in select Men’s Boutiques frequented by the upper class, separating them by garment from the rest of us. He removed his leather hat to reveal an orderly quiff pushed back in the way of a man who was secure with his own fashion. And although he was wet from the rain, he appeared like he had not been subjected to it.

 

“ Oh come in and I’ll ask for you, horrible night isn’t it?”

 

‘Oh gosh it’s fierce” He stamped his feet on the mat and shook his hands as if to rid them of excess rain.

 

I ran down to the kitchen, remembering to dip by the coalhole where the ceiling lowered. My Mother sat up more alert and ready for action. I spoke in a low voice, but loud enough for him to hear me.

 

“Mammy, there’s a man out there and he wants to know, do we have a room for the night”

 

I believe she could sense from the way I said it that I was imparting a tacit signal that he was no scallywag. She put down the Swan and smarted out to the hall like a woman on a mission, there was no need for her to dip at the coalhole. Once she got a look at him, her tone of voice altered to suit his upper class appearance.

 

“Oh heloooo, she smiled reservedly through pursed lips, God that’s a dreadful night isn’t it, can I help you?” Her expression negated any real doubt, she knew what he wanted and he was going to be welcome.

 

“Good evening Madam, a thousand apologies for arriving at your door so late on this horrid evening, I wondered if you had any accommodation available at all”

 

“Well we hadn’t planned on any one arriving tonight, and there are no reservations, but we couldn’t possibly turn you away in this weather, sure come inside for a cup of tea while we arrange the room”

 

He followed her down the hall as she effortlessly cruised under the coalhole dip, I could hear his head ram into the ceiling from the kitchen where I was putting the kettle on, a loud dull thud, I awaited the reaction, he may have been too aggrieved to speak? I knew how painful it was, having experienced it upon reaching that altitude myself initially. Because the floor came up at that point while the ceiling sloped down, collision had the effect of pushing your head back and down all at once, creating skeletal damage to accompany the lump at the crest of the head, as well as humiliation, even without a witness! He had all of the aforementioned and the later to deal with in front of my Mother maybe you could add anger to that too – for not being warned until afterwards.

 

“Oh that BLOODY ceiling, I always forget to warn people, are you alight?”

 

“Oh gosh Mam if I was to get a shilling for every time I hit my head in a Georgian Household”

 

I was very impressed that he gave our old house the dignity of a period in architecture. Granted the most comfortable armchair in the warmth of the Kitchen, he sat there unconsciously rubbing his head and neck. After laying the table, I made him a sandwich with Wexford Cheddar and Kelly’s white loaf to go along with the tea, the Irish always have to have something with the Tea, unlike our Brothers and Sisters across the Sea. He talked about the heat that our Jubilee cooker produced and waxed lyrically on the crocheted Swan, he bent over and looked at it on the chair almost afraid to touch, in case he might stain the pure white yarn.

 

“Gosh it’s remarkable, the work of a true artist, there is no doubt about it”

 

I had been listening to The White Album by the Beatles on the turntable, telling him that I was in a Band and had a gig the next night, he jumped to the conclusion that Paul McCartney was me singing “Martha My Dear” it was a while before he gave me the conversational space to disappoint him, and myself.

 

After the sandwich had been washed down by strong black tea my Mother – having made up his room – invited him to the sitting room on the second floor where the fire was lighting and the T.V available if he liked. This was the fanciest and largest room in the house; generally we kept our guests to this room. His eyes lit up when he saw the upright piano sitting there open and ready to play.

 

“Oh gosh you have a Piano too Mrs Turner” We had learned each others names now, he insisted that we call him Tom.

 

“Oh God yes, the house is full of musicuans, and my Son Pierce never leaves it alone, breaking strings too, mind you” She threw me pretended annoyance.

 

“ Are you musical your self?”

 

“Oh I live for music Mrs Turner, it’s one of life’s great pleasures, would you mind terribly if I played something?”

 

“Oh Lord no, we would be delighted”

 

He put his strong weathered hands on the keys and played a beautiful familiar melody, a semi classical piece with all the required Tchaikovskian flourishes, he had a gentle romantic touch and we found ourselves glued to the seats enchanted by the pleasure of hearing a stranger caress our old Piano.

 

My Mother, held her hand on her breast.and pined breathlessly.

 

“Soo deep is the Night, uh, I declare to God… NOW I !(pause)… Have ALL-ways loved that melody, HOW on Gods earth do THEY do it? “

 

When she spoke, it was highly expressive and impassioned almost like she was singing, emphasizing a point by raising the volume on certain words or letters, with a fluid musical cadence, rising up and down from chest to falsetto. For a moment she almost seemed disappointed with herself as she let the beauty of it sink in.  It was so ingrained in me that she was a Mother – being the youngest of her seven children – It surprised me to see her lapse into a romantic daydream like a young girl in love. She had always said that there was nothing like a mans touch on the Piano “so gentle and strong”

 

 

