B-Side the Leeside: Why The Langer Song ranks among Cork's greatest records

A classic Cork insult was turned into a nationwide hit by Tim O’Riordan and his talented group in 2004, and the song was even adapted overseas 
B-Side the Leeside: Why The Langer Song ranks among Cork's greatest records

Tim O'Riordan, centre, with  members of Natural Gas at the official launch of The Langer song at the Coal Quay Bar in 2004. Picture: Gerard Mccarthy

On Friday November 20 2015, ITN News carried an item about a bid by a Plymouth folk band to crack the UK charts.  

“The Green Taverners have set their sights on the Top 40 after releasing a charity song entitled The Janner Song,” went the piece.

“It's based on Home Park's match day theme tune, and they've roped in a number of other Plymouth legends to help get their track to number one.” 

Home Park is the ground of Plymouth Argyle FC, whose supporters identify as 'Janners' – an old English word meaning “person from Devon”. 

The song was a big deal locally with “legends” recruited for the recording including Plymouth players past and present.  

“Inside of the Sound, lie the three Plymouth towns, where everyone’s known as a Janner,” they all sing. “Janner… Janner… Janner... down in Plymouth, we’re all known as Janners.” 

This obviously chimes a bell as it is a reworking of The Langer, a 2004 number one by north Cork singer Tim O’Riordan and his band Natural Gas. The tune’s remarkable afterlife does not end there. 

In addition to resurfacing – with O’Riordan’s blessing – in Plymouth, it has been embraced in Germany, where folk bands enthusiastically belt out the chorus “Langer… Langeeerr”.

“It means ‘Longer’ in German,” says O’Riordan. “It’s a drinking song – it doesn’t have to do with a fool or buffoon. The song is about being out in the pub for the night. And they want to stay a bit 'longer…longeeeer'. It is very adaptable.”  

EARLY DAYS 

O’Riordan (54) is from the village of Aherla, halfway between Cork city and Macroom. 

In his late teens he gave up hurling and football to play music, having become fixated on Bob Dylan. He found a mentor in Don Murphy, from Albert Road in the city,  and a veteran of showbands such as San Bernadino.  

“He had that showband wizardry,” says O’Riordan. 

“There was a lot of snobbery attached to showbands. But they could play by ear and had great scope. I was playing Americana and he heard about it. He offered to teach me bass. I was about 19.” 

American songwriters such as Dylan and Neil Young were an early obsession. But O’Riordan later became interested in Irish folk – a passion he shared with Murphy. 

He was soon writing his own songs and in 1992 they had success with their album Love and Hairy Bacon, which mixed satirical ditties and heartfelt ballads.

GROWING HYPE 

Natural Gas were soon in demand as a wedding band around Cork. “We were very suitable for country weddings,” O’Riordan recalls. 

“We’d do everything from waltzes to the Siege of Ennis to Sweet Home Alabama. We did our own songs as well. There was great enthusiasm for us.”

Comedic lyrics came easily to him – but there was a reflective side to his writing, too. “A lot of of my songs were serious,” he says. “It was the funny or topical ones that caught on with radio. I fell into that niche.”    

RECORDING

“Langer” is cherished Cork lingo. Yet the provenance of the word is obscure. 

One theory is that it originated as slang for the male appendage and comes from “leangaire” – supposedly a Muskerry Gaeltacht word meaning “a long, slender salmon”.  

Another is that in the 19th century the Munster Fusiliers were plagued with langur monkeys when posted from Cork to India and returned cursing the “langers” who had made their lives miserable. 

Yet these are simply punts in the dark: much of Leeside etymology – even the source of the local accent – is lost to history. 

“Because of its nature as a port city, Cork’s historic record is full of different groupings of people coming and going – some were invaders and more were just merchants; they left cultural legacies in the city’s architecture, in its street layout, but also in the musicality of our accents in the city, and in the slang we use,” says Kieran McCarthy, a city councillor and authority on Cork heritage.  

“Without written records it is impossible to chart the development of the accent, but it is one of the core living cultural legacies of Cork’s past development”.

The origins of 'The Langer', by contrast, are indisputable. McCarthy was in Milltown Malbay in West Clare for the Willy Clancy Summer School, an annual festival named for the iconic uilleann piper. 

In a pub, he witnessed a man rudely shushing two female singers. On the way home, angered by the behaviour, the lyrics came to him as if welling up from some magical, unknowable place.

“Have you seen the young man, the drunken auld lout, roaring and bawling and spilling his stout. And in everyone’s business, you’ll first see his snout, down in Cork, he’d be known as a langer.” 

An Irish verse was written in English by O’Riordan, and translated by the great trad singer, Seán Ó Sé. 

“I’d had a go at writing the Irish myself. Then I asked Seán would he have a look at it to see if there was a way to get it to flow. It really legitimised it to have an icon like Seán on it.”

The Langer does have its mysteries. In the fourth verse, an 'RCYC' (Royal Cork Yacht Club) accent chimes “Good Man George” as O’Riordan sings (the loquacious tones provided by a bandmate).

“I was down in Cape Clear,” he says. “There were a few 'yachty' people. A singsong started. This guy sang this god-awful song – completely out of tune. And then his friend chimed in, 'Good man George'. I don't know who it was, I just robbed it.” 

'The Langer' was recorded at Satellite Studios in Ballincollig for a modest budget. 

O’Riordan and the band would later return there for the follow-up album, Come Here I Want'cha, with the studio’s owner Tony Kirby co-producing.  

 “I wanted to create a pub-like atmosphere and assembled over 20 of my friends to sing the chorus,” says O’Riordan. 

“I had a truckload of beer and left them tuck in for an hour before we started rolling.   

“The bottles clinking, laughter and craic – what you hear at the start was all recorded naturally, unknown to the lads. The voice calling for order was supposed to be a practice run. 

"It was so good we kept the first take. I wasn’t looking for a choir. Just guys singing together. Many people believed we recorded in a pub in Cork City.” 

WHAT CAME NEXT

Natural Gas stayed at number one for a month, introducing the entire country to the joy of proclaiming someone a “langer”. “Even up in the north, on Radio [Foyle] in Derry, it was being played constantly. We had no idea it would be so popular,” says O’Riordan.

Tragedy would follow, however, when Don Murphy (56) died in a car-crash in June 2011. 

“He was doing a masters' music course in Limerick and was driving home,” says O’Riordan. 

“He was at a stage in his life where the pressure was off financially. He was enjoying going back to college.” 

O’Riordan would release other comedic numbers, about such topics as the Cork hurling strike and City of Culture year in 2005.

However, he has continued writing 'straight' songs, too. 

In 2018 he put out Taibhse, a collection of character-based ballads about historical figures such as Leitrim socialist James Gralton and traditional singer Margaret Barry.  

“At the end of the day, I’m an entertainer,” he says. “Christy Moore sings 'Don’t Forget Your Shovel' and he sings about Veronica Guerin. He sings about the Rose of Tralee and Ann Lovett. It’s a gift to be able to do both.”

The album Taibhse is out now, and can be listened to on Spotify.

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