The Morrisseys – Charlie’s Song
This weeks post comes once again from the fevered mind of Donie Cassidy, founder of CMR records and – for a time – novelty record maestro. It can be assumed that Cassidy had a more personal interest in this single however. As briefly outlined in the previous post, he had a background in the showband scene, and he first learned to play piano in his native Castlepollard before joining local showband The Firehouse Five on saxophone and trombone in the mid-1960s – the name inspired by American jazz group Firehouse Five Plus Two as well as by the Castlepollard fire station owned by the mother of the three Kennedy brothers in the band. By 1970 the group had turned professional as country act Jim Tobin & The Firehouse and Cassidy moved into more of a business role over the following decade. He formed his own record label and management agency, and eventually scored big with Foster & Allen in the early ’80s. Cassidy’s first foray into novelty songs came with the Pope’s visit to Ireland in 1979, when he released ‘Welcome John Paul’, by Jim Tobin & The Firehouse, which reached number one. He followed this with ‘Who Shot J.R. Ewing?’ by T.R. Dallas, cashing in on the burning issue of mid-1980, and again hit the top spot. A single called ‘John, Now That You’re Gone’, by Lee & Quo from Longford, was misjudged, coming very soon after the murder John Lennon in December 1980, and was quickly withdrawn.
In June 1981 Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey was fighting his first general election as leader of Fianna Fáil. Born into a ‘Fianna Fáil family’, and having already run for election for the party, Cassidy teamed with Dublin folk singer Pete St. John to co-write ‘Charlie’s Song’ (better known as ‘Arise And Follow Charlie’). The stirring anthem was a hit, and lyrics such as “Hail the leader, hail the man” apparently did nothing to embarrass Haughey, who appointed Cassidy a campaign manager for this and four successive general elections. The second of these, in 1982, saw Cassidy elected to the Seanad. Politics’ gain was music’s loss, however, as Donie Cassidy retired from performing, managing and producing, and ultimately passed control of his business ventures – including music stores at Dublin Airport and Celtic Note on Dublin’s Nassau Street – over to his sons. He remained a full-time politician as both a Senator and T.D. until Fianna Fáil’s collapse in 2011, by which time Haughey’s reputation had been severely tarnished.
The song itself was recorded by Tipperary folk group The Morrisseys. Billy, Norman and Louise Morrissey were among the first signings to the CMR label and performed together for many years before in 1988 evolving into country group The Louise Morrissey Band and enjoying continued success.