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Cork’s Ger Wolfe brings top-class songs to the Crane

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Date Published: {J}

One of Ireland’s most gifted songwriters, Ger Wolfe plays The Crane, Sea Road on Wednesday, December 23. This year Ger released No Bird Sang, his fifth album, which was recorded in Cúil Aodha, a small village west of Macroom in the Múscraí Gaeltacht, Cork, where Wolfe is based.

He recorded No Bird Sang with Peadar Ó Riada after Peadar, composer and leader of the renowned Cór Cúil Aodha singers, invited Ger to his studio.

“We were talking one day and he said come back and try something out,” Ger recalls. “‘Try out a few microphones’ was how he put it – so we ended up making an album. We found out we shared a lot of things; ways of looking at music and the world.”

The idea was to make an unadorned album that captured Ger’s acoustic sound in its purest form.

“I wanted to make a simple album,” he explains. “It’s my fifth one and it’s come around, I suppose, full circle. The first album I made was in 1998, Word & Rhyme and that was very simple. This one was strictly myself and we did it live. Peadar suggested that; I said ‘we’ll try it’ and I think it worked out alright. What you hear is exactly how it happened.”

Working alongside Peadar Ó Riada sounds as far from a ‘pressure-cooker’ studio atmosphere as you can get.

“We basically did every Thursday for two months, or maybe more,” Ger says. “Between Christmas and the Spring, early this year. I really enjoyed it; Peadar would be so relaxed and he has a good way of working with people. That’s what you want in a producer – someone who would bring out stuff that you won’t be motivated to get out yourself.”

This is not to say that Ger’s other studio albums should be disregarded. Far from it; the excellent Heaven Paints Her Holy Mantle Blue (2004) and The Velvet Earth (2007) saw his inspired songwriting fleshed out by accomplished musicians.

“I enjoyed it all but it just took longer because there were more people involved,” he says. “[No Bird Sang] was just going back to step one, to measure the ten years since I started recording really. Hopefully a few things have improved along the way, like the voice. But I don’t know if that’s true!”

In his 10 years as a recording artist the quality of Ger Wolfe’s work has shown a lightness of touch rare among his peers. His writing life is an ongoing process, one that requires regular attention.

“I think you have to have fertile ground, and that doesn’t happen from not writing,” he muses. “It’s from years and years of writing, discarding stuff and gathering bits and bobs. Then you get to a stage when things start coming to you. It’s the result of loads of work, really; you might get an idea some day walking down the road but it could have been distilling somewhere in your mind for years.”

Although Ger’s songs contain many references to the natural world he is reluctant to be pigeon-holed as a songwriter.

“I’ve a lot of that and maybe people say it’s pastoral work or pastoral poetry,” he says. “But I think there’s other stuff too. Going right back, I think I’ve dealt with stages in life and inner geography. I know a few people have accused me of ‘oh, why don’t you get a bit angrier?’. I do get angry; there’s an awful lot of political stuff going on in what I write too, but maybe it’s just not in your face.”

Ger wrote The Lark Of Mayfield about his brother moving to England (he also says the song could be about ‘emigrating from yourself’) but listeners would find it hard to find any specific ‘message’ in Wolfe’s subtle, folk style.

“I would be very angry about political things but I suppose don’t like any aspect of life – spiritual or political, environmental even – getting shoved down my throat by other people. I hope I don’t do that because I hate it myself.”

Ger Wolfe comes into his own when playing live. The Cork man’s well-crafted songs sit well alongside his stand-up quality banter and airing his work in public is something he relishes doing.

“It makes sense of it all,” he says. “Otherwise you’re in a bit of a bubble. I always think that you have to be able to entertain people. Even though some songs would be heavy enough, people still want to go out and have an old laugh.”

 

Between songs, Ger can find himself talking about diverse subjects like astronauts and Velcro on children’s shoes. These unplanned tangents are often hilarious.

“I like having a bit of banter going. A lot of my songs would be serious enough but as a writer, and as a performer, I think it’s good not to be one dimensional. Your writing is going to be influenced by everything anyway, and there’s nobody happy all their life, or sad.”

Ger Wolfe’s gig in The Crane comes just two days before Christmas. He may well acknowledge the season that’s in it but, above all, this will be an entertaining night in the company of a gifted performer.

Ger Wolfe plays The Crane Bar on Wednesday, December 23. Doors 9pm, tickets €15/12.50 members.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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