Racker Donnelly -           Entertainer

Rackerhyme (18th of February 2019)

The nifty
way out - This is no joke -
And it's bold and thrifty -
is for MPs to revoke
Article 50. 


Born into proudly Protestant
working-class Belfast,
in an Orange street called Jaffa
that was living in the past.

One of Three. Their Dad worked in the shipyard. 
Jackie lost his Mum at Ten.
Brought up by her Sister
after then.

Like George Best ... but not very.
With many a life-long friend,
he dribbles a cobbled football,
to score at the gable-end.

A deluded devotee
of Glentoran FC,
& Leyton Orient, & Spurs.
(Bronwen gave me no info about hers.)

Jackie passed the 11plus,
but the Grammar School played Rugby -
RUGGER! "Bugger." That 
was that.

Left the Comprehensive at Fourteen,
to work for Belfast Corporation.
Turned to Trotskyism, Trade Unionism,
& Comical Recitation.

Chucked out of the Northern Ireland Labour Party
- Not for the Recitations - 
but for his heretical, hot-headed, maverick,
Trotskyite inclinations. 

He whistle-blew 
the Corporation, 
which plunged him into 

Jackie existed,
"on the smell of an oily rag".

He kept in a bag
his Father's Orange sash,
but loathed sectarianism, the Northern spite
that leaks from the Left as well as from the Right.

Collected insurance, this genial yarn-spinner,
but soon lost hope:
offered, at every single house, yet another dinner,
his stomach couldn't cope.

A Taxi-driver. During the Troubles.
Not much fun.
He was held up twice at the holy
end of a pointed gun.

Met Bronwen
taking aid to Bosnia.
They brought bread & pizza.
Then came the Massacre at Srebbeneetsa.

He taught English to Refugees,
& put them at their ease, & - please
don't scoff -
they thought him "a proppair toff".

Loved all things Irish: literature, music, sport
& craic. He
prayed for Unification.   
No man's lackey.

Worth a second glance. 
Don't call him Mister Vance..

It's Comrade Jackie! 


(Commissioned by Sharp's Folk Club)

Born in the Bronx, a proud New Yorker, 
like his life-long friend, Joe Locker.
Tom was never a frenzied Rocker.
An urban guy. No city slicker.
Seen as a stellar banjo picker.
Allan, his first name, but that appellation
seemed insufficiently Appalachian,
so they called him Tom, a plain
strong name
for a handsome man, disdain-
ing fame.

Of left-wing stock.
Joined American Youth for Democ
Guitar'd their Dances & the Jamboree.
A crate-digger.
To that obsession, a martyr.
Digging for old recordings
by a family called Carter.

In every record store,
he dug for more 'n' more 
old-timey music from string bands:
Skillet Lickers ... Corn Shuckers ...
Aristocratic Pigs ...
with their hoe-downs & their jigs.
Mountain tunes from mill workers & 
farm hands.

Songs about REAL THINGS. Not from Fairy Land!
With a Masters in Math from Yale, Tom taught 
at universities in Connecticut & Maryland;
& once remarked, An awful lot of mathematicians
are also musicians,
&, though this may sound rum,
he loved Higher Mathematics, & Dim Sum.

His heroes: Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie. 
was his buddy,
but Tom found him Not terribly responsible.
A terrible time-keeper ~ & please, no laughter ~
who, Once left home to buy cigarettes & came home a week after.

Tom played everywhere,
at Hootenannies & Washington Square,
& at Wing-Dings, in the warm embrace
of Pete Seeger's place ...
John Cohen & Tom
formed the New Lost City Ramblers,
with Pete & Peggy's brother, Mike ~
This was their Klondyke!

They released eleven albums.
The New York Times thought them ace,
They sing in twangy, nasal, upper-register voices
that evocatively re-create 
a far-off time & place.
They also said Tom had no rival,
He drove, they wrote, a folk revival.

He impressed Bob Dylan, to such a degree 
that Bob, 
maybe cash-free,
maybe without a job,
maybe needing to fill an empty crate,
STOLE a Tom Paley 78.

Bob Dylan later wrote, 
of the New Lost City Ramblers,
All their songs vibrated 
with some dizzy, portentous truth.
To Ry Cooder,
Tom taught acoustic blues Guitar.
& Banjo, it was said,
to grateful Jerry Gar-
cia of the Grateful Dead.

