Colours – a memoir on St Patrick’s Day

My father always had beautiful skin, smooth and pink as a baby’s bum. I didn’t want to believe he was leaving me, even as I watched him fade and vanish, bit by reluctant bit. First to go were his feet. Ankles swollen until they resembled oven ready dough, soles covered in blisters like snow domes. Soon, his legs withered until they were thin and dry as sticks, toenails a corrupt shade of oyster mixed with ink. Life slipped away from his toes, ankles, shins and knees. Only when it began to exit from his liver and kidneys did he really begin to suffer the knowledge of his own leaving. I watched the blue haze of fear in his remaining good eye as pain rose from a tremor to an earthquake. He cried out, one hand shaking, while the rest of his limbs remained eerily still.

As the days slid by, my father’s skin took on the yellowed hue and waxen sheen of church candles. His immobility frightened me. His rigid shoulder, propped up on a mound of white pillows, stirred wistful longings in me for the cheerful shaking of those same shoulders when he’d belly-laughed only a few months earlier. Unable to turn, he had to wait until I reached the foot of his bed to greet me. I wore eye-catching dresses, knowing that he appreciated a well-turned-out woman. I brought him fine chocolates, potted sunflowers, miniature bottles of Hock and cans of Guinness. He sipped and tasted with the gratitude of a sickly child, lips faintly purple, eyes fading from the sparkling blue-green of the ocean on a summer’s day to the murky grey of deep winter. Towards the end, my offerings littered his room untouched. Swallowing became hit and miss. On a good day, he gratefully sucked the juice from grapes I held to his lips and spat the skins into a tissue. 

Having claimed his feet, legs, and chest death stole across his shoulders and down his arms. One set of fingers still flickered with life, as did his good eye. On the rare occasions he struggled to the surface through morphine-induced stupor, I wiped his crusted lips with dampened cotton wool and held a tiny sponge soaked in water for him to suck on, like a newborn fumbling blindly for the teat. Only his hair defied the slide towards oblivion, springing silver-white and vigorous from his brow – “hair like a poet”, as my stepmother used to say. When he was younger it had shone with the ferocity of a crow’s wing.

During his last week, Mo, my good friend and a retired nurse, bustled in bearing red roses and a breath of fresh air. She held his hand and called him “Chrissie”, reminding me of the magnetic pull he had always exerted on women. He slumbered on, lips pouting in a surprised ‘O’. Briefly, he half-opened his good eye. We held our breath, grateful for the faintest whisper of contact. A few years earlier, he met Mo for the first time at my MA graduation ceremony. One minute he was beaming with pride at my achievements and chinking glasses with Mo and I, the next, they were gone. I found them outside, grinning like truant schoolchildren, on their way to a pub for a cosy drink á deux.

Playing truant coloured every phase of my father’s life. As a feckless youth in Limerick City he impregnated my mother with their first son, and then, having done the decent thing and married her, he provided her with a second baby boy before disappearing to England “seeking work”. Later, she joined him in Birmingham and swiftly fell pregnant for the third time – with me. By the time my mother went into labour he had abandoned her again, into lodgings with an Italian family while he caroused up in the ‘big smoke’, London, with his scallywag brother, Sean, on a bender of drinking, singing and womanising. 

Shortly afterwards, he began a much longer stretch of absence, in Winson Green prison, for his part in an armed robbery as the getaway driver. Sending him down for eight years, the judge cautioned him to seek an alternative career, as he clearly wasn’t cut out for his chosen one. He was saved from becoming embedded in the criminal world by an enlightened prison governor who discovered Dad’s talent for making radios in matchboxes and packed him off an open prison to do a degree in electrical engineering. My mother decided while she knew for certain where he would be residing to serve him with divorce papers, although later, she claimed it was not because of the crime or the women, but because of his unfailing love of alcohol. 

Depending on which story you believe, Dad had his first drink, courtesy of his own father, around the age of eleven. He may not have been faithful to women but remained a steadfast devotee of Mistress Alcohol until the day he died. During the end stage of his illness, he begged and cajoled until I got his doctor at the hospice to overturn her veto and allow him to have a drink. He was so weak all he could quaff was the equivalent of an eggcup of stout in a lipped beaker. In his quiet side-room he had the glint of a caged bird in his eye, which I couldn’t bear, so although it had never been done before, the staff finally agreed to help me wheel his bed out into the conservatory. Throwing the doors open wide so that he could enjoy the pungent scent of roses, the afternoon sunlight cast the illusion of a healthy glow on his upturned face. We held hands, shared a few sips of Guinness and sang snatches of Irish songs, revelling in these small victories. It was our last ‘good’ day together, before he slipped into the twilight world of semi-consciousness, from which he would never return.

