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Tommy Sands

Born in the North of Ireland, an area bitterly divided by opposing religious and political issues, singer-songwriter- activist Tommy Sands has spent his life using music to spread hope, healing and inspiration, as well as entertainment. Since the ’60s with his brothers and sisters in The Sands Family, as a solo performer, and most recently with his daughter and son, Tommy has been bringing traditional Irish songs and original, socially relevant material to audiences all around the world.

“Arising from the Troubles offers a more eloquent and expansive account of our awkward reality than any shelf load of academic analyses.” Eamon McCann

Special Guests: The Sands Family: Anne, Ben, Colum & ‘Dino’ + Pete Seeger + Tao Rodriguez Seeger + Dolores Keane + Steve Cooney + Arty McGlynn + Donal Lunny + Bojan Andic + John Fitzpatrick + Lisa Gutkin + Greg Anderson + Richard Parkes + Liam Bradley + Rod McVey + Different Drums + Tom Newman + Andy Seward + John Tams + Andy Cutting + John McCusker

“Through the swirl of smoke and sulphur came the rebel songs of Tommy Sands. Not in the sense of whooping it up for violent struggle, but in rebellion against the hatred which has pockmarked our history and shredded the happiness of successive generations. This collection provides a soundtrack for days of darkness, days of hope, days of weary peace: soul songs telling our troubled story with a deft eye for exact detail and pitch perfect appreciation of political nuance.

Northern Ireland is a savage place drenched in decency. Perhaps it cannot be understood other than by an act of artistic imagination. Arising from the troubles offers a more eloquent and expansive account of our awkward reality than any shelf load of academic analyses.” Eamon McCann

Track Listing: 1. Song of Erin 2. A Stone's Throw (featuring Moya) 3.The Mixed Marriage (with Dolores Keane) 4. We'll Sing It All Over 5. Bloody Sunday (featuring Moya) 6. Have You Seen Joe Cahill 7. The Road to Aughnacloy 8. A Call To Hope 9.You Sold Us Down The River, 10.Troubles 11. Bessbrook Lament (featuring Moya) 12. All the Little Children 13. Sailing Through the Sky 14. A Quiet Man (The Ballad of John Hume) 15. Music of Healing (with Pete Seeger) 16. Carry On 17. Silent No Longer (featuring Moya) 18. The Lagan Side

History can relay the facts but sometimes it takes a song to sing the feelings. Such feelings when ignored can all too easily be repeated by another generation.

Most of these songs were written by Tommy Sands and inspired by events and people from both sides of the conflict between 1969 and 2011 and many have never before been recorded or available. These are songs arising out of ‘The Troubles’ songs of lamentation, inspiration and celebration.  

CD Booklet - Let The Circle Be Wide

On his previous CD ‘Let the Circle be Wide,’ Tommy Sands continues to write and perform wise, moving, sometimes rollicking songs infused with his deep but clear-eyed love of his imperfect homeland. The CD reflects some of the changes resulting from the historic 1998 power-sharing Belfast Agreement; Sands’ spontaneous performance of his songs with a group of Catholic and Protestant school children outside those agreement negotiations was called, “a defining moment in the peace process.”

Unlike the early Gaelic bards who wrote songs, stories and poems in praise of their own clans alone, well-known Irish musician and folklorist Professor Mick Moloney has dubbed Sands an “enlightened bard,” who “says and writes words that are more likely to bring people of diverse backgrounds together than to keep them apart.” The fifteen songs on Let the Circle be Wide ring with Tommy’s warm brogue, the poignant Irish lilt of uillean pipes, fiddles, and whistles, but also carry the influence of different cultures, such as the unearthly vocal buzzes and drones of Mongolian throat-singing on “Rovers of Wonder.”

Sands,  who plays guitar, whistle, banjo, and dotara, a stringed Indian instrument, as well as singing the lead vocals, shares his music’s power to heal (the high-spirited “Send for Maguire” and ethereal “A Stór Mo Chroí”), to rally (“Make Those Dreams Come True,” “Time for Asking Why”), to pay tribute to the departed (“The Song Sings On: Ballad of Tommy Makem,” “You Will Never Grow Old,” a gentle farewell to Sands’ late brother Dino), to fight prejudice (“Keep On Singing”), to unite people (the title song),  and to celebrate Ireland’s natural beauty amid ongoing social change (“Fields of Daisies,” “Carlingford Bay”). The CD’s misty, welcoming opener, “Young Man’s Dream,” is Tommy’s “translation/part transcreation” of an ancient Gaelic song which would much later become Ireland’s most famous ballad, “Danny Boy.” This dream song, so apt for today, dates back more than 500 years, drawing us to “an island dreaming where the heart is free,” where “the dream of love, it belongs to all.”

