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July 30, 2018 / rockroots

Billy Brown – One More River To Cross

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The Freshmen have been mentioned in one of the earliest posts on this site, and front-man Billy Brown has also featured from the time his career crossed-over with that of Them multi-instrumentalist Ray Elliott. To recap, The Freshmen were one of the more successful Irish pop groups/showbands of the 1960s, their Beach Boys-influenced summery sound reportedly even overshadowing the Beach Boys themselves when they appeared on the same bill. In 1970 they stretched their creative muscles with a concept album about ‘Peace On Earth’ which, unfortunately, failed to find a mass audience.

Soon, Brown left the group and in October 1971 the singer / keyboardist / saxophonist was reported to be assembling a new band featuring Ray Elliott, Tiger Taylor (guitar, ex-Eire Apparent), Jimmy Greeley (drums, ex-Orange Machine) and Billy Boyd (bass, ex-The Gentry). Ultimately, super-group Brown & O’Brien was unveiled in November 1971, featuring Brown, Elliott and Taylor alongside Mike O’Brien (vocals, ex-The Real McCoy), Eddie Creighton (guitar, ex-The Chessmen), Gerry Anderson (bass, ex-The Chessmen, ex-The Real McCoy and future BBC presenter), Paddy Freeney (drums, ex-The Others) and Pat McCarthy (trombone, ex-Dreams).

The single ‘One More River To Cross’ followed soon afterwards in early 1972 from Hit Records. Intriguingly, the label credits ‘Billy Brown of Brown & O’Brien’, acknowledging both that this is a solo effort but that the new band still exists. This could simply be down to complications from the band-members’ previous publishing and management deals, though it’s also apparent that neither side of the single is a full rock group arrangement. The Neil Sedaka/Howard Greenfield ‘A’ side is a pop ballad featuring violin, piano and a vocal chorus, the Billy Brown original ‘B’ side ‘Yesterday Song’ is a simple piano ballad.

In March 1972, Brown said the band was planning an entire album tentatively titled ‘Questions’, with songs to be composed by Brown with various local lyric writers. Freeney was replaced by drummer Pat Nash (ex-Granny’s Intentions, ex-Woods Band) in July 1972 and the entire band emigrated to Canada to try their fortune. However, by 1973 both Brown and O’Brien had returned to their former bands back in Ireland and their super-group ground to a halt. Elliott and Nash both moved on to The Newcomers – another Irish band based in Canada. Billy Brown struggled through the 1970s with The Freshmen, never quite reliving their 1960s heyday, notwithstanding their surprise punk pastiche hit single ‘You’ve Never Heard Anything Like It’. After the final break-up of the band, he continued writing and producing behind the scenes until his untimely death in 1999.

Billy Brown – One More River To Cross (192kbps, but very scratchy):

  • One More River To Cross
  • Yesterday Song

 

June 5, 2018 / rockroots

From Lagan To Lee

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It’s 1975, and a company that manufactures plastic pipes is looking for a gimmick to promote its brand. The results really shouldn’t have turned out this well. Wavin Pipes was founded in the Netherlands in the 1950s with a revolutionary new idea for replacing corroded metal water pipes with ones made of toughened plastic. By the early 1970s the successful company has expanded and opened a plant in Ireland. Somehow the next logical step was to register Wavin as a record label and issue a series of LPs. The Irish Rock Discography has done a lot of research on the poorly-documented label and discovered that much of their releases were actually reissues of material from the catalogue of the Gael Linn label, possibly pressed as part of a special offer for customers. The gatefold cover features a beautiful illustration by “Young Dublin artist” Jim Fitzpatrick, already famed for his image of Che Guevara, his album covers for Thin Lizzy and his interpretations of Irish mythology. The liner notes tell us that this black-on-silver illustration represents ‘Ban na Naomha, or The Nymph of the Well’, but then go on to talk at considerable length about the advantages of “High and Low Density polyethylene pipes” and make a tenuous connection with the water theme of the cover and title of the album.

The music is representative of the classical traditional Irish music revival spearheaded by Gael Linn and by the late Seán Ó Riada, who appears twice alongside familiar names like Clannad, MacMurrough and The Emmet Spiceland (and happy to clarify that the Golden Dawn featured here are not connected to the Greek far-right political party!). The compilation title is referenced by the opening and closing songs about Irish rivers. All bar one of the tracks with lyrics are sung ‘as Gaeilge’, and of particular interest to rock fans is the inclusion of the obscure only known recording by Ceathrar – a forerunner of the Bothy Band. The album has become something of a collector’s item over the years, with the result that even a scratchy copy of the vinyl is hard to get!