Singing was as important to my father as breathing. His sister, Mary, a lively, bird-like woman in her eighties, told me that as a boy Dad had excelled in choirs and won national singing competitions throughout Ireland. But my father wasn’t cut out to be either a choirboy or a professional performer, preferring to captivate fellow drinkers in pubs and clubs for no more than a few free pints and the enjoyment of seeing old ladies weep into their gin. “How did I create you?” he’d cry, squeezing the breath out of me and singing, “when you were sweet sixteen”, even though he’d been nowhere to be seen when I was sweet sixteen. Dad may have turned his life around after prison, working on contracts all over the world, but money fell through the holes in his pockets and into the tills of drinking establishments faster than he could count it. He never met any of his financial obligations, yet somehow, even as a grown woman, a great, big bear hug from my old Dad was the true currency of love. 

The thing I loved most about my father was that he was so vibrantly alive; he pulsed with life, sucking every last drop out of each and every day. Everyone knew he was a deeply flawed man, yet still they loved him for his charm and his warmth. The only two pieces of advice he ever gave me were, “too much progressive thinking is bad for you”, which I think meant don’t over-think things, and, “cry later!”, meaning dive in head first and suffer the consequences, rather than regret an action not taken. As I sang Amazing Grace at his funeral, I heard the proud voices of his surviving brothers and sisters rise up to join me – a heart-rending chorus of Kellys. Even as the tears fell, I made myself – and my father – a promise: to do a lot more living, to make a lot more mistakes, and, yes, to cry later. Farewell chameleon Christy Kelly, you green-eyed chancer, you silver-tongued songsmith. You were my rainbow, Dad, my great-hearted pot of gold. 

The Twilight Zone…

Somewhere in the airspace between Nashville, Tennessee and Bristol in the UK I seem to have lost the will to do anything other than turn around and land in Nashville again. It’s been lovely catching up with family and close friends but my mind keeps drifting back to the big, beating, musical heart that is known as “Music City” . I haven’t even managed to do the extended ‘summary’ blog I had planned because trawling through photos and videos made me feel homesick- for Nashville!! So, instead, until I land properly here in the UK, here are a few snippets to be going on with… and the good news is we’re booking radio interviews and some shows here in England… baby steps! We recorded guitar and vocals on our song ‘Arizona’ in Nashville, and now we’re back, our percussionist Jack will be adding some much needed rhythm- our first transatlantic single – by Magpie22 🙂

“… Leaving on a Jet Plane …”

Well, here we are, a bit tired and emotional but in a good way, back at the airport and feeling like the whirlwind that was our adventure has passed by in the blink of an eye. Soon, I’ll put together some “highlights” including some of the live music we’ve played and enjoyed listening to. In a nutshell, we’ve loved it here and we hope we’ll be back!!! We’ve got a new song, some great new tunes, a recording of Arizona ready for Jack to add his magic percussion… and we’re still talking! 💖

We’ll Leave our Hearts in Nashville – and in the Bluebird Cafe – Playing Again Tonight!

We’ll Leave our Hearts in Nashville – and in the Bluebird Cafe – Playing Again Tonight!

IMG_1288Where to begin? This city lives and breathes music, but is also a beautiful place, filled with so many friendly, outgoing people. This weekend Nashville hosted The NFL draft, where American Football Teams get to pick their new players. This is a huge festival of IMG_7296sports fans and music – an estimated 200,000 extra people came to join the fun. Big music stars closed each of the evenings and a second stage hosted some great artists. I’m now in love with Striking Matches (http://www.strikingmatches.com) and the blistering guitar work of Sarah Zimmerman – go listen!! They wrote lots of songs for the tv series “Nashville”…

My only regret since being here is that I didn’t get to make a live  ‘Treehouse Sessions’ video with Adam Dobkin (https://adamdobkin.com/treehouse-productions/) because the new song we wanted to do required the sweeter, purer end of my vocal range, which hay fever has killed!!! Nashville is an allergy capitol and lots of people we’ve met agree that there’s a perfect storm of pollen etc here – I’m a first-timer for this kind of response, but I now understand the kind of mayhem and discomfort allergies can cause. However, it’s official, Neil Bailey is now a “Guitar God, Man!!!” – we were stopped in the street to be told this by someone who’s been following us, and a fashion icon “Love your look, Man, head to toe, Dude”. That head probably won’t fit through plane door now!