We moved over to the blazing fire to watch the Late Late Show, my Mother sat in her armchair leaving him the sofa.. He asked a lot of questions, and my Mother being not the slightest bit secretive, replied with disarming honesty, an endearing quality she may have employed unconsciously to encourage rapport. He was happy to take in all the family truths and was quick to remember names and descriptions; this allowed him to refer to freshly produced names like a long held friend. My Mother insisted that we have another cup of tea, with cream crackers this time (a Friday night treat) and as I was descending the stairs to make it, I overheard her leaping to the Piano to sing her newest composition “When hawthorn Blooms” When I returned with the tea and the crackers, he had progressed to a new level of comfort, his arms spread across the sofa, legs outstretched with feet crossed, goading my Mother about her enormous talents and humility. Her lips were even more pursed now than before and she was flushed with delight at this wondrous turn out to an ordinary evening. She relished nothing more than company of good manners and conversation; in fact it’s all she really asked for. She didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t smoke. Taking away those two vices left her with a lot of room for crafts, composing, conversation and her newest hobby, landscape painting, which she did from magazine photos, using a frayed matchstick instead of a brush. If she didn’t know how to do something, she would teach herself from a tutorial book, if she wanted to do anything she just did it. Tom – a compelling mystery – could see this in her and knew her like only a well-travelled man could. She was trapped in a small Town marriage and possibly that was the only thing that separated her from being a celebrated woman of the world? He knew the correct questions to pose in order to release her hidden ambitions. She even surprised me with the plans that she harboured. I never knew she was planning on booking the Cinema Palace for a concert of her songs to be performed by a Welsh Choir? Tom wasn’t even remotely surprised, and if it was only a plan in its infancy when she brought it up, his encouragement had brought it a great deal closer to the planning stage. Knowing my Mother she could be at the writing pad finalising the arrangements the next day. For someone like her a little encouragement was never wasted. She thrived on his charm and encouragement. If he was around her for a year she would be running the country. They continued to chat until the TV played the National Anthem behind footage of our glorious land; they even discussed those hackneyed images with enthusiasm. I loved to see my Mother like this, and was content to just observe it all with an amused eye. But I wondered about Tom, where was he from? What did he do, why was he here on a Friday night, was he married, if he was, where were his never mentioned family? I found myself staring at him, studying him. He sat upright in the sofa from his slouched comfort, planting his hands on his knees with a conclusive gesture.

 

“Well now I must thank you for a wonderful evening Mrs Turner”

 

“Oh NOT AT ALL Tom, thank YOU”

 

He stood up and took a glance out the tall windows past the lace curtains.

 

“Gosh the river is looking angry tonight”

 

My Mother stood behind him on her toes, peaking out absent-mindedly.

 

“That’s the Spring tide, sometimes it blows the woodenworks up and comes RIGHT across the ROAD, very RAREly now, but just the same it CAN happen” The silver tipped waves of the Slaney slammed angrily against the Bridge. The moon managed to reach them between the passage of bleak clouds

 

“Isuppose it depends on the wind Missus Turner, does it?”

 

“Oh God yes, sometimes it’s as calm as a pond out there. Would you believe, in all the time we’ve lived here, it ONLY came in the front door ONCE! And I NEver want to see it again I can tell you, but there are people who live MUCH further away from the River that get flooded ALL the time, it goes RIGHt up to their mantelpiece! RIGHT UP!”

 

‘Flooding does fierce damage, you need very good insurance Mrs Turner”

 

“INSURANCE! A lot use that’ll do Tom I needn’t tell you, it doesn’t matter what we apply for in this house, our insurance man finds SOME REASON why we’re not covered” Now she pursed her lips in annoyance at the thought.

 

Talking the round faced alarm clock off the mantelpiece she began winding it up.

 

“Do you need a shout in the morning Tom?”

 

She called across the room.

 

“ Ah nine o‘clock will be grand Missus Turner” he reached for the door handle and took one more admiring glance around the room.

 

“Once again, thank you for a very entertaining evening. God bless”

 

“Good night now and God bless”

 

After he closed the door, she took her rosary beads out of her handbag and knelt down at the armchair, I said goodnight and went up to my unheated bedroom at the top of the house wasting no time getting beneath the blankets to begin the process of warming the bed with my own shiver.

 

I am never sure if it’s better to talk to myself or to go blank when in pursuit of sleep. Well if the truth is said, I know now that silence is best, but the debate is always there with the great temptation of some entertaining recollections, a very pleasant way to drift off, if you can. That night I was young and had no issues with sleep, so there was no debate at all, I had to look back over the evening in detail, I had to scrutinize Tom, imagine his story.

 

“He appears to suggest some kind of opulence, but even before the suggestion gets a chance to give birth, it’s a non starter. If he had money he would be staying at one of the Hotels surely. And how could he not know that young fellas like me living in the back of beyond, could NEVER make a recording like the Beatles White Album.

Where has he been, where is he from?  He’s not that old, maybe thirty, yet he seems me Mammy’s age. Why wasn’t he in the Pub tonight? This is Friday night, ALL the men are in the pubs!”

