The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #109271   Message #2451881
Posted By: Joe Offer
27-Sep-08 - 08:49 PM
Thread Name: Irish Songbook Index PermaThread
Subject: Index: The Songs of Percy French (Healy)
The Songs of Percy French
Editor: James N. Healy
Publisher: Ossian Publications, Cork, 1996
Paperback, 80 pages, 44 songs

1. Abdulla Bulbul Ameer (page 9)
Written in 1877, it is the earliest recorded song by Percy French. Composed for a 'smoking concert' while a student at Trinity, he sold it to an unscrupulous publisher for £5. Later it became very popular, and the names of others appeared as author, but French never drew a ha'penny in royalties. This is the original version.
2. Sweet Marie (page 10)
Written as a 'take off' of a popular American tune, it nevertheless is redolent of French's youth in the west of Ireland, and like the song following breathes the spirit of the Irish 'Point- to-Point' races.
3. Rafferty's Racin' Mare (page 12)
Another lively song about an Irish race-meeting.
4. The Hoodoo (page 14)
The 'Nigger Minstrel' shows were enjoying a period of great popularity in French's early days. In his own district, and later with a troupe called 'The Kinniepottle Komics' in Cavan, he took part in the craze. This number was in later years used in a London show.
5. The Oklahoma Rose (page 15)
Written in 1910, but also harking back to the 'Blackface' days. The banjo, associated with such troupes, was the instrument French used to accompany himself.
6. Phil the Fluther's Ball (page 17)
A product of Cavan days: an early song and one of the liveliest and best. 'Phil' was a real character on the Leitrim-Sligo border who gave parties in his home in an attempt to pay the rent.
7. Come Back Paddy Reilly (page 18)
Written in 1912, but really a memory of his days in Cavan. Paddy Reilly also was a real life person who had left his home town of Ballyjamesduff to go abroad. A splendid song in any context.
8. Shlathery's Mounted Fut (page 20)
The idea of a national Irish Army emerging (as it did thirty years after this song was written in 1889) would have been thought unlikely, to say the least, in French's day, especially in the society to which he naturally belonged; but he himself was not political, and he shared a mutual respect with the country people about whom he wrote. So there was nothing derogatory in his mind when writing about 'Shiathery' — it is purely a comic song of great life and spirit.
9. Andy McElroe (page 22)
While, as said, a national army was not envisaged at the time many Irishmen joined the existing British army and served abroad. Andy was one of several such in Percy's songs — a 'hero' out for divilment who was sure to strike terror into the heart of any foe. 'J. Ross' his collaborator was Sir John Ross. It was, in 1888, French's first song to be published after 'Abdulla Bulbul Ameer'.
10. Fighting McGuire (page 24)
French obviously did not like bullies or windbags. McGuire is one such who is taught a lesson. The tune was lost until about twenty years ago when it was found in the British Museum.
11. The Girl on a Big Black Mare (page 26)
An apparently straightforward love song tempered by the logic of the last few lines.
12. Mat Hannigan's Aunt (page 26)
Written in 1892 for a topical review called Dublin—Up-to-Date which he performed with Richard Orpen, later an architect, and Orpen's younger brother William, who was to become famous as a painter, and be knighted.
13. Little Brigid Flynn (page 28)
A charming number with a plaintive tune on one of French's favourite song themes — the prospective suitor sighing in a wryly-comic way about the bride he would like to have: effective because he never over-lapsed into sentiment — there was always a twinkle in the eye.
14. Mick's Hotel (page 29)
One of the few occasions when French satirised in genuine anger — written after he had been overcharged for very poor service in an hotel while on his travels through Ireland. However, he would never reveal the name, or location, of the offending hostelry!
15. The Mountains of Mourne (page 31)
Probably Percy French's most famous song. It has been sung, and parodied, thousands of times, but still retains its original charm. He wrote it one clear day in 1896 when the Mourne Mountains were visible on the horizon from the Hill of Howth, and sent the lyric to Collisson on the back of a postcard.
