Copperfield an t-amhra/n Eireannach a chan Rosa Dartle cor ad cor loquitor, i gca/s na filiochta agus an cheoil. Is fada a bhionn an fe/ar ag fa/s agus is gearr a bhionn an spealado/ir a/ bhaint! Ta/ Joe Cooley imithe uainn. Ta/ su/il agam go bhfaighe a chairde so/la/s sa mhe/id is go bhfuil cuid da/ cheol ar an gceirnin seo; agus go bhfaighe na milte eile nach raibh se/ d'a/dh orthu e/ fheiscint ag seinm i measc a mhuintire fe/in sna ta/bhairni/ no/ cois na tine istoiche, le/argas ar an bhrea/thnacht mar cheolto/ir. cothaiodh an marbh an beo !
There is a note in my diary dated December 21, 1973, recording a telephone call which I received at 1.30 a.m. from a Dublin City hospital, telling me that the man whose music you will hear on this record, Joe Cooley, had just died there. Here was a man who had for 25 years moved people by his music, and his followers stretched from his native Peterswell in South County Galway to the hippy communes of San Francisco. It is to all those who loved his music, and to you, listener, who may not have heard him, that we bring this record. Listen for his strong, lonely sound, for it is a heartbeat of the past. November 29, 1973, was a wet dreary Thursday, but Lahiff's Bar in the village of Peterswell was thronged. Gathered from the nooks and corners of counties Clare and Galway were old friends of Cooley - people who had followed the wild call of his music through many a night down the years. They felt in their hearts that this was to be the last great blast of ceol with Joe. They were right. I had arranged with RTE that a film crew be there, so that our people in times to come would know what he looked like, how he smiled, and what great heart there was in his music. In an atmosphere charged with excitement, and the sorrow just under the surface, Cooley played for his friends, while those who couldn't get in pressed their faces to the dripping November window panes. His brother Jack played the bodhra/n with him, and Des Mulkere the banjo. The first 8 tunes here were recorded that Novem- ber evening. They are linked by snatches of Joe's voice looking back on twenty years in America. The whirr of the camera motor under his voice lends a strain of sadness to this whole piece - between the excitement and vigour that ran through all his tunes, it seems to underline the passing of the short time that was left for him to live. It turned out to be 3 weeks and he died 4 days before Christmas, aged 49. "The Wise Maid" is first. Joe had a great gra/ for this tune since his return from San Francisco in June 1972, and played it for set dancers up and down counties Galway and Clare. Joe probably got from the great travelling fiddle player of the North - Johnny Simey Doherty of Donegal. Cooley had the love and respect for him that great musicians often have for each other and he plays this reel with fire and vigour. He follows it with "Last Night's Fun," and this tune shows the concentrated power which Cooley always infused into his music making. This dance tune spans his 25 years playing, from the late 40's in Dublin with the late Sonny Brogan, Bill Harte and Johnny Doran to his last year playing for set dancers in tiny pubs in out-of-the-way corners of Galway and Clare - Tubber, Gort, Killameena, Tulla. This kind of sound, in this kind of style, is to be heard but rarely. The double jig - "Daniel O'Connell" - which follows brings vividly to mind Cooley's last day playing. It was in Kelly's Bar, in Gort that a small number of people had gathered on a Sunday midday to hear Joe. Des Mulkere and myself helped him to flake out the old mountain reels, and as the two o'clock closing hour drew on, a number of young musicians made their way in from Galway where they had given a concert the night before - there was Triona Ni Dhomhnaill, a traditional singer of twenty-one, Paddy Glackin, a young fiddle player, and others... if you should by chance ever meet them you might detect a lonesome, strong note in their playing; Cooley touched them that day. The last tune he played that day was "Daniel O'Connell," but his rendering of it here was recorded that last Thursday in Peterswell. It's very good. "The Boys of the Lough" is one of our best traditional music groups; it's also the name of one of our big reels, bringing to mind the legendary Sligo fiddle master of the 1940's, Michael Coleman. Like most music makers of his time, Cooley was influenced by the magic that Coleman brought out of a tune, but Joe was one of the few able to add a draiocht all of his own. His many followers will be happy to hear him play this one, and the reel that follows, "Miss Monaghan." As in the previous three reels, Des Mulkere's banjo and Jack Cooley's (Joe's brother) bodhra/n playing adds warmth and excitement to the music. Again - reels, called "Crowley's." And again they bring Michael Coleman of Sligo to mind. The glorious music he bequeathed us on old 78' records travelled from New York back to his native country, and spread. Cooley was well known for his tender yet strong rendering of these reels during his best years, 1949 to 1953, and though his playing here has none of the fire of those years, the spark and the spirit remain.... The last reel recorded at this session "The New Custom House" brings me back to my early schooldays, when first Joe came to our house in the Turnpike in Ennis to play. He charmed my parents, family and neighbours with tunes like this one, which he played with great taste and discernment. You'll notice, if you listen closely here, how his strength ebbs; indeed the short recording session had weakened him considerably, and we stopped recording after this reel. It concluded this last session, and for the rest of our material we go back in time, a year, seven years and twelve years to Dublin, Chicago and San Francisco. It was by sheer accident that Cooley came to the Trapper's Inn outside Galway on July 25, 1972, and all the credit is due to Des Mulkere, aforementioned, for taking him there. It was a warm summer's evening, and a crowd of traditional musicians had gathered to record an RTE programme called BINNEAS with me. Shortly before closing time Joe and Des got up to play, and started off with "The Blackthorn." This was another of his favourite reels and Mulkere's introduction lends atmosphere to the music. Both played very well indeed, and this tune will be a delight to all those who were ever captivated by the magic of Cooley. You