Margaret Barry - ‘Street Songs and Fiddle Tunes’
Before music there was God. They came to me in that order. Christmas and Easter were when the choirs struck up and it was my first experience of live singing and it floored me. Even to the ears of a young boy there was a discernible shift in mood between the two seasons. A lot of how we perceive music has to do with the context in which we hear it. Christmas was like a dream in that sense. Coloured lights twinkling from normally unlit windows. Incense and bouquets of flowers bordering on the fabulous. The music sounded pretty good amongst all that. The dream was on.
The village of Knocknagree was five miles north but straight uphill, and on starry nights the sound of music would make its way down the valley to my bedroom window.
The annual Denis Murphy Memorial Weekend up there was my first solo venture to a gig of any sort. I struck gold with the first house I ventured into. It was a dry house. No alcohol or instruments, roughly in that order. Solo singing only. Voices and nothing else. The pure drop. It was a heavenly way to start.
When I hear a great singer such as Radie Peat or Lisa O’Neill nowadays, I’m back in that room, sitting on a step half way up the stairs, listening to Christy Cronin, holding my breath, drinking it all in, dizzy with the joy of it all.
The bike was cycled back downhill at double speed, navigated by a freshly blown mind whirring faster than the spokes. I cast my net wider from that day on. I had been looking for love in all the wrong places.
Soon after, I discovered Margaret Barry. She was still alive at the time but her work was done. I was knocked sideways by her version of The Factory Girl. She instilled a love of the banjo in me that resonates to this day. The sudden shifts in tone through the range of her voice and her unique phrasing made for a spellbinding mix. Her conviction was palpable. When someone sang with that kind of truth in such a beautiful way there was nothing to do but surrender.