"Whiskey In The Jar": Church Is Where You Find It (Featured Column)
One Sunday morning this past summer, Tigger and I were on hand at the shop, and a few of us got a tune going. There was my brother: I sometimes forget how big of a man Stevie is, but when he’s holding his old Martin, it looks like a 3/4–size guitar in his hands. Dick Turner Sr. had his sweet little Martin, as well. Eric Beckman had crossed the bay with his bass. And I had my Esquire (an anniversary gift from my dear wife).
We’d been playing for an hour or so, when a member of the congregation – the brother-in-law of one of the regulars – hesitantly mentioned that he had a couple of houseguests who were visiting the Island … and the husband of the couple happened to be traveling with his guitar.
“Do you think it would be alright if -”
“Just for a song or two, you know, and -”
“I mean, as long as you fellas -”
“Yes, yes, yes! Where is he? Bring him in here.”
And finally, in he came: a soft-spoken fellow; close-cropped hair and beard; glasses and an acoustic guitar in a case. His wife had a camera with her (during the summer, everyone that’s not native to Stonington is lugging a camera). All we knew was her name was Deborah and his was Mick … and it was obvious as soon as he spoke that he was an Irishman, right to his core. He thanked us for the chance to sit in.
“Go for it,” my brother nodded his shaven head. “Play one – we’ll follow you.”
So Mick did.
And we did.
I’m betting you might know the first song that Mick launched into, although I wouldn’t dare guess where you might’ve heard it. For me, it was the Grateful Dead, although its true origins are Irish and ageless. The only recorded example Tigger and I actually own is on Disc 5 of the Dead’s So Many Roads box set: Jerry leads the band through a version of it during a 1993 rehearsal. “Whack fol the daddy-o,” goes the chorus, “there’s whiskey in the jar.”
Off went Mick – and for as mild of an entrance as he had made, it was obvious he was no stranger to playing in public. He had a wicked voice (perfect for the song, of course) and a cool chug to his guitar playing. We all scrambled to fold into the tune, blown away by this stranger in our midst; my brother was grinning like a little kid (a 300 lb., 70-year-old, shaven-headed little kid); things were happening.
Church is like that.
The next few hours turned out to be one of those experiences that just happen: you can’t stage them – a script would pooch everything. We went around the circle, each of us throwing a song idea out there … but all of us waiting for Mick’s turn to come around again. And each time it did, he stole our hearts in the greatest of ways. It wasn’t a case of him grandstanding at all, either – he was reluctant to take the lead as often as we insisted he did.
“I really just wanted to sit in while you guys do your thing,” he’d say.
“Shut up and sing,” we’d answer.
The magic sort of took over for a couple of hours and I actually can’t recount every tune that went down that morning – but I remember Mick leading us through a soulful version of the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” … there was a cool and raucous “The Boys Are Back In Town” that would’ve tickled the late Phil Lynott … and then there was “Danny Boy”.
Asking the Irishman to sing “Danny Boy” sounds like the ultimate in dopey musical clichés, I know … but it was beautiful. (It was the only time I’ve known a room of people to sing that song together sober, but it didn’t lack a drop of emotion for being so.)
When it was over, we all muckled onto Mick, thanking him for coming to Church. And then he and Deborah (who’d been taking videos and pictures while we were playing) were gone. The fellow who’d brought them by hinted to Tigger that Mick made his living as a musician (no surprise to us) and they were from New York, but that was all that was said. There was just a wee bit of mystery to it all – but around here, we often just sort of accept things and go with the flow.
An amazing Irishman showed up for Church, guitar in hand … of course. That was it.
Until a few months later, when Stevie’s daughter Stacie happened upon a YouTube video.
Of “Whiskey In The Jar.”
With Mick singing.
From that morning at Church.
And there were the rest of us, too: blundering and blissful.
Stacie shared it with us. And before the video was done playing that first time through, I was dying to know, “Who was that guy?” I mean, it wasn’t like we’d forgotten about that morning – no way. But watching the YouTube reminded us of how cool it was; what a gentleman Mick was; how hard we all grinned. It was a Church service to remember.
Googling “Mick/Irish/New York/guitar” didn’t prove real fruitful, surprisingly enough. But “Deborah Lopez” had posted the YouTube – and a few clicks later …
The website they’d set up for their wedding was sweet. Deborah herself didn’t seem to have a site for her business (D. Lopez Studio Inc.) but the self-titled “chick with a camera” has some beautiful work around the web, for sure. Dig and ye shall find.
And our man Mick? Well, you might have known him as a member of The Guggenheim Grotto; he and bandmate (and fellow Irish lad) Kevin May are known as Storyman these days. I smiled when I read the bio on their website:
“[Mick and Kevin] set out developing their multi-instrumental sound to support what has become one of the most unique, identifiable and chilling vocal marriages. It’s not by chance that they have been compared over the years to the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel with a dash of Leonard Cohen and a few drops of Radiohead — add some of Ireland’s most poignant crooners and you might have a hint of their pedigree. Most recently they have been likened to Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, but they always remain outside the trends of the day retaining an aura of permanence along with deep wisdom.”
Yeah, I could see all that. Tucked into a sweet soul that was just looking to have a tune in a little village in Maine on a Sunday morning.
Like I said, if it hadn’t been for the YouTube, we might not have ever tracked down Mick Lynch and Deborah Lopez. We’d just accepted that two very cool folks had simply appeared one Sunday morning … and then vanished.
Church is like that.
Seek out Mick Lynch’s music on the Storyman site. And watch for Deborah Lopez’ photo credits. As I write this, I believe they’re back over in Ireland for the holidays – he has some gigs, I bet … and she’s probably taking some amazing photos.
In the meantime, if you ever find yourself in the village of Stonington on the southern end of Deer Isle, ME, on a Sunday morning, look for the old building on the west end of Main Street with all the lobster gear around it.
And if you see some pickup trucks parked out front, come on in.
Church is where you find it.
Brian Robbins keeps his whiskey in a jar over at www.Brian-Robbins.com