A small consolation is that Neil and I will be last on the bill at tonight’s songwriter’s session at the Bluebird. It’s pure luck we’re getting to play again, so I’m hoping I can manage some of our more raucous songs. I definitely have a touch of ‘crow’ in my voice!! Tick lock, tick tock, the days are counting down to our return to the UK….. sigh…..

The Bluebird Cafe! And… Why did the Bison cross the Road?

The Bluebird Cafe! And… Why did the Bison cross the Road?

fullsizeoutput_6f17How much are we loving this adventure of ours? THIS MUCH !!!

fullsizeoutput_6e2eI know that we are microscopic little fish in an enormous pond of talent, but it’s an absolute joy to be welcomed into the music and wider community here, and to fulfil some of our dreams. For me, two of those dreams came true during the last week – firstly, to play at the legendary Bluebird Cafe (Alleluiah!), and secondly, to meet some Bison up close. Maybe a bit too close on one occasion…. crawling through a herd of them in a car is nothing like doing the same with cows or sheep! Same with the huge Elk who came bounding towards us purposefully when we were enjoying the evening air in the nature reserve (when the bison were hiding) and reading an info sign. Neil and I were about to bolt back to the car when he decided to stop and stare us out while we slunk back instead 🙂

The next big crowd we weren’t expecting was at the Bluebird, where the queue snaked into the parking lot, and once all of we songwriters were settled they crammed in as many visitors as they could – I can’t express what a joy it was to have the audience at this amazing place clapping along to our song “Nashville”“I’m gonna find my way to Nashville, come knock-knocking at every door, hang out at the Bluebird Cafe, until they shout for more!”

You could be forgiven for thinking I’ve missed my vocation to be an airline hostess – “and the exits are …” 🙂 I’ll post a video snippet next time, meanwhile thank you to Barbara Cloyd (http://www.barbaracloyd.com) for hosting the night at the Bluebird (and signing Neil’s guitar), to all the lovely folks who said hello and said they liked us or showed an interest (hi Lacey!) and to new pal Tim Shean (https://www.herringbonerecords.com) for being so nice, and for letting me hang out with his dog Franklin. I’ve got a lot of interesting encounters to report, including more fab musicians, bar owners and dogs (haha!), but they will just have to wait til next time!

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Mr Bailey with his soon to be famous guitar 🙂

What Makes America Great? The People! (And This Beautiful Land…)

What Makes America Great? The People! (And This Beautiful Land…)

fullsizeoutput_6de8CATCH US AT RADIO CAFE, 7PM THURSDAY 18TH APRIL! We’re just a couple of days away from the halfway point of our adventure, and as we’ve been super busy running all over Nashville and playing music, we’ve decided to spend a couple of days out of the big city. I noticed a big green area with lots of water on my phone maps, so I searched my guide books, kindly donated by Lucy and Sharon back home, read up a bit, and headed out. We’re in a cabin on the water’s edge, but having spent the afternoon exploring nature reserves where elk, deer and bison roam freely (the bison were hiding), we arrived almost in darkness, so we’ll have to wait til the morning for the full experience. It’s been a day of strange coincidences, beauty… and some squabbling! More about this lovely place later…

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The view from our cabin in the morning…

Although we were originally drawn here by the music, Nashville residents, whether musicians or not, have been extremely welcoming, so I know it’s going to be hard for us to say goodbye. Last week we were delighted to play a few songs at the Douglas Corner Cafe hosted by Donnie, where we met the gentleman cowboy Sage Cole with a voice like dark melted chocolate and Jordan Ashby who oozes raw talent. But my personal treat of the week was our return to the Bowery Vault, where in addition to playing and streaming a set of our own songs, I first heard the breathtakingly beautiful voice and songs of Michael Conley. There are some links at the bottom of the page but here’s a taste… you’ll find the link to his YouTube video below, and more of Michael’s music on Spotify.

