A Salty Tale of a Young Man's Musical Dreams and Struggles in 1970's Ireland
By Cahal Dunne
In his new book, Cahal tracks the progress of a young man from Cork
City: choir director, music teacher, and showband musician, to seminal
Celtic Rocker, Eurovision-acclaimed songwriter, and US based solo
performer since 1983 .
He does this through a series of interwoven vignettes, some hilarious and some heart wrenching, but all vastly entertaining.
It's a salty tale of a young man struggling to make it in recessionary
Ireland, and the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland. It was a hell of a time
to go for it, but that's exactly what he does.
The musicians and girlfriends, love affairs and relationships, broken hearts and mended hearts, are all described as only an Irishman passionate about his chosen career can do.
He does this through a series of interwoven vignettes, some hilarious and some heart wrenching, but all vastly entertaining. The natural flow of his Cork brogue shines through in all his stories, as he tells about various band mates and their piccadillos, some shady managers and agents,(some decent and some not so decent.)
Cahal spins wonderful yarns about the band's travels through Ireland and Europe in a beat-up old van which carriethrough and their equipment from one booking to the next, and about their adventures and misadventures en route.
Spoiler alert: there's a great tale of a Corkman's revenge on a reprehensible German club owner.
Anybody who ever played in or danced to the beat of an Irish show
band has to read this book. Apart from that however, it is a great read
in its own right, and should appeal to anyone who likes a story of a
young man's dreams and his struggles to make them come true. A universal
tale, beautifully chronicled. Sean O Se Cork Ireland
Billy is belting out a Celtic Rock classic at stepson Johnny’s wedding. Everybody is having a ball: bridesmaids, groomsmen, aunts, uncles, friends all enjoying the craic [fun] at this very Irish-American wedding. Billy is in rare form, singing with his favorite Celtic Rock band he’s hired for the wedding. Even tho’ he’s in his mid-fifties, he can still belt it out with the best of ‘em.
He goes over to the bar and orders a pint. A trio of young men, all friends of his son, see him and join him. Joe screams over the music, “Hey Mr. Golden, how are you?”
“Hiya Joe, how’rya doin’? Are ya finished college yet?”
“One more year to go, this is Josh and Brad, they’re friends of Liam. Hey guys, Mr. Golden had a band in Ireland.”
Brad shakes his hand, “What sort of stuff did you play?”
Billy points to the band, “That stuff.…. BEFORE they called it Paddy Rock, or Celtic Rock or whatever.”
“You played that stuff back then? I thought that was new”
“Nah,” says Billy proudly, “we were doing it in 1978,…. God it feels like 1878,”….
Billy sees Brad getting a text and smiles, “Yea, way way before texting, cell phones, the internet, credit cards, a long time ago.”
“So what brought you to America?” asks Josh.
Billy smiles wistfully…..
Finbar and Nora’s first son was of course named Liam, in honor of his grandfather. Hearing the tales of his grandfather, young Liam eventually realized how proud he was to bear the same name. Somehow, this child born with the strawberry-blonde hair, fair skin of the Celts and personality which would not quit, came to be known as Billy, which is Liam in English. Born in the mid 1950’s, only thirty years after Ireland achieved its freedom he was shaped by his father’s tales of sons and daughters of that bloody and turbulent time, when the Irish suffered desperately under British Rule. Many of the men who fought for Irish freedom were still alive, several of them were Billy’s teachers. One was now the President of Ireland, Eamon DeValera.
This is the story of Billy Golden: an Irish dreamer, musician, composer, and all around lover of life.
“Finbar,” says Billy’s mother, a small but sure-framed woman, to her beloved husband, beaming with pride, “Here’s your favorite dinner for you, well done,” and hands him a plate of roast stuffed pork steak, roast potatoes, carrots and gravy.
He had just become school principal of one of the largest schools in Cork. “Thanks Nora,” as he raises his glass of milk, “Slainte,” and their five kids, now teenagers raise their glasses, “Slainte.”
Finbar Golden had reached the pinnacle of his profession, and was held in as high esteem as the local parish priest – totally respected, whose authority was rarely, if ever, questioned.
“Fair play to you dad, congratulations.”
“Thanks Billy, it’s going to be interesting.”
“Have ya any new plans for the school?” Billy knew that if he asked his dad a question, he better be prepared to listen for ages to his answer, because that’s the way he is: intense, thoughtful, and thorough. But this is Finbar’s big day, something he’s been dreaming of for a long time, so Billy lets his dad fire away.
