Joe Holmes: here I am amongst you

Songs, music and traditions of an Ulsterman

Len Graham

Catalogue Price: €19.95
ISBN: 978-1-84682-252-0
Catalogue Price: €55.00
ISBN: 978-1-84682-251-3

June 2010. 328pp; ills.

‘Far and away the best book on Irish traditional music I read last year and easily one of he most beautifully written, meticulously researched, heartfelt, edifying, and entertaining books on Irish music ever published,’ Earle Hitchner, Irish Echo (June 2011).

‘Here amongst us indeed is now a most valuable piece of work that is at once an anthology, a tender memorial and a wag of the finger with regard to Gaelic-Irish cultural complacency … a compound ethnography of the song, music and life of one (extra-) ordinary man who deeply impressed him with a passion for singing and an academic engagement with its detail. In these fascinating and thorough 328 pages, a life and art are unobtrusively unscrolled— not in a textbook manner, but via brief biography, throwaway observation, concise support material and carefully disposed songs, tunes and contextual anecdotes … In all cases there is detail here of interest to singers and song-collectors … This is a vital fascinating and rewarding read for anyone interested in Irish popular culture. It is a compendium of information forms which is never wearying, is enhanced by the related CD material but is never dependent on it', Fintan Vallely. Irish Literary Supplement (Spring 2011).

‘An excellent publication ... This collection will be of interest to lovers of tradition everywhere, particularly those interested in the Ulster song tradition … Len Graham is to be congratulated on painstakingly compiling the work and bringing it forward and he is to be complimented for giving credit and acknowledgement in such generous a manner to those that he collected and learned from', Antóin Mac Gabhann, Treoir (Spring 2011).

‘[T]he Irish song tradition was best represented this year by Len Graham's memoir of Joe Holmes: here I am amongst you with its anthology of some of the great pieces sung by Holmes, including 'Come Tender-Hearted Christians', that majestic account of Roddy MacCorley on the bridge of Toome.’ Paul Muldoon, 'Books of the Year –loved reading in 2010', Irish Times Weekend Review (November 2010).

‘The texts of Holmes’ songs are accompanied by Len Graham’s extensive and exuberant commentary, which manages to be scholarly and anecdotal, factual and insightful, all at once. It evokes the world in which the songs originated, and also the 1970s world of competitions, fleadhanna cheoil, great gatherings and wild nights, as applause from the public escalated for the songs and the singers … We’re put in touch with the heightened emotions of an older world, along with all the ardours of the moment. We’re transported from the bleaching green and the Murlough Shore to marathon night-time drives in cars crammed with exhilarated musicians. Joe Holmes: here I am amongst you, a beautifully produced book, illustrated with photographs, woodcuts and engravings, brings it all together. It’s an important contribution to social and musical history, and a subtle and generous tribute from one great traditional singer to another', Patricia Craig, Irish Times (August 2010).

‘Len Graham met Joe Holmes of Co. Antrim in 1963 at a ceilidh, where Len, aged 19, was “approached by an older man, one of the fiddlers”, who asked Len for the words of a song. Len was happy to oblige and was soon to discover that 'although one of the finest traditional singers I ever met he did not sing outside the confines of his own home'. This was to change and this first meeting of kindred spirits was the beginning of a warm and fruitful personal and musical friendship for the following 15 years until Joe's sudden death in 1978 at the age of 72. A joyful collaboration which embraced shared times at; ceilidhs, concerts, festivals and recording sessions. Joe, in addition to being a fine fiddler, had an extraordinary and extensive song repertoire, which is clearly demonstrated in this most handsome of books. There, are 328 pages in a three-section format. Part 1, the major part, has 80 songs with clear musical notation including: a unique version both in text and tune of The Parting Glass, an outstanding True Lover John (Child 248), a fine Molly Ban Lavery, better known in England as The Shooting of his Dear, and yet again a lovely Rambling Boys Of Pleasure. It is a clear case of one cracker of a song after another and it is no surprise that Joe became a highly influential source singer within Ireland and beyond. Part 2 is headed 'Fiddle Playing and Dancing' and includes 53 excellent tunes. Part 3, 'Other Traditions', includes mumming as well as sport, Shinny and Hurling in particular. This is a brilliant piece of work with highly-detailed, erudite song notes and references and superb photographs which are further enhanced by a lovely selection of sketches and woodcuts. Len Graham, singer-scholar-collector has done Joe 'full justice' with this tour-de-force. Once acquired it will not gather dust', Geordie McIntyre, The Living Tradition (Autumn 2010).

