A member of an acclaimed Irish folk-singing group (The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem) creates a crisp, sprightly chronicle of his impoverished childhood and his rise to prominence during the hootenanny era of the late 1950s and early ’60s.
Clancy remembers a WWII childhood with days so cold that ice formed in the chamber pots and meals were so lean for the 10 children that he sometimes ate mortar from the chimney. Although Clancy was a shy boy (the nuns in school terrified him), and although his father wanted him to go into the insurance business (a brief tenure in the profession cured Clancy of that notion), the young man fell in love with poetry and drama and the cinema. He eventually earned a small part in a play starring Cyril Cusak, who told Clancy to drop the name “William” and go by the more exotic “Liam.” Clancy’s life changed when some collectors of folk songs arrived in Ireland in 1955. He joined them, met his life-long friend Tommy Makem in the process, and began his love affair with Irish music that endures to this day. He eventually went to the US, where he met and socialized with the young (and old) lions of folk music: Josh White, Jean Ritchie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, the Kingston Trio, and many others. He had an uncomfortable relationship with Diane Hamilton (a Guggenheim), who supported him financially but offered a romance he could not reciprocate. After some experiences acting, Clancy, two of his brothers and friend Tommy Makem began singing traditional Irish songs and caught lightning in a bottle. The memoir ends in 1961 as Dame Fame arrives for a lengthy sojourn: “We’re fuckin’ famous!” cries brother Tom after an appearance with Ed Sullivan. But Clancy does not always struggle sufficiently against the obvious (“Life is never the same after such an experience,” he writes about the death of his father).
Still: Often wry, always witty—a fascinating glimpse of the Big Bang in folk music.