The Old Punter’s Cautionary Tale of a Ditty
The Old Punter’s Cautionary Tale of a Ditty – The History of “Dublin Lady”
I might have followed the example of Noel Coward when he warned “Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington” in advising my children against becoming songwriters. As it is, in the case of my eldest son, the counsel would have come too late. He’s already done it, and to rather better effect than his old man. I would, however, earnestly recommend that having committed the dubious, or even in some cases felonious, act of song-writing that they get and retain a firm grip on the property rights appertaining to their creations. Try to deal only with a good, promotionally active and (within the grim realities of the music business) honest music publisher. And before signing any contract, not only read it carefully but also have it read by an expert in copyright law. Better still, especially if you perform the material yourself, establish your own publishing entity.
And now for the Cautionary Tale. In 1966 I concocted a faux-folk song lyric called “Dublin Lady”. It was set by the singer and multi-instrumentalist Andy Irvine in his pre-legendary days as an original member of the group Sweeney’s Men who were active during what in Ireland was inaccurately called the “ballad boom”. The group never recorded “Dublin Lady” although they did record another Carroll/Irvine song, “Old Woman in Cotton” as the ‘B’-side of a single that reached Number 5 in the Irish hit parade. It was one of only two songs of mine that have ever troubled the compilers of any best selling music charts. The publishing rights to both of these songs were originally assigned to the Segway Music Company Ltd., then located in a music store off Dublin’s Parnell Square and overseen by (in my experience) a pleasant gentleman named Vincent Nordell.
“Dublin Lady” was first recorded in 1967 by an American-Irish singer named Sharon Collen. It was the ‘A’-side of an HMV 45rpm single (IP.1311). Sharon’s vocal was pleasant and apart from a few bum notes hit by the flute player during the instrumental break it was easy – not to say harmlessly elementary – listening. I doubt the sales figures for the record broke three figures, although, never having had a royalty statement for it, I couldn’t say for sure.
Following some corporate machinations involving the Liverpool-based parent company of Mr. Nordell’s music store the catalogue of Segway Music Co. Ltd. passed into the hands of a show band manager of the period named Tom Costello. The company’s documents – including our original contracts – sat in a corner of Mr. Costello’s offices in Upper Baggot Street, twine-tied in a bundle about the size of a small ottoman footstool. The only royalty payment I ever received from Segway Music Co. Ltd. came while under Mr. Costello’s control and was a cheque for eleven pounds and change in respect of the Sweeney’s Men recording of “Old Woman in Cotton”. That song was subsequently recorded by a group, The Peelers, on their 1972 LP “Banished Misfortune” (Polydor Folk Mill 2460 165 Select). This record would have had modest sales but, again, I wouldn’t know never had any statement or payment in respect of it.
In 1968 “Dublin Lady” was again recorded, this time by Noel Murphy. A song sung by an artist named Lamarr is titled “If There’s Any Justice in the World”. Should such a utopian state ever eventuate there are a number of show business personalities who ought every evening to kneel down on their prayer mats and make obeisances in the direction of the Lizard Peninsula in West Cornwall where Noel now makes his home. Among these would be Billy Connolly, Mike Harding, Jasper Carrot and others who came out of the folk clubs but who were basically comics. Noel did not invent the genre of folk-comedian-entertainer but he was – if not its first – certainly its first widely successful exemplar, and he developed a template used by others who followed in his sometimes wildly eccentric footsteps.
In his heyday a typical 45 minute Murphy set would include about four or five songs, mainly of the ‘rowdy-dow-dow’ variety, taken from the then-prevalent Irish folk song repertoire typified by that of The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, The Dubliners and other of their imitators. Interspersed with these would be a few quick-fire one-liners; some extempore interaction with the audience; and one elaborate joke. Among the five or so songs would be one serious number. “Dublin Lady” became one of these.
“Dublin Lady” was included by Noel on a Fontana LP ((STL5496 886769 TY) called “Another Round”. In the cover photograph of the LP, taken in an Edgeware Road pub around the corner from Fontana’s then offices and studios in Bayswater, there is a young man with long blonde hair playing a banjo and with his back to the camera. For contractual reasons he could not be identified as playing on the record. He was a Scottish lad named Davey Johnstone – nicknamed “Shagggis” by Noel – who subsequently became Elton John’s lead guitarist.
