Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Luke Kelly 30 years on

Remembering the power of a voice, the likes of which you’d never heard before

Luke Kelly

Thu, Jan 30, 2014, 09:38


Some experiences are unforgettable. A sittingroom, a record player, an album cover sporting hairy, beardy men with mischief in their eyes and a voice like nothing you’d ever heard before coming from the tinny speaker. It was The Dubliners and Luke Kelly was singing. Here was a voice to stop a young lad in his tracks and turn around. Who the hell was that?

You wonder would the judges on a TV show like The Voice react in the same way to a voice like that. It came with the full deck and looked you straight in the eye. A voice to follow into battle. The authority, the boldness, the passion, the belief, the steadfastness, the heart, the pride, the quiet inherent majesty, the purity, the clarity.

All these years on, Kelly’s voice still has the power to cause a pause. It’s 30 years today since he died and Una Mullally has a piece in today’s paper talking to people, including fellow Dubliner John Sheahan (who also contributes a sonnet in tribute to the singer), looking at his influence.

Of course, there’ll be lots of Kelly today. A 30th anniversary is a big one and the tributes will flow left, right and centre. He’s remembered in strange ways in his native town. For instance, any day I head into town and take the Ballybough road towards Summerhill, I stroll over the Luke Kelly Bridge, but most people don’t even know the bridge exists or where it is. You often feel that the other singing Dubliner Ronnie Drew is probably more fondly recalled in his former manor.

Perhaps it was because Kelly was a different cat who very much followed his own star. Looking through the recollections of those who knew him best or just in passing, it’s clear that Kelly was keen to pursue an artistic vision which didn’t just stick to The Dubliners’ template. He recognised the dangers of reductionism and knew that challenging himself was the only way to go. Like all the best artists, he seemed to be a restless soul.

He left behind a rich legacy and it’s a legacy which, quite rightly, revolves around that voice, what he brought to the songs he sung and how he made them his own. Listen again and again. They don’t make them like this anymore.