We made it! (to both our destination and then back to our beloved Perth). We’re all stunned and bewildered by the feats and adventures of our Irish jaunt, and so without further ado, here’s the best of them…
How Not to Travel
If one were preparing to embark on an Important Trip involving a long haul aeroplane flight, the transportation of 120kgs of fragile and expensive baggage, three weeks of performances in unfamiliar venues with equally unfamiliar equipment, and 1500kms driving on roads of mild to severe treacherousness, common sense would dictate that one might be well-rested and schedule an appropriate pre-journey allowance of time for unforeseen contingencies. An alternative to such preparation would be to work oneself to the bone, barely sleep in the days preceding, depart to the airport FROM A GIG , ‘securely’ pack one’s instrument using a steak knife from the pub to fashion a handler-proof package, and quite nearly leave one’s passport at said pub. The Pokers (well, mostly Ben) chose the latter option and proved that common sense is not the only path to success.
The posse arrived in Dublin intact and full of hope with all of their luggage excepting their instruments, which as it happened were in the Middle East. A minor setback, and the intrepid travellers agreed upon staging an a capella concert series. Thankfully for the good people of Ireland the instruments were retrieved and duly delivered. This was indeed also fortunate for our troubadours, as the Broken Pokers Choral Tour would certainly have resulted in their proverbial swan song.
Nollaig Shona! The yuletide spirit did become us in this wondrous place.
(Click on the image to scroll; click the icon in the lower left corner for captions)
Ok, it’s the moon, not the Star of Bethlehem above Mullingar we see pictured here. The editor demands that we return to the 21st century.
Week 1 - The Bucolic Life
If there were ever a place to begin a rural tour of Ireland, it would have to be the locality of Streete, Co. Westmeath, and its wonderful hub, The Fiddlers Green. A row of mobile phones decorated the one windowsill where intermittent reception could be had, and the wifi password at the venue was ‘We have no wifi’. Though warmly welcomed by proprietor Jim, as an Irish trad band made up of two-thirds Australians we were unsure how we’d be received until the place filled up with patrons aged 18-80 and we were asked for the ditty ‘A Home Among the Gum Trees’ as rendered by Australia’s own John Williamson. Streete, you’ve won our hearts.
In contrast, Clarkes Bar in Mullingar had excellent wifi, but by no means did this mean that the hospitality was any less genuine (I seem to have presumed an inverse relationship between internet reception and good times). Owners Kieran and Carole made us very welcome, so much that it became a regular watering hole during our stay. A wonderfully spirited crowd helped us to lift the roof and settle into our new home from home. The singing and dancing provided by the staff of Quality Tractor Parts was exemplary, and bolstered the band with a bit of up-and-at-em spirit for the next adventure, and adventure it most certainly was.
The road to Athboy conjures up many varied memories… “Oh wow there’s so much to look at, picturesque doesn’t even start to AAARGH!! THE GROUND IS FALLING AWAY! WHO PUT THAT CORNER THERE AND FOR WHAT PURPOSE!! I THINK IT’S A MESSAGE!!! COW!!!!!”. And then there’s Alfies where, like the aforementioned road, they don’t do things by halves. At the helm were Aaron and Hazel, casually guiding the chaos with confident grace. The booze was flying, the craic was ninety, and we met a senator from the Oireachtas (the Irish Parliament), so we can only presume that Alfies is the place where big ideas are born. To top it off, Toby was delighted to find out that his stool was to be positioned right by the pokie machine. That boy does love a flutter.
Week 2 - The Ridiculous Itinerary
Our entire strategy for this tour was something along the lines of ‘let’s book tickets to Ireland and then play anywhere that will have us’. We were flooded with suggestions and leads from our friends and fans, and as our calendar filled up we were quite chuffed with ourselves. The idea that the hardest work was over started to seep into our consciousness, especially after the first week of shows which had been relatively forgiving in terms of navigational demands and hours on the road. Accordingly, and with a smart slap from reality, this notion was laid to waste when we plotted the second week’s itinerary, a beast to behold. Steeling ourselves, we aimed the wagon towards destinations far from the haven of Derrick’s home town of Mullingar - the odyssey proper had begun.
In keeping with the rural focus of the tour we landed next at Campbell’s Tavern, situated very much by itself outside of Headford in County Galway. While appearing to be a simple building from the outside, the interior of Campbell’s is a delightfully bewildering maze with surprises round every corner - including a rehearsing choir - and even after many hours spent there we still were getting lost. Host Willie Campbell showed us to our seats and soon after we were met by a roomful of friends old and new for an intimate session, joined by our travel companion/photographer/moral compass Caroline Perks for a rousing rendition or three.
