Production Notes

A Note on Archive used in The Yellow Bittern < back

In a film of this nature a huge amount of time goes into researching archive, obtaining clearances, doing transfers and telecines, rifling through old suitcases and shoeboxes of memorabilia, and crawling around in attics! We unearthed a lot of unseen and rare archive of both The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, but also of Liam personally. Anna Rodgers, originally the researcher then producer, spent long hours sitting on the floor with Liam reading his old letters (including the famous one from Mammy Clancy about the aran sweaters), diaries, postcards, and newspaper clippings. Eben Clancy, Liam’s son, who at the time worked for the BBC was incredibly helpful in sourcing and providing archive. The young writer Conor Murray, who wrote ‘The men behind the sweaters’ provided endless ideas and assistance with the archive research having spent many hours himself on the same subject for his book. Often people who worked in the archives turned out to be Clancy fans, and offered reductions and extra help on this basis. In fact, people often seemed happy to help in exchange for the promise of a DVD of the film! Unfortunately, due to people’s lack of understanding of the importance of the posterity of film in the past, many tapes held by BBC, RTÉ and other channels were wiped and reused to save money, deleting forever precious television moments. The knowledge that so much early material was erased adds importance to that which has survived, especially footage which before The Yellow Bittern had never seen the light of day.

Newport Folk Festival footage (Unseen footage)

This footage was provided to us by the American filmmaker Murray Lerner. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem played at Newport in 1964, when Murray was filming for his documentary ‘Festival’. For some reason, which Liam can’t recall now, the band thought their performance wasn’t up to scratch and asked Murray not to include it in the film. So, the footage sat in storage over the years and the soundtrack got separated from the picture. It took over two years for Murray to find their performance, have it synched with sound, and sent over to us. In the background, listening to the boys playing, you can see Pete Seeger and Jean Ritchie. Liam worked as a cameraman for Murray at Newport and shot many other people’s performances, including Bob Dylan.

Liam’s Home Movies (Unseen footage)

A friend of Liam’s in Greenwich Village wanted to get into making films, and offered to shoot his wedding to Kim on 8mm. After the wedding, he confessed that the whole thing was under exposed and Liam never bothered having the reels transferred. They sat in a rusty can in his attic for almost 50 years until Anna crawled in there and took it to Dublin to telecine. Liam and Kim were amazed the footage actually survived, and was in fact, perfectly exposed!

Liam also had numerous rolls of 8mm and 16mm that he’d shot on an old bolex camera around Ireland. He had home movie footage of his time in Provincetown with Kim and the kids, and also, their time in Calgary, Alberta as well as footage of his brothers and Tommy Makem. All of this footage is extremely rare, and hadn’t even been seen by Liam himself so it was a real privilege to be able to transfer this material and use it in our film. It’s all now being deposited in the Irish Film Archive for safekeeping.

Outtakes from The Story of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem (Unseen footage)

The outtakes from this film had been stored in Liam Clancy’s attic since 1985, and had never been used in another documentary. The permission to use this footage was very kindly given to us by Liz Reeves and Maurice Cassidy.

The original film, also known as ‘It’s a long way from Tipperary and Armagh’ was directed by Derek Bailey, and produced by the late Davey Hammond (who happened to have been Alan Gilsenan’s first producer many years ago). In 1984, Makem & Clancy's manager Maurice Cassidy, brought the original foursome together with prospects of a documentary of the original lineup to be followed by a concert at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center in New York City. Production on the documentary commenced after a 90-minute debut on Ireland's Late Late Show on April 28, 1984. Traveling to Keady, Tommy Makem's hometown, Carrick-on-Suir, the Clancys hometown, then New York City in Greenwich Village, a dress rehearsal concert at Tommy Makem's Irish Pavilion on East 57th Street and finally the big night on May 20, 1984 at the Lincoln Center for the recorded concert, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem had returned!

The majority of pieces we used were from the rushes – outtakes that were in Liam’s attic. We also used some of the original concert in the Lincoln centre which came from the actual film, as well as Maurice Cassidy’s Clancy Brothers Reunion concert in Ulster Hall Belfast.

John Keating – Home Movie Footage of Carrick an Suir (Unseen)

We tried every avenue to find footage of Liam’s town from the era but with no luck. A call out was done on local radio and ads were put in papers. The local author Michael Coady even asked people around the town but all to no avail. Towards the end of 2008, Anna made another enquiry to the IFI film archive, on the chance that something had been deposited since 2006. Amazingly, it had. An elderly gentleman named John Keating had given in his meticulously kept collection of beautifully shot home movie reels of Carrick an Suir and Dublin from the 1950s and 1960s. John had died shortly after this, and his family seemed delighted for the footage to be seen on the big screen.

Other archive came from:

The Ed Sullivan Show, Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest, Hootenanny, WTTW - Festival, Camera Three, HBO Archives – March of Time, NARA,
RTÉ/ Radharc - Goodbye to Glocamora, Dinner with the President.

Photo Archive

Most of the images of Liam’s life and the band were provided by Liam himself. Moira Clancy, the wife of Liam’s late brother Bobby, also kindly sent us some images of Liam’s childhood. Carol Langstaff, the daughter of Diane (Hamilton) Guggenheim found old pictures of her mother and sent them to us from America. Liam had only one Polaroid photo of her with her recorder from those first days together.

The early image of the band in shirts, before they had the Aran Jumper uniform, was taken by the famous folk photographer David Gahr. He recently died his attorney provided clearance. David Gahr put together a well-known book called The Face of Folk, featuring images of all the folk icons at the time, including The Clancy Brothers but he never allowed it to be re-printed.

George Pickow, photographer, filmmaker, and husband of folk singer Jean Ritchie, also provided us with some wonderful images to use in the film. He had traveled with Ireland with Jean on a folk song collecting mission, much like Diane, and they had taken photos of Sarah Makem singing in her kitchen in 1952. George and Jean were also friendly with Diane, and had a striking image of her with her father, Harry Guggenheim at Cain Hoy, his Charlston Plantation.George also provided the wonderful contact sheets of images of Carol, Diane’s daughter, with her cousins around the pool in the Guggenheim falaise.

The manager of Josh White and Odetta, Douglas Yeager, also provided images of Odetta and Josh White, courtesy of their estates.

Fionnbar Callanan is an Irish photographer who took the iconic images of the band when they made their celebratory homecoming tour of Ireland in 1964. These images were taken in the Olympia Theatre. These images have been used on our poster and publicity, and also on the Irish stamp which featured the band.

 

 

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