Having foreign dictionaries on iPhone, a passion for Youtube and learning, of all things, Latin may not be your usual image of a septuagenarian, but then Sean Cannon is the Dubliner from Galway so he’s used to being unconventional.
This month he, along with Eamonn Campbell – providing he gets the surgeon’s all-clear, Patsy Watchorn and Gerry O’Connor will be embarking on a tour carrying the sound and the legacy of the legendary Dubliners, if not the name.
The death in April 2012 of last founder member “Banjo” Barney McKenna brought a natural end to the group. It’s a well-used cliché but perfectly appropriate here, it was the end of an era and Sean, along with most of the folk fraternity felt the loss deeply.
“I’d known Barney since the 1960s. He was a great character he mimed very well and could take off accents. He would tell great stories and anecdotes and he was a great player. I was going to say musician but am not sure what musician means, whether it’s someone who can read music or compose pieces or someone who could play the banjo like Barney. He couldn’t read music, he didn’t have that kind of training, he was a natural.
“Barney’s passing away was a very sad moment. We had just received the Radio 2 Folk Awards Lifetime Achievement and we had a big evening at the Lowry. We toured Britain last march and it was Barney’s last tour with us. We played the Albert Hall among other places which was a great experience and only a few weeks later Barney passed away.”
The death of Barney forced the remaining members to reassess their situation and come to a decision.
“The morning after the funeral John Sheehan asked us collectively and individually what we were going to do because it was a shock for him as the last of his erstwhile colleagues passed away. We said we should honour the agreements we had made with the promoters at least until the end of the year, and then see what happens so that’s what we did.
“We saw out all of our commitments and actually played until December 30 last year where our last concert was in Vicars Street, Dublin. John in the meantime decided he would bow out, he’d done 48 years with the band, Barney had done 49, and he was into his 50th when he passed on. So that’s it John has retired from being a member of the Dubliners. But the rest of us thought we might take it a bit further because we weren’t ready to quit. Now The Dubliners is kind of a protected name so that’s why we go as the Dublin Legends.”
John Sheehan, who joined The Dubliners only two years after they were formed and, rather harshly, never saw himself as an original member, has decided to spend time with his other passions.
“John composes a lot and he used to play some of them on the concerts. He’s also a prolific poet, he has written nearly 200 poems of one kind or another. He wants to dedicate more time to that and publish them. He’s been pretty busy.”
Sean, who has spent most of his time adult life in England, has hopes The Dubliners loyal fans will continue to support the band when they embark on their first tour as The Dublin Legends starting on March 12 at the Grove, Dunstable.
“By all accounts ticket sales are going well and we will give it our best shot. We will hopefully satisfy people’s expectations in that we will sing all the old hits where people can join in and have a drink, and fun night out. That’s not to say we won’t do one or two fresh numbers as well. We can at least try to please everybody.
“Our loyal following is in the nature of the music, mostly we play a repertoire of upbeat happier tunes, the jigs, reels, the hornpipes and lively drinking songs. We do some reflective songs, you have to pepper it up with them. It’s what appeals to people, it’s quite remarkable really.”
Their tour was due to start in February but unfortunately Eamonn Campbell had to undergo serious surgery but Sean is optimistic he will be fit for the tour.
As part of the line-up this time they can also call on the talent of classical Dublin guitarist Michael Howard who will fit into the pattern The Dubliners have made so familiar.
Sean’s determination to carry on touring should come as no surprise because even at 73 the Galway City native, who has had a successful solo career and is almost as famous for his cooking as his playing, still has ambitions and wants to try new things, not least continue with his passion for languages.
“I am learning Latin. You can get it on your iPhone and get dictionaries and instructions it’s a whole new world. I even have an ancient Greek dictionary which I refer to from time to time. I write a bit of Latin now and if I sign an autograph I often write, carmina non morietur which means songs do not die.”
Let’s hope not.
Interview by Danny Farragher
The Dublin Legends March Tour
12th The Grove, Dunstable;
13th Forum Theatre Malvern;
14th Regent Centre, Christchurch;
15th Town Hall, Birmingham;
16th Royal & Derngate, Northampton;
17th The Lowry Salford;
18th The Assembly Hall, Tunbridge Wells;
19th Hall for Cornwall, Truro;
20th New Theatre, Oxford;
21st The Wyvern Theatre, Swindon;
22nd The Anvil, Basingstoke;
23rd Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage;
24th Cliffs Pavilion, Southend;
25th Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury;
26th The Orchard Theatre, Dartford
For more information about the Dublin Legends’ tour visit, www.facebook.com/TheDublinLegends