On the first Ramblers album, 
he sang a song,
from Appalachia, that was wise, 
& not especially long:
McKinley called for volunteers,
I went & got my gun.
First Spaniard I saw comin',
I dropped my gun & run.
The reason I am running is 
because I cannot fly!

            Don't hang down your head, Tom Paley.
            Don't hang down your head & cry.
            Don't hang down your head, Tom Paley.
            Your music will never die!

Born in time for the Wall Street Crash.
Child of a time when it all went smash.
Depression, Dustbowl & a New Deal,
when FDR put his shoulder to the wheel.

Pearl Harbor. Victory. Then the Red Scare.
Reds under Beds. They were everywhere!
McCarthy or Stalin? Which way to go?
Now was the time to choose your Joe.

For a TV booking, Tom wouldn't deny
that he was a Communist. Later said, "I
was never a member of the Communist Party,
but it was none of the network's business".
(Most people grovelled to Joe McCarthy.)

The Ramblers lost several bookings, 
so, to get by,
they dispensed with Tom ... Who, phoenix-like, arose,
formed the Old Reliable String Band,
with Artie Rose. 

He left the States in '63, mostly over Vietnam,
thinking, Damn.
I'm not doing this to save my skin,
but I've little quarrel with Ho Chi Minh,
& I'll not stick around to sing LBJ,
How many kids did you kill today?

To Sweden.
Already in love
with every Ingmar Bergman movie,
he fell in love
with Swedish Fiddling,
found it ... Groovy!

But Ewan McColl & Peggy Seeger
lured him to Blighty in '65,
where he formed the New Deal String Band,
recorded with Peggy, who wrote,
I quote,
of her delight,
at his brilliant guitar & banjo playing & his rock-solid rhythm.
He played like a mathematician. He never craved the limelight. 

Jon Pankake, the folklorist ~
& with that name, 
what else could he be? ~
Jon Pankake saw Tom Paley as,
quintessentially witty, thoroughly urban & intellectual,
given to outrageous puns & wordplay, a master-teller of jokes,
a breathtaking showman on finger-picked guitar & banjo.
Which was nice but, sad to say, 
Oy vey,
nothing rhymes with Banjo!
(Except Mr Locker. That canny man. Joe.)

Ski Williams also deserves laudation
for launching, for me & you,
with Roll On, Roll On ~
Not an underarm deodorant. ~ 
Tom's signature song.
of love & lamentation.

Tom featured for Tom Jones & Van Morrison, 
& for Lead Belly 
Nights & many a curtain-call
at the Carnegie & the Royal Albert Hall ...
& I don't want to strain your patience,
but it was far from a matter of chance
that he was Honorary President of the Friends of American
Old-Time Music & Dance.

He became a Fiddlehead:
a fixture at Islington Folk Club 
& Shakespeare's Head,
at Cellar Upstairs 
& at Sharp's in our play-pen,
at Musical Traditions, 
& Whitby & Sidmouth with Ben.

His last album, with Ben,
was PALEY & SON,
&, before we're done,
Ben deserves a cheer 
& a line of  beers,
for the help he gave his Dad 
in the declining years.

We remember Tom, 
hauling his heavy gear,
cranking his shoulder, 
year after year.
Sometimes, first to arrive, 
& settle
in for the night 
on the under-window settle. 
His duty, 
to contribute to the beauty,
& the fun.

This brave, 
singing 'bout the Mississippi,
gaunt, sleepy, with a smile that's wry,
a glittering eye,
a wicked remark, 
& a groan-inducing pun.

The Swedes 
will flourish in the weeds,
the fiddle, kiss her beau,
when he plays another polska,
& our hearts are all a-glow.

Tom, being questioned, for a retirement home.
Most foods, I like.
Donald Trump.

said that he was cancelling a show
in China, to look after him,
most indig-
nant, jumped up in bed,
& said,
 For God's sake, don't let 
  in the way of a gig!

                    Don't hang down your head, Tom Paley.
                    Don't hang down your head & cry.
                    Don't hang down your head, Tom Paley.
                    Your music will never die!


