By Patrick Maginty
Some new music arrived here on Monday, a compilation 2CD album from 2004 called The legend of Sweeney’s Men. I had ordered it about ten days ago and a few days later I heard the sad news that Shane Macgowan had passed away. That was a strange coincidence because one of Sweeney’s Men was Terry Woods who later became a member of Shane’s band The Pogues. Some of the Sweeney’s songs such as The Waxie’s Dargle were also part of The Pogues repertoire, so you can see that they were a very influential band. I had been meaning to listen to Sweeney’s Men for a long time for various reasons. I first heard of them through my late brother Paul who told me that on various occasions he had two of their members Johnny Moynihan and Henry McCullough play in his pub in County Mayo in the 1990s. Paul got especially friendly with Henry. I remember a famous occasion when they met up at Glastonbury 1999 after Henry played on the acoustic stage.
Another reason I wanted to learn more about this band is because of their association with Anne Briggs who apart from Sandy Denny is my favourite folk singer of all time. For several years in the 60s to the early 70s Anne was Johnny Moynihan’s girlfriend and spent several summers with the band travelling and singing around Ireland. I actually think it is a shame that Anne didn’t join the band and record with them. Johnny wrote Standing On The Shore in 1969 for the album The Tracks of Sweeney. Anne said this about the song, “This song was Johnny Moynihan’s vision. He expresses what he saw so beautifully and sadly and seems to convey this feeling of endless whiteness”. Anne recorded this song two years later for her album The Time Has Come on which Johnny played. Anne also recorded Step Right Up written by Henry. Johnny is famous for having introduced the bouzouki to Irish folk music. Anne learned how to play the bouzouki from him and recorded Living By The Water playing that instrument. There are extensive sleeve notes to this 2CD set expertly written by Colin Harper. He is a wonderful writer about the folk scene in Britain and Ireland. I have one of his books Dazzling Stranger the definitive biography of Bert Jansch.