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Nanci Griffith brings that Loving feeling to Town Hall Theatre



Date Published: {J}

Nanci Griffith, one of the most esteemed names in American roots music, plays the Town Hall Theatre on Tuesday next, February 16. The show comes halfway through a run of eight shows in Ireland, and Nanci is happy to be coming back here.

“I love playing in Ireland,” she says. “We’re in England first for the BBC Folk Awards, then we’re off to Ireland and then we’re off to Scotland. And then we’ll go to Australia – very busy!”

The Loving Kind, Nanci Griffith’s 18th studio album, sees the songwriter at the peak of her powers with her sense of social justice still intact. The title track is inspired by the case of Richard and Mildred Loving, a mixed-race couple who were jailed after they got married in 1958. The Lovings took their case to the Supreme Court and won a landmark ruling in 1967. Nanci only became aware of the Lovings’ story when she read Mildred’s obituary.

“I’d never heard of the Lovings and their case ‘Loving Vs the State of Virginia,’” she says. “I sat and cried for a couple of hours because I just found it so appalling that it wasn’t on my radar and it wasn’t in the history books. Why it isn’t being taught to American children as a landmark case? It’s something that maybe the people did not agree with but the court overruled them. That’s the way things usually get done; progress gets made whether people want it or not.”

Given the campaign for same-sex marriages in the US, Nanci feels the Lovings’ story is still relevant today.

“Their case was just so special, and the fact that their last name was Loving. It did away with any laws that could be put in place against inter-racial marriage. Hopefully it will be the cornerstone for the government getting out of the loving business altogether-for everyone.”

Up Against The Rain was inspired by Townes Van Zandt, the legendary songwriter behind the hit Poncho And Lefty – recorded by both Emmylou Harris and as a duet by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson – who died in 1997.

“He was a good friend, he was a hero,” says Nanci. “One of the people that I co-write with, Charlie Stefl, was his best friend and is, in fact, godfather to two of Townes’ children. I met Charlie through Townes when I was 16. Townes took him to hear me play in Austin.”

Townes Van Zandt’s influence is still evident in modern Americana with Steve Earle having released an entire album of his songs last year. Townes’ absence is something that Nanci still feels greatly.

“He’s a very special person and a great loss. The song that Charlie and I wrote about him really is that, often times, with very, very talented people, a lot of their talent and lot of their work comes out of their own depression and their own anxieties.”

Townes’ personal struggles were something he faced fearlessly in his work.

“He was honest about them,” agrees Nanci. “I think Townes suffered severely from depression through his entire adult life. It’s a serious problem and I think as artists, we all kind of through it one time or another. But Townes lived with it constantly.”

Nanci Griffith is an inspired interpreter of other people’s songs – her version of Julie Gold’s From A Distance raised Griffith to superstar status. What draws her to certain songs?

“Different things,” she muses. “On the new record I’ve two songs by one of my heroes, Dee Moeller. When I was a teenager she never wrote a bad song; she wrote the most incredible honky-tonk songs that have ever been written. She’s retired now from writing and runs a bookstore – and that’s a great thing for a writer to do!”

Nanci has been a fan of Moeller’s work since the 1970s and found Dee inspirational when her own creative well ran dry.

“When I went through my little slump of not being able to write I called Dee Moeller up and I said ‘can you send me this song or that song? I want get back to what I intended as a songwriter’. She did and it really inspired me to get back to my guitar and get back to writing.”

That creative block must have been a difficult for such an experienced songwriter as Nanci.

“It lasted for about six years,” she recalls. “I’d never had a writer’s block before. I think that everybody experiences them but you never know how it’s going to affect you. It was alarming for me, because I thought this has been the cornerstone of my life, being able to write. Then for a while I couldn’t and I was so happy when it all came flooding back.”

A native of Austin, Texas, Nanci is now based in Nashville, Tennessee – both of which are places steeped in the history of American country music.

“I’m very happy with both places,” she says. “I love playing the Grand Ole Opry here in Nashville and being part of the community. Nashville is somewhat like Austin but there’s more business going on in Nashville. It’s not a real crazy live music city like Austin is but both places are very warm and welcoming.”

Brown’s Diner is a small bar in Nashville, built from an old railway carriage, where some of the city’s most respected songwriters (and a few colourful locals) like to hang out.

“You’re gonna walk into Brown’s on any given day and see me talking to some guy who lays concrete for a living,” says Nanci. “Or you could walk in and see John Prine talking to an electrician. It’s just such a great combination of people.”

As is evident from her latest album, and throughout her career, Nanci Griffith is a writer who engages with her times.

“I come from the old school, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and Odetta. I think it’s very important to write about the social times that you live in.”

Has the change of president in the US made it easier to be that kind artist?

“I’ve always been a very outspoken broad!” Nanci insists. “It hasn’t made that much difference except that I can now say that I’m very happy to have Barack Obama as president.”

Nanci Griffith has been performing since she was 14 and all these years later, she still feels that spark that makes her such a unique singer.

“It feels the same every night when I walk out on stage,” she says.

Nanci Griffith plays the Town Hall at 8pm on Tuesday, 16th February. Tickets €38.50 from or 091-569777.


Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



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



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

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



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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