 

As if on cue, I could hear my Father coming in from the Pub himself. He would never miss Friday and Saturday night in the pub with his friend’s playing cards. My Mother didn’t join him, seldom did any of the wives. He would go into the Kitchen now have a cup of Bovril with two slices of home made brown bread, his usual nightcap. He was a cheerful drinker but during the nightcap stage he could get melancholic and try to relay the horror he experienced losing his Mother to the Spanish Flu when he was only seven.

 

“Wonder what me Da’ll think of Tom? He wasn’t backwards in coming forward, he didn’t mind asking for a hot water bottle. Jesus that was beautiful Piano playing. There musta been a Piano in his house. Is he going on the Boat?”

 

We were right next to the North Rail Station where he could get the Train to Rosslare Harbour a mere 12 miles away. – And from there the Boat to Fishguard Wales,

 

“He’s one of them Rugby player looking fellas, a suggestion of a broken nose, and the schooling that comes with it. Like the fellas in Town here that hang out with the Doctors Solicitors and teachers, beating the up scale Women offa them.

Where are those women from? I don’t know any of them, well I Know Wendy McCourt from around the corner, the Chemists, but she’s the only ONE. That other one she hangs out with, the one with the short black hair is gorgeous too, I wouldn’t even know how to speak to her, Wendy tries to encourage me but I’m paralyzed in her presence. I bet Tom would know how to speak to them! He would charm the knickers offa them. Jasus it’s cold out there tonight, listen to that howling wind? Just imagine there are fishing boats out there, with men resting in the galley after a hard days work, having tea and brown bread by the stove, maybe playing cards while the black waves bash the bow, and low foreboding clouds mask the faint moon”

 

I imagined looking through their little port hole lights to see them in their cosy nest so close to the elements. They would be family men with a Home on shore, and on a night off they’d go for a pint just like me Da. But now there out on the dark Sea alone, working on a different schedule, living from a different harvest, flirting with danger, capable if need be, to sail off to Spain or Scandinavia with their mates,beds, pots and pans.   On a calm night- from this window – you can see their tiny lights out on the black horizon.

 

“Tom seems at sea, like he is not fixed anywhere, I can’t nail him down, he’s very pleasant company. Of course after tonight I will probably never see him again, wonder who’s Piano he’ll play tomorrow?”

 

STEVENS PREPARING TO LEAVE from the CD “Angelic Language”

 

Steven’s preparing to leave

He has to go to the sea

He’s been so mesmerized

By glistening port hole lights

Along the horizon line

Imagining the life inside

Steven believes in he blue

Nothing but water and the roof

Just like a burial ground

Where the mourners are gone

And there’s nothing around

But the silence and the corpse best friend

The weathered stone

And the massive wild deep sky

He has to leave while he can

Otherwise he could lose his chance

He knows he’s blessed with this

A curious need to leave the nest

Before the heart inside his chest

Becomes too old to experiment

He wants to conquer his fears

Counting the mounting years

He wants to face the place

Where nothing is but thoughtlessness

A bed of sea

And a roof of stars

There to be until he feels

At peace with the dark

 

Oh darkness

I know you are my friend

And in the end

I’ll be with you alone

I knew you every night

And I knew you in the womb

You wait beyond the light

Inside my tomb

And I know I have to kiss you

Before our wedding day

And I know I have to kiss you

Every night

And I know I have to love you

Before I let you go

Then I’ll laugh at grey dark clouds

Then I’ll see the setting sun with you

And know darkness

© Pierce Turner, from the album Angelic Language. (part 2 next week from NY)

A Day without speaking

                              I always wanted a toilet in the kitchen

Six days before my gig in Glasgow last week I came to the realisation that my voice was not ticketyboo (English term for not right) I had gotten through the Christmas bronchitis by a hairs breath, with a lot of cautious behavior; ie. Not much drinking and as little talking as possible, talking is the worst thing for our voices, no, actually whispering is even worse. But that was behind me then, and I should’ve been handily on the mend. I googled my new symptoms to see if I could fish out a clue, and came away with the conclusion that I might have laryngitis? Apparently it was going around, my Sister in Law said that her grandchild Emily even had it, aged six! This Town has been a bag of bugs this Winter, everyone says it’s not cold enough. No morning frost on the grass to kill the germs. There was only one immediate cure; stop talking. On Saturday night I broke the news to Clare, I wasn’t going to talk the next day at all. I thought she’d be happy, but she kind of groaned, probably because it seemed so nutty, or perhaps because it would make Sunday even more like SUNDAY. But I was adamant, I had to get my voice back to speed, it was so depressing to sing like this. I had tried doing this before and didn’t go through with it, this time I would prepare. Before I went to bed I put my notebook and a pen on the bedside table.

 

Clare awakened early the next morning and in an effort to let me lie in, slipped quietly out to read in the sitting room. It musta been eleven when I opened my eyes. I could hear Clare talking to Albert.

 

“I saw you looking at that big ginger pussycat Albert, is that why you’ve been asking to go out a lot? I think it is! I bet your jealous, that poor pussy was minding his own business”

 

This moment of lying there listening gave me time to remember before I forgot, that I was not to speak. I reached out for the book and pen, Clare heard me stir and peeped in around the door. By then I had already written my first words in the book (my first day of silence, since I had learned to make sound btw!)

