Anthony John Clarke,
An Acquaintance of Mine
(Osmosys, 2001)

They say that lightning never strikes twice and that it is always unwise to return to something that you enjoyed greatly. They are wrong.

Anthony John Clarke first came to my notice with a track on compilation CD. Then I sought out more of his work to encounter only one title in the whole city of Dublin -- Man with a Red Guitar -- which I also reviewed for Rambles.

Well, I found another one and it is just as good as the last.

An Acquaintance of Mine is another gem with 16 fabulous tracks. Some were included on the earlier CD but here we get live performances that add significantly to the joy of re-hearing. In particular I enjoyed a version of "The Broken Years" sung by the choir of St Catherine's College for Girls in Armagh. As this is a tale of the "troubles," it is all the more poignant sung by schoolchildren.

The track on this CD that gave me watery eyes of emotion was "The Wrong Way Round." Basically this is a "what if" song where Jesus returns at Christmastime. He strolls around seeing locked churches and "empty churches shivering, those empty songs, and the way children try to stay up all night long -- but it's not me they're waiting for." As he concludes "that's all gone and everything's the wrong way round."

"Another Evening In" tells that familiar tale of a woman who has let life pass by. She sits alone doing crosswords and recalls the fun of earlier times and notes that no one calls. "Kilaloo" is not written by the singer but could well have been with its wicked sense of humour. It's a jaunty tale of a master teaching French in a country school.

Clarke is a master at hiding a somber message in an upbeat song. His characters are people we are or know or would not like to know. His tunes are ones that get into your head and will not leave.

I hope he will not be offended if I compare him to a songwriter of over a century ago. He reminds me of Percy French who wrote many great songs, both comical and sad. Perhaps the best known is "The Mountains of Mourne," a warning about emigration told with telling humour. Like Clarke, many people may not listen carefully to the words but they are missing out. As French wrote about ladies in London, you would not know if they were "dressed for a bath or a ball."

This CD has quotes from Frances Black and Sean Keane, praising the writer and he certainly deserves praise, but more that that he deserves a worldwide audience.

[ by Nicky Rossiter ]
Rambles: 16 June 2002