One of the most uniquely recognisable, and critically and popularly lauded, voices in Irish music, Radie Peat – of multi-award winning Lankum and ØXN – collaborates with the Abbey Theatre on its production of Brendan Behan’s The Quare Fellow, lending her vocals to the lyrics of ‘The Old Triangle’, which ring out hauntingly throughout the performance.
The Story of The Old Triangle
In November 1954, when the Pike Theatre’s curtain rose on the opening night of The Quare Fellow, the fifty-five strong audience was greeted first, not by an actor, but by a crackly vinyl recording of a lone voice singing the lines, “A hungry feelin’ came o’er me stealin’…” There is little chance that anyone in the audience – which was barely larger than the thirty-plus cast awaiting cues in the alley behind the theatre – had any clue just how far these words would travel.
The voice was, of course, that of Brendan Behan who, as well as being touted as a promising writing talent, was gifted with a gruff but charming singing voice. The song was ‘The Old Triangle’, a now iconic prison ballad in which the narrator laments the mice infestation of his cell, the goading of prison warders, and his “good girl Sal”, representing the warmth of the outside world from which he is now confined. Despite its undoubtedly humble beginnings, ‘The Old Triangle’ has grown into something of a self-sufficient life force and, for many, a quintessential expression of what it means to be Irish.
Aside from becoming one of the world’s best loved folk songs, the inestimable Luke Kelly credited the song for changing the very trajectory of his life. In a 1963 interview, Kelly recalled how as a young expat labourer in Newcastle in the late 1950s, he forewent his preferred Jazz bar and stumbled upon a folk club: “It was quite by accident actually… I saw a crowd of English people singing, surprisingly enough, ‘The Old Triangle’, singing the most wonderful harmonies, making the most wonderful sounds – natural, extemporaneous. I fell for it straight away. I haven’t been at a jazz club since and I have been singing folk songs ever since.”
Traditional singer and producer
To read more into the history of The Old Triangle, read Macdara Yeates’ full note in the programme for The Quare Fellow, available to purchase at the Abbey Theatre box office.