Finbar sits back in his chair, gets his thoughts together and replies: “Well I’m going to introduce adult education for older people who never got the chance to go very far in their jobs, because of their lack of education. I think there’s a real need for this. I’m going to offer night courses for older people, typing, bookkeeping, even planning for retirement courses, that sort of thing. If I can help people climb the ladder in their careers, and be prepared financially and socially, after they retire, I think I’ll have done my job.”
“Finbar,” says Nora all worried, “with all the extra work, will you be able to come home for dinner?” It was impossible for her to imagine not cooking dinner as she has done for the past twenty-two years. Even if she was dying with the flu, there was always a meal on the table for her family.
“Nora,” says dad lovingly, “don’t go getting your rosary beads out just yet, I’ll never miss your dinner, I won’t give that up, whatever about anything else.”
“Hey Dad,” says Noellie, Billy’s younger brother, “Ma says we’ll be gettin’ a new car?”
He laughs, “Well we’ll see, I hope we can, ‘sure the old Volkswagon is nearly dead, how’s your car coming along Billy?”
“It’ll be ready tomorrow I hope.”
“How’s the choir doing?”
“I think we’re okay, looks like it might be a nice show.”
Billy was the musical director of one of Cork’s only pop choirs, The Montfort Singers, following in his dad’s footsteps, whose love of music was huge. Finbar had been a member of several of the top choirs in Cork in his time, both mixed and male voice choirs, so Billy, his oldest son, was steeped in music from day one.
Finbar finishes a bite and smiles as he meanders through his musical recollections... “You know I remember a great story from the old days. The choir I was in was asked to sing for a big American TV special that would be be aired on St. Patrick’s Day back in the states. It went out nationally on CBS or NBC or one of those major networks at the time, – big stuff for a choir from Cork. Well we practiced every night for weeks on this one song, The Banks Of My Own Lovely Lee, putting just the right emphasis into the feelings of an emigrant looking back on his days walking along the banks of the River Lee as it meanders through Cork city and county.
They recorded us singing in St.Finbar’s Cathedral where the acoustics are excellent. Then they took us out to a scenic spot along the river, set up huge lights, put us all up on a mobile stage, and we lip-synched the song over and over for hours.
They promised they would send a copy of the show over to us when it was all finished. Everyone who had cousins in America had been alerted to watch us on TV.
It finally came and we were all gathered in the church hall to watch our big moment. Well, all they showed was about ten seconds of swans floating down the river, and us singing in the background as the credits came up. Ten seconds of bloody swans after all our hard work!!...”
“You know in my time,” says Nora, “when the operatic companies came to Cork, the audience knew all the main arias off by heart, and they’d sing them before the opera started.”
“How did they know them?” pipes Billy’s sister Bernadette.
“They’d learn them off the record player, French, German, Italian, it didn’t matter. They didn’t know exactly what the words meant, but they captured the mood of it perfectly. They really had great ears. If a soprano, tenor or bass came to town, and didn’t perform to the satisfaction of the audience, they would roll a beer bottle or two down the concrete steps from the nose bleed section, right down to the stage. I saw it happen several times, and the singer just completely choked up, the poor old divil.”
Towards the end of dinner Finbar asks, ”Hey Billy, would you come in tonight to the dinner dance and sing your new record? I think the students would like it, and you can join us for the meal, I know how you like the dinners.”
“All right dad, but Sean O Se asked me to play for him in Blackrock Castle, there’s a bunch of yanks coming in for a dinner show, so I’ll see you as soon as I can, I hope I’ll make dinner.”
“All right, see you later then.”
Billy loved the dinners at these events: huge servings of roast beef or pork with fabulous vegetables, and three, yes three different potatoes: mashed, roasted, and fried. With seven in the family, the portions weren’t the biggest, especially when it came to whatever meat Ma had cooked, so the dinner dances were very appealing to Billy, as he was blessed with a very healthy appetite.
After an hour of primping, Billy looks grand—his curled strawberry-blonde hair perfectly in place, a powder blue jacket and ruffled dress shirt trimmed in blue, accent his gleaming blue eyes, a gold pocket kerchief is perfectly adjusted and his dress slacks have just enough flare for the current bell-bottom trend—and he’s ready to go! Sean is unusually late so Billy is practicing, waiting to be collected, when finally, the phone rings. “Hello Billy, Sean here, I’m sorry but they cancelled the show last minute, the bus broke down or somethin’.”
“Ah no, ....shit, .…I needed the money, my car is broken down.”
