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Nanci Griffith brings that Loving feeling to Town Hall Theatre

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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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 www.tht.ie or 091-569777.

 

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy

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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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Galway girls make a splash on Irish U-15 water polo side

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 18-Feb-2013

The Irish U-15 girls’ water polo team, which was backboned by eight Galway players, made history in Birmingham made history last weekend when they reached the final of the British Regional Water Polo Championships.

All the girls are members of Galway’s Tribes Water Polo Club, formed only two years ago by Deborah Heery and Amanda Mooney. To get eight members from one club onto a National squad of 13 was an achievement in itself for this new club, but to be part of an Irish team – which was captained by Galway’s Róisín Cunningham, Smyth – to reach a final at such a high International level exceeded all expectations.

Competing against Scotland and Wales, Ireland made it out of their group to a semi-final place against the much fancied North West A England team. The semi-final proved to be the game of the tournament with nothing to separate the teams.

After goals from Carmel Heery, Aisling Dempsey, Eleanor O’Byrne, Roisin Cunningham Smyth and a dramatic penalty save by goalie Ailbhe Colleran, the Irish girls ran out 7-6 winners to become the first Irish side to make a final.

In the final on Sunday afternoon, they met tournament favourites, London, who they had previously beaten in the Group stages. With excellent performances from Eva Dill, Ailbhe Keady and Laoise Smyth, Ireland held the experienced English team to a 4-4 scoreline at half-time, but the English team, with their stronger and more experienced panel pulled away to win the tournament in the second half.

The success of the Irish team in reaching their first ever British Regional Finals was enhanced even further when Tribes member, Carmel Heery, was nominated Most Valuable Player of the Irish Team

In addition to their recent International success these girls were also members of the Tribes Water Polo team that won the U-14 & U-16 National Water Polo Cups this year and the Grads invitational U-15 tournament.

The success of this young Galway Water Polo Club nationally and internationally is in no small way due to the exceptional ability of their talented coaches, Padraig Smyth, Amanda Mooney, Jeremy Pagden, Carol O’Neill, Roisin Sweeney, Cathal Treacy.

The Irish team was coached by Aideen Conway (IWPA) and managed by Tribes founder, Deborah Heery.

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Feast of folk at An Taibhdhearc

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 21-Feb-2013

Galway group We Banjo 3, comprising Enda and Fergal Scahill with Martin and David Howley, will team up with Dublin band I Draw Slow for a unique concert at An Taibhdhearc, on Thursday next, February 28, 8pm.

Featuring banjos, fiddle, mandolins, guitars, banjolin and vocals We Banjo 3 combine Irish music with old-time American, ragtime and bluegrass influences, revealing the banjo’s rich legacy from its roots in African and minstrel music through to the Irish traditional sound pioneered by Barney McKenna.

Their début album, Roots of the Banjo Tree, was voted best trad album in The Irish Times in December 2012.

The roots band I Draw Slow perform a blend of old time Appalachian and Irish traditional material that has been described as a fully natural evolution of American and Irish traditional styles.

Their top 10-selling second album, Redhills was named RTÉ’s album of the week in 2011 and it frequently features on playlists of stations in Ireland, the UK and the US.

Next Thursday’s concert in An Taibhdhearc is presented by Music Network and An Taibhdhearc and starts at 8pm. Tickets are €15. Booking at 091-562024.

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