From Lagan To Lee (192kpbs):

  1. Patricia Cahill – My Lagan Love
  2. Sean O’Riada – Tabhair Dom Do Lamh
  3. Ceathrar – Faoilean
  4. Albert Fry – Trathnona Beag Areir
  5. Caitriona Yeats – Carrickfergus
  6. MacMurrough – Cuan Bhaile Na Cuirte
  7. Clannad – An Bealach Seo Ta Romham
  8. Patricia Cahill – A Ballynure Ballad
  9. Emmet Spiceland – Baidin Fheidhlimi
  10. Albert Fry – Ur-Chnoc Chein Mhic Cainte
  11. Golden Dawn – Ar Bhruach Loch Lein
  12. Sean O’Riada – Rhapsody Of The River Lee

See Also:

April 28, 2018 / rockroots

Jonathan Kelly

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Sad news from the world of Jonathan Kelly, one of Ireland’s best and most under-appreciated musical exports; Jonathan has been suffering from “a very aggressive form of dementia” for some time and no longer recognises some of his closest friends. See/Hear my take on the music and complicated character of Jonathan Kelly Ledingham, written as a guest post on the Cedar Lounge Revolution back in 2014, here: Jonathan Kelly – Irish folk singer.

Jonathan’s friend Gerald – the man responsible for bringing Jonathan out of prolonged retirement for a series of live dates in the mid 2000’s – isn’t enjoying good health himself these days, and is seeking genuine offers of assistance and advice for the next steps in preserving Jonathan’s legacy and raising charitable funds. These might take the form of:

  • a Jonathan Kelly supporters convention
  • a tribute concert
  • a tribute album featuring re-interpretations of his songs
  • a Jonathan Kelly box set (featuring ‘best of’ / live recordings / singles / rarities)

You can read the full statement from the official Jonathan Kelly facebook page (and offer support) here.

 

 

 

 

March 1, 2018 / rockroots

Michael O’Brien/Chris King – Éire Nua

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Michael O’Brien was born in Waterford and raised in Tipperary before emigrating to the USA. Chris King was likewise an Irish immigrant from Tipperary, and the two struck up a partnership in the Irish folk music scene of New York, forming Trinity II in 1972. They enjoyed heavy sponsorship from Guinness and their repertoire featured many traditional Irish ballads. For this 1975 record the duo opted to record under their own names rather than under the band name. This could possibly have been something to do with their Guinness deal, as songs like Merry Ploughboy reference joining the IRA and might not have been deemed politically correct for an international brand in the highly-charged political atmosphere of the 1970s. To further the point, the LP is named (‘New Ireland’) after the document proposing a federal united Ireland which was the official policy of Provisional Sinn Fein between 1972 and 1982, and is accompanied by a simple but powerful cover image suggesting liberation. The songs are sparsely arranged and highlight O’Brien’s sonorous voice with its slight American lilt.

Of note, the recording sessions also featured Pierce Turner and Larry Kirwan as backing musicians, around the time this other Irish-American duo were trying to get their first proper album released. We get to hear Turner’s recognisable keyboard work on tracks like Rosín Dubh (Mise Eire) and their interpretation of W.B. Yeats’ The Quest Of Wandering Angus, and it acts as a sampler of where that duo’s musical evolution was at in 1975.

Michael O’Brien/Chris King – Éire Nua (192kbps):

  1. Men Behind The Wire
  2. Black Velvet Band
  3. Wild Colonial Boy
  4. Nancy Whiskey
  5. Merry Ploughboy
  6. Rosín Dubh (Mise Eire)
  7. The Fiddler Of Dooney/The Quest Of Wandering Angus
  8. Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye
  9. Greensleeves Through The Ages
  10. Come By The Hills

See also:

Irish Rock Discography: Turner & Kirwan of Wexford

January 16, 2018 / rockroots

James Young – Ulster Party Pieces

A second post courtesy of WorldbyStorm, admin of the Cedar Lounge Revoultion and supporter of this site.

