Monday, June 18, 2007

Tim Dennehy's Old Boots and Flying Sandals

All text copyright Ita Kelly (c) 2007

Old Boots and Flying Sandals marks yet another creative chapter in the life of traditional singer and songwriter Tim Dennehy. This is his sixth album of songs and is the first collection entirely of his own material. Tim has been writing songs and setting poems to music for many years and with each album we are treated to some new material from his own pen. ‘Old Boots and Flying Sandals’ brings together these songs and favourite poems in a well chosen compilation. Many of the songs will be familiar, some have been re recorded with new arrangements, and some are entirely new.

“I was asked on many occasions to put the original stuff together” says Tim. “That’s what spurred me. It’s kind of a marker. This album will be a way to give my own songs a stage and a forum because I’ve never really pushed that aspect. I’ve been very privileged when some people have recorded them, but I have been slow to send them off to people and shy about it too. I’d like the songs to be developed and discovered in their own way.”

‘Farewell to Pripyat’ is one of Tim’s best known compositions. Written in April 1987, on the first anniversary of the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster, it was recorded by Christy Moore and as a result was performed all over the world including in countries close to where the disaster happened. “I’m very pleased” says Tim, “because it is one of songs I’ve written outside my own experience. I have never been to Chernobyl but I was very touched by the whole thing. Christy got a tremendous reaction to the song so I was very glad it travelled to countries affected by it.”

From setting poems to music to writing complete songs of his own, Tim’s song writing has developed over the years. “I suppose it goes back to Sigerson Clifford’s ‘Ballad of the Tinker’s Daughter’” he says. “I saw it for the first time and I decided to put an air to it, that at least was one step toward writing my own songs, putting an air to his and to a couple of other poems. The poetry has been very central to my song writing and it’s very strong on this album as well.”

Growing up in South Kerry, Tim was most influenced by his parents who were song lovers and singers. His mother sang as she went about the house every day. She came from Cill Rialaig, and her father Padraig Kelly was one of the oldest voices recorded in the Iveragh peninsula. Tim was born in Ballinskelligs and later, the family moved to Caherciveen. His childhood memories are encapsulated in his songs .The title track of this album ‘Old Boots and Flying Sandals’ is a soundscape of memory. “I still remember vividly getting up in the morning and hearing all these farm sounds,” says Tim. “I remember my father and the mushrooms being cooked in the morning in June. You’d wake up and get this aroma of mushrooms and he’d be going out to work.” Tim was inspired to write this song and got the title from a line in a Patrick Kavanagh poem called ‘The Long Garden’. “It’s a young person trying to capture how he saw life as a young boy in South Kerry in the 1950s. I think without the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh the song might never have happened” says Tim.

Many of Tim’s songs are very personal, “I particularly associate some of the songs with when there were changes in my life because change can affect you in an odd sort of way, and we were moving from Dublin to Clare, having thought about it for a number of years. Our children were growing up and the earlier songs you will find on the first two albums were associated around that time in the early 80s. ‘Keep in Touch’ was one of the earliest.” Tim describes the song as one of hope and friendship, inspired by a poem of the same name written by Brendan Kennelly. It remains one of Tim’s most popular songs.

‘Sceilig Mhicil’ was written in those early days as well following one of many trips back to the Skeilig Rock. Tim had left Kerry to go to training college in Dublin and later to work there. He was very active musically and was one of the founders of the Góilín Singers club. The club brought him back to singing and this led to him returning to Kerry more often. In the summers he would visit Skeilig Rock several times. “It was my sort of return journey to Kerry” he says.

The Góilín opened up a whole world of singing and listening and although it wasn’t a strong part of the club, there was an element of song writing there. “Liam Weldon would have been the big songwriter for us that time. He was a great wordsmith, and he was a great traditional singer as well. Barry Gleeson was beginning his song writing. He was very good with words as well.”

“In my memory today there were much more traditional songs, so the song writing came from a personal impulse. Tim still doesn’t regard himself as a songwriter in the sense of getting up on any regular basis and sitting down and writing a song – “That’s not how I work. They come through a reaction or an impulse to a certain thing that may or may not be already there. Very often they’re very personal. I regard myself much more as a traditional singer in the Irish and English language. The song writing is a very important facet of my life and I’m very privileged in a way to be able to write and to have written and to be able to share these with people.”

Tim doesn’t write according to any rules or particular method. Snatches of words, a snippet of melody will start the process. He might find himself driving and singing and at journey’s end write down a verse or two. He gives time to his song making and feels that because he doesn’t tour extensively he has the time and energy to put into this creativity.

“I find I have some empathy with the theme of the song and often they’re very personal, so I suppose central to this album is the family then. There’s the song to my mother, a thank you song and a reminisce. ‘The Parted Years’ – once you get the idea for a song like that, it’s not that difficult, because the living of those years is still there like yesterday to me.

’The Memorial’ is a lot sadder. Pat my brother was only seventeen when he died. Once you get over the sadness, there’s the days of being together, the sharing even though it was a brief few years.”

The environment and nature are also themes close to Tim’s heart. Like ‘Sceilig Mhichil’, ‘The Cry of the Mountain’ is a song born of passion, peace and prayerfulness. It was written after a day on Mullaghmore Mountain in the Burren, Co. Clare. “I regard these places as genuine holy places” says Tim, “a place that is quite sacred. When I sit in these places and let them breathe through me and breathe over me, when I go away from them that aspect is still there.”

The opening track on ‘Old Boots and Flying Sandals’ is ‘Leaba Síoda’ a poem of Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill’s set to music. The idea for the poem came about when Nuala was hitching from Galway to Dingle and on the road in Clare saw a sign for Labasheedy and underneath the name in Irish which could have two meanings, the Grave of Síoda or the Bed of Silk – which was it? By the time Nuala got to Kerry the poem was shaped in her mind. Tim got together with Garry O’Briain to compose the music for the poem. Garry also recorded and mixed the album as well as being producer with Tim. Playing guitars, mandocello and keyboards on the album, he is joined by some exceptional musicians, Nollaig Ní Chathasaigh and Jesse Smith on fiddle and viola, Liz Johnson on cello, Josephine Marsh on accordions and Áine Derrane on harmony vocals.

It’s impossible to give a run down on all the songs on the album – numbering sixteen in all, it is a journey through the beautiful settings of the poetry of Percy B. Shelley (‘To Jane’) , Patrick McDonagh (‘Be Still as you are Beautiful’) and James Fenton ‘I Know what I’m missing’ to the poignant ‘Scarúint’, a homage to the late Junior Crehan, long time friend and neighbour of Tim’s since his move to Co. Clare in the 1980s.

Tim’s love of performance takes him festivals where he sometimes also hosts workshops in singing and song writing.

In the coming months Tim will be performing at the Willie Clancy Summer School, the Catskills Irish Arts Festival, the Augusta Irish Arts week, Caherciveen Celtic Music Festival, Feakle Traditional Festival and Éigse Mrs. Crotty. ‘Old Boots and Flying Sandals’ is available through Claddagh Records and Tim’s website is at

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