Tommy Sands and members of the Sands Family

I have copied two older blogs from MySpace over to this space today, with some adjustments and up-dating.  I have also filled in with some information about Tommy from

I have longed said Tommy Sands was one of my “heroes” of musicians, listed him as such on my MySpace profile.  While “hero” may not be the exact word for a musician, I do have three listed, and all of them are there for a reason.  Because of things they have overcome in their lives, they are heroes to me.  In Tommy’s case, it is how he has fought against, and sung against, the Irish Troubles, including the loss of two of his best friends in that senseless conflict that never really accomplished anything, and yet is still being discussed today, and from which things are still being worked on, including Queen Elizabeth’s recent travel to Ireland, both the Republic and the North.  Mistakes are being righted, and there is just a lot being worked on in Ireland to try to right more wrongs, on both sides.

But this wasn’t meant to be a blog about Irish troubles, other than the effect on Tommy, and why I choose him to be a “hero”.  Tommy comes from a large family, with mother and father Mick and Bridie, fiddle and accordion, one of the biggest reasons why they became a musical family.  I recently became friends with Tommy, his brother Ben, and another relative Brendan, on Facebook, Tommy being a real thrill for me.  I have spoken of interviewing him some years ago at an Irish music festival, and I was much impressed with him.  The Sands family, Tommy, Mary, Hugh, Ben, Colum, Eugene, and Anna toured together for many years, and today he is touring with his own son and daughter, Fiornan and Maya.  His release Let the Circle Be Wide was named album of the year by Celtic Collections in 2009, and his newest release, with Fiornan and Maya is titled Arising From the Troubles.  I have also just discovered that Tommy has written a book, The Songman – A Journey in Irish Music.  I do not yet own either the newest release nor the book, but you can bet I will within the next month.  Ben Sands also has his own release out titled Take My Love With You.  I am very interested in hearing that one as well.

The family lived in a township called Ryan, on Ryan street, which is where some of the violence of the troubles took place, and where two of his best friends were murdered.  The song from that is There Were Roses, and I have written about that in one of the following older blogs.  But the house was also known as the “Ceili-House”, and was a focus for singers and musicians from miles around.  So there are sadnesses, and there are happinesses.

The family 1

The sands family played that song in Nuernberg/Germany in spring 2009
From Ben’s release. Title song.

‎”Take My Love With You”(“Kellie’s Song”). Ben Sands sings song he wrote for daughter Kellie’s wedding. At CD launch in Errigle Inn, Belfast, September 2010. …

Tommy now lives in County Down, but he stays close to the family that are still living.  And no, I don’t know where all of them live.  Anyway, following are the two blogs, changed up a bit from their original form.

Subject : The Troubadour Tommy Sands

Posted Date: : May 11, 2010 9:21 AM

I listened to one of my older CDs by Tommy Sands last night – the one titled “Singing of the Times”.  It is the one that has There Were Roses on it.

This is one of Tommy’s more meaningful songs, and is at the base of my calling him a hero of mine.

‎”There Were Roses” is an Irish folk ballad written by Northern Irish singer, songwriter and storyteller, Tommy Sands. The lyrics are based on a real incident…

I don’t know how many of you know the story of this song.   Tommy  grew up with bombs and killings during the wars between the Catholics and the Protestants in that northern six counties that are still part of the UK.

The story is that Tommy has two good friends, one a Catholic and one a Protestant.  Tommy says “One night in the late summer, when the roses were out and we could hear the sound of drums, I remember somebody remarking ‘No matter how close the troubles get to us, it won’t change us, for we’re friends and we know each other'”.

Then one night, one of the two, the Protestant, was murdered, and the other friend, the Catholic, was made to pay for it.  It was called “an eye for an eye”, and as we, and Tommy himself, say, “an eye for an eye could go on and on until everyone is blind”.

So Tommy attended the funerals, along with all the folks on Ryan Road, for both of his friends, who stayed friends forever, and left Tommy to go on alone (though surrounded by family).   And he wrote the song There Were Roses.

There are several other songs on this particular recording that speak about the troubles in Ireland, thus the name of the CD “Singing of the Times”.  It was recorded in 1989.

As a postscript, to get off the sadness of this blog, I will mention a very funny song on it, that though it relates to the same thing, the British holding of Northern Ireland, is still fun to listen to, especially if you have a bit of “satire” in your blood.  It is titled Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed.  And it is about how we are fed propaganda so as to be on the side of whatever government we serve.

The chorus goes “Humpety Dumpty was pushed, head over heels right over the wall; Humpety Dumpty was pushed, nobody knew it at all.  All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, gathered around and they kicked him again, etc…………”

One of the funniest, and most fun, songs of Tommy’s. And it has such a great political message.

performed by Tommy Sands on his “Singing of the Times” album.

At the end of the song, when the singer is trying to explain his point of view, he is called insane, put into a mental hospital, and reprogrammed, so that by the end of the song, Tommy is singing “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty has a great fall, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men………………..well, you know the rest”.

