Caesar: The Irish music scene was in its heyday, especially in New York. It was remarkable the people that would show up at sessions; guys like Johnny Cronin and Paddy Reynolds. And there was a wave of burgeoning young talent. It was a steep learning curve for me. The music was still pretty new. I learned my first tunes from you and John Caulfield. There were cassette recorders, but back then you learned tunes by listening to others play them… that was it. I also picked up from you using alternate tunings to get a drone effect and suspended, modal chord voicings. From the earliest, though, my blues influences crept in… there were a lot of Bo Diddley types of sound and syncopated rhythms and bending notes.
Brian: Once we went back to the City, we scattered for a while, although John and I started to play at a little club in the West Village called The Bells of Hell run by a couple of dour English guys from Lancaster. I remember, every once in a while I’d get called into the office and they’d say, “Brian, we’re gong to have to renegotiate.” We started to expand the acoustic band at that time.
Caesar: Right, I jumped back in and we also played with an All-Ireland fiddler, Kathleen Collins.
Brian: At some point we got the thought, “Why don’t we start our own club?” We talked to an American Irish guy at the Eagle Tavern in the meatpacking district around 14th Street. He said right off that the back room was ours and we could charge whatever admission we wanted and we could keep it all. That was a far cry from having to pay to play! Our new acoustic band at that time included John Caulfield and singer Dan Milner.
Caesar: That was the official beginning of The Flying Cloud.
Brian: It was pretty ramshackle at first. No one was showing up at the door. But it turned out that in the newspaper advertisement, people were mistaking the Eagle Tavern for the Eagle’s Nest, which was a gay bar in the same district. I remember we went to the Village Voice and the editor interviewed us and ran a full-page article publicizing the Eagle Tavern. After that, everything changed. We really started pulling in the crowds. We bought a PA system, some lights, and a sound system. The Eagle Tavern became a well-known venue for Irish as well as other kinds of live music. We would draw top names as guests when they came to town—Martin Carthy and De Dannan spring to mind.
Caesar: Somewhere in there, we hooked up with Tony DeMarco on fiddle, who fell right in with our sound.
Brian: Playing in New York and touring with Flying Cloud helped us to solidify our sound and our repertoire. We had the kind of tightness that a working band has. There were some wonderful people who were regulars at our concerts. John and Christine Townley were two of them and they ended up producing The Flying Cloud album. We recorded that in 1978 with Adelphi Records.
Caesar: Listening to it now you can really hear that it was like a clean live performance, not much fussing and producing. We just went into the studio and played our stuff.
Brian: I always liked the energy and arrangements we had with the Flying Cloud. We liked weaving tunes with songs, and on Jack Orion, for example, Tony played a couple of reels for the breaks - Farewell to Ireland and Master Rogers.
Caesar: You and Dan also sang some wonderful harmonies on other tracks.
Brian: Yeah, there was Tibbie Dunbar, The American Stranger, A Lady Fair… a couple of others.
Caesar: When we went on tour, Flying Cloud consisted of you, me and Tony. We would tour in the Midwest and Southeast, and we had one very ambitious tour, from coast to coast. We loaded everything into an old Ford van…
Brian: … including my dog, Maggie…
Caesar: … and put piles of miles on it.
Brian: I remember we played for a couple of weeks in a bar in Detroit. You had to have a password that they would phone in to us daily to get in the place. The highlights, though, were Bloomington, Indiana and several memorable gigs in California.
Caesar: Being of sound body and mind, I took the opportunity in Bloomington to recognize and fall in love with my soulmate, Chris Collins. That’s a miraculous story in which our paths crisscrossed over decades. It was a mighty happy ending, I can report. On that same trip, we went to Los Angeles, which was the first time I had been there since the time I was born there. I mentioned that I have a twin brother, Angelo. Well, when I got to LA I called him, all excited about the ‘circle being unbroken’ and everything and he said, “You’re kidding me, I’m coming to LA, too. I’m actually moving out there” I said, “Holy shit, when are you going to be here?” He said, “I’ll be there tomorrow morning.” I tell you, that’s the way it sometimes goes with twins.
Brian: In L.A. we played at McCabe’s.
Caesar: I was there recently, and it’s one of those places where time stands still.
Brian: You play on the stage there and behind you, you have all these acoustic guitars hanging up and I remember imagining that they were all playing in sympathetic harmony with the music. We hit some other places along the coast - San Diego, Mendocino, for example, and we also played at the Starry Plough in San Francisco.
Caesar: At one point, on the way back, one of our connecting points was Salt Lake to Minneapolis. Of course, in those days, we did not have a GPS… we just stuck our fingers in the wind. That didn’t always work for us, eh?
Brian: All we knew was we were going to play on a live radio show and we thought 20 or so hours would be enough to get us there. However, as we motored along we began to realize it was going to be touch and go whether we’d get to the gig in time.
Caesar: When we got within range we were actually able to tune in to the show. It was agonizing to hear them say we were wending our way there. I still remember the feeling of being utterly exhausted from the ride, getting out of the van, and watching the audience leaving the theater.
Brian: The show was Prairie Home Companion. Well anyway, after that, we went back to NY and carried on again at The Eagle Tavern.
Caesar: I think it was around that time we went on our trip to Ireland, in order to collect tunes and have a good time. And it was also in time for the Fleadh—the national music festival, which we went to in Listowel. It was a four-day musical orgy. I hooked up with the boys from Stockton’s Wing and headed back to Galway with them and then hitchhiked around on my own.
Brian: We first flew in to England, stayed with my parents and then ferried across to Ireland and went to Dublin where we stayed with our previous bandmate, John Caulfield. We met a well-connected woman who told us about a festival down in Carnsore Point in Wexford that was organized by Christy Moore and the guys from the Bothy Band. Christy Moore invited us to open up the weekend-long show. Then we made it over to the Fleadh.
Caesar: Of course, while we were there, there was a little adventure with Tony. He was intent on going to Sligo—his musical homeland—and we went to Gurcheen where we walked in to the local bar and slipped right into a session. In those days we had the full hippie regalia going on—long hair, feather earrings, fringes and all. We must have been quite a sight. The story goes that a local guy walked in and espied Tony and me jamming away and didn’t quite know what to make of it. He walked in the snug and told his buddy, “There’s two Indians in the saloon bar and they’re playing Sligo tunes!”