Jimmy MacCarthy,
Ride On
(Townhouse, 2002)

This is the sort of book I wish every songwriter would publish. I know that purists will tell us that every song or poem should be able to stand alone, but how much more can we enjoy great work when we know a little more of the background.

Jimmy MacCarthy may not be the best-known name in the wide world of music. Such is so often the case with songwriters; mention Christy Moore and Mary Black and get instant recognition, but without MacCarthy they might not be so well known.

The title of the book is also the title of one of Jimmy's biggest hits -- his pension, as he remarks in the book. Christy Moore and many others recorded it. "No Frontiers" was a hit for both Mary Black and Maura O'Connell, who also brought many of his songs to a deservedly wide audience.

This book is a very easy read, a treasure trove of lyrics from MacCarthy's many great songs. It is a volume of autobiography. It is a primer for anyone interested in how the songs came about.

MacCarthy is a fantastic, laidback solo performer. I had the pleasure of attending a recent show where, when introducing a song called "The Highest Point," he told us that he dreams of writing a great song one day. To my mind, that day has come a passed many times.

"The Bright Blue Rose" is an understated masterpiece and in the book he recalls how he came to write it and it appears as if it just happened. Many of you will never have heard the song -- truly your great loss. Others will have heard it but may think the title is "Across Blackwater." It is a song that sounds spiritual without preaching. Take a few lines:

"It is a holy thing
And it is a precious time
And it is the only way
Forget-me-nots among the snow
It's always been and so it goes
To ponder his death and his life eternally".

We learn from the book that MacCarthy was a jockey, a busker and a number of other things. We learn how he raised money to produce CDs that didn't sell well. We learn of his battle with alcohol.

We get the background to his beautiful biographical song about the boxer Jack Doyle ("The Gorgeous Gael") and little nuggets of inside information on songs like "Katie," "Neidin," "Ancient Rain," "Mystic Lipstick" and "The Sky Road." Yes, he wrote all these hits and many more.

Anyone who has heard a Jimmy MacCarthy song should seek out this book.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 22 February 2003