Pete St. John,
James Joyce Lives On
(Torc, 2004)

This is the centenary year of the setting of James Joyce's Ulysses, seen by many as the greatest novel of the 20th century. Like many great works, we have heard of it, we feel that we may know it but few of us have read it and even fewer can understand it. Thankfully, another great Dublin writer has produced this "everyman" guide to Joyce, his works and his Dublin. Pete St John is a writer of renown more in the music realm than literature, although he has produced some excellent books.

This release is in two parts on separate CDs. The first brings us the fictional Gargler Keogh, a man who loves his pint almost as much as he loves Dublin. He takes it upon himself to guide some stranded tourists on a Joycean tour of the city. On the way he gives us a humorous biography of Joyce and explains the works of the genius for the less enlightened and educated. As he points out there are scholars making a living out of explaining Joyce to other scholars. On the tour, you will hear the Dublin wit, experience Dublin in 1904 and get some excellent short pieces of "parlour music" of that era from Tony Malone. His delivery of pieces like "I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls" and "There is a Flower," among others, helps this album to give a real "I was there" feel.

On the second CD Gargler brings us his selection of Dublin pub songs. There is some revealing and witty chat introducing the tracks by some of Ireland's top folk performers. Many of these are from the pen of Pete St. John, a.k.a. Gargler. It opens with "Rare Ould Times" to set the scene. He then introduces classics like "The Ferryman" and "Ringsend Rose," performed by the Dublin City Ramblers.

I particularly enjoyed the true Dublin set of "Waxy's Dargle," "Charladies Ball" and "Dicey Reilly" after hearing Gargler explain the background. Listen closely to "Charladies Ball" for a social history of old Dublin.

Paddy Reilly performs a great rendition of "Tram Workers" in a set recalling social conditions, and Johnny McEvoy gives a stirring version of "Nora" from O'Casey's "Plough & the Stars."

This album is an ideal introduction to the music of Dublin, the genius of Joyce, the wit of Ireland and the writing talent of Pete St. John ... and it is easier to digest than Ulysses.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 9 October 2004