Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 Mar-Apr Contents Rhythms 53
Irish songstress Mary Black’s catalogue of beloved
recordings spans over 30 years. In choosing 18 songs for
her latest album, the singer ’s autobiography narrowed
the selection. “The two really go hand-in hand,” she
says of her memoir ‘Down The Crooked Road’ and the
soundtrack album of the same name. “I’ll bring a few
books with me to Australia for some of the fans to have.”
‘The Final Call’ tour bids fans a kind of farewell. Black’s
‘biting the bullet’ to wind up international touring but
won’t stop sharing the pure and knowing embrace of her
“I get so much joy from singing. I just love it. I didn’t make
this decision overnight and it’s tinged with sadness but the
time is right. I’ve been touring Australia since the late ‘80s
and made a lot of friends. I love touring there, and I don’t say
that about everywhere I go, but it’s a very long way away. I’ve
done my goodbyes in America, in Japan, all over England
and Europe. I’m not giving up singing in Ireland because it
would be like cutting off my arm if I stopped completely. I
live to sing there. It feels right. I might do a one-off, a festival
or something that might tickle my fancy, but I still feel I’m
relatively young and I want to enjoy my life and do other
things that I haven’t had time for. I’ve got two beautiful
granddaughters who I want to be around.”
Black’s childhood laid the path she shared with her siblings.
As The Black Family, their acapella recording of ‘Colcannon’
features on the new album. You can picture them singing
unaccompanied as littl’uns around their simple Dublin home.
“Dad was a musician from a very rural part of Ireland
(Rathlin Is) and my Mum was a singer as well so of course
that was passed down to the five of us. My father would have
a ‘hooley’ (session) on Sunday afternoons, inviting musical
friends down. We’d all be singing, doing our party pieces...
just because we loved it so much. It’s still the reason I do it.”
Down The Crooked Road features signature ballads, live
gems and toe- tappers influenced by the wider folk world.
Collaborations include duets with Imelda May and Joan
Baez, ‘Sonny’ with Dolores Keane and Emmylou Harris,
‘Paddy’s Lamentation’ with De Dannan. Older songs can
still surprise Black with timely significance.
“It’s funny how a certain phase in your life, a song comes
alive again you think, ‘Wow! That really describes what’s
happening in my life [now]’. The song ‘Moments’ is very
appropriate for this tour, all about being ‘in the now’. Doing
what we need to do in our lives.”
Black’s audiences always include plenty from the Celtic
diaspora. Big in Japan since her album ‘No Frontiers’, she’s
toured there frequently.
“Almost everywhere else the audience is full of Irish.
Though there was no English, the connection was there.
Music really is a universal language.”
Despite sometimes singing in her mother tongue, she
concedes hers isn’t ‘beyond school Irish’. “I can have trouble
understanding Irish people speaking English! But you
still feel emotionally moved. It’s a wonderful thing.” She’ll
soon re- visit her Australian family. “All the Howards will
be around and Luka Bloom who’s playing at Port Fairy Folk
Festival as well. Shane Howard did support on my 1992 tour.
I went home with one or two of his songs tucked under my
arm. ‘Flesh & Blood’ became a huge chart hit in Ireland. He
was so thrilled because his Irish ancestry means so much to
him. I recorded eight of his songs and others by Eric Bogle,
Paul Kelly, Neil Finn.”
Her current band features Bill Shanley (guitars), Nick Scott
(bass), Richie Buckley (sax) and Pat Crowley (piano and
accordion). “My band blow people away every night... there’s
one song where I let them really go off and do their thing.
Pat’s been with me since 1986. Oh my God, that’s 30 years!”
Black’s daughter Róisín O joins her in Australia having first
performing here in 2011. “She’s great. She really is,” says the
justifiably proud mother. “She’s got an album out and come
a long way as an artist.”
The Melbourne show is sold out. “I’m delighted. I’m looking
forward very much to seeing everyone again.” So for now, it’s
‘le gach dea-ghuí’ (with every good wish/prayer).
I’m not giving up
singing in Ireland
because it would
be like cutting off
my arm if I stopped
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