Michael Conley ‘Nothing Risked’ https://youtu.be/zXzUi687gQ0

A high point of the week was to discover a craft beer festival right on our doorstep in lovely East Nashville. We sampled a LOT of delicious local beers and met loads of friendly folks. What’s not to love? Alas, I can’t find everyone’s name – if I ever find my notebook I’ll mention them next time, so I’m just going to say, it was a real pleasure meeting y’all and I hope we meet again 🙂

Neil and I have always shared an affinity with Native American – and American – culture, and know that this area, The Land Between the Lakes,  was once populated by many different tribes. The popular Natchez trail was originally made by them, but they were all pushed out during the settlement of the area. Then, in a twist of fate, John F Kennedy made compulsory purchase orders and turned out the remaining post depression settlers in 1963 and turned the whole region into an enormous nature (p)reserve. Good for him!!

We’ve also discovered that many of the ‘holding areas for local tribes before going on the long march to reservations known as “The Trail of Tears” were nearby. Of 11 camps, 8 of of them were in Tennessee… although, we have just slipped over the border into Kentucky. I’m relieved to report that a local policeman was exceptionally kind to me when I misread the speed limits – why thank you officer! You made my day 🙂IMG_1115 (1) Since arriving – at the risk of sounding like old hippies – we’ve both experienced that hairs on the back of your neck or dejavu feeling that can creep up sometimes unexpectedly. On arrival we were ‘buzzed’ by two enormous eagles who swooped down from on high to startle us and say hello – probably juvenile bald eagles. As we were about to enter the prairie where the reintroduced bison and elk live, our song, “Cowboys and Indians (an early version with Native American flute by Domenic De Cicco all over it) decided to play itself through the rented car bluetooth system. Neither of us have heard it since we made the final single edit months ago – losing most of that flute. If you haven’t paid attention to the lyrics, listen again… https://youtu.be/QMicBs9nJz4  I’ve always harboured notions of being some kind of reincarnated Native American soul, but, if you look at this picture of Neil taken near here, you could be forgiven for thinking he might have once been in uniform on the other side…fullsizeoutput_6db9 Our stay here in Kenlake State Resort deserves a bit more of a description but it will have to wait because it’s late (Neil’s soft snores are already audible from his room), I’m happily tired and ready for sleep, but I’ll go and watch the almost full moon on the water before I sink into my dreams… goodnight xxx  Ps Yes, we finally met the bison! Here’s a windy lakeshore lullaby for you from Neil and I… (sepia tone courtesy of Neil).. new song growing…

https://parks.ky.gov/parks/resortparks/kenlake/

 

 

…”Groovy couple!”… “You guys married?”… “Yes, but not to each other!”

…”Groovy couple!”… “You guys married?”… “Yes, but not to each other!”

Bowery VaultIn the beginning there was music… and then… there was more music! Tonight we play our first full set of songs at the Bowery Vault in East Nashville and again at the Radio Cafe next Thursday. Our days are shaped around lounging in our apartment, guitars on laps, either practising our current songs, introducing new ones to our set, or playing with ideas until something promising starts to emerge. Then, we’ve been out playing live when we can (although I’ve been a bit poorly for a couple of days so had to take it easy) or dropping into different venues and listening to more songwriters and bands. IMG_5861Every type of music is on offer from country and bluegrass to jazz, rock to traditional – last night I was charmed by the ‘Contra’ band playing gentle dance tunes in the cafe of the beautiful Frist Gallery, where I went to see the stark and moving images of photographer Dorothea Lange. I loved this quote from when she told her mother she wanted to be a photographer:  “she said, ‘You have to have something to fall back on’…I didn’t want something to fall back on; I knew it was dangerous to have something to fall back on.”  I also loved getting up close to some paintings by Monet and Renoir, on loan to the gallery, like all the collections at the Frisk, a beautiful art deco former main post office. Meanwhile, Neil was  playing his guitar, visiting the local ale houses and shooting the breeze with the locals – mostly musicians!!!

