I first heard about Mellow Candle from the late, great rock and roll writer, Bill Graham. I recall his enthusiasm for their album Swaddling Songs, and the fact that this unusual band seemed to belong to an ancient period in Irish folk rock.
Yet at the time it was probably no more than 10 years since Swaddling Songs had been recorded, in 1972. And now it has been rediscovered in a serious way by aficionadoes of the present day – indeed the copy of the album Bill was talking about was probably an original pressing that would now be worth a few thousand quid.
The story of Mellow Candle was told in The Lyric Feature (Lyric FM, Sunday, 6pm) by Cathal Funge, and it is a marvellous story, with a sad ending back in the 1970s, but with a joyful sense of revival in the fullness of time. For enabling important work like this to be made, Lyric FM justifies its existence over and over.
Originally the band consisted of two teenage girls in south Dublin, Alison O’Donnell and Clodagh Simonds. The writer Pete Paphides spoke in awe of the fact that one of the songs, ‘Lonely Man’, was written by Clodagh when she was 12.
He described the “visionary state” they must’ve been in, “when you’re younger, and what you don’t know makes you fearless”. It’s a window that’s open for a short period of time, when artists such as these or Kate Bush “allow themselves to surrender” to this poetic vision.
As Alison and Clodagh themselves acknowledged: “By the time you’re 20, it’s gone.”
Back in 1972 they had been joined by Dave Williams, Frank Boylan and William Murray, and with their folk rock were supporting Thin Lizzy at the National Stadium. Funge reminded us that 1972 was also the year Lizzy had a huge hit with ‘Whiskey in the Jar’, Christy Moore recorded Prosperous, and Horslips did Happy to Meet – Sorry to Part.
Indeed the seminal nature of 1972 in Irish culture can be measured by the fact Lizzy are now being covered by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, while Barry Devlin, Jim Lockhart and Eamon Carr of said Horslips, along with Paul Brady, recently contributed to a fine album by Paddy Goodwin, The Church of the Here and Now.
More than 50 years after they started, they were featuring on a record that was Marty Whelan’s (Lyric FM, weekdays, 7am) album of the week.
But these are legends, known to all, whereas Mellow Candle were quickly extinguished. The music business was particularly brutal to them, with their English record label letting them down horribly in terms of promotion or any meaningful support.
They also had trouble getting gigs, because they were regarded as too loud for the folk clubs and too quiet for the rock clubs.
The break-up of the band was so devastating for Clodagh and Alison they put as much physical distance as they could between themselves and what had happened, getting “as far away as possible from the scene of our dream crashing”.
The best solution is for Irish broadcasters to have complaints about “undocumented” asylum seekers followed by interviews with “undocumented” Irish immigrants in America
Then, wondrously, a new generation of collectors were finding Swaddling Songs in second-hand racks. Inexplicably, the first stirrings seemed to come from Japan.
On BBC Radio 6’s Peel Acres, Kieran Hebden discovered the album in the late John Peel’s vast collection. Now there’s this documentary – and a growing sense that there is some justice in the world.
Justice is elusive too, when the media is covering the anti-immigrant protests. We are now entering that zone in which broadcasters need to be acutely aware that the “facts” and the truth can be different things. A Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays, 9am) piece on asylum seekers by reporter Barry Whyte had been trending on Twitter, not in a good way, and was repeated last Monday in a highlights show.
Reporter Whyte found almost 40pc of asylum seekers who arrive in Ireland have false or no documentation. Later there was an acknowledgment that if you’re fleeing, say, Afghanistan, the Taliban are hardly going to stamp your papers, are they?
So an apparently straight “fact” – the “40pc” – is perhaps not as enlightening as it seems. As for our old friend “balance”, it struck me that the best solution is for Irish broadcasters to have complaints about “undocumented” asylum seekers followed by interviews of equal length with “undocumented” Irish immigrants in America.
We’ve been there…