16. When Erin Wakes (page 33)
The naïve side of Percy's nature. He saw nothing contradictory in writing this apparently patriotic song in 1900, and in the same year writing another welcoming King Edward to Ireland most effusively! It proved nothing except he loved Ireland and wished the country well on all counts.
17. McBreen's Heifer (page 34)
Again one of the very best songs, with a typical Irish countryside situation. Should Jamesy take the good-looking daughter on her own, or take the ugly one with a heifer thrown in? In the end he took too long to make up his mind.
18. The Fortunes of Finnegan (page 35)
Finnegan was one of those tough, enduring Irishmen for whom French showed cautious respect. The date of the song is uncertain, but it was written in collaboration with Collisson for one of their London concert seasons.
19. Mulligan's Masquerade (page 37)
The song, of good-natured chaos at an Irish country party, may have been based on the memory of a real occasion: at any rate I have been to some like it! There are similar songs by other authors, such as 'The Tipperary Christening', 'McCarthy's Party', and even 'Lannigans Ball'.
20. The Night that Miss Cooney Eloped (page 39)
Percy French first performed this number at a concert in the midlands, and was surprised when almost the entire front row walked out: but even more so at the hysterical laughter and cheers with which the rest of the audience greeted his efforts. What he did not know was that those who departed were the local Cooney family, big wigs in their own minds, who had lately endured an almost identical trauma to that described in the song. In fact he had never heard of them before, and had written about an imaginary situation.
21. Drumcolliher (page 41)
Based on an older ballad called 'Kildorrery'. Drumcolliher is to the east, and Kildorrery
about equidistant to the west, from Charleville.
22. Jim Wheelahan's Automobeel (page 43)
'Automobiles', as motor cars were known in early days, were a new wonder in French's time, and regarded with some distrust. They were rare objects but were beginning to make their noisy presence heard on roads which had formerly been quiet byways. French seemed to mistrust things mechanical as will be seen in some of the later songs.
23. 'Are Ye Right There, Michael?' (page 45)
Again one of the gems of Percy French songwriting, based on a genuine incident. The train carrying him from Ennis to Kilkee broke down and he was late for the concert. This was in 1897; French took an action for 'loss of profits', was awarded £10 and the company lost an appeal. The song came out in 1902 and although the company contemplated a libel action they wisely thought better of it. They had had enough.
24. Eileen Oge (page 46)
Again, one of Percy's best songs on the locale nearest his heart — the countryside of his beloved west of Ireland. Ruefully and comically he presents the story of the disappointed suitor.
25. Donegan's Daughter (page 48)
A first-class number which, strangely, is not heard as often as some of the others. Donegan's daughter from the 'States' is not, as glamorous as at first appeared.
26. Father O'Callaghan (page 50)
Collisson, a Protestant clergyman, had many friends among the Catholic priesthood and he asked French to write some verses so that he could set them to music as a tribute to one of his priest friends.
27. Maguire's Motor Bike (page 52)
Again, we hear of French's mistrust of anything mechanical, particularly those noisy two- wheeled machines which continue to be a curse and potential danger on our roads today. The bike was all right in the end, but Maguire was buried beside it!
28. Phistlin' Phil McHugh (page 54)
A charming number which, like 'Donegan's Daughter', is not as frequently heard as some of the others. Phil was a typical French rover who came home to roost in the end.
29. No More of Yer Golfin' for Me (page 55)
French was no bad sportsman, but could never understand people being so anxious about winning. The fascination of golf was, however, a mystery to him.
30. The Darlin' Girl from Clare (page 57)
The county of Clare was one of Percy's happiest hunting grounds and he performed at Kilkee whenever he could, using the occasion to make water-colours in the wonderfully clear air of the area. 'The Darlin' Girl' is a charming song. He made a ladies' version for his singing partner of later years, May Laffan.
