How can you learn, when you always win?
When I was ten, my father and I travelled two miles on his black Raleigh bicycle up to Mick Bruen's to see the fight on Bruen's black and white TV. The sitting room would be full of men wearing caps, leaning forward on wooden chairs to follow the action. In preparation much expert-looking fiddling with the rabbits ears was done. A storm of grey horizontal lines; on a white canvas, flat figures bobbing. The sound a tinny storm, the commentator urgent. It must have been the Ali-Chuvalo fight; the men - including my dad - were mostly disappointed that Chuvalo lost. Next day I went to the Post Office in Croghan and bought the Irish Independent from Maureen McGuinness. On the sports page was an image of Ali in full flow, a head dwarfed by a mouth. 'I am the Greatest'. I have always drawn inspiration from the breed of human who can stretch and threaten the invisible fabric that we dwell inside. I was entranced by Ali. In his later years, I believe, Ali's anger faded somewhat. He didn't prosecute his advantage to the fullest. He had tasted defeat, and had maybe developed a sense of mercy. In earlier times he would punctuate his blows with 'What's my name?' to those (Like Floyd Patterson) who insisted on calling him by his 'slave name'. In Zaire he took a plane flight. ‘Flying over the Sahara Desert … African Airline … All black pilots, all black crew. This is strange to the American negro. We never dreamed of this. And every time we watch television, they show us Tarzan…' Ali's Rumble in the Jungle victory over George Foreman was a mastery of will over physical power. This fight inspired a remarkable body of literature, including a book by Norman Mailer (Of course the Fighters and Writers ties go beyond Ali; another story). Bundini Brown, Ali's guru, was an amazing character. "This is only a stop, look and listen sign, this fightin'. This is God's act, we just playin' in it".
I never met Muhammad Ali, but this is my imagined Ali, whose heroic status was confirmed to me when he said 'I got no quarrel with the Viet Cong'. In the later years, his battle with Parkinson's and his work as an ambassador of peace adds another layer to his achievements.
Eddie Lee contributed greatly to this arrangement, as did Anna Heuston (she arranged the strings), and indirectly, 'Q' Egan. (His brilliant guitar parts in earlier versions became the string lines here). The strings were played by Frances Bell (viola) Niamh Crowley (violin) and Anna (cello); Tom Jamieson is on drums. Recorded in Paul Gurneys LG studios. Eddie Lee is on bass and sequences; he also played a major part in mixing and arranging; earlier demos which Eddie worked on were formative in the shape and feel of the song. Trevor Knight plays piano here, and contributed ideas to the mix in the studio. I played the guitars, except for the solo at the end, which is Paul Gurney on his trusty Les Paul. Susan Rowland is on lead vocals. Amazing lady. Susan travelled in this song for a long time, and then one day told me what it was about. Finally, this was mastered by James Blennerhassett, Eddie and myself at James' place.