Countdown to St. Pattys Day; a tribute to Luke Kelly

Today’s stop on Pub Talk’s Countdown to St. Patty’s Day takes us to the enchanting world of Irish music as we pay tribute to one of it’s iconic singers, Luke Kelly.

a portrait of Luke Kelly by Brendan Higgins

Luke Kelly was born in Dublin in 1940 and grew up in a working class family.  He spent some of his early years as a musician in England, but returned to Dublin where he met the men who would soon become the Dubliners.  The band made its start at the now famous O’Donoghue’s Pub sessions.  I was told Kelly himself suggested the band name the group “The Dubliners” after the James Joyce book, but I don’t know that for certain.  (Makes a great story though, if true)

Kelly had that combination of frustration and tenderness in his voice that somehow defines the very spirit of Dublin before the Celtic Tiger years.  His delivery was no doubt one of passion and strength.  But there was a palpable sincerity to him that few singers in any genre have ever repeated.

O'Donoghues Pub in Dublin

The Dubliners are a group that have been somewhat lost to the american Irish-folk scene, but perhaps that was not entirely an accident.  I once heard the band’s fiddler John Sheahan explain how when they came to United States to play the Ed Sullivan Show.  Sullivan refused to allow them to play their hit “Seven Drunken Nights”, a playful song with a lyric not befitting Sullivan’s famously stringent moral standards.  The band played something else instead, but the experience convinced them that the States were just too stuffy for their brand of raucous pub music and they never really tried to break into the market again.  In hindsight, it was probably the best decision they ever made because the Dubliners and Luke Kelly certainly didn’t need any restraints.

Rather than present a song from Luke Kelly himself or the Dubliners, I would like to present you with a wonderful tribute to Kelly by a great singer named Billy Mulligan.  We presented Mulligan’s “Song for Luke Kelly” some time back on the APHR JukeboxClick here and enjoy!

by Dave McBride

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