“Sorry Billy, next time,” says Sean and hangs up.
It’s now too late to have dinner at the hotel, so he decides to go into town and have a few pints and waste some time, as he hates all the boring speeches everybody will have to sit through, before the dancing starts.
He hops on a bus and goes into his usual bar, the Swan and Cygnet, on Patrick’s Street. It’s where all the musicians and great characters drink. You get all the scandal, or “sca,” as they say in Cork, about all the latest goings on. It’s an old rustic intimate sort of pub, with dark oak beams overhead, and a beautiful square mahogany bar, with probably the best pint of Guinness and Murphy’s in Cork.
First person he meets is a great old Cork character called Paddy O’Brien, a fantastic guitarist who has the biggest hands Billy ever saw, and a fine old beer belly. Billy knows him from conducting the choir in the Opera House. He was a great musical reader, and a terrific improviser when things went wrong on stage. He could play along effortlessly with whatever the musical director played to kill a few minutes, to allow the cast to get their act together, and the audience would think it was all part of the show. That was one of his many talents. Billy was about to find out about another one of his “talents.” Strangely enough, Billy never met him in a bar before.
“Hey Billy Boyeeee,” in his fine Cork accent, “will ya have a pint? Two pints there Sean.” The barman pulls two fantastic looking pints of Guinness and Paddy says “Cheers,” and downs almost the whole pint in one gulp. Billy is amazed, and tries to do the same thing so as not to lose face. Just as Billy gets through nearly finishing his pint, Paddy polishes his off with one swallow, and it’s Billy’s call. “Two more there please Sean.”
Paddy always good for a joke or two, and tonight was no different. “Did ya hear about Murphy? Himself and his wife went over to Austria for the Winter Olympics. They were in a souvenir shop and he saw a condom three pack specially made to mark the occasion. There was a gold, a silver, and a bronze condom.” Paddy lifts his pint and nearly swallows it once again. “He shows the wife the condoms, and she says, which one are ya going to wear tonight? The gold one of course, says Murphy, and she said why don’t ya wear the silver one and come second just Once in yer life!” With that, he lets out a huge belly laugh, finishes his pint, and orders two more.
Two fellas are watching nearby. “Hey, d’ya see that eejit trying to keep up with Paddy?” and they both laugh. The other fella says, “Sure Paddy holds the Guinness World record for downing a pint in 2.2 seconds, should we tell him?”
“Nah,” says the other fella, “Let’s see how many pints he can drink before he pukes, the poor ould bollix.”
Billy is valiantly trying to keep up with Paddy, pint for pint ‘til he’s almost out of money. One of the fellas was counting: “Nine pints in half an hour, jeez he’s gonna be langers, [drunk] the poor ould divil.” They laugh as Billy leaves the pub, and heads up to the Metropole Hotel across Patrick’s Bridge to sing the song for his dad. The air starts to hit him, and he starts staggering. As he enters the hotel, there’s great excitement in the hotel pub, the crowd is spilling out into the foyer. Someone recognizes him, “Hey Billyeee, c’mere boyeee, they’re having a reception for Sandy Brown, she’s flying out tomorrow to the Eurovision, free booze boyeee, come on.”…..
The atmosphere is absolutely electric, nearly everyone is totally plastered, as they get to the counter. “What’ll ya have boyeee?” said his new generous friend. At this point Billy couldn’t possibly down another pint. “I’ll have a brandy and ginger please,” slurring every word. He gets the drink and takes a big gulp, so his friend orders another.
Somebody recognizes Billy. “Billyeee hello boyeee, come on over to the piano and sing an ould song there will ya,” trying his best to make an announcement, “Hey, c’mere everybody,” he screams, “noble call now, silence please, Billy Golden is gonna’ sing a song all right?” as he pulls him over to the piano, “What are ya havin’ boyeee?”
“Brandy and ginger,” and he goes over to the bar. The few that were listening push him towards the piano. He sits down and can hardly see the bloody keys, not to mind the piano. It’s all a blur, but he’s feeling no pain, in fact he’s as high as a kite, life is great.
He starts with the big hit of the day, McArthur Park. He gets out a few words, plonking on the piano about someone letting the cake out in the rain, and not having the recipe again. Everybody suddenly recognizes the song, and start screaming at the top of their voices, way way out of tune, and then the climax: …AND I’LL NEVER HAVE THAT RECIPE AGAIN, OH NO, OH NO…, their Cork accents making it even funnier. Everybody is totally plastered, having a ball. Poor old Jimmy Webb, if he only heard them all, murdering his classic song….