Noel at the time was managed (not terribly effectively) by the jocularly titled Bilk Marketing Board operated in Wardour Street by Dave Bilk, brother of Acker. Noel has told me he never received either an advance or any royalties in respect of “Another Round”. Him and me both. On the LP the publisher of “Dublin Lady” is listed as Welbeck Music. I’ve never had any dealings with Welbeck Music and to this day I am mystified as to by what music business hocus-pocus they came to be listed as publishers of the song.
The next recorded outing for “Dublin Lady” came in 1987 when it was made the title track of a CD by Andy M. Stewart & Manus Lunny, issued by the Irish Green Linnett label (GLCD-1083). The credits on the CD listed the song as Copyright Control and as having been written by John Connolly. The only songwriting John Con(n)olly I know of has written many excellent songs, most notably perhaps, “Fiddlers’ Green”, but he didn’t write “Dublin Lady”. A few years after the release of this CD – of which I had been totally unaware – I was living in South Somerset and went to see Andy Irvine who was playing a gig in a pub in Yeovil. Andy told me about the CD and the mystery of the incorrect crediting of the song which seemed odd. Especially so as Manus Lunny was the brother of Donal Lunny with whom Andy has often worked, most famously in the group Planxty. We were neither of us able to get to the bottom of this mystery, although Andy seemed to discover that the Segway Music Co. catalogue had passed from Tom Costello to something called Atlantic Communications with whom we never managed to get in contact. The Green Linnett label went bust at some point and its back catalogue was apparently acquired by Compass Records, based in Nashville, Tennessee. They have reissued the CD listing Compass Music as publishers of “Dublin Lady” A quick Google search reveals that a performance of the Stewart/Lunny version may be viewed on YouTube where it has apparently had (last look) 5,948 hits, which would argue a few sales of the CD. I have recently received a communication from Compass Records indicating their willingness to rectify on future pressings both the writing and publishing credits for the song and to pay any mechanical royalties accrued since their acquisition of the CD in 2006.
In 1998 an American-based accordionist of predominantly Irish material named John Whelan – of whose existence I was until recently unaware – released a CD called “Flirting With the Edge” which included a song called “Dublin Lady” which was credited thereon as Trad/Arr – Whelan and the publisher listed as Narada Music, a subsidary of the EMI group. I have just recently heard this version, the vocal being sung by Bernadette Peters, and it is certainly the same song. Again, I would assume that it sold a few copies.
Another recent Google search respecting “Dublin Lady” takes one into a realm that to me is at once surreal and farcical. There is a site which vouchsafes the information that Andy Kim (that’s right: Andy “Rock Me Gently” Kim, I’ll trouble you) apparently included a version of “Dublin Lady” on something titled “Other Songs A-Y”. At present I haven’t the stomach to ascertain who is listed as publisher of this version. The original lyric appears on the site Stlyrics and is advertised (the final insult to an unreconstructed technophobe) as being available as a ring-tone! While still in the bizarre category I find that the song has been apparently performed – if not recorded – by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. The lyric – mis-attributed to John Conelly – appears on Cave’s website and is again offered as a ring-tone. And, among a plethora of other sites offering the lyrics of the song, mis- or unattributed, it is available from a site called “gospel christian songs for free”. As a fully paid-up member of the The League of the Militant Godless, my heart will grow grey hairs, brooding on idle cares…”
And here, children, is how the past comes back to haunt you while not necessarily offering you any pecuniary advantage. In 2007 Noel Murphy assembled a double CD including various recordings of his going back 40 years. The version of “Dublin Lady” originally issued on the “Another Round” LP was included. As on the Fontana recording publishing for “Dublin Lady” was credited to Welbeck Music. Early in 2012 Noel received a Notice of Change of Claim from MCPS (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society, part of the PRS for Music group). The change was from Copyright Control to Segway Music Co. Ltd. Noel was puzzled by this Notice on several counts. When the CD was being produced Noel had paid Birnam CD of Dunkeld, Scotland, the company undertaking the manufacture of the CD, a substantial sum in order to clear the publishing rights on the songs included. Also, this claim, coming six years after its release, was and is the only such claim made on the CD despite the inclusion of songs by notable writers including Bob Dylan and Ralph McTell to name but two, who would, presumably, have publishers assiduously looking after their interests.
