Cooley - sleeve-notes by Tony MacMahon.

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


Return to my Irish box page.
or go
back to my Personal Page
(Modified: Thu Dec 16 15:50pm by han / H.Speek@hccnet.nl).