Musical Traditions MTCD201
Old Orange Flute / Fenian Record Player / The Three Flowers / Charge of the Tight Brigade / McCaffery / Saint Patrick's Return / Dangerous Dan McGrew / The Bravest Man / The Twang Man / Adam and Eve / Samson and Delicious / Skibbereen / Talk about Billy Bennett/Christmas Day in the Cookhouse.This tape is good. As soon as I clapped eyes on it and saw the cover photograph it conveyed to me the attitude I've seen Freddy McKay adopt on occasions - that pose which says, "Well, this is my programme - for what you might think it's worth".
Before even playing it the notes on the cassette sleeve are most helpful to the listener and I recommend that you read them before you play it. After all, how often do you see notes like this accompanying a cassette? All credit to the producers. The programme is a mixture of comedy and poignancy, and I would not like to have to draw the dividing line. I feel there is a yearning for Ulster in days gone by, when the sense of community was more important and religion and politics were not so close to the surface. As Freddy says on the tape, "When you start laughing at any problem, the problem has a tendency to go away".
Let us take Freddy's first two songs. The combination of The Old Orange Flute, and The Fenian Record Player, make a classic opener and this play on balance sets the tone for the whole programme. Continuing with the monologues, the influence of Robert Service is obvious in some of his items, mixed up with what seems like a bit of infantryman's humour. (Possibly, living in a garrison town, I would recognise this). Take for instance The Bravest Man, from its amusing lead in, it takes a serious direction, (with a little of the feel of The Volunteer Organist about it), but finishes with a sting in the tail, typical of early Robert Service. He would have liked Dangerous Dan McGrew, although he might have had difficulty in following the last two-thirds of it - for that matter I struggle a bit myself! I hope that Tennyson will forgive Freddy for his parody The Charge of the Tight Brigade. Today we often hear of football hooligans but in this monologue they are in the middle of the park and not on the terraces. Significantly, the parodied original of the 1850s was a similar type of event. Adam and Eve and Samson and Delicious are both well told and extremely funny monologues. The Liverpudlian humour of JB Jacques comes through, but it is not out of place as Freddy makes them his own by interspersing them with his particular brand of chat. Christmas Day in the Cookhouse is a monologue with Army stamped all over it, full of spite and venom and almost unutterable curses, it is a vehicle for putting over quantities of wonderful abuse. Of St. Patrick's Return, I can do nothing but agree with the remarks on the sleeve notes - "a plea for sanity through laughter".
Of the remaining four songs, The Twang Man, I feel is a little out of place, good song though it is. I prefer to hear it sung with a Dublin accent, but judge it for yourself. McCaffery is a very strong song, powerfully sung and for me the most important lines are the last four, the message being "Don't put yourself in a powerless position". Perhaps this was why it was reputedly banned from the barrack rooms. Skibbereen and the not so well known Three Flowers are both sung in a sensitive and beautiful manner - you can sense in his singing his yearning for an Ireland free of the troubles. Try to keep in focus the non-sectarian depth of thought of both these songs.
I feel through the whole of his performance that Freddy is thinking deeper things than he is saying, and for all his seventy-odd years there is no loss of professionalism or ability. I believe that this tape will make you laugh, then think, and finally admire this wonderful artist - Freddy McKay
Vic Legg - 18.8.98