Tommy Sands

Sands’ musical inclusiveness extends to enlisting his daughter Moya (fiddle, bodhran, whistle, vocals), son Fionán (banjo, mandolin, backing vocals), his Sands Family siblings and additional musicians including guitarist Arty McGlynn (Van Morrison, Patrick Street, Christy Moore), guitarist/bassist Steve Cooney (Sinead O’Connor, The Chieftains, Chuck Berry, Dolly Parton), and co-producer/multi-instrumentalist Tom Newman (who worked on Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells), among others, to perform on Let the Circle be Wide. 

With a new CD, a busy international performance schedule with Moya and Fionán, a weekly show on Irish radio, periodic tours with The Sands Family, and his involvement in social justice projects including peace concerts and educational programs in schools and prisons, Tommy Sands exemplifies the idealistic musician as a strong but gentle agent of tradition and change, a carrier of hope and solace, and a man of dreams and reality in the spirit of America’s Pete Seeger, Scotland’s Dick Gaughan and other giants of musical activism.

Tommy Sands was born in the right place. Although his Irish homeland was split by political and religious factions and bloodied by internal terrorism, Tommy and his four siblings grew up in a fairly isolated area of County Down in Northern Ireland on a farm where neighbors of differing affiliations would congregate to sing, dance and play music. The surrounding “us or them” prejudice was missing from their upbringing.
Surrounded by traditional Celtic music in a family where everyone sang and played, Tommy’s first instrument as a child was the fiddle, since “there was always one in the house” (his dad and six uncles fiddled, his mom played the accordion). “When the first guitar arrived in our house,” Sands remembers, “my father looked at it suspiciously and asked, ‘Where’s the bow?’”

The Sands Family 2009 Ben, Tommy, Anne & Colum

Tommy, his brothers Colum, Eugene (Dino), Ben, and sister Anne, started playing house concerts and in local halls and pubs while still young, and in their teens were performing as The Sands Family further afield in Dublin and elsewhere. Tommy had already begun writing his own songs by the age of ten, based on traditional melodies and inspired by local events, and the group performed them alongside Celtic standards.
After Tommy left to study theology and philosophy in college 120 miles distant, he missed performing with his family, dropped out of school, and headed home. By coincidence, he hadn’t walked far before his brothers and sisters appeared in a car to whisk him off to rejoin them in a concert they were performing. Gaining confidence from the international acceptance of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and their very Irish repertoire, The Sands Family was soon spreading its music in larger and larger venues. Their prize for winning a national ballad contest was a three-week trip to perform in New York City in 1971. The group remained in the US for the next six months (a subsequent tour included a St. Patrick’s Day concert at Carnegie Hall), then expanded their following in Europe, establishing themselves as an international attraction in Russia, Germany and elsewhere. 
At the peak of their popularity in 1975, a year in which they released three albums, brother Dino was killed in a car accident. His surviving brothers and sisters continued to perform but scaled back considerably on their touring and recording. For the next decade, Tommy’s life was occupied by The Sands Family work, starting his career as a professional solo musician – writing songs and touring alone – and hosting the popular “Country Ceili” program broadcast weekly on Belfast’s Downtown Radio a show he presents to this day.

Tommy Sands, Joan Baez & Robin Cook (R.I.P.)

Tommy’s first solo album, 1985’s Singing of the Times, contained classic original songs “There Were Roses” and “Daughters and Sons,” which were eventually recorded by Joan Baez, Kathy Mattea, and The Dubliners, among others. His next record, 1988’s Down by Bendy’s Lane: Irish Songs and Stories for Children, marked the recording debut of his children, son Fionán and daughter Moya, neither yet ten. After two more records that alternately featured traditional and original material, 1995’s The Heart’s a Wonder contained “The Music of Healing,” a key song in the sociopolitical changes of modern Ireland. Co-written and performed by Sands and close friend Pete Seeger, with lyrics urging hope, peace and unity, the song was called “an important anthem for our time and our land” by British Minister of Parliament and Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume. Frustrated at the ongoing violence and lack of progress in peace talks, Sands organized a “Citizens Assembly” in Belfast in 1996 that invited creative artists and members of all political parties and religious groups to attend and discuss ways to start meaningful negotiations; “The Music of Healing” became the theme song of the gathering and of subsequent events. 

