THE YELLOW BITTERN, a new feature documentary from Alan Gilsenan, is a revealing and surprising portrait of the last surviving member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, and the man that Bob Dylan called “just the best ballad singer I’d ever heard in my whole life”.
This intimate, confessional and highly cinematic film charts the remarkable rise to fame of these devil-may-care Irish singers, from their small-town beginnings in County Tipperary in Ireland to the folk hey-day of Greenwich Village in the Sixties where they absorbed black musical influences, played for JFK and out-sold the Beatles. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem would go on to influence a host of popular artists from Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger to The Pogues, and become a powerful iconic presence on the Irish cultural map.
“I remember being over-whelmed...the songs that the Clancy Brothers sang came out ordinary life. The heartbreak, the fun, the foolishness, the tragedy, all tangled up together.” – Pete Seeger
They have garnered worldwide success and huge popular acclaim, but opinions are still divided about them. To many, they are the true embodiment of the Irish popular folksong tradition, while to others, they represent the worst excesses of stage-Irishness. Yet despite this, their songs remain our songs, the songs of a people, the inner soundtrack of a nation. But for all their fame, their story remains largely untold – or at least misrepresented. Many myths and legends have grown up around The Clancy Brothers, but the legend of Liam Clancy, the youngest, is perhaps the most potent of all.
Drawing on unseen and behind-the-scenes footage of the band at their height as well as on Clancy’s own personal archive, the film is a compelling look at an iconic and influential life lived to the full. But, this darkly revealing portrait also goes behind the mask of the performer and delves deep into the psyche of Liam Clancy as well as his troubled personal life where the excesses of rock-and-roll found their way in to the world of folk.
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