 

“Saw the ginger cat, he was afraid of Albert” I drew a cats face with whiskers next to it.

 

Clare’s face lit up with amusement, I had scored big time. Not only did it make the silence funny, I was also on her favourite subject; animals! I had not mentioned seeing that big ginger cat until now, and she was amused that Albert was guarding the premises. Clare mimicked Albert’s expression by raising her shoulders up around her ears and pushing her nose forward mocking a threat.

 

“He’s all ssshhzzzz” she said as she made the face.

 

“Minding the Garden….I know, he thinks that’s his job”

 

It dawned on me that writing down stuff, could be funny.

 

I wrote another note in book and tapped on its hard cover to get Clare’s attention.

 

“What’s for breakfast?”

 

“Are you taking the piss now” she teased. I realized now that I could ask for things on paper easier than by mouth.

 

“I’m going to pop over to Pettit’s mall to get the Sunday Papes, do you want anything while I’m there?”

 

I scribbled hastily;

“Can you get me three cooked sausages and some B&W Pudding”

 

Clare turned the book towards her and wrote down “No” I wrote down “Cunt!” and the two of us fell around laughing. I grabbed the book and wrote down.

“Tomatoes”

Once again she was looking the other way, so I clapped my hands. Clare took the book and wrote down.

 

“I am going to TK Max to get a T Shirt and can go to Pettits after!”

 

“For fucks sake, that will take ages” I wrote

 

“ I wont be that long, I know exactly what I want, I’ll be in and out” she said with her mouth.

 

“Good” I wrote down.

 

She picked up Albert and put him on the bed next to me, he started kneading the silk eiderdown (the house is full of antiques) he was purring profusely and seemed to enjoying this silent communication. After all he uses this method successfully all the time, to great effect actually now that I think about it. If he wants to eat and I’m ignoring him, he will start scratching the good sofa. He gets what he wants by using signals; if he wants to go out he’ll sit quietly by the door and just stare at me. Because I know he can’t speak, I’m often on the look out for what he’s up to. Clare didn’t exactly get to this level with me though. I often had to bang the table or tip her on the shoulder so that she would see my notes. Sometimes I just let things go, they weren’t worth the trouble. Of course then there are no arguments, no corrections or disagreements, just vital stuff in Pigeon English. I have the book right before me now, another advantage, there is a record of what you say! (good or bad??) In the book there are things like.

“will need Pounds for S-land”

“Wallet? Spose I couldn’t find the bloody passport wallet, men can never find anything.

“Do I need a Scottish long distance number to call Glasgow-in Glasgow?” I am stupid about this kind of thing. The answer is yes btw.

The next morning I published my new Monday Morning Milk on time, I had the whole of Sunday to write non stop. As usual very few people responded, but I know you are out there reading this, every where I go people casually mention something they’ve read in here, just recently a friend from Australia said so. Who has time to respond?

My voice was much cleaner the next day, I could see that it paid off. It wasn’t perfect, but a lot better. Through the rest of the week I still tried to use it sparingly. I hardly spoke a word on the way to Dublin for the Glasgow flight. As soon as I got there a Taxi came for us (Mike Raftery and myself) and whisked us to the Glasgow Concert Hall. The place was hopping with a beehive of activity, the vibe of the Celtic Connections Festival was omni. The young lady at the front table gave us our badges and meal vouchers, and took us to the exhibition hall where the Scottish quartet were waiting to rehearse by a prepared electric piano. I spoke aloud for the first time in ages (I had to for Jasus sake) explaining that I would not be singing out, just enough to guide them through. They were extremely sweet and assured me that they were sympathetic. I almost forgot that I was in Scotland, I looked at these four lovely women with their gracious smiles, and remembered to forget the rest. I gave them each their book of music, and we began to play, it was perfect, they were superb! What a relief.

The show in the Tron Theatre was completely sold out, and a lot of people even flew over from Ireland. My niece Jennifer and her husband Diran came up from Cobham. It was comforting to see them all in the front. The time had come to unleash my voice now, hopefully it would be alright, no more taking care. The string quartet had not really heard me sing the songs properly, so it all unfolded before their eyes in the same way as it did to any new comers in the audience, which made for an extra magical atmosphere. The voice held up well, considering I could barely talk six days earlier, all because I didn’t talk at all, five days ago.

 

Not talking was different, funny things happen, you should give it a go.

love (to hear from you) Pierce xx

 

I will be at The fabulous Seamus Ennis Centre Naul Fingal Co Dublin Saturday Feb 4th –last date this tour.

Is that an E or a G? (More American exploits with Turner and Kirwan of Wexford)

                 The Tron Theatre Glasgow Friday January 20th, 2017-The Celtic Connections Festival

Communication was a major problem for me when I came to America first – especially on the phone. My friend and roommate Bob Schwenk from Bay Ridge always found it hilarious when he witnessed my desperate attempts to communicate my name over the wire.

“Pee-ersss TuRRneR” Trying so hard to emphasize the consonants that my tongue was in a knot.

