WHAT’S A SKELLY?
Since recording The Skelly Trilogy (1999-2005) I’ve fielded this question more than once, so here’s the lowdown.
In 1998, some local developers in Nashville were creating a high-end Irish-themed pub and restaurant at a prime site on Lower Broadway. The place was to be called Seanachie (Storyteller) and it was a no-expenses spared venture. Irish artisans were brought over to hand-build the interior, and the man in charge was a fellow from Northern Ireland who’d successfully brought the concept to various locations in mainland Europe and the Far East. One of the investors was a lawyer with whom my wife was acquainted, and as a result I became an unofficial consultant as the project developed, advising on the entertainment aspects of the venture.
The first time I met the Ulsterman, he heard my Liverpool accent and said what I heard as “Ah! A skelly scouse….I love you skellies” The phrase was new to me, although the word scouse was not, so I asked “What’s a skelly ?” “Well, you are” he replied “A Liverpool-Irish lad, a bit of a rogue, y’know.” Although I’d never heard the term used in Liverpool, it had a nice ring to it, and as Skelly was a fairly common surname around our patch, I assumed what I’d misheard was correct, and in no time I’d written what became the title song of the first record “Here Comes The Skelly”. More importantly The Skelly became a character, an all-purpose Liverpool-Irish Everyman on whom I could hang the various narratives in song that were manifesting themselves at an alarming rate.
After the first album was issued I started to get queries about who or what The Skelly was. I did a bit of research and to my dismay, discovered that the phrase, coined by native-born Irish to denote their Liverpool cousins, was actually scally scouse, scally being a shortening of “scalawag” … but the Ulsterman’s accent had rendered it as skelly to my ears.
Well, The Skelly Scouse had become a cornerstone of this particular musical endeavor, so I was happily stuck with him for two more albums, and I simply explained the character away as a bit of a lovable Liverpool rogue, so I was true to the original intent, although I’d misheard and consequently misspelled the original word.
When Seanachie was completed, and a wonderful place it was, I had the pleasure and honor of assembling and leading the backing band for Matt Molloy, the Chieftain’s esteemed flute player, who was the guest artist on the gala opening night.
Sadly Seanachie is no more, but that’s where The Skelly originated.