Anthony John Clarke,
Man with a Red Guitar
(Terra Nova, 1999)

Every few months, if you are lucky, you find a gem of a record as you browse the racks. My latest gold nugget is this CD. I had previously heard a track by Anthony John Clarke on a compilation album some years ago and I found his lyrics and singing to my liking. This CD confirms all the good things I felt. In 13 tracks there not a single dud.

Clarke has the ability to combine humour with very strong feelings of loss and deprivation. "Blame It on Dolores" is a chirpy song which claims, as he says in the notes, it is better to blame someone than to kick the cat when things go wrong.

Although I can find out little about this writer, I assume that he hails from Northern Ireland from the number of songs dealing with that land and the conflict. Two tracks in particular on this CD reflect on the Troubles. I love the one titled "The Broken Years." Like the Tommy Sands classic "There Were Roses," it says more and does it more eloquently than a score of albums by groups like the Wolfe Tones. In this song he simply repeats the dreams of so many:

"I want to eat at the same table
I want to eat the same bread
I want to sing the same songs
I want to say the same prayers."

He is true Celtic folksinger in his take on the social aspects of life. Much as the old Celtic songwriters sang of famine and emigration, he points out our modern curses. No song that I have encountered in recent times has brought the scourge of the homeless to my mind like "The Only Life Gloria Knows." Like any such song it paints the sadness of life for a homeless person but this one hits the nail on the head with a possible cause of the problem:

"There's trouble in life between husband and wife
And bad days can bring you down
But be sure you know where the little ones go
And always have enough love to go round."

This song could be the sermon or homily at any church service but it wins because it is also a great sound.

In a lighter vein he recalls the days of "shoo wap" and old vinyl LPs in a song about love lost called "You Never Know What You've Got Till It's Gone." In this he manages to name almost every LP in the collection of a music fan over 40 years. They range from Bono to Doris Day and will be a nostalgic list for anyone over 30.

Clarke sings of a modern Ireland while retaining a not too nostalgic eye on the past on this CD. In the final track, "Thirty Years On," he sings of the Ireland of the tourist as they "buy up holy water and the forty shades of green" but the final lines could describe this CD:

"I need a mother now to talk to, but sadly she is gone
And a band that plays so beautifully
All those beautiful songs."

This CD may be hard to find but like all precious gems it is worth the effort.

[ by Nicky Rossiter ]
Rambles: 4 May 2002

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