Irish people tend not to open their mouths too much when they speak. And where I come from it’s almost a badge of honour to be seen withholding your clarity during conversation. It’s important to be ordinary. And trying to communicate is fancy!

“A rale Wexford accent ain’t supposed to be clay-er”

So I brought some of that stuff to America with me. No one could understand a word that I said at first. It seems to me that I got so used to no-one understanding what I was saying, I began to misunderstand what people were saying to me. There were numerous incidents where I misread what was being said; to such a ludicrous extent that the sayer appeared to suspect derision. Usually I wouldn’t cop on until they were gone beyond apologetic reach. As I said, I believe that I was so nervous of being misunderstood, that I began to try too hard, causing me to elaborate on a simple statement. Small things; like a guy came up to me after a loud Major Thinkers gig in a crowded venue in the East Village called the UK Club – after you play a gig it’s not that uncommon for people to approach you about joining the band – saying things like “that drummer is not right for you guys, I’m much better man!” or, “Yo , do you need a roadie?” On the night in question a bloke came up to me and said   “Do you have a lightman?”

“No, actually we don’t! Do you do lights?”

“What????” With a look that suggested I was being a smart ass.

When he left, Hammy, the Major Thinkers drummer fell around laughing.

“I think he just wanted a light for his cigarette”

He had disappeared into the crowd by then. I mean, we really did need a lightman! But that wasn’t the worst one. By far the biggest mishap occurred at an Irish wedding in the Bronx. The groom was a big ‘Turner and Kirwan of Wexford’ fan and managed to talk his partner into having us play at the reception. The only thing smart about his choice was that we were not expensive by wedding band standards. Wedding bands are expensive for a good reason, they know all the reception rituals, they can play everything from the top 50 to evergreens, including standards from a host of different cultures. It’s a business, and they expect to be paid extremely well. A good wedding band could charge somewhere in the vicinity of three thousand dollars. I think we charged about three hundred. I believe he gave us a bonus of two hundred, we were so pleased, he wondered out loud if we were hard up?

“Ah no, but just the same, you’re a decent skin and we really appreciate it!”

I suppose we knew that we were doing it for too little and had hoped he would do the right thing. We left a lot to supposition. It was some kind of a bare bones function hall, nothing too fancy. We brought our own Shure sound system and set it up in the corner near the entrance. We were a two man band in the truest sense, in that we were really loud and made the sound of a full ensemble. People were known to stand outside and say “how many musicians are in that band, do you think?” Usually the answer was three or four. Larry played bass drum and guitar while singing, and I played clavinet (electric piano) mini-Moog and hi-hat while singing. The drum and hi-hat were mike’d and the guitar and piano were over-driven, it could be a helluva roar.

So there we were in the corner setting up. I had to tune the piano almost every night. The clavinet has actual strings inside it on an iron frame with pick-ups. The beauty of this was that I could make it feed back into my fender tube amp, giving it that Jimi Hendrix effect. But when it was moved around and thrown in and out of a van, the strings would shift and slip out of tune. Each string had a screw at the end of it that I would turn with a short fat screwdriver. So there I was with the piano plugged into a strobe tuner tweaking away on the strings, getting them up to pitch, it was tedious and slow.

We had arrived at this bizarre line-up a couple of years previous while we were doing a summer residence down in Cape Cod. The owner of the place had seen us playing at one of his other places in Lowell Massachusetts and thought that we might be interesting to have on before the main attraction at his club on the beachfront. The place in Lowell was a two hundred capacity folk rock club where bands did residencies for a month at a time playing mostly covers. We were kind of folky at the time and sang Simon and Garfunkel stuff mixed with Cat Stevens etc. I can’t say if we drew the crowd or if it was just a popular place, but I know that it went well and there was a lot of young girls there. I remember once, during a break, kissing some young one at a table and seeing Larry at the far end of the room kissing another. The accents were going over big time with the locals! We must have done well enough there if he offered us the Cape Cod gig. We were absolutely elevated, getting a gig at the Cape during the summer was sort of big time for a cover band, not to mention three months work with bed and board included. We had put our originals on the back burner for now, until we found our feet.

His club at the Cape turned out to be a very different scene than we expected. The headlining band was typical of what most of the clubs down there were presenting. A top notch cover band from Boston, they could re-produce Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” to perfection – the singer had a range like Robert Plant, the guitarist thought he was Jimmy Page and had learned every single note down to minute detail, even having the double neck guitar with twelve strings on one for the opening section. The keyboard player had a massive A.R.P Synth with a patch bay and numerous wave controllers, just like Keith Emerson. Naturally he could reproduce “Lucky Man” by ELP and the recorder part in “Stairway to Heaven”.

They were loud and powerful with a full light show and a stadium size sound system. We were the mis-match of the century. And the owner didn’t beat around the bush about telling us that he had made a mistake giving us the gig. Everyday we began playing at 3 p.m. to a few stragglers at the bar and a slowly filling room. He hoped that we would draw people in at that time, allowing him to start making money before the main attraction. This would also guarantee them a full house when they began, which would make them look good too. Unfortunately the crowd didn’t know what to make of us with our little folky sound. We turned the Irish charm up to Disney level, but even that didn’t seem to work. The main band liked us though and was beginning to feel sorry for us, we told them that we were afraid we might get sacked.

