ALMOST 40 years after a group of musicians from Clare and Leitrim came together to form Stockton’s Wing, the band returns to county for two gigs at The Royal Spa Hotel, Lisdoonvarna on March 8 and 9.
A bountiful trip to the All-Ireland Fleadh, held in Ennis in 1977, brought together Maurice Lennon (first place in senior fiddle), Kieran Hanrahan (first place senior banjo) and Tommy Hayes (first place senior bodhran) but it was the sessions played in the town over the course of the festival that brought the lads together.
Initially accompanied by guitarist Tony Callinan, the line-up expanded to include Paul Roche (All-Ireland champion on flute) and later, Mike Hanrahan, who replaced Callinan. Enda Scahill will join the band during their Lisdoonvarna gigs.
Maurice Lennon, who will take part in the March gigs, remembers the early years of Stockton’s Wing when, as a 19-year-old, he worked as a barman in Brogan’s in Ennis. He pulled pints behind the bar, rehearsed with the band upstairs in the restaurant and returned to the pub after rehearsals to join in a session for a few hours. Ennis in the late 1970s was a hotbed of traditional music, he recalls. “There was always music there and if there wasn’t, then we’d create it. We were young and we didn’t really care that much – we just went for it every time we played.
Their on-stage energy captivated audiences and, according to Maurice, the band had “a cultish-type following”.
“You could see that we loved the music. That’s what drew people to us, I think. What made us different to a lot of bands was the intensity at which we started a performance or a gig or a show. The first number would be as intense as the final number. Lots of bands build up to a crescendo, we just go on, bang, it’s in your face.”
Recalling the youthful vigour of the Wings’ first recording, he laughs, “It’s so wild and my playing on it is so daft. I would never play like that today, like The Maid Behind the Bar – a 100mph job! That wouldn’t be me today. Sometimes, I find those albums a little difficult to listen to – we were just rookies. We were just chancing our arm. There’s still magic there in all the recordings, despite the fact that I can’t listen to myself.”
He reckons, however, there is a marked difference between the band these days and the young speed merchants of the late ’70s. At the band’s reunion gig a few years ago, he noticed a more grown-up Stockton’s Wing.
“The one thing that struck me about the band on the night was the maturity of the music, it was magical. We’re no longer the kids, we’re no longer playing to impress. We’re playing for the love of the music.”
The ‘maturity’ of band’s music also resonates in Lennon’s solo career. About to release his first solo album at the age of 55, Maurice has waited a long time, having turned down the offer to record a solo album when he was 19.
“I turned it down because I said, ‘no I’m not ready for that’. Often times I wonder if the younger musicians should maybe think. You might be excited about it now in the moment but there may be regrets there, for example, ‘maybe I shouldn’t have played that tune’ or ‘maybe I should have played that differently’.”
His pending album marks a point in his life when he is very happy with his music.
“As a fiddle player, a lot of people would recognise me from the band but not specifically as a soloist. This is my opportunity, I feel, to lay down whatever I feel I’m happy with in my life musically, at the moment and share that with people.”
Two years in the making, the recording will also bring together members from his well-known musical family – his uncle, Charlie Lennon, on piano; his brother, Brian, on flute and his dad, the Dapper Don, Ben, also on fiddle. The recording will be mostly traditional and, although a prolific composer, only three or four of Maurice’s compositions will feature on the recording.
Next year, to coincide with the millennial anniversary of Brian Boru’s death, Maurice is hoping to re-release his suite Brian Boru – The High King of Tara, from which his more famous composition, The Stone of Destiny, is taken. Unfortunately, at the time of the album’s original release 10 years ago, Maurice became ill and wasn’t able to tour the project.
“It came out and was left on the shelf, kind of thing. I feel the music on the album needs a bit more than that so I’m going to try and see if I can get it re-released next year.”