      This was commissioned by Sharp's Folk Club 
      & performed at their Club Night 
      & at the Tom Paley Tribute Concert 
      in Cecil Sharp House on October 24th 2017, 
      the day of Tom's funeral. 


DESPERATION  [a sonnet]

It's easy to find a randy man,
a brandy man or a shandy man.
But where can you find a handyman?
That's what I need to know!
Has every glazier turned lazier?
Is every sparks in the doomy dark?
Your plumber, off in search of summer?
All chippies, up the Mississippi? 
And where did all the all-rounders go? 
Is what I want to know. 
I know I should do the job myself,
but then I remember my latest shelf,
which slumps if you put anything on it.
But it'll do. (Likewise my sonnet.)


My 2001 transcription 
of the Irish National Anthem in Irish
into English words:

shin-naff-Ian  naff-foil
add-thaw  Fay-owl  egg-Aaron
boo-weaned-Thor  slew-a
hard-thin  the-raw  Nick-who-wing
Fay-void  fez-sayer
shan't-hear  or  shin-sheer  fast-the
knee  auk-fur
faint-hear-raw  gnaw-faint-royal

a-nook-the  hay-am
sieve-are  naff-vale
leggy-Ann  air-Gail
come-bosh  nose-sale
leg-gun  ash-crake
fail-law-fug  nab-Bill-lair
shawl-leave  Connie
our-raw  naff-Ian!

And here's my free version in English 
of the Irish text:

Citizens are we,
whose love is pledged to Ireland.

have come
From away across the sea.

Sworn to be free!
No more this land of Ireland
shall shelter the tyrant or the slave.

we're ready for the fray. 

In Ireland's cause, 
the weak are strong.

Though traitors mock 
and cowards quake,
we'll sing the Irish Song!



Now I'm a Wow,
and How!
as Jimbo,
as McEnroe,
like Woody-wood Becker.

Not silly
and blasé,
like Ilie
but mean
and keen
as Seren-
a, Ven-
us or Billy-Jean.

I can do it
better than Lleyton Hewitt,
than Federer,
my pal,
ee call me The Gaffa!

the up-beat
more demigoddick
than Andy Roddick,
twice as shagassy
as André Agassi.

Compared to me, Henman
was a hen, man;
a cyborg;
in too much of a hurry.

Me vee Sharapova
or Navratilova?
vee Cloeva! 
Jock O'Vitch? 
Joke over.

I'd make Halep gallop,
and Horlicks out of Coco, 
and, as for Keerios,
you can't be seerios!
I'm tasty as a billabong,
and just as strong,
with my boomerang serve, 
as Miss Goola

So it seems.
In my dreams!

Oh, it's not just the Gladiators 
and the Gladioli,
the Grand
who only stand
and wave,
and flail
to little or no avail.

For there's a Law of Life, 
it's practically official,
that, for those Hot Shots with their Sting Bats
to succeed, some sacrificial
have to fail. 



Before the dawn, a flurry …  
a scurry.
Mouse? Rat? 
Possum? Wombat?
Out of the hearth - a Bat? 

Flapping overhead! 
Out of the bed, 
we fled. 
What to do? 
there's TWO!

Birds? Black birds in flight,
scattering soot 'n' shite ...
Call Pest Control? Our guests
don't qualify as pests ...
We open a tiny window but they scoff
at our kindly invitation to piss off.

Preferring to assail a wider window,
they batter the frantic windowpane in vain ... 
contact  a neighbour. She 
winds windowframe ajar. 
A bird escapes - HOORAH!
But where's its mate? 
Flew back up flue? 
Out tiny window? 
I don't care - Do you? 

We humbly mumble Thanks to neighbour,
almost lost for words,
thinking: Damn you, Alfred Hitchcock,
Why did you make THE BIRDS?


(a seaside town to the North of Dublin)

In Malahide, long years ago,
from a tennis club, I was told to go,
for digging with a Papish foot.
(I felt like Adam when the gate was shut.)

In Malahide, in the Grand Hotel,
which wasn't grand then, nor posh, nor swell,
the rooms were haunted, the grounds were wild,
a magical world for an ageing child.

In Malahide, at the Grand Hotel,
my sister's do, I remember well;
and the nun who'd just jumped over the wall,
who didn't behave like a nun at all.

