“Dublin in the rain is mine.” In the video for “Big” by the band Fontaines DC, a child skips and struts along the market in Moore Street. “A pregnant city with a Catholic mind”, he lipsynchs to the voice of the band’s frontman Grian Chatten. The band’s music is hard-driving post-punk, but its sensibility is very specifically Irish — from the evocations of the city that gives the band its geographic appellation to Chatten’s voice, not remotely mid-Atlantic.
Recently the band’s drummer, Tom Coll, found himself spending a lot of time in his childhood home in County Mayo, in the far west of Ireland, a “vast, mountainous landscape, a place that vividly recalled my childhood memories of old Irish traditional music”, and contemplating the rural traditions to which his band are forging an updated urban counterpart. He took the opportunity to compile 11 of his favourite traditional songs, old and new, into this limited-run compilation.
The historical roots of the songs run deep. The earliest recording here is of Joe Heaney, a Connemara sean-nós singer who died in 1984, singing “Oro, Se Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile”. But the song recalls the 16th-century chieftain and pirate Grace O’Malley; the welcome it extends to her imagined homecoming made the song popular during the war of independence and thereafter. Paul Brady sings his 1970s version of “Arthur McBride”, a song that originated in the 1840s, in which the narrator and his cousin get into an altercation with an (English) recruiting sergeant and corporal and a drummer boy that ends with the Irishmen beating the soldiers, throwing their swords in the sea and using the drum as a football. Lisa O’Neill, much more recently, performs “The Factory Girl” — whose narrator brushes off a rich suitor with the reflection that “love and temptation are our ruination” — after the singing of Margaret Barry, with harmonies from Radie Peat of Lankum.
As well as the songs there are powerful instrumental performances. Planxty perform the waltz “Sí Bheag, Sí Mhor”, the first composition of the blind harper Turlough O’Carolan, Liam O’Flynn’s uilleann pipes a-skirl. The Bothy Band (formed by Dónal Lunny after he left Planxty) charge through “Martin Wynn’s” and “The Longford Tinker”, Tommy Peoples’s fiddle to the fore. The album ends with The Dubliners’ song of farewell, “The Parting Glass”, Ronnie Drew biting down hard on the consonants, stern enough to ward off any sentimentality. “Goitse A Thaisce” means, roughly, “come here, darling” — and as an introduction to the tradition, this invitation is well worth accepting.
By: Financial Times