One day when we were preparing to play, the drummer told us that he had an idea that might up our sound a couple of notches. He explained that our sound was too small and if we were going to compete in this environment we would need more oomph! He had some old spare drums that we could have if we like. He suggested one of us could play Bass Drum and the other Hi-Hat! Without further ado (and without rehearsal) he put the Bass drum in front of Larry’s right foot and the Hi-hat under my left. Off we went. Some songs we decided were better with, and some without. Clearly the idea had potential. It was exciting, and God forbid, maybe even had some originality. The next day we bought two drum stools and tied our new additions to the legs to stop them running away as we beat the living daylights out of them. Then we put microphones on them. Now we started to get louder. I started overdriving the piano and Larry got a fuzz box for his Ovation. Because of this we managed to hold on to the gig for the rest of the summer, not cos we were blowing them away, more because we were such good triers. By the time we reached that wedding in the Bronx we were creating such a roar that we sounded like Mott The Hoople. One audience member in Boston’s Inman’s Square Men’s Club heckled. “Turn down for Christ’s sake, you sound like a Boeing jet!” I suggested he go down the road and find a James Taylor imitator. Jon Moss, the Boston Globe critic, gave us a rave for the same gig. Apparently he arrived late, we were ripping into the climactic instrumental of “Travelling People” our most “Boeing Jet” moment, he had never heard two people sound like that. He gave us a critic’s choice the next time we played there.

The guests were starting to arrive at the reception; I recognized a certain style about them and even knew some of them from seeing them at other people’s gigs when we were out on the tare. I had a very bad habit in those days of pre-supposing what the audience would think of us before we’d even started. I decided that they were a straight looking Irish and Irish American crowd. And whether it was real or imagined I cannot say, but I believed that they were aghast upon realizing that we, were the band. There they were in their Sunday best, while Larry and I were in denim jeans and T-shirts with shoulder length hair. I imagined them negatively confiding.

“Please tell me they’re not the band?”

The tension was building up in me now, my shoulders were up around my ears when this very straight looking older bloke came over to me and pointed at me.

“Is that a he or a she?”

This drove the fume that had been building up inside me to take complete control of my mind.

“Would you like me to take my prick out and show it to you?” I snapped.

Well that soon shut him up. He was absolutely astonished and walked away shaking his head from side to side looking dazed. Larry turned to me and said.

“What did you think he said?”

“You heard him! He pointed at me and said is that a he or a she?”

“No, I think he was pointing at the piano and said, is that an E or a G?”

I looked out into the once empty room, now filling up with guests arriving from church. Mulling over what Larry just said, it felt more and more like it was plausible that I had heard wrong. At first I had jumped to my defense in the heat of the moment.

“Gimme a break, why would he ask me what note I was playing?”

But then I thought about that guy’s demeanor

“He was a little bit harmless looking to be leashing out insults”

I kept tuning the piano.

“In fact, he coulda been a silly Billy type with a miniscule knowledge of music, trying to show off and be all pally with the band – is that an E or a G? -He was smiling after all! And my reply was; do you want me to take my prick out and show it to you? JESUS CHRIST!! He must think I’m a really nasty bastard to respond like that to such an innocent, albeit, stupid question”

Larry said that we should start soon everyone was in. Thinking it would be best to start off easy, we gently tested the water with Tom Paxton’s “The last thing on my mind” This crowd was up for it, they immediately hit the dance floor. I saw yer man going past doing some kind of a foxtrot, he was moving fast. I tried to get his attention while projecting the most congenial smile I could muster from my drum stool. But he seemed afraid to look at me. While we were playing he went by several times with many different partners, he obviously liked to dance.  And even though I am aware that I was displaying some paranoid tendencies, I still could swear he was retelling the story every time I saw him, nodding his head in my direction and exclaiming something to his dance partner with an astonished open-mouthed delivery, which was met with an even more open mouthed, gaping, response of disbelief.

I never did get to apologise to him, and even if the opportunity had arisen, I wasn’t sure what I would say. It seemed almost better to pretend it didn’t happen, and with time I had almost convinced myself that it was an exaggeration. But Larry was there, and he confirms that it happened all right. Whatever ideas the guests might have had about us being unsuitable when they arrived, were certainly confirmed.

I wrote this song many years later for my Beggars Banquet album “the Sky and the Ground” I was inspired by that time in Massachusetts and New Hampshire when we drove around in a beat up old Dodge Polara that we bought for three hundred dollars. The song is about the futility sometimes of trying to communicate a belief or a line of poetry. We especially experienced it while writing a song, I might feel sure that a line works and Larry might feel not. There is no point in arguing, my belief was based on my experience not his. Eventually it would be ok for me to sing it, but maybe not Larry. These things are so subjective, and are contrived by our past personal experiences.

