2) Come Back To Erin
3) The Minstrel Boy
4) My Lagan Love
5) Dear Little Shamrock
6) Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young
7) Mother Machree
8) The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls
9) Where The River Shannon Flows
10) Molly Brannigan
11) The Foggy Dew
12) The Low Backed Car
13) My Wild Irish Rose
14) It’s a Long Way To Tipperary
15) Ireland, My Sireland
16) That Tubledown Shack in Athlone
17) Sweet Peggy O’Neill
18) The Barefoot Trail
19) The Next Market Day
20) A Ballynure Ballad
21) Little Town in The Old County Down
are certain songs many people never forget
and Irish Ballads are some of the most unforgettable.
John McCormack reminds us on this disc of
how at the beginning of the 20th century they
were really sung. John Francis McCormack was
of Scots-Irish extraction, born in 1884 in
Athlone, his father a wool-mill worker. John
was a bright child and in 1902, despite parental
opposition, had a burning ambition to become
a singer. Through friends he was introduced
to his mentor Vincent O’Brian, the conductor
of Dublin’s Palestrina Choir. He coached the
raw McCormack and in May 1903 he won a Gold
Medal at the Feis Ceoil Irish Music Festival.
1905 funds were raised for this now handsome,
dark-haired young man with the heartbreaking
eyes to undertake further study in Milan with
Vincenzo Sabatini. First in London in September
1904 he had made his first recordings. These
were cylinders for Edison followed a week
later by discs for Fred Gaisbergs’s Gramophone
Company. He recorded Irish songs, of course.
His first forays into opera were in Italy
in 1906 but they offered the young tenor no
sure way to stardom. It was in London at Convent
Garden that he made his debut and final recognition
of his talent came in October 1907 where he
was partnered in many shows with famous names
of the day. His reputation as an operatic
singer tenor was high but his acting was indifferent
and his career in opera was virtually over
by 1914. He had made his American debut in
1909 and acclimatised quickly to life in the
USA having already perceived the concert platform
as a more lucrative medium. There was, after
all, a vast resident Irish audience wanting
to hear songs of the Old Country. From his
first recording session for the Victor Company
in 1910 John was hailed as a master balladeer.
like so many of these recordings, was made
with the ubiquitous "studio orchestra"
in Camden in London in 1910. It took me a
few minutes before I realised I was going
to hear Irish Ballads sang as they have never
been since that time and needed to adjust
my idea of hearing a familiar song in what
is now an unfamiliar way. Once I had done
so I started to enjoy the experience and I
hope you will too. So many people know "Killarney"
and McCormack’s voice is a real delight. He
appears to sing in the same measured tone
throughout, and yet the distinction is there
as he sings of the beautiful Killarney . You
will at once appreciate hearing his elegant
phrasing, and outstanding diction with remarkable
breath support in all the other recordings.
No wonder he made his mark so young. What
could be more appropriate to follow than the
delightful "Come Back To Erin" recorded
in February 1910 also in Camden. McCormack
sings in the same easy, lazy way but never
are you unaware of a lush quality in his delivery,
of how he is appealing and yearning for his
darling to come back to Erin. I was impressed
by the studio orchestra here especially the
fine short introduction and then all through
this lovely Irish air how they appear to be
in complete accord with McCormack, who never
time fails to sing in that soothing and velvety
voice. Next from these 1910 sessions is "The
Minstrel Boy". It was said that McCormack’s
secret of his hold on the public was his sincerity.
On listening to this I can believe it. Not
an easy recording to hear all the words, but
that doesn’t matter too much as it is pure
joy to hear how McCormack lovingly embraces
every note by using every one with a slightly
different inflection so making this very lovely
Irish ballad sound as it was meant to be.
I am sure you will agree this song will never
be sung again with such tenderness and feeling.
March the same year we find McCormack in New
York where he records for Victor "My
Lagan Love" . This is an old Irish Air
from a 1909 cycle of three Ulster Folk songs
and arranged by Sir Hamilton Harty. This is
one of the few Irish songs I have heard McCormack
sing where I found nothing to impress me.
I listened several times but I think it lacks
some spark that most Irish Ballads have. What
a difference his next recording proved to
be, though. Back in London in April 1910 he
recorded the much-loved "Dear Little
Shamrock". I was certainly conscious
of a slight lump in my throat as I listened
to words so clearly and eloquently sung from
the heart. The studio orchestra play admirably
and this is one of the gems on the disc.
in New York March 1911 he recorded for Victor
another sentimental Irish song "Believe
Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms".
Such a lovely old song and as McCormack sings
it you know he is passionately asking you
to believe in those endearing charms, and
you do. His pure clear voice rises and falls
and while you listen you wonder how he manages
to control his breathing. But he does and
every word is pure gold. This is a number
that should never be hurried, meant to be
sweet and soft, and that’s what you have here.
Next from this session is "Mother Machree".
He sings of the memory of a Mother who has
silvery hair, brown marks and wrinkles of
age, and with real emotion in his voice sings
"God Bless You and Keep You Mother Machree."
He sings this age old song in a voice that
never loses its fluency.
in London in April 1912 we have "The
Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls"
a delightful old song of ancient Ireland.
I loved it and McCormack sings it in a jovial
manner as you could imagine a crowd of children
would sing it. You know he loves what he is
singing, and you hear how he can adjust his
voice to whatever type of music it is. Maybe
you will have some difficulty making out the
words again but McCormack’s voice will be
enough. What better to follow than "Where
the River Shannon Flows" , another sentimental
love song McCormack recorded in London January
1913. He sings of how his heart is breaking
as he leaves his little Irish rose down by
the River Shannon. He sings a tender, romantic
story without effort in the way we have become
accustomed to hearing. It never matters if
you ignore all the words, because the pleasure
is listening to McCormack’s unique voice which
will persuade you into thinking he means every
word and his voice will tell you how he feels
in his heart.
following three songs are traditional ones
recorded in London in January 1913, with Spencer
Clay accompanying on the piano and the studio
orchestra in the background. The first is
"Molly Brannigan " followed by "The
Foggy Dew" and "The Low Backed Car".
All of these show how versatile and gifted
a singer McCormack could be. They are typical
Irish comic songs with all the usual humorous
lyrics sung as only the true Irish can with
style and enjoyment and yet in a subtle way.
At times you even feel he is tempting you
to stand up and do a jig.
last recording John McCormack recorded in
London before he left for New York in 1914
was "My Wild Irish Rose" and he
sings as only he can of the sweetest flower
that grows and how nothing could compare.
In New York that same year he recorded "It’s
A Long Way To Tipperary" to back the
war effort and although now aspiring to American
citizenship he was still fond of the old country
that had given him his first break.
recorded "Ireland, My Sireland"
in New York in April 1917 but this is a song
I cannot really decide whether I like or not.
McCormack sings as beautifully as ever, but
the question for me is what is the song really
about? The rest of the songs on the disc were
recorded in London at intervals over three
years. They are all traditional Irish sung
from the heart and you are left in no doubt
he means every word and relishes and loves
to be singing about Ireland whether it be
a sentimental tone, or a humorous one, with
every intention of making you want to dance
too. It’s a case of listening to a man whose
intention is to make you happy.
do recommend this disc. The voice of John
MacCormack is always worth listening to even
at this early stage in his career. The pre-electrical
78s have been transferred beautifully.