Somewhere in his drunken haze Billy remembers about singing his song for his dad, so he staggers out of the bar, and as he’s climbing the stairs to the second floor, holding on to the banisters for dear life, he spots a girl staggering down the stairs. She’s almost as plastered as Billy, strikingly beautiful, tall and slim, long brown hair, dressed in a beautiful ocean blue deb’s ball gown. She’s trying with great difficulty to get down the steps in her high heels. She’s probably looking for the toilet, totally disorientated, obviously at her high school ball in another function room.
“Dya wanna’ go to a party?” Billy mumbles, now totally disheveled, his perfect hair hanging like wild slinkies around the slits of blue eyes, shirt unbuttoned and jacket wrinkled.
“All right,” she says, and they stagger up the stairs to the dinner dance.
The first people Billy sees are his parents with the Lord Mayor, wearing his formal gold chain, the Bishop of Cork in all his regalia, and some other important looking people in tuxedos. Billy stumbles over with Mary, totally oblivious to all the big shots. “Hiya Dad, hiya Ma, this is eh…. whassyer name?”
“Mary,” she mumbles, hanging on to Billy for support.
“This is Mary, isn’t she beauuutiful?” Billy’s parents are horrified, totally embarrassed and furious. If looks could kill….
Just then Dick Corbett the organist spots Billy and makes an announcement: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Lord Mayor, Reverend Bishop, Boys and Girls, Mr. Golden’s son is a singer, and he’s just recorded his first record, so let’s have a big hand for Billy Golden.” Everybody dutifully applauds.
“…’Scuse me,” says Billy drunkenly, as he staggers up to the stage and sits down at the organ which by now, looks like twenty keyboards in front of him. Mary follows right along like a little puppy. Dick pulls the mike stand over, and Billy starts singing. FELL IN LOVE IN THE WINK OF AN EYE, he can’t remember the next few lines so he goes straight into the chorus: “BUTTERFLY, MY BUTTERFLY, everybody come on now let’s hear ye, BUTTERFLY MY BUTTERFLY I’LL COME HOME TO YOU SOMEDAY.”… There was absolutely no reaction except shock. Billy was oblivious to the fact that nobody knew the song yet, so they couldn’t join in.
Dick realizes that Billy’s plastered so he quickly pulls the plug and the organ dies. Billy looks up drunkenly at Dick, “What’s wrong with yer organ Dick?” as he bashes the keys to try and get some sound out of them.
Dick grabs the mike and says, “Ladies and gentlemen, there’s something wrong with the organ, we’ll have Billy up again as soon as we fix it.”
“Sound as a bell,” says Billy, as he almost falls off the stage, straight into the arms of Mary.
Dick plugs the organ back in again and starts with a lively jig, and Billy and Mary fall all over the place trying to dance, shocking all of his dad’s students who are on their best behavior. Suddenly Mary stops, has a moment of clarity and says, “You’re not Pat.”
“No, I’m Billy, who the hell is Pat?” Mary just staggers off mumbling “Pat?... Pat?….”
Suddenly an older guy pulls Billy aside. “Hey Billyeee, you’re making a right ould eejit of yerself boyeeee, you’re langers at your father’s first dinner dance as school principal. I’m tellin’ ya now boyeee, get outta here before you make it any worse all right?”
Billy tries to grasp what he was hearing, and thru’ his drunken haze, realizes he’s right, and staggers out of the ballroom. He starts to walk down the stairs, but he has to hang onto the banisters, as he’s legless. “Shit, I’ve never been this bad before,” he thinks to himself.
He gets to the front door and remembers the nightclub a few doors up. The bouncer recognizes him, and lets him in. He staggers up the stairs to the wine bar. “Give us a cuppa’ coffe there will ya.” The guy pours him a cup of scalding coffee. Billy takes a big gulp and nearly falls on the floor with the heat of it. Suddenly he gets the hiccups, not your average hiccups, but loud, uncontrollable hiccups.
Everybody totally ignores him, so he decides to leave and walk home, but soon he realizes
About the Author
He emigrated to America in 1983, and now lives with his family in Pittsburgh. He travels the country performing, and still loves it. His first book is a "memoir novel," about his adventures and misadventures of his band mates and himself struggling to make it in recessionary 1970's Ireland, together with the political unrest of the time, pioneering Celtic Rock music, the hottest trend in USA's colleges, and trying to have it all, without losing the first big love of his life In Ireland.