Mudcat Café message #3774565 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #159284   Message #3774565
Posted By: Jim Carroll
23-Feb-16 - 12:36 PM
Thread Name: Joe Heaney - any personal memories?
Subject: RE: Joe Heaney - any personal memories?
It might be worthwhile putting the MacColl/Seeger interview with Joe Heaney into context. It was made not long after they had formed The Critics Group, which was set up to help singers improve their techniques and understanding of traditional song.
When joining the Group, MacColl suggested to members that they make themselves familiar with the older generation of singers and take from their singing anything that might be helpful – unfortunately, there were, and still are, very few examples of Traditional singers talking about their "art", which was what Ewan insisted it was.
Ewan was a fierce opponent of the "unconscious as songbirds" image that had been projected by the some earlier collectors and Interviewing Joe seemed an ideal opportunity to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge; he carried out a similar interview with Paddy Tunney around the same time. It was not intended as an 'in-depth' study of Joe, but an attempt to gain some knowledge of him as an artist.
It has been occasionally suggested that Ewan and Peggy 'fed him the information they wanted to get' – I don't believe that was the case – they were concentrating on gathering the information they believed would be useful to younger singers. Having met Joe, he didn't strike us as the type of individual to be manipulated.      
The idea that some singers thought about their songs and how they 'should' be sung is certainly a rare one.
Thomas Moran of Mohill, Co. Leitrim, describes visiting a local man "who had never crossed a cow-track in his life" to get his large repertoire of songs and information.
Paddy Tunney, as well as getting songs from his mother, also visited her brother, Michael Gallagher, to take his songs and knowledge – Paddy was extremely articulate when talking about his songs and traditions.
Joe, and his cousin, Seán 'ac Dhonncha; were influenced strongly by visiting an uncle, Colm Keane of Glinsk; most of the 'big singers' had their mentors.
In our collecting work, we spent a great deal of time questioning singers on how they approached their songs.
Walter Pardon was probably the most articulate: his inspiration, Uncle Billy Gee, had died, so Walter put his songs together posthumously and made his own sense of them. His understanding of the songs was outstanding – he insisted that they needed to be sung using the right 'strook' (pace); "you have to have imagination, to sing them, like reading a book".
Tom Lenihan of County Clare described having to put the 'blás' (relish - taste) on the songs to make them work and spoke of them as being 'true' – "that's a true song, that happened, surely".
Kerry Traveller, Mikeen McCarthy, described being chastised by his father for singing his songs "the wrong way". He described the differences between 'street singing' to earn pennies, the technique needed to sell "the ballads", the song-sheets he and his mother sold around the fairs and markets, and "fireside singing" among family and friends.      
Most of the singers we met and questioned had opinions on their songs and how they should be sung; virtually all of them considered themselves storytellers whose stories came with tunes, which were secondary to the texts.
It was this type of information that Ewan and Peggy were trying to elicit from Joe when they interviewed him – in my opinion, they made a pretty good job of it.
Jim Carroll