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"Let the Circle be Wide" - Sands from the heart
by William Ramoutar
He's been around for quite a long time and has written some of the most moving songs I can tell you about, and I just might! But to tell you that his new cd is probably his strongest ever is no exaggeration. His name is Tommy Sands and I can remember some years ago, hearing one of the Clancy Brothers’ nephews, Robbie O'Connell and Mick Moloney, singing a tune on morning television and crying my eyes out.
The song was about two men who were friends, one Catholic and one Protestant, and both murdered by the divisional factions that were tearing Ireland into tiny pieces. The song was "There Were Roses,” and if you ever have the gumption to get out and find the tune, you will understand why most of us Irish want the terrible "troubles" of Northern Ireland over and done with.
Tommy has written many other tunes, maybe not all to that standard, but my God has he a talent for telling it like it is! In a word, yes, and how. So maybe that's three! But his songs are never wordy without relating exactly the way it is. He is born of a most musical family from the North and he is never far from his beloved land. These are stories in song that affect all at home and he is never a man to take a side when it's just the truth that needs to be told.
"Roses" is a true story that is heartbreaking in that it should never have happened, but it did and with Tommy's song brought the strife to many a person's mind and made them think about what might be an answer or a way to help it get better. Because for many, "the North" was someone else's problem. Even though we are Irish, somehow we were removed from the bitterness, hate and atrocities. This song, if you will pardon the pun, brought it all home. We were made to think, this could have been us and our friends. It humanized "the North.”
This new cd is reinforced by the additional of his wonderfully talented son, Fionan, and his daughter, Moya. They are multi-instrumentalists like himself, and sing with all the talent of their dad. Ah, but it's the tunes. The tunes.
"Let the Circle be Wide" is the name of this work, and I can only hope that effort is recognized for what it is, a truly fine offering that encompasses many aspects of life, love and loss, and also the "peace process" that was introduced to “the North” in the late 1990's.
He is no stranger to that effort, but what is extraordinary about Mr. Sands is that for years he’s been traveling the world performing in peace concerts and trying to make peoples and governments come to terms with each other.
Some of the songs on this cd he recorded with another hero of mine, Vedran Smailovic, a Bosnian cellist, who during the "troubles" in his own hometown of Sarajevo, witnessed firsthand 22 of its citizens being blown to pieces. He went home, got his cello, and returned to the still smoking bombsite and started to play amongst the death and destruction because he said that's all he knew to do. What people these are. They are real heroes to me. That I could aspire to their bravery. There is a magnificent tribute to another true hero of Irish music, Tommy Makem, who lost his life just a couple of years ago to cancer.
Tommy Sands has written songs that have been covered by many people you probably know already - not least of all, the godfather of American folk, Pete Seeger. Pete performs with him on one of Tommy's cd’s named, "The Music of Healing." Even the most original of Irishmen, The Dubliners, have recorded his music. "Young Man's Dream," the first tune on the cd, is sung by Tommy and his daughter Moya. He sings from a whisper to a roar on this one and it is supposedly a reworking of the most recognizable of Irish songs, "Danny Boy." I'm afraid I don't see it myself, but it is a fine tune with excellent accompaniment by the superbly talented uilleann piper and whistle player, Brendan Monaghan who, in fact, adds great atmosphere to many of the tracks here with his tasteful playing.
The song "Celebrating the Life" of the legendary Tommy Makem is just that, and meant to be. "The Song Sings On" reminds us what an influence the man from Keady town was, and still is, to many of us. In the liner notes for this tune, Sands says he "decided it would not be a lamentation," and it is indeed a jaunty and joyous affair. Sands has immortalized what many felt about the bantam weight colossus who stood his ground shoulder to shoulder with the burly Clancys and belted out the tunes, to the delight of American audiences, who took them to their hearts.
Tommy Makem always seemed to me to be a fiercely proud Irishman. When he strode up on stage at concerts and planted his feet, singing into the microphone he was more recalling than singing of gallant past glories, misfortunes or hilarious exploits of yore, yet instilling in the listener hope, through the timbre and richness of his delivery. Something tells me Makem is somewhere now, eighteen months after his passing, as fiercely proud of this tune about his life, as he was of any of the songs he himself sang. Long may he influence us, a true legend.
In the North of Ireland, both Catholics and Protestants believe their day is coming. In other words, they will overcome or win this religious battle. Tommy Sands’ tune "The People Have Spoken" asks us, what if all our days are coming, and the only way we can all win is together. I went to school near the border of South and North, and I was the only one of my denomination in an otherwise denominational boarding school. I felt at first, "boy do my parents hate me or what" and I had a few altercations, I will admit. But when it boils down to it, we were all, Catholic and Protestant, at the mercy of the headmaster and his underlings. It was a real awakening to me to see that all the kids were, well, kids! All of us. We were great friends, some of my schoolmates, and I am proud to say still to this day, forty years later.
"The Troubles" are heartbreaking for many reasons, listen to this tune and read the liners notes but also, as I said, "There Were Roses." He has a real insight because he listens and writes from his heart and the hearts of the Northern People.
I don't want to tell you about all the tunes on this outing, because I want you to discover them for yourself. These are wonderful offerings of human spirit, hopes for a better tomorrow, love of one's fellow man and not least of all, the joy of singing a song with real meaning. I admit also to not understanding a lot of the "new" music so many listen to. I am just so glad that these tunes that mean so much are available to all to savor and enjoy this "Celebration of our Lives." Well done, Tommy Sands. You are a true "Rover of Wonder" and "You Will Never Grow Old" to this listener.
Let The Circle Be Wide is available on amazon
BIO William Ramoutar
IRISH WAYS RADIO PROGRAMME
WFCF Radio 88.5 FM
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Review written by William Ramoutar Presenter of Irish Ways Radio Programme, St Augustine Florida
Thu, Dec 7, 2017
Holly and Ivy hanging up and
something wet in every cup*
Not so long ago, Irish Christmas decorations were much simpler than they are now. The children gathered holly and ivy for adorning, windows, doorways, mantles and pictures, and the father would carve out a turnip in which would be placed a large red candle. This would go in the window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve. Only in relatively recent times did an Irish family have a Nativity scene and a decorated tree in the house. As for Mistletoe, it's quite rare in ireland and is generally associated with ancient Celtic and Druidic fertility celebrations; this is most likely where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe comes from.
*Old Irish Christmas toast
Image: Pashley Manor Gardens.
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According to the 30 or more reviews we've read, if you own just one Irish Christmas recording, this should be it. Featuring Anthony Kearns, Ronan Tynan and John McDermott, we are treated to both solo and trio performances of a dozen or more best loved holiday airs, sung in their trade-mark Irish tenor style. As one reviewer cleverly observed, if these three sang the phone book, she'd buy it!
Click here for Home for Xmas