In Malahide, a kindly priest
saw me becoming a sensual beast:
If you don't give up helping yourself,
you'll end up in Hell, on the bachelor shelf.

In Malahide, I fell in love,
and flew in my mind to the stars above.
She hailed from Glasgow. My heart, I lent her.
(But her mother returned the letter I sent her.)

In Malahide, I found Romance.
In Malahide, I lost my pants:
swept out to sea on the ebbing tide!
Just a tiny towel. (I nearly died.)



A tale or a song, even a folk song,  
needn't go on and on, a cause of grief. Be brief.
Bow to the listener, a thoughtful grovel.
A story, yes - but not, please not, a novel. 

Edit. If it's half-sheddable, shed it.
There's no disgrace in cutting to the chase. 
Oh hear my heartfelt cry, my frenzied dictum: 
I came as a paying guest - not as a victim.  



This is the tale of a guy called Cool.
Head of the Feeyanna*. Nobody's fool. 
So cool was he, so fine and strong,
they bumped him off before too long.
They did him in,
but not before
he'd wed a feisty wife who bore
a son whose name was Finn.

A widow now, afraid
that Finn might also be waylaid
and privatised with shovel and spade,
to thwart the downward Thumb of Doom,
Fee climbed (Oh, sorry. Her name was Fee)
up a tiny mountain called Sleeve Bloom
to meet two witches (It's usually three).

is the proper word,
which won't make sense 
unless you've heard
of the women of the Ama-Zon
who fight without pyjamas on,
and beat the tar
out of any men, 
whoever they are.

Make him tough, 
said Fee, and that's enough.
Well, not quite enough.
He's to join the Feeyanna* 
when he's big,
so he'll need to know 
how to pluck a pig,
and defeat nine men 
with just a shield,
jump high
as the sky
and under a field,
and that's the lot.

But it was not.
For she forgot:
he hadn't just to be tough
as nails.
I mean, that's enough
for a Prince of Wales;
but the Feeyanna*
demand more than Get-up-and-Go-etry.
You've to memorise
twenty-three books of Poetry!

Once the Amazon ninjas 
got him fit,
with a six-pack and abs
and all that shit,
they packed him off 
to the local magus,
a wordy wizard 
called Finnaegus,
who'd a quiver
of arrows, for shooting fish 
when they came upriver.

Finnaegus tried,
he tried and tried,
to tell you the truth,
he damn near died,
to get some Poem
into Finn's mighty, muscular doem.
Jam-packed with protein, 
averse to verse,
it made Finnaegus
roar and curse.

Finn couldn't take Pomes in his cerebellum,
Finnaegus said, That's total gammon.
You need to be more
of a piscivore!**
So he shot a salmon,
and gave it to the lad to fry.

As it lay in the pan, said Finn, I'll try 
and see is it cooked - Ow! Burnt his thumb, 
which he stuck in his mouth and, via the gum,
his brain steamed up with streams of verse.
(Some, better than this. And one, far worse.) 

So he joined the Feeyanna*, 
like dear dead Dad,
made his Mammy proud,
but the Feeyanna, MAD,
for they couldn't fox him ...
he won every quiz ...
a pain in the bum -
you know how it is -
so they did him in 
with shovel and spade;
and that's the ending, I'm afraid***.

* Feeyanna = FIANNA: Band of SuperHeroes.
Like the Knights of the Round Table, but more rounded.

** Piscivore = one who knows his plaice. 

*** Very afraid. 
If the Fianna ever get to hear of this. 
It slipped my mind that Finn must have somehow overcome the mortality issue for he lived on to become Finn Mac Cool, one of Ireland's most heroic heroes and did many apocryphal deeds, as was par for the course in those days.
I have amended the blunder in subsequent verse.

Songs for UnGays
to sing at Gay Weddings
to the tune of
Owed to Gay


We are not Gay, 
but, if we were,
instead of Him, 
we'd marry Her.
Instead of Jim, 
we'd marry Jane.
No more we'd swim 
against the grain.

No to Man, 
and Yes to Woman.
This has been 
a long time comin'.
Wife and Wife 
may cut down strife.
Two spoons, no knife:
a Hope of Life!