We did promise adventure and chaos, and on this day it came in the form of accommodation and transport. Due to unforeseen events our resting place for the night became unavailable the morning of our departure for Galway, and so between landing at the venue and the performance time we scrambled for ideas, debated at length our various options and scraped in reservations for a few beds in Headford by a whisker. Relieved and thirsty, we left the car in town and were kindly driven to the venue by a local publican. Now, it must be said that the idea of ‘nearby’ is relative - 2kms is a lovely evening stroll in balmy Perth, but it becomes an entirely different kind of fish dinner in temperatures of 2 degrees and relentless rain, and another mix-up had us donning the hats and braving the wet road home at the night’s end. Mercifully, our sodden selves were spotted halfway down the road by another friendly local who, after removing a baby seat from her car, ferried us to safety. A nightcap was in order, after which followed a robust debate on the rules and protocols of travel, and then, finally, the troubadours (as christened by Willie) succumbed to exhaustion.
With the sun setting at 4:30pm, shows starting at 10pm, and our arrival at any given venue always being in darkness, any overnight stay meant that the scene at daybreak was a complete surprise, and almost always a pleasant and invigorating one at that. After retrieving our equipment from Campbells in the morning we couldn’t help but pose for a few pastoral themed snaps, and don’t we look fetching.
Galway city beckoned, and with a gap in the calendar we enjoyed a night in its famous cobbled streets, taking in a swift dose of music and urban vitality before traversing the country to our next show at Garvey’s in Silverbridge, County Armagh. Once again we arrived in unfamiliar territory with some trepidation as to how we would be received, but manager Eamonn and owner/namesake Brendan Garvey quickly put this to rest with one of the warmest welcomes we could hope for. In Brendan’s emphatic words, ‘Any friend of Kieran Campbell’s (of Perth) is a friend of mine!’. As we set the stage we couldn’t help but notice a sea of red festive jumpers worn by some very spirited ladies who began shouting song requests before we’d even played a note. The Happy Faces Day Care Christmas Party was a powerful phenomenon - joyous, raucous and slightly dangerous. As this is more or less the motto of The Broken Pokers we couldn’t have been more pleased that Fiona and her entourage chose to stay on at Garvey’s rather than continue to another venue as planned, and thanks to them we have witnessed the spectacle of air-tin-whistle, Armagh’s answer to air-guitar. The hospitality was continued through to the conclusion of the night, upon which it took the form of a hair-raisingly high speed shuttle to our accommodation, courtesy of Garvey’s evidently fearless staff.
The Australia/Ireland connection was in play again the following night at Jimmy Boggans Pub, as we were referred here by Jimmy’s son James who had been taking guitar lessons from Ben in Perth - cheers to James and Jimmy alike! The vision of this establishment is one that can not be forgotten, and we’re glad we could tick off having played under a thatched roof* during our trip. Derrick’s family were out in full force to cheer us on, adding to a full complement of lively locals. To top it off, a very talented tin whistle player rendered a poignant version of ‘The Lonesome Boatman’. We left Boggans happy in the knowledge that we’d return the next week for our only repeat show of the tour.
*An interesting aside - while admiring the building Derrick’s brother Alan explained to us that in times gone by family pets would nestle in thatched roofs such as this one at Boggans, but when it rained heavily they would be washed out, hence the phrase ‘raining cat and dogs’. Well, there you go.
The following day we embarked upon the longest leg of a long week’s journey (until the unplanned and definitely longer return trip). We eventually met our friend Anne Golden in Co. Kerry, 4 1/2 hours south of our location, after doing our best to reconcile the simple, guiding blue line of Google Maps with the diabolical indifference of reality (credit where credit is due to our drivers Derrick, Toby and Sharon). We arrived at Caitin’s Pub, Kells, in darkness as per usual, but clues as to the surrounding terrain were gleaned from fleeting glimpses of sheer rock faces on one side, and a stone wall and not much else on the other. Later on we were told it’s better for the nerves if you can’t see anything but the road. Greeted in this somewhat forbidding and isolated place by publican Jack Golden, it wasn’t long before the good people of Kerry filled the hillside pub with warmth and cheer. The conversations flowed, connections were made, and the music began. We gave a rendition of a song penned recently by Anne about her ancestor John Golden, ‘From Geringong to Kells’ , a special moment considering the large extended family present, not to mention the monument to the song’s protagonist just down the road.
Where Headford’s morning views had been gentle and bucolic, the scene we awoke to in Kells was something much wilder and less forgiving, all ocean and mountains and death-defying sheep. Upon leaving we thanked Jack for having called the clouds off so we could revel in the brutal glory of it all. Due to Toby’s insistence that we visit the nearby town of Sneem (based purely on a strange fascination with the name) we enjoyed a great deal more of these inspiring views while traversing the Ring of Kerry, a worthy detour on our way back to Mullingar where, 5 hours later, we decided that we hadn’t played enough music for the week and rounded out Christmas Eve with a great session in Clarkes Bar alongside Derrick’s musical comrades from days of yore. No rest for the wicked, they say. (Note to self: Sneem is awesome - Ed.)