‘One of the finest tributes to an chronicles of a fellow Irish traditional musician by another that I have ever read', Earle Hitchner, The Irish Echo (July 2010).

‘For many north coast residents and indeed, many more beyond, the name Joe Holmes is synonymous with fine fiddle playing and singing. His influence was and continues to be wide-reaching and the legacy left is captured beautifully on the pages of professional musician Len Graham’s recently published book … Introducing Joe Holmes and how he met the influential fiddler from Ballymoney, Len recounts details from Joe’s early and later life to sufficiently portray a man many held in high respect. He offers up a delightfully detailed collection of Joe’s songs, woven together with folklore and eclectic accounts of how he came across them. Len too, relates his own personal memories conjured up by the inclusion of pieces within the book, all of which adds an extra relational dimension to each … the inspired collection of musical material succinctly delivered by Len Graham, is one many fiddlers, those aspiring to be so and those who just love the tradition will undoubtedly treasure', Claire Savage, Coleraine Chronicle (July 2010) .

‘The book, which is written by professional musician Len Graham, journeys into the heart of a diverse life in Ulster, giving a comprehensive account of the world of a singer musician in the twentieth century … Here I am amongst you is an extraordinary book, which will enchant readers with a genuine love of music', Ulster Tatler (September 2010).

‘Graham’s book is not simply an account of Holmes as singer and fiddler but also an examination of the tradition he belong to and in particular the songs and tunes associate with him, which in turn give us insights into love, politics, emigration and so on in past centuries. Words and melodies (in staff notation) of over eighty songs, and of dance music, take up the majority of pages, nicely decorated with old woodcuts, but Graham also gives us a social history of the traditional music scene from Antrim to Kerry', Books Ireland (September 2010).

‘An exhaustive, loving, accessible archive of the life and work of Joe Holmes, the great Antrim singer and fiddle player … [this book is] a true gift to the various communities of Northern Ireland, and Great Britain … the book is full of interesting little snippets which show time and again how closely musicians and enthusiasts alike are tied … The book documents the contents delightfully, will illustrations from old chapbooks, and beautiful photos of some of [Graham’s] informants. Len Graham has brought together a most fitting, loving tribute to Joe Holmes', Danny Stradling, Musical Traditions online magazine (October 2010)

‘This book, which contains 80 songs, fifty-three fiddle tunes, and descriptions of Christmas mumming and hurling, constitutes a loving tribute to a master singer and musician by a devoted protégé … a beautifully crafted tribute whose ample notes and illustrations add to the body of work on Ulster song', Margaret Steiner, The Journal of Folklore Research (2010).

‘Len’s book vividly brings out [Joe’s] personality as well as giving us meticulously researched documentation of the background of the Ulster tradition from which he came … The actual biography is brief; much more emerges in the notes to the eighty songs, where many photographs of Joe and other illustrations embellish the text. The song section, taking up two thirds of the book, is a real delight. If you pick a song, say “The Brown Haired Girl”, you get the full text and tune, the story of where Joe learnt the song, an anecdote about Lavery, who contributed another verse, plus a comic story told in a session where it was sung. It’s like being in the company of singers, where hearing a song naturally sparks off discussion and reminiscence. There is great serendipity in this … [this book is an] affectionate portrait of a man at the centre of a living tradition', Peta Webb, English Dance and Song magazine (Spring 2011).