We are not Gay,
but, if we were,
we'd marry Him
instead of Her.
Instead of Her,
we'd marry Him.
Instead of Jane,
we'd marry Jim.
Forsaking Woman,
taking Man,
we'd sing a Hymn,
and not a Hyrrh.
We'd love each other
daily -
and we'd call each other,


Passports at last located, we drove from Bray
to Dublin Port.
By 3pm, the wife & I were on our way.
Nothing to report.
Sailed serenely
to Holyhead.
rested & well-fed.
& back to our lovely motor,
our trusty friend,
the old Toyota.
with a manual key -
Screaming on & on & on,
& off,
as by-standers smirk
& scoff. 

Night falls as we cruise along
Set the Satnav. Something's wrong.
We know the way & there's no hurry.
Fuel gauge is dipping low.
Can we find a garage? No.
They must hate drivers, the way they vex 'em,
we chuckle, & miss the road to Wrexham ...
& somehow come to Runcorn Town,
which looks forlorn as a drunken clown,
as we tootle cluelessly all around,
no petrol station to be found.
A passer-by, who talks so queer,
& a would-be helper, who strains our patience
with floods of forgettable informations.
So we end up in a Slough of Despond,
somewhere out in the back of beyond.
Our Hunting of the Petroleum Snark
has led us to Eddie Stobart's Lorry Park.
Where a trucker's forefinger points the way
to an Esso garage. (He made our day.)
Where a lady with a smily mouth
More banshee wails!
& the Brum bit blocked;
so, to survive,
we switch to the M5.
Lane-closures everywhere,
& Cones,
to throttle the thoroughfare!
Why didn't we come by Ryanair?
Left wing-mirror,
a total smash.
We took out two Cones. 
But again the Screaming!
Is this a nightmare?
Are we dreaming? 

More Dalek cones..
Exhaust-pipe heckles like rattled bones.
All junctions, CLOSED. In despairful hope,
we try old Satnav. It can't cope.
Our troubles never ceased.
We entered North London from the East!
& parked at 3 'neath our block of flats
as Car-alarm shrieked, HERE COME THE PRATS!
As it yelled, FAREWELL,
we fled, 
to timely alcohol
& a quiet bed.
agus Ceol 
na hÉireann

The Songs of Erin
are always charmin',
though sometimes alarmin'
in their fiery mood.
'Tis a real rapscallion
would claim Eyetalian
or German music is half as good.
zart nor Handel
could hold a candle
to Molly Malone
through a megaphone;
or to Erin's daughter,
singing songs of slaughter,
in harmony, or in Inishowen,
or on her own.
With music to whisk you. Where?
From here to there!
To Donegal, Mayo, & County Clare.
From your borough
in London to the Curragh
of Kildare.
From Kilburn, Hammersmith, Camden Town
to the Glens of Antrim, the Ups of Down.
From jitterness,
& mess
to the Cliffs
of Moher 
& the Cliffs of Less.
From Quorn
& porn
to the Mountains of Mourne.
To fresh Eyre
& Galway Bay.
Kiss the Blarney Stone
& Molly Malone.
Visit Poguemahone.
In the hug of Irish Music,
you'll never be alone! 


Like rabbits on stilts, or shrunken llamas.
Flocks in flocculent pyjamas.
Faces like Lady Bracknell's gardeners' trowels.
Whiff of grapeshot from blackberry bowels.
Gregarious kegs,
with precarious legs, 
& your granny's knees.
Ears, in fear of every teasing breeze.
Muzzles, with graven grins.
nuzzling, guzzling,
lugging, tugging,
scratching, snatching
scalps of Apache grass;
then, all the bog-cotton-picking day to dally, chewing the cud, like good ole boys
on a beach in Bali.
When they're not rutting,
they're butting.
Here's a Glasgow kiss for you, mate!
& they'd smother their mother
to get through a gate.
Our modern sheep
descends from the Mediterranean Mouflon
& the Asian Uriel.
Mouflon just acted the goat &, as for Uriel,
you'd get more wool of your Auntie Muriel.
Though they don't care a fig for pagan pig
or tapeworm-harbouring ham,
every Hajji, Ayatollah & Imam
throughout Islam
salutes with warm salaam
the halalamb.
That lamb you pet,
my dear Amanda,
will end up et
as Lamb Pasanda.
If that makes you edgy,
turn veggie ... 
Or, if that's too hard, turn half-way hypocrite,
a wishy-washy fish'n'chipocrite.
The thought of slaughter,
me darlin' daughter,
don't make me quiverous,
for I'm carnivorous!
Like the Beast,
is yon farmer to be fleeced?
Dipped, ripped & frozen fresh?
Will meat-eating go the Way of All Flesh?
Ram-rod rams
who think they're Rambo!
Ram-shackled ewes,
doing the Mambo!
Wait five months 
& there's a lamb bo-
ldly bawling, HERE I AM!
Then ear-marked, 
& cramped.
Tail, docked.
Male, doctored (Ooh!).
The weaning
& the keening! 
Babbies baa,
Where are ya, Ma?
Mammies bleat, Here I am,
Sweet Lamb.
Gambolling against the Green,
the Shining Lamb!
Against the odds,
uncowed, disporting, cavorting
in the foolishness of freedom,
jumping for joy across the hungry grass,
shaking a weedy hoof at the greedy gods:
Living for Now! 

