The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Baker's Dozen

Escape To The Country: Willy Vlautin Of Richmond Fontaine's Favourite LPs
John Freeman , April 6th, 2016 09:55

Following the release of Richmond Fontaine's tenth and final album, You Can't Go Back If There Is Nothing To Go Back To, the singer and author talks to John Freeman about his favourite albums of storytelling escapism


Kevin Burke And Mícheál Ó Domhnaill - Portland
I did want to talk about my favourite Portland records.

Even though I loved The Pogues, I couldn't quite become a fan of Irish music until I was about 40, when I was staying with this guy in Ireland and he gave me a Kevin Burke record, called Promenade.

I loved that record and then I come to find out that Kevin Burke lives in Portland and I found the album Portland, which is tremendous. In the '70s, he and Mícheál Domhnaill had split from a band called The Bothy Band, who were kind of like a precursor to groups like The Pogues. They were hippies that made traditional music their own. The difference was that they were also legendary hotshot players. I think Kevin Burke just got elected musician of the year [by Gradam Ceoil TG4].

The story behind this record is that supposedly – or this is what I have heard – there was gas rationing in the US for a while in '70s and Burke and Ó Domhnaill couldn't get gas for a couple of days while they were on tour. During those days, they both met American girls and ended up staying in Portland. They then recorded this record called Portland, and it is a perfect gateway record if you think you might like traditional Irish music. There is something about the way Kevin Burke plays the fiddle that changes your perception of the genre. It just makes sense.

It's like with jazz. To get into jazz, I had to start with Coltrane's ballads – the easy stuff – before I could get to the frantic stuff. With Burke's fiddle playing and Ó Domhnaill's singing, which is so gentle and sad, it is a record I can come back to time and time again. My girlfriend gets sick of it, every Friday night I always put that record on and drink a little tequila. It shows that you don't have to be cool to make great music. It is about being able to transport somebody somewhere. These guys can transport you to a different world.

I have gotten to be friends with Kevin Burke, as we both live in Portland. A friend of a friend knew him and there are certain guys you've got to meet. There are certain guys you don't want to meet. I would never want to meet Tom Waits, as I wouldn't know what to say. I would be too intimidated. However, I really wanted to meet Kevin Burke and get him to sign my record. Even though I am getting old, I wanted him to sign my record. I don't know why. It's stupid. I went to his house, he signed the record and we ended up drinking beers for hours.