From Donegal and Back!
Veteran Tapes VT132
Packie Byrne now lives in retirement in Ardara, County Donegal after many years spent in England, earning his living in a variety of ways over the years, several associated with music and entertainment. He has been steelworker, stand-up comic, saxophone and clarinet player in dance bands, actor, storyteller, drover.... Well, read his fascinating book Recollections Of A Donegal Man (ISBN 0 9514764 0 8) for the complete story. In traditional music circles it is his singing, whistle playing and the compelling geniality of the man that wins everybody's hearts.
During the sixties and seventies he was one of the most popular figures at the height of the folk scene's popularity which is when the recordings that comprise the Veteran Tapes recordings were made., partly by Sean Davies in 1964 and the remainder by Mike Yates (who also recorded Packie's Topic album) in 1976. He was constantly touring for fees that hardly gained him a decent living or reflected the considerable effort that he put into each appearance. His repertoire on the folk scene tended towards the humorous, even the novel or gimmicky (do you remember the two whistles played with the shower mixer tubes?) but his love of the tradition always came through strongly.
When he recorded albums he showed that love. Songs Of A Donegal Man for Topic was just that, with Packie singing the ballads he had learned as a young man. Packie Byrne, the limited issue album for the EFDSS in 1969 was in a similar vein, though that also included some of his whistle playing. Packie also made a couple of albums for Dingles (1977 & 1981) in the popular if unlikely duo with the American harper Bonnie Shaljean.
This cassette for John Howson's Veteran Tapes reflects the way most folk club goers will remember Packie with a wide range of Irish songs, comic songs well to the fore, including Meet An Irishmen, The Shirt My Father Wore, Cod Liver Oil and the part-monologue The Big Ship as well as sentimental pieces like Barnyards and Where Is My Norah? and songs that are firmly rooted in the tradition such as The Highwayman Outwitted, Rambling Irishman and McCafferty. All these are interspersed with tunes on the whistle, the most pleasing of which are the two beautiful slow airs.
For those of us with very fond memories of Packie's club and festival performances, this release reminds us of a different part of Packie's huge repertoire of songs than his previous albums. Packie occupies a unique position in that he can be counted amongst that band of humorous entertainers who made their living in the folk scene at the height of its popularity without compromising his position in traditional music. A comparable figure in the jazz world would be Thomas "Fats" Waller. The jazzers are even more suspicious than the traditional music community and they are pretty sure that anyone who amuses or entertains must have 'sold out'. Yet they all love Fats, just as we all love Packie!
Vic Smith - 18.8.98
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