Vedran Smailovic“The Music of Healing” also marked the first collaboration between Sands and Bosnian cellist Vedran Smailovic, who had become a worldwide symbol of hope and courage when he performed by himself in 1992 at the still-under-fire site of a bomb that killed 22 people in Sarajevo. Sands and Smailovic, both citizens of broken homelands, went on to record the title track for Appleseed’s first tribute to the music of Pete Seeger, 1998’s Where Have All the Flowers Gone, and the remarkable Sarajevo/Belfast CD, a folk/classical/world music fusion of yearning, healing music that included guests Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, released by Appleseed in 1999. 
Let the Circle be Wide is Sands’ first CD since his 2001 Christmas release, To Shorten the Winter, but he’s hardly been inactive. Aside from his crowded international touring schedule, annual Sands Family reunion performances, and his radio show, he’s involved in peace concerts, lectures and education programs for students and underprivileged young prisoners in the US, Israel, Palestine, Canada, Cuba and elsewhere. Those who want to read more about this remarkable, exuberant, world-changing musician are directed to his autobiography, The Songman  A Journey in Irish Music (2005).

Mick MoloneyMick Moloney Irish Musician and Folklorist says ….

“The Irish bards were among the most respected members of early Gaelic society. Steeped in the history and traditions of clan and locality, they created poetry and songs and told stories with great flair and artistry.

They chronicled significant historical events, celebrated the deeds of important people in their clan and provided art and entertainment, which enlivened the whole society. Tommy Sands is a modern day bard. Like the bards of olden times, he draws most of the inspiration for his songs and stories from community events, large and small.

He writes and sings with great insight, perception and humanity about local events and characters. I often think of Tommy as a modern day Chaucer who comments wryly and humorously on the foibles of the human condition but never descends to being mean-spirited. However, Tommy's role in our modern times transcends the traditional role of the bard. The Celtic bard of olden times praised only his own patron and clan and fiercely castigated all enemies. Tommy, on the other hand, says and writes words that are more likely to bring people of diverse backgrounds together than keep them apart. "Enlightened bard" might be the most apt description of Tommy, long may he fill this role.”

“For the post three decades, Tommy Sands has been a man walking the one road that bridges two cultures, Catholic and Protestant, using his music and songs to encourage people of opposing viewpoints to coexist peacefully.

Today, he lives and creates in an Ireland that has grown more pluralistic, challenged by new diversity that still needs voices that call for change and for resolution of our conflicts. Many of Tommy's songs on this recording reflect on this new Ireland. 

He continues to speak of all that Ireland is, from its troubled post to its indomitable spirit and a vision of a land of dreaming. And his work goes beyond the shores of his homeland, embracing cultures around the world, from here in America to the Middle East. 

In this way he continues to share a heritage with songwriters instigating social change such as Phil Ochs, Joan Baez and close friend Pete Seeger.

With this new recording and more concert dates than ever, Tommy now tours with two startlingly capable young musicians - son Fionan and daughter Mayo. With Tommy on vocals and guitar, Moya on fiddle, vocals, bodhran, and whistle, and Fionan on mandolin and banjo, the sound is livelier than ever. 

Their performances include concerts and educational programs at performing arts centres, folk clubs, and schools. The music moves from traditional lrish to contemporary folk, and Tommy's lyrics, as ever, evoke images of Ireland and make edgier commentaries on social consciousness.”

Tommy Sands Discography:

2009 Let The Circle Be Wide (Appleseed Recordings) Available Now

2006 To Shorten A Winter (Green Linnet)

1999 Sarajevo To Belfast with Vedran Smailovic (Appleseed Recordings)

1995 The Hearts A Wonder (Green Linnet)

1990 Beyond The Shadows (Spring Records)

1988 The Hedges Of County Down (Spring Records Cassette Only)

1987 Down By Bendy’s Lane, Irish Songs & Stories For Children (Green Linnet)

1985 Singing of The Times (Spring Records)


The Songman - A Journey in Irish Music (2005)

Pat Tynan Media
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