You can never put yourself in my brain

And feel what it felt like in a Dodge Polara

Speeding down a New Hampshire highway

Leaving on a Jet Plane (Turner and Kirwan of Wexford)

It was a cold lonely feeling, to get dropped off on a rainy Monday in January at the tall wall of Rosslare Harbour by my Sister Bernie, and her Husband Dave. It was good of them to take us there, but we had already said goodbye to everyone and now we just wanted to pursue our dreams and forget the lament of leaving. We would like to have just slipped away while they were parking the car, but of course we wouldn’t. And so we waved goodbye from the lofty gangplank, my heart in my boots, and seeing in my Sister’s brave smile -the childhood that made me what I was – our deep closeness and passion as a family – yet another tare in the umbilical chord, a step further away from the womb.   Once we got inside the brightly lit Boat, the sadness began to ebb and soon enough we were making jokes and yapping to strangers- eating our sandwiches. We are animals after all, and after we are pulled away from our loved ones, we soon look around for the nearest comfort.

It’s only a short distance from Rosslare in the South East of Ireland to Fishguard Wales, thirty miles or so! But it took us three hours to do it. Shuffling between the Boat to the train on that cold damp Welsh night, the official wooden buildings looked more like sheds. It brought to mind Death Camp Movies from the Second World War. The night train smelled of tiredness and second hand Guinness.   Compartments were lit with low wattage light bulbs, giving it all a soft amberness. There was a hissing noise coming from under the seat, I reached down close to see if it was producing any heat. Unfortunately the heat was just being turned on as we entered; too bad, because that meant adding “cold” to all the above descriptions. This one element, made the difference between quaintness and depravation.

It was a harrowing six – hour train journey from Fishguard to London. I tried to sleep, but the padded seating was hard and covered with coarse material. All I could do was listen to the chugging of the train, a repetitive glitch, like a needle stuck on vinyl. A pleasant murmuring of men talking in Irish accents sprinkled with London-ese hummed like a haunting wind over the percussion of the tracks, there was an air of resignation in their manner, the fun was over, their fate was sealed, back to work, back to being alone with the lonely. Cigarettes were generously shared, and it was a comfort for me to hear them comforting each other. Most of them were married men heading back to England, after Christmas, where they worked to support their Families. They, in part, were the reason that I was going to America not the U.K.- All my life I had seen the sadness of their departure at the Railway Station in Wexford. Just as I would find myself drifting off, a smokers cough would jolt me back. There was a noticeable absence of female voices, where were the sopranos? Where was that brightness? The murmuring droned on, it sounded like a long Catholic Confessional, a requiem I would one day write.

We stopped over in London for a few days with two platonic Wexford women that we knew, we fancied em alright, but knew we shouldn’t, or maybe that they wouldn’t.   Jackie Hayden from Polydor Records in Dublin had arranged a meeting for us with an English A & R man from the same label. He sat us down in his small office and listened to our demo tape over a cup of tea. One particular song struck his fancy “A star shone over Belfast” which sounded a bit like the Bee Gees from their baroque period. He seemed to think we had some real potential. We were delighted, and came to the ludicrous conclusion that if he liked it, they would surely love it in America. Packing up our tapes, we thanked him and bade him adieu.

The next day we were on our way to Heathrow where we hopped on a plane bound for New York. There was great excitement on the way across. We had taken sleeping pills at our Doctors recommendation, however we were too excited to sleep, so they seemed to have a reverse effect, making us very lively. Larry had been to America before, so I made him re-tell stories about that experience all over again. I wrung every nuance out of his descriptions and we conjectured liberally on the brand new world laid before us, two young lads in their early twenties

As we were circling over JFK in the January snow, the pilot addressed us in his in his American twang.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to New York, we expect to land within the next fifteen minutes or so. At minus five degrees Fahrenheit it certainly is cold down there, so I hope you get home to your warm beds all safe and sound, as soon as possible, thank you for flying with us. And hope to see you again”

 

Larry turned to me surreptitiously.

 

“Do you know where we’re going to stay?”

 

“Ha?…… I thought you knew where we were going to stay!”

 

“No, I don’t know where we’re staying” he shrugged

 

“But I don’t know where, do I?” Panic was creeping in now.

 

And so began a relationship based on supposition that was to last for many years.

 

Our cheap, but precious guitars came off the carousel miraculously in one piece. It never even crossed our minds that they should be in travel cases. Our cases were made from some kind of thick cardboard with a faux black leather finish, held together by white nylon saddle stitching. The instruments were typical of what young fellas played in Ireland at that time. Close in visual resemblance to a Gibson, but beyond that there was nothing similar. The strings were so far out from the fret board it was almost impossible to play bar chords, so most of us didn’t. The sound was crude and hollow. Very few musicians in Ireland could afford professional instruments. By ratio of the average wage, the prices were ludicrous. A fender Stratocaster cost around six hundred pounds and a married man’s weekly wage was averaging twenty-one pounds at the time.   I had bought a Hohner Organ when I was seventeen on hire purchase from the local Furniture store. It cost six hundred pounds and I was still paying for it a year after it died. Organs were even more expensive than guitars, I should have been buying the sexy Vox Continental with its reverse couloured keys, I had seen my favourite English and American Bands playing them on T.V. But that was more like eleven hundred pounds, and I didn’t even know a shop that had it in stock. Even though I was a professional musician, I couldn’t afford a professional instrument and it wasn’t rare to see imitation Fenders and Vox’s being used by talented musicians.

