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13th December 2008
Luke Kelly
by Mike Scott

The day I moved to Dublin, January 4th 1986. was the day Phil Lynott died. For those few of you who don't know "Philo" was the tall black Irishman who fronted the rock band Thin Lizzy. He was a talented songwriter, smart singer and true character. Coming in to town as Philo was going out, I felt like some kind of replacement, but only for about five minutes, because no one could replace Philo, and I was my own man anyway.

But it's always been a sad thing to me that I never got to know Phil Lynott in Dublin, that I missed his era and his friendship.

Another sadness is that I never met Luke Kelly. Luke, who died on 30th January 1984, was the curly-red-haired, goatee-bearded banjo-whacking singer with The Dubliners, another unique character, and, like Philo, a true Dublin musical spirit. And Luke was something else too. He was a demi-god, a soulful, mischievous human incarnation of Pan. When I watch the film of Luke singing his great musical setting of Patrick Kavanagh's poem Raglan Road, I see the great god moving across his brow, glancing through his eyes and musing on his lips. I hear the blend of god and man singing pain and experience in his voice, and in the streaming, river-like pluck of his banjo.

Come, reader, and see for yourself here

If I imagine meeting Luke in Dublin, I see it like this: a busy music pub, a winter's night. Luke is there with friends, old folkies, heads from the sixties, and new young admirers. I walk in with Wickham at the height of our early Dublin fame/notoriety. Luke has heard of these young whippersnappers, the new challengers, and makes a space for us, calls us to join the music and to sing and play. We squeeze into the musicians' circle and, close to him, I feel Luke's energy, the great cracked earth soul in his voice, and I see the god. And I love him. As the music catches fire I play to him, sending my energy across the circle, directing my own musical power to him. I am focussed on him like he is the only person in the room, almost like a lover, but a musical lover. He feels it, glances at me and grins. In a space between songs, an old song falls into my head and I start to sing. Luke knows it too. We sing together, his great-souled voice and my young man's tones. He is light years ahead of me, of course, singing with deep earth power and the soul of community, and my voice is that of a loner, a dislocated young man of no fixed tradition searching, aching to belong. Yet there is magic in the blending of our voices and stories, and there is power in the fire we make together.

Oh world without end, let me meet Luke in another life, another realm, and may our souls crackle in music together like the sparks of a flame.