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We’ve met so many lovely, welcoming people, including our airbnb host Kristina (https://www.airbnb.co.uk/users/show/387150), and seen some fantastic musicians. Can’t wait to get out there and experience more of Nashville. Here are some of my favourites so far – I’ll post a few snippets of their songs when I get a minute… To be going on with, here’s our absolute favourite, Sage Cole and a bit of him and Neil jamming 🙂

Music, Mahem… and Boots!

Music, Mahem… and Boots!

fullsizeoutput_6cf0-1.jpegUPDATE: Live shows (more tbc) – Bowery Vault Friday 12th April 5pm; Radio Cafe Thurs 18th 7pm

We’re still only a few days into our visit to Nashville and already me and Neil are feeling like we’ve always been here… The town is just steeped in music, musicians and music-making. You can’t talk to someone in a bar or walk through Downtown – or anywhere else – without finding yourself in the company of kindred spirits. Everyone we’ve met so far has been overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming, and you never know who you’re talking to! Neil enjoyed the company of a fellow drinker at one of our local bars and found he was talking to Steve Forrest who played drums with Brit rockers Placebo and now has his own band the AOKs (www.steveforrestmusic.com). I met up with a talented fiddle player, Diana from Moxi Strings (https://themoxiestrings.com) who often plays in Ireland and then enjoyed trading some Blarney with her partner, Galwayman Dave from We Banjo 3 (http://webanjo3.com) who can also be found touring Ireland. He pointed us in the direction of some more interesting music venues so we’re off to try one out tonight…

“Manifest Destiny”, Nashville locals, stopping us to have a jam in Broadway 🙂

Downtown is a chaotic, colourful sensory overload of a place – country music, bluegrass and rock spilling out onto the streets where dedicated party-goers drink and dance their way from bar to bar. Can’t help but think my neices and their pals – the Kelly Twins Posse – would lap this up!! Having said that, Nashville is also a beautiful green city and the riverside area is a tranquil haven away from the hustle and bustle. This coming week we’re planning on getting out to play at a few more venues around town and then maybe use a rental car for a bit of sightseeing – up til now we’ve been taking shared local cabs, because it would be a shame to let too much driving interfere with our drinking!!! We’ve also been working on a new song and will post an early version on here soon. In the meantime, here’s a snippet of our first live performance of our song “Nashville” – complete with appreciative audience – in Nashville!!! Thanks to Vero and Emily at the Bowery Vault for having us 🙂  https://www.facebook.com/theboweryvault/  You can catch us doing a set there Friday 12th April, 5pm – check out their FB page for details. 

If you haven’t visited already, you can find out more about us and our music at http://www.facebook.com/dawnkellyandNeilBailey

Our new single “Cowboys and Indians” is out now on iTunes, Amazon, Google, Spotify etc… You can watch the video here:     Cowboys and Indians (Playing Indian) Dawn Kelly & Neil Bailey’s MAGPIE22

The story begins… We play Nashville!

The story begins… We play Nashville!

Flight changes, delays, security hold-ups – we had it all! But the wonderful thing was that our guitars were welcome everywhere and we had no trouble taking them as hand baggage onto all of our flights. Because I’m a bit ( a lot) of a neo-hippy, I loved the seat number we were allocated on the transatlantic flight – 22!!! But it didn’t save us from all the traumas, so we had to had to resort to alcohol…

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Joshua Odine – fabulous sound – look him up!!!

Jetlag has eaten into our first few days, but hasn’t stopped Neil going off on a wandering/drinking/meeting new friends adventure (and amazingly, finding his way home at 4am) while I had a ‘nap’ that lasted 10 hours hahaha… Yesterday, we went along to an eclectic little venue in trendy East Nashville (where we’re staying) called the Bowery Vaults and joined a talented bunch of songwriters sharing their wares. Have to report that our first outing of “Nashville” here in Nashville went down a storm… I’ll post a snippet of the the video soon 🙂

We’re lucky to have a beautiful, comfortable apartment all to ourselves within throwing distance of Downtown where we’ve already started to work on new songs. Nearby, the infamous Sky Blue Cafe serves killer breakfasts, brunches and lunches – you have to queue to get in! Our Host, Kristina, has been so welcoming and took us on a tour of all the key places of interest. Now, we have to go exploring ourselves…We’ll be reporting back soon on our next musical adventures – and our expeditions!!!

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Live at the Bowery Vaults 4/8/19