Alex Massie

Ronnie Drew, RIP

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The Foggy Dew should be busy tonight. Mind you, so should all the other pubs in Dublin. There'll be more cause than usual for singing now that one hears the sad news of Ronnie Drew's death. The Telegraph obituary puts the appeal of The Dubliners quite well:

The Dubliners achieved fame and notoriety as singers of street ballads and bawdy songs, and as players of fine instrumental traditional music. Their emergence coincided with the British folk revival of the early 1960s, and they were one of the first folk bands to break into the pop charts.

In Ireland their closest rivals were the Clancy Brothers. The American roots music magazine Dirty Linen described the difference between the two groups as follows: "Whereas the Clancys were well-scrubbed returned Yanks from rural Tipperary, decked out in matching white Arran sweaters, the Dubliners were hard-drinking backstreet Dublin scrappers with unkempt hair and bushy beards, whose gigs seemed to happen by accident between fist fights."

There was more to the Dubliners, however, than a colourful image. Reviewing their 1971 album Hometown in this newspaper, Maurice Rosenbaum wrote: "[They] have consistently held their position in the upper brackets of the folk league by virtue of their art, their skill and their folk integrity – in other words the kind of 'professionalism' that is superbly worthwhile."

Drew's distinctive voice has been compared to a rickety bass and a cement mixer. Influenced by Dominic Behan, he sang in an uncompromising Dublin accent, and this was central to the group's success in attracting a strong hometown following.

But, really, the man can sing for himself. And as he says, they really were some rare old times...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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