I am glad I got to meet and to interview him back in 1995.  I still have that interview, of course.

Subject : Ramblin’

Posted Date: : May 17, 2010 8:28 AM

No particular subject today; just sort of ramblin’ through the music world, mostly Tommy Sands again.  Today, I am writing about a few songs on his recording The Hearts a Wonder, which I mentioned a few days ago.  This recording was made in 1995, and is on Green Linnet.  Most of it refers to times in Tommy’s past, some is contemporary with the time of the mid-90s.

Have you ever heard of Sudako Suzaki?  Quoting Tommy:  “Sudako Suzaki was just a baby when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. She survived but later developed leukemia as a result of the radiation.  There’s an old belief in Japan that if you make a thousand paper cranes (the crane being the symbol of health and long life), you can have any wish that you want.  This is the true story of what happened.  Today there is a statue of Sudako in the Peace Park of Hiroshima and children still go there with paper cranes.”

The song Tommy wrote is the story of Sudako making paper cranes while praying that the sickness would go away.  She made 644 cranes before her little hands gave out on her, and children would leave their classroom and come around to make the paper cranes.

She died, but on her grave, there were a thousand paper cranes.

The chorus is “Sudako, let me make a paper crane for you, Sudako, let me help to make your dreams come true”.

About the song The Music of Healing, he says “The cease fires in Northern Ireland brought a great sense of hope to us all.  No matter what the eventual solution is to be, ordinary people will have to learn to live together.  Sometimes music can help to heal some of the wounds.

On the CD he does this with Pete Seeger. But this is later, done with his kids. The name is actually The Heart’s A Wonder.

Tommy Sands with his children Moya and Fionan perform at a house concert in Byron, MN, sponsored by Mike and Stacy Sinner (10/3/2009).

I wrote the second verse using some words from an old friend of mine, Pete Seeger, and some words he quoted from his father, so I’m delighted that Pete and his grandson Tao were able to join me on this recording.”

Then he goes on to tell about Vedran Smailovic “for joining us on cello.  Every day in his native Sarajevo, the lone figure of Smailovic, dressed in full evening suit, could be seen, walking past his bombed out orchestra theatre and in the street, amidst shell and fire, he sat down and played his cello for peace.  When a CNN reporter asked him if he was not crazy for playing his cello in the middle of the shelling, the famous Smailovic reply that went all around the world was, ‘You ask me am I crazy…why do you not ask those people on the mountain are they not crazy for shelling Sarajevo while Smailovic is playing the cello’.”

The chorus goes “Ah, the heart’s a wonder, stronger than the guns of thunder, even when we’re torn asunder, love will come again”.

This recording is not all sad, but I am always most impressed when Tommy writes and sings music that has something to do with real events in his life, particularly since he was born and raised in Northern Ireland, and went through all the troubles, which affected him personally, as you will recognize from my writing about “There Were Roses”.

So about another song he wrote, Good-bye Love (There’s No One Leaving), he writes this: “I couldn’t help but feel a sense of betrayal as I led my mother out through the door of the family home for the last time.  She had Alzheimer’s disease and we weren’t able to look after her anymore.  I could feel the fear in her hand, just as she must have felt the fear of uncertainty in mine the first day she led me out to school.  Early the next morning in the unfamiliar surroundings of the residential home I sat with her, not wanting to, or knowing how to, leave.  She was the one who came to the rescue as usual.  ‘You must go and take your wee ones to school’, she whispered suddenly.  She had done her duty; now, I must do mine.  We still wave goodby nearly every day as she drifts with dignity further and further away from the pains of the earth towards the perfection of the heavens.  My thanks to the great people in Kennedy’s Home, Rostrevor, for being so good to her.”  The song is three verses of this very story, with the chorus of Good-bye love, there’s no one leaving, Good-bye love, there’s no one leaving.

On this song, and on the one about Sudako, Mairead Nesbitt, of Celtic Woman fame, plays the violin (as opposed to the fiddle).  Beautiful.

Finally,  Tommy wrote a song called Sailing Through the Sky.  He writes about it: “” “Recently, I was playing and recording in Maghaberry Prison outside Belfast.  Most of the prisoners were there on political charges, from both sides of the divide; many were serving life sentences.  After the concert, I was speaking to one of the men and remarked that it must be very sad and lonely, having to spend so many years in such surroundings.  He put his head to one side and smiled, and his eyes seemed to focus far beyond the walls that hemmed him in.  ‘Sure I’m never here at all’, he said, ‘most of the time I’m far away, maybe at a football match in Newry or a dance in Belfast or talking to the g*rlss close to Banbridge town’.  I knew what he meant for he was already on his way, sailing through the sky.”

Brendan Monaghan is listed as one of the musicians on this recording.

About carolstepp

Music is about the most important thing in my life, and I follow a large number of musicians, particularly Irish, Scots, Classical, Crossovers of any of these. I was writing a blog about Celtic Thunder regularly on MySpace, and now I have left them after a year, and will start writing my blogs here. I am 70, retired, living on Social Security, and have a lot of social network fans.
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