31. Pretendy Land (page 59)
Written in 1907 for Noah's Ark, a Christmas fairy play with music by J. A. Robertson. It reflects the love of children which French exhibited so strongly with his own family, and which has been reflected back to him by them through all the years since.
32. Mrs Brady (page 60)
Composed for a London concert season, and which Collisson apparently sang well. One has a feeling, however, that some of these late songs, with music composed especially by Collision, do not have the spontaneity of the earlier purely French numbers.
33. Flaherty's Drake (page 62)
Based on the same idea as the much older ballad 'Ned, or Nell, Flaherty's Drake' but bearing no resemblance to it in construction.
54. The Mary Ann McHugh (page 63)
Again based on the idea of an older ballad 'The Cruise of the Calabar' but the late Philip Green wrote new music to it in 1962. I have restored the original music which was partly the tune of 'Limerick is Beautiful' as this was French's original intention, and completed the rest of the tune myself.
35. The Kerry Courting (page 65)
French wrote this lively little miniature operetta for four voices in 1909. I give the opening number about the 'Rose of Tralee'.
36. A Sailor Courted a Farmer's Daughter (page 66)
Take off of the traditional Irish countryside singers come-all-ye style and very amusing.
37. Tullinahaw (page 68)
One of the better neglected lyrics, although the music does not, perhaps, come up to the
words. Probably written about 1910.
38. The Emigrant's Letter (page 69)
In 1910 there was a great adventure for the two little men, French and Collisson — French was only five feet four inches and Collisson was shorter — when they set out on an American tour. The steamer called at Cobh where it took on the inevitable emigrants. As a fresh young fellow was saying goodbye to his relatives he said ruefully, 'They'll be cutting the corn in Creeshla the day.' It was autumn and the harvest was coming in.
39. Kitty Gallagher (page 72)
In French's litany of love affairs the prize usually goes to the bold-hearted lover, as in 'Eileen Oge' and 'The Darlin' Girl from Clare'; however, Kitty chooses the man who gets knocked out for her sake.
40. Flanagan's Flying Machine (page 73)
Written in 1911. It further demonstrates his mistrust of the mechanical — he preferred the open road and his bicycle. Nevertheless, by the last verse, he seems to accept the inevitability of the future.
41. 'Who said the Hook never hurted the Worms?' (page 75)
42. I Fought a Fierce Hyena (page 76)
Two numbers from Freda and the Fairies, a delightful miniature 'opera' suitable for children of junior school, with music by Caroline Maude (Viscountess Hawarden), and some of the lyrics by Cecily Fox-Smith. The first number seems to speak up against cruelty to animals, and the second to foreshadow by many years 'I can do anything' from Annie Get Your Gun.
43. The Killyran Wrackers (page 77)
The tune of this number had been lost, but when writing Percy French and His Songs in the early sixties I got in touch with Vincent Sheils of Loughrea through my friend Michael Collins-Powell, and he was able to supply part of it from memory. In order to complete the number I have taken the liberty of finishing the tune in the same manner.
By 1914 the First World War had come, and French wrote several songs favouring the Allied side. French continued to entertain during war time, on one occasion right through a Zeppelin raid. When this passed off he commented calmly to the audience, 'Now wasn't that a nice Air Raid?'
44. Larry Mick McGarry (page 79)
The last song Percy French wrote — in 1915. He gave the cook a ticket for the concert at which he was to sing it for the first time, and when she came home the family were naturally anxious to discover how things had gone. Her reply, as she went stamping downstairs, was 'He did that ou'l song he's been practisin' up there for the last days without end!'

During his last years French wrote no more, depending from then on the large repertory he had built up over the years. As has been said, he died in 1920 performing almost to the end. However, as long as his songs survive he will be remembered, and one hopes this little book will help him to be remembered for some time longer. You won't go too far wrong at a party with a Percy French song.