Wednesday, December 26, 2007

So. Farewell Then, Joe Dolan

An Spailpín Fánach was greatly saddened to hear of the death this St Stephen’s Day of Joe Dolan. I knew he had been ill, and had cancelled some of his recent shows, but I guess we never really expect death, even when the Reaper has sent his card ahead; it always seems like we’re all due another five minutes.

What I’m trying to figure out this evening, a few hours after his death, is why Joe Dolan was so popular in this country, without his having had an original hit since More and More and More in the early ‘eighties, over a quarter of a century ago. Joe Dolan, and that loud, brash and brassy Joe Dolan sound, has been a part of the Irish cultural landscape for over thirty years – what did Joe Dolan have that others didn’t?

The best guess that An Spailpín can come up with is that Joe didn’t do ironic, even in later years when hep cats starting “ironically” going to his shows. Joe put his heart and soul into every performance, and gave it socks every time. If you wanted to come and rock, that was great. If not, that was fair enough too, as long as you paid at the door and bought a drink at the bar.

There’s a cracking clip of Joe Dolan in his prime (in the mid-seventies, judging by the extraordinary mustard-yellow of that quite frightening shirt) currently on You Tube. They won’t let me embed it, but if we watch it carefully we might stumble on a clue as to why Joe Dolan was so popular.

The first thing you notice, once you get over the shirt, is that Joe is cutting a serious rug. He’s shaking, bopping, rocking and rolling, and giving it loads. He’s really into it, and his signature tune, Good Looking Woman, the song that everybody I know associates with Joe Dolan more than any other, suits his performance exactly. The verse lyric of Good Looking Woman is cat, of course, but the verse doesn’t matter, because it’s only side-dressing. Good Looking Woman, the song, is about three things – the Oh me, Oh my! bit, the brass that follows it, and Joe’s big voice booming along, mopping up the survivors. Good Looking Woman is a song about the joy of being alive, and it’s hard to imagine anyone enjoying anything as much as Joe Dolan always appeared to enjoy singing that song.

And, if you were in rural Ireland in the past thirty years, looking at Joe Dolan up on stage belting out Good Looking Woman, it didn’t matter that you were nearer to Craughwell than Carnaby Street, or that two hours earlier you were dosing cattle or cutting thistles. Joe Dolan proved that cool and contentment were states of mind, and he brought them with him where-ever he went.

A personal memory: When your correspondent was attending UCG in the early 1990s, I remember walking down the Dyke Road – what we were doing out there God only knows – in our tuxedoed finery after a Faculty Ball in the early hours of some winter morning. One of the party, filled with the joy of youth, started singing Good Looking Woman, something of a party piece of his at the time. For the oh mes, oh mys, he took of his suit jacket and started swirling it around his head, even though there were no girls there to impress. He just did it for the joy of the thing, just as the man himself would surely have done in similar frosty circumstances. Joe would have been proud of him.

God have mercy on Joe Dolan. He brought an awful lot of joy to an awful lot of people, and there are few indeed that do that. Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann, gan amhras.

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