For various reasons of temperament and personal circumstances Noel was reluctant to pursue the matter with MCPS so I offered to do so. In the course of questioning the basis for the Claim I discovered that at MCPS the people issuing the Change of Claim don’t necessarily communicate with their colleagues in the Credit Control accounts and collecting arm of the organization. Eventually I persuaded MCPS to put the Claim on hold while I contacted Segway Music Co. Ltd., with whom I’d had no dealings for 45 years. I finally tracked the company down in Dublin and after a good deal of to-ing-and fro-ing by telephone and email in March 2012 they formally disclaimed any rights in “Dublin Lady”. End of story, or so I thought. However, at this point MCPS came out of the woodwork again to say that the Claim was now in favour of Moncur Street Music Ltd. A couple of years ago I began receiving statements from Moncur Street Music in respect of “Old Woman in Cotton”. (I say statements: I didn’t receive any money as the company doesn’t make payments under £20. After four statements I’m still about 70p short of my twenty quid.) Curious to know how Moncur Street Music Ltd. came to have “Old Woman in Cotton” in its catalogue, I wrote to them enquiring if they had any record of “Dublin Lady”. I received a reply saying that they had no record of any recordings of “Dublin Lady”, which I mistakenly took to mean that they had no record of the song, which is, of course, not the same thing. In the meanwhile, Member Services at PRS for Music (I am both an Author and Publisher Member) informed me that Moncur Street Music Ltd. had registered their claim to “Dublin Lady” as recently as September 2010.
To their seeming credit Moncur Street Music Ltd. subsequently appeared to have expended some time and effort in pursuit of my queries as to how they came to have songs in their catalogue written, recorded and assigned to an Irish music publisher who had disclaimed any rights in the works 45 years after the original publishing contracts were signed. After some time I was informed that Moncur Street Music Ltd. had in the recent past acquired the entire Segway Music Company Ltd. catalogue. This information did not quite gibe with an October 2012 email from MCPS informing me that there had been a disputed claim over the song between Segway Music Co. Ltd. – who had formally disclaimed any rights in the song in emails dating from earlier that year – and Moncur Street Music Ltd., the adjudication of PRS for Music in the case finding in favour of Moncur Street Music Ltd. I became curious to know how it is that if Segway Music Co. Ltd. had sold their entire catalogue to Moncur Street Music Ltd., they were still a going concern with, according to their Company Accounts for 2011, 18,000 Euros in their bank account(s). If no catalogue of songs, whence the income? However, following all this further long-winded and, to me, inconsistent communication I decided that Moncur Street Music Ltd. seemed on the evidence to have at least some claim on the publishing rights to the song. Although, despite the inability or unwillingness of either PRS for Music or Moncur Street Music Ltd. to address any of the points and questions outlined above, and notwithstanding the fact that legal advice given to me, based upon a study of the original document assigning rights to Segway Music Co. Ltd., that the claim was open to challenge on the grounds of serial breach of contract, I decided to pay the outstanding Claim invoice myself. I may say the sum demanded was, in any case, fairly modest and that I was, in theory, entitled to get 25% of the money back as writer royalty. I might further observe that after informing both MCPS and Moncur Street Music Ltd. of my willingness to pick up the tab I’ve heard nothing from either.
STOP PRESS: I have today (18th January 2013) received the Invoice from MCPS forwarded to me by Noel Murphy. The attached Statement of Change of Claim is identical with that first issued naming Segway Music Co. Ltd. as the new claimant. During a phone conversation with a young woman in the MCPS Licensing Department I was assured that a new invoice would be made up naming Moncur Street Music Ltd. as publisher and possibly even correcting the misspelling of my own surname. I await with breath notably unbated. FURTHER STOP PRESS: On 23rd January this year I received, as forwarded to me by Noel Murphy, a Final Demand on the outstanding invoice. A year’s worth of this tedious and infuriating correspondence having landed everyone back to exactly where they started I gave up and sent MCPS a cheque for the sum in question, along with my eternal curse on the PRS for Music bureaucracy which displays all the speed and dynamism of a physically and mentally challenged slug. AND ANOTHER FURTHER STOP PRESS: Some further internet trawling by my friend Dave Sugarbeet, has unearthed four more available recordings of “Dublin Lady” by, in chronological order of release, Russ Kapp, 2000; Talisman, 2000; Fiddlehead, 2007; and Nancy Daily Green, 2011.