(This last section is highly optional.
 My advice is: Skip it ~ like the lamb.)

A 12-stanza sequence 
of 75 irregular verbs, 
which includes all the ones
that broadsheets, broadcasters 
& English-learners tend to get wrong, 
& shows that irregular verbs 
are not all that irregular, 
& can also be used as a series of mantras, 
a cure for insomnia, 
or notes for an autobiographical novel. 

I drink, I drank, I have drunk.
I shrink, I shrank, I have shrunk.
I stink, I stank, I have stunk.
I sink, I sank, I have sunk.

You sing, you sang, you have sung.
You spring, you sprang, you have sprung.
You ring with an R, you rang, you have rung.
You wring with a W, you wrung, you have wrung. You swing, you swung, you have swung.

He comes, he came, he has come.
He swims, he swam, he has swum.
He draws, he drew, he has drawn.
He saws, he sawed, he has sawn.
He shines, he shone, he has shone.
He goes, he went, he has gone.

She knows, she knew, she has known.
She blows, she blew, she has blown.
She throws, she threw, she has thrown.
She grows, she grew, she has grown.
She sews with an E, she sewed, she has sewn.
She sows with an O, she sowed, she has sown.
She shows, she showed, she has shown.
She mows, she mowed, she has mown.

We hew, we hewed, we have hewn.
We strew, we strewed, we have strewn.
We give, we gave, we have given.
We drive, we drove, we have driven.
We strive, we strove, we have striven.
We thrive, we throve, we have thriven.

You swell, you swelled, you have swollen.
You steal, you stole, you have stolen.
You do, you did, you have done.
You spin, you spun, you have spun.
You run, you ran, you have run.
You win, you won, you have won.

They eat, they ate, they have eaten.
They beat, they beat, they have beaten.
They slay, they slew, they have slain.
They lie (down), they lay, they have lain.
They see, they saw, they have seen.
They are, they were, they have been.
They break, they broke, they have broken.
They wake, they woke, they have woken.
They speak, they spoke, they have spoken.

I wear, I wore, I have worn.
I tear, I tore, I have torn.
I swear, I swore, I have sworn.
I hide, I hid, I have hidden.
I ride, I rode, I have ridden.
I take, I took, I have taken.
I shake, I shook, I have shaken.
I forsake, I forsook, I have forsaken.

You feel, you felt, you have felt.
You deal, you dealt, you have dealt.
You mean, you meant, you have meant.
You send, you sent, you have sent. 
You creep, you crept, you have crept.
You keep, you kept, you have kept.
You sleep, you slept, you have slept.
He buys, he bought, he has bought.
He brings, he brought, he has brought.
He fights, he fought, he has fought.
He thinks, he thought, he has thought.
He teaches, he taught, he has taught.

She says, she said, she has said.
She breeds, she bred, she has bred.
She feeds, she fed, she has fed.
She flees, she fled, she has fled.

We bind, we bound, we have bound.
We grind, we ground, we have ground.
We sell, we sold, we have sold.
We tell, we told, we have told.
We make, we made, we have made.
We lay (eggs), we lay, we have laid.
We pay, we paid, we have paid.


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