I have Michael Tanner (Plinth, United Bible Studies) to thank for mentioning the presence of this video on Youtube. It’s a great documentary about the Irish Traditional Singer Sarah Makem (1900 – 83) who looks as bright eyed as ever in this film that was shown first in 1977. She is interviewed alongside fiddler and husband Peter Makem who died shortly after the making of the film. He seems content to sit quietly throughout much of the film as Sarah shares her stories. When he does talk it provides one of many classic moments in the film. In response to Sarah asking him if he wants a biscuit with that all important cup of tea he answers “of course” as if it’s daft question to be asking him. As Sarah makes tea she sings ‘The Banks of Red Roses‘ the irony of which can’t be lost as one verse is “Then he took her to his lodge and he treated her to tea” (tea being a polite term for something else no doubt), like many folk songs, it also features a murder…When Sarah arrives with the cake and tea she’s into the verse – “then he pulled out a penknife, it was both long and sharp and he plunged it right into his own dear Mary’s heart“. It’s a funny moment in the film as Peter takes the final slice of cake and adds at the end of the song “that’s a smashing cup of tea, it would do your heart good”. Sarah’s laughing by this point. I’m convinced they had the last laugh with the film-maker.
The documentary is interspersed with some spoken word to fill in the history such as Sarah leaving school early to work as a weaver from 7:30 until 6:30pm, long days for someone so young but her day was far from over as she reveals she had to clean, bake bread before heading on down to the sidewalk for the musical entertainment which went on until 10:00pm when neighbours came out to listen and dance. She reels off the players names like it was only yesterday. She sadly reflects “they don’t do that now”. Sarah comes across as a warm and humble person, she recalls that when she featured on the radio series ‘As I roved Out’, which went out every Sunday morning, she wouldn’t have sung if she’d known all those people would be listening. If she hadn’t then maybe we wouldn’t be watching this.
You can watch the video on youtube here: http://youtu.be/u-2S4pAoaOs
Film trivia: Sarah was born in Keady, County Armagh, Northern Ireland and besides the moments of Sarah being interviewed there is some great footage of Keady in 1977 which is given away not just by the cars but also the smiling kids lined up on one wall with one wee lad with his Starsky & Hutch t-shirt and three girls, presumably all sisters, sporting their Charlie’s Angels t-shirts.