 

Once we got our guitars and half empty suitcases, we took them through customs. Big serious looking men, with crew cuts and holstered guns. I was shaking with fear, never having seen a real gun before. They weren’t too friendly either and gave us a long hard look, before stamping the passports. We had business visas, which allowed us to work, but not to earn money. Jackie Hayden from Polydor Ireland had written us a letter saying we were going to America to scout for him or something ambiguous like that. We had to show them our four hundred saved dollars, declaring them as our living expenses.

 

There was so much to take in at the arrival hall, I found myself unconsciously stopping, to look around, Larry had to come back for me and jolt me to awareness, reminding me that this was New York and it was not good to be seen looking awestruck.

 

We found a bank of public telephones, and I pulled a crumpled piece of paper from my under stuffed wallet. Dave Heenan had been the lead singer in y last Band “The Arrows” and had given me his number in case I should ever come to New York. Perhaps Larry and I had been hatching our plans at the time, I don’t know, but I kept his number safely and Larry knew that I had it. I presume it was supposed by him, tacitly, that we would stay with Dave on our first night. Thankfully Dave was full of “wows” and “are you kidding me?…. no problem!”

 

“Of course you can stay with us tonight! Renee it’s Pierce from the Arrows, he’s at the airport with his friend Larry” I could hear Renee giving a hospitable wow in the background, Dave returned to firmly confide his directions.

 

“Go straight out to the Taxi rank and tell him to take you to Washington Square in Manhattan, tell him to take the Tunnel and that you’ll give him no more than twenee dollars! Act like you know what you’re talking about, or those scumbags will rip you off, don’t forget , through the Tunnel and no more than twenee dollars”

 

It was like Calcutta outside, chaotic traffic, Policemen whistling angrily at cars as frantically loaded suitcases and scrambled to leave. We went over to the long line of yellow cabs. I explained in my thick Wexford accent to the first driver at the head of the Queue.

“We’re goin to Washin-tin Square in Min-hattin, I’ll give you twenty dollars, and ye haff te go tru de Tunnel dough”

“ Are you kiddin me buddy?” he snapped. I found myself in retreat, I wasn’t counting on an argument with a New York Taxi driver the minute I got off the Plane. He was a short stocky bloke wearing an old greasy army jacket which seemed to be stuffed with several layers bursting underneath. His small head sat on top with a peak cap pulled over his wild black curly hair. He talked from the corner of his mouth and the words seemed to fall out rather than travel direct.

“Hey Dommy, kim-ay” He beckoned with a cupped hand.

“Tell Dese guys how it woyks, they want to gimme twenee dollas for the ride to Manhattan”

“It’s whateva is on the Meedah Buddy” Tommy wearily replied.

“Well we can’t gi ye enny more dan twenty dollars” I mumbled.

They looked at each other in astonishment. You could tell that this was a familiar battle for them, yet we seemed to be presenting a new slant on the idea. I later found out that some Airport Taxis had been caught driving Japanese customers all over the place and charging them two hundred dollars off the meter. So now they all got tarred with the same brush. However, in retrospect, I think these guys were actually on the level, or forced to be, by Dave’s preventative instructions.

He beckons another driver who is now showing an interest.

“Yo Sandy c’mere! Listen to dese Guy’sss,….gwan kid, tell him what ye sayin!”

Sandy appeared to be about six foot four, and appraising us suspiciously, was clearly not in the mood for us little hippy foreigners.

“well I wuss just explainin to him, dat we want to go tru the Tunnel and dat we’ll pay twenty dollars” I said, reluctantly following the command.

Sandy spat out.

“Waddaye tawkin about? It makes NO DIFFERENCE BUDDY!!!!! Dru the Dunnel or over the bridge, I’m tellin ye, da money is on da meeddaa!!!

 

We were now causing a bit of a scene, people were waiting behind us on the queue, several Taxi drivers had come forward to voice their annoyance. Larry and I decided we might need to confer, we pulled off to one side.

“Jasus, I don’t know? They all seem very annoyed don’t they. Maybe we better give in”

Larry had been thinking the same thing.

“Ok Den” I relented to our cabbie, now looking at us like we were a case study, quizzically cocking his head from side, incredulously inviting agreement from the rest of the motley crew.

“Can we put our stuff in da boot den?”

“Excuse me?”

“Would it be ok if we trow or stuff in da boot?”

“I don’t know what yer talkin bout Buddy”

I put my hand on the back of the cab and said.

“Can we put our stuff in here?”

“Oh, oh, in the Trunk? Sure”

He reached inside the cab and popped it open. We slid in on the well – worn leather seat.

“Em…what’s this I was goin ta say? Don’t forget to go tru the Tunnel dough…please”

 

Glasgow next Friday at the Celtic Connections Festival, The Tron Theatre 8pm  – I’m really looking forward to it, hope you are too.  Love Pierce xx