My experience over the past year in dealing with the fate of this obscure little fake folk song has given me some fresh-ish insights and material for thought as to why I wrote the songs I did in the manner I did when I did.
Those of us who were, however tangentially, involved in the folk music revival of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s wished not only to partake of various folk traditions but also in our own modest creations – written in what we perceived to be the Folk Idiom (or Idiot) – to become part of The Tradition. My own salient experience of this desire came one day in the late ‘60s when I was at Puck Fair in the Co. Kerry town of Killorglin. I was merrily slip-jigging from one pub to another when I heard a man I took to be a Traveller busking in the street. He was singing “Old Woman in Cotton”. I thought, “That’s it! You are now Trad/Anon. It’s all downhill from here.” On the other hand we would not have scorned a little recognition and, if there was any going, a bit of money for our efforts.
So, in sum, we then had a 49 year-old folk revival ditty that has been commercially recorded at least eight, probably nine and possibly ten times and has been at one time or another claimed by various different music publishers and once listed as Copyright Control. Neither of the song’s writers has ever received a penny in mechanical or performing royalties in respect of their creation. The present publishers having at one time – speciously in my view – dismissed the above-related history of the song as being none of their concern, did at one point undertake to do some chasing. The original dismissal of old history seemed to me to be somewhat cavalier as my understanding has been that a condition of any transfer of songs from one publisher to another – and I have as a publisher been involved in such transactions – stipulates that all outstanding royalties due to the writers have been paid.
PRS for Music as an organization tends to prioritise the interests of the (larger) publisher members who generate the bulk of its revenues. There is some evidence that it also evinces a touching faith in the unfailing probity and administrative efficiency of its publisher members; akin to those publishers’ own trust that record companies will always display the same qualities. The organization also seems not to take much interest in anything that is not retrievable from its own database records – which are riddled with lacunae, or amenable to its – as previously indicated – rather sclerotic bureaucracy.
AND YET ANOTHER STOP PRESS: I have recently (August 2013) been told that John Conolly has been trying get hold of the royalties for four recordings of “Fiddlers’ Green” that credit the song as being Traditional. Our club is growing. I might also add that over two years after giving Moncur Street Music Ltd. chapter and verse on the various recordings of “Dublin Lady” so far identified, and a copy of the original contract assigning the song to Segway Music Co. Ltd. I have heard nothing from them. Breath remains unbated.
STILL BREATHING AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: In March 2016 I received a Summary Statement from something called Peermusic UK Ltd., of whose existence I was previously unaware. No works of mine were named in the statement, and no money was forthcoming as, while I was apparently in credit to the tune of £26.00, this sum was less than the minimum payments made by Peermusic Ltd. A quick google search confirmed my suspicion that Peermusic UK Ltd. had seemingly made some kind of arrangement with Moncur Street Music Ltd. I emailed one Eric Hunter, described in a covering letter as “Royalties Assistant” seeking some clarification and recommending that Peermusic UK Ltd. have a look at the above history of the songs Dublin Lady and Old Woman in Cotton. In the intervening months I have as yet not had the courtesy of a reply to that email. I am also in the dark as to what became of the £138.94 that I paid MCPS in respect of Dublin Lady, a quarter of which I should have received back as royalty. The cheque for that sum was cashed on the 29th January 2013.
ALMOST BREATHLESS: Recently (September 2016) in receipt of a courteous and businesslike email from the Royalties Manager of Peermusic UK Ltd. undertaking to pursue the various concerns in regard to Dublin Lady outlined above. Whew!
Go on the stage if you must, Ms Worthington, but keep a close eye on your derriere if you mess with the music business.