can feel in this reel the forceful "logic" which seemed always to run through his music, adding another dimension of meaning to his sensitive note-making, and his few words about the Flanagan brothers, traditional players of an older generation, show his affection for the people who inspired him. Next came "The Boyne Hunt," another reel which Joe had been playing since the best days of the Tulla Ceili Band in the early fifties. Added to all other qualities of his music was the rugged structure of his reel playing, which put life and fire into old and young who set-danced to his music. The title of this reel in no way indicates any association with the River Boyne, or hunting in Co. Meath; like most of our traditional dance tunes, titles are for reference only, and already more than one tune is having its name changed - "The Morning Dew," for instance, is of late being called "Cooley's Reel" by many. Brings us back to 1963. Joe was home on a short holiday and Ciara/n MacMathu/na had gathered into Bridie Lafferty's front room in Home Farm Road in Dublin some of Joe's musician friends, among them the fiddle player Joe Leary. The two Joes had played all over Clare and Galway in the early fifties, travelling dusty, icy or rainy roads on a motorcycle, the fiddle slung over Cooley's back, the accordeon tied to the fuel tank. They got together, and with Bridie Lafferty on piano, they played the night through. Side two of this album opens with 4 selections recorded that night. "The Humours of Tulla," "The Skylark" and "Roaring Mary" - three reels - are first. You may notice here that Joe is playing a different accordeon - the old instrument he had before emigrating in 1953. It had lain in John Reid's house in Ennis during those years and Joe played it during this stay. Bought sometime in the late forties it had a shrill, distinctive and "old" sound - nothing at all like the hateful sounding modern accordeon. These three reels flow easily and naturally into one another, and Joe loved to play them together. "The Bucks of Oranmore" is a 5-part reel, and again he's accompanied by piano. Today, most accordion players have this tune, but Cooley was one of the first to make music on melodeon or accordion. He had the very best of teachers: he often told me how he would sit in Johnny Doran's caravan in Dublin listening, learning and playing, or inside the door of John Kelly's shop in 85 Capel Street, swopping tunes and settings of tunes. He learned his music well, very well. Two double jigs follow - "The Queen of the Fair" and "The Carraroe Jig"; fiddle and piano are again with him here. Both these tunes show the fully independent style of box playing Cooley had developed, especially the first which is a three part jig. As well as the people mentioned above, Joe was also influenced, during his short stay in Dublin at the end of the forties, by two great music makers of that city, Sonny Brogan and Bill Harte, R.I.P. These men had first played Irish music competently on the single row melodeon, and later on the double row button accordeon. Joe learned much from them - how to make tasteful gracenotes, how to embellish a tune without ruining it, as well as tunes from all parts of Ireland. Indeed, whenever I pass under the iron bridge across Jones' Road in Dublin, I think of Joe's account of how the three of them had stopped to play a tune underneath, on their way home after a night's music. "There was the iron echo of the lovely music in the stillness of the night." All three of them told me of this as if it had held some special meaning for them.... Above all other tunes, the reel "My Love She's in America" reminds me of Joe. It was ideally suited to his style of playing and the long B flat note he makes in the first part has the same wild and haunted call in it that Johnny Doran had in his piping of that tune. Whether or not this music was made in the black famine times of death and the living death of emigration, nobody knows, but it has in and around its beautiful notes the lonesome cry of our people of those not too-long gone times. Cooley had that soul in his music. On emigrating to America in 1954, he brought with him a new accordion presented to him by his friends in Co. Clare. He plays the next reel - "Farrel O'Gara" - on this box, slightly out of tune after eight years of hard work. This recording, and the three which follow were made by Ciara/n MacMathu/na in Chicago in 1962, when he went there to record the music of Irish exiles. His playing here isn't quite up to his usual standard but any recording of Joe Cooley is very valuable indeed. Joe had a Ceili Band on the road in Chicago; the next reel, "The Ships are Sailing," is important - brief though it is, in that we get an idea of the great vigour and power of Cooley's playing, soaring above the other players. He was obviously in very good form when this was recorded, and playing for a set I would say, to judge by the sudden stop as he changes into another favourite reel of his, "George White's Favourite." Though "The Ships are Sailing" is only just over a minute in duration, it's one of the tunes I like best on this record as it brings Cooley's music back to life for me, fleetingly. Again, Joe Cooley's Ceili Band in Chicago, with "Dowd's Number Nine" - a reel. You'll hear Joe's brother Seamus here; he also emigrated to America, where he still lives and plays. A noted flute player, many people will be glad to have this recording of the brothers Cooley playing a reel which is so much identified with them. Joe Cooley was a very kind man, and particularly indulgent of other musicians. Unfortunately, he is accompanied on this second last tune by a piano player who seems to know only one chord. As with Michael Coleman and many other great traditional players in America, he is for a minute and a quarter here the victim of a tasteless piano driver, gladly absent in other tunes. And so to the last tune - "The Sailor on the Rock," recorded that summer's evening in July 1972 in Galway, with Des Mulkere on banjo. There is so much to be said about this reel, and the way Joe plays it: how he always seemed to put an extra power and drive behind it, how much he loved to play it, and what unique soul and feeling he could give it. When you play this track listen between the notes for the great heart that was in this man's music. I dearly hope it will touch you, as it did me and so many, many others.... TONY MacMAHON