Perhaps he knew he was on the way out ... hence all the recollecing and myth making!!
The Yellow Bittern: The Life and Times of Liam Clancy.
2 DVD set.
Liam Clancy is long overdue recognition for his part in the Folk Revival, and more generally for being a stalwart and carrier of the flame for the folk tradition. It is no surprise, therefore, that this keenly anticipated two hour documentary has been quickly taken from the big screen to a nicely packaged two DVD set (and RTE TV Special). The only disappointment is that the package itself is pretty thin on the ground, both in terms of the documentary and the bonuses. There is no getting away from the fact that for fans of this artist and his music, this documentary is a slow moving and solemn homage to a band rather than a man. Whilst Clancy himself appears to be involved in the process of creating his own contrived myth.
Clancy is our compère for the entire show, sitting at a chair in the centre of bare studio. He hosts the evening’s journey of reminiscences as the only surviving member of the troupe, The Clancy Brothers. Unfortunately in presenting he comes across as egotistical and self serving, which for anyone who has meet or even seen him live he is not. This show seems to be geared at an American audience playing up to the rural ‘Oirish’ simple lads making it big across the pond. What also shows is just how much the Clancy’s were successful in America long before they made it big across this side of the Atlantic.
The recurring themes of sanity (and insanity) in the film are interesting and help to give this documentary the feel of a modern horror film rather than a musical biopic. Indeed the director (Alan Gilsenan) has edited this together as a montage of shots alongside some ‘real’ footage. With Clancy retracing his steps after a 50 year absence in the US treating us to some frank monologues about his life along the way. Indeed, he tries to self-psychoanalyse everything including his childhood. But the documentary itself doesn’t cover all Clancy’s personal life in the same detail – nor should it – but as a music show it does miss the musical period of his life. It does show how drink fuelled the lifestyle was for a few years and this section of the documentary was interestingly pursued. Yet segments such as the bands history are not explored and sometimes only covered in on-screen sentences!
The focus is very much upon The Clancy Brothers rather than what it purports to be ‘The life and times of Liam Clancy’, who went on to other (possibly better) things. There is no attempt to cover the shift from the band to his solo efforts from the 60’s onwards. A few track selections are highlighted, but the focus of this documentary is very much on the climax of the Clancy reunion in 1984.
Also – despite what the sleeve implies, other than a very brief cameo from Bob Dylan recorded in the 80’s there is no interview footage from musical contemporaries in the documentary itself. These are all held over for the light weight second disc.
Miraculously, and perhaps interestingly, it doesn’t even explore Clancy’s relationship with Dylan, and only briefly mentions the overwhelming influence of Josh White.
Not a music documentary, more a piece of art. As a piece of art I am not sure I liked it! Therefore it is not really a must but for fans looking to get inside head of Liam Clancy as a Clancy brother rather than Liam Clancy the musician this may be interesting.