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Released in 1969, just as Northern Ireland was slipping into the abyss, this record from well-established Ulster comedian James Young makes no attempt to shy away from the sectarian divide. It was a routine his large fan base had come to expect and appreciate though, IMHO, the unrelenting nudge nudge, wink wink, so no more jokes about community stereotypes becomes jarring rather quickly.

The back of the LP is at pains to explain that Young is an equal opportunities joker – his humour takes pot-shots at both militant Catholic Republicans and staunch Protestant Unionists – and that he encourages both communities to laugh at themselves. And anecdotally, it’s said that he retained a cross-community appeal even at the height of the conflict. It does, however, point to an over-riding obsession with religious differences among Northern Ireland society in 1969, and the listener would have to be intimately familiar with the insinuations and innuendos used throughout, like knowing what districts were occupied by which religion, which football team was aligned to which side of the divide, and which 1960s politicians championed which side. The unfortunate thing is that much of the basic premises would still apply to the institutionally-divided Northern Ireland of today, and the likes of the Hole in the Wall Gang are proof of the enduring fixation with the Protestant/Catholic stereotypes.

The most irritating moment for me was when I realised I was getting into a similar mindset and trying to pigeon-hole Young’s comedy as coming from one perspective or the other; which side was he more vitriolic about? So, OK, I’m deliberately going to avoid finding that out, because it shouldn’t be remotely relevant. What I do know about James Young is that he was gay, which in fact probably helped him view the divide from an outsider’s point of view, I know he died of a heart attack at a relatively young age in 1974, and I know there have been accusations of child-abuse made against him in more recent years. Again, none of this is particularly relevant to the content of the record.

Generally accompanied by a traditional-style accordion music, the songs joke about such implausibilities as a Catholic playing for Linfield, a Protestant going on a shopping trip to Dublin, the hilarious notion of a Non Sectarian Football Team and what absurdities would ensue, and an Ireland of the future (1987) where religious differences have come full circle. Most songs are credited to ‘Allen’, including the one serious song, Me Da, in which the narrator, over maudlin piano, reminisces about his deceased father marching in the 12th July Orange parade.

James Young – Ulster Party Pieces (192 kbps)

  1. Clyde Valley
  2. Gerry’s Walls
  3. Me Da
  4. Non Sectarian Football Team
  5. I’m The Only Catholic (On The Linfield Team)
  6. Changed Times
  7. We’re All Ecumenical Now
  8. I Protest
  9. Civil Rioteers
  10. Jimmie, The Belfast Folk Singer
  11. The Wrong Fut
  12. Big Aggie’s Man
January 15, 2018 / rockroots

The Fontanas – Songs Of The Irish Rebellion

The first of two posts facilitated by friend of the site WorldbyStorm, of the Cedar Lounge Revolution.

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Arguably the most interesting thing about The Fontanas is that they had included a young Rory Gallagher in their ranks in the mid-1960s. This record, however is about as far from blues rock as you can get. The Cork showband found a niche in 1967/1968 recording the sentimental ballads and pub tunes of Ireland’s past, both as The Fontanas and as The Irish Freedom Fighters, though, as the Irish Rock Discography notes, in doing so they set a template for the much more successful Wolfe Tones. The same website considers this album “poorly recorded and with clumsy arrangements”, and it’s hard to disagree, especially on painfully out-of-tune renditions of Upton Ambush and Johnson’s Motor Car. Kelly Of Killane has a decent pop arrangement, while the LP opens with a version of Dominic Behan’s The Patriot Game, a song which, as Behan himself noticed, bore more than a passing resemblance to Bob Dylan’s later With God On Our Side.

What’s probably worth noting is the timing of this album. In the brief window between the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising and the outbreak of serious violence in Northern Ireland, recording a collection of very old songs about the exploits of the IRA and Sinn Fein during the independence struggle was probably regarded as fairly innocent and innocuous, but in the context of the next few decades, plagued by sectarian conflict, such an LP would have been considered much more contentious and provocative by many. When fighting erupted, the band found their music unwelcome in most venues across Northern Ireland and Britain.

 

The Fontanas – Songs Of The Irish Rebellion (192 kbps)

  1. The Patriot Game
  2. The Rising Of The Moon
  3. The Three Flowers
  4. The Foggy Dew
  5. Upton Ambush
  6. The Men Of The West
  7. Kelly Of Killane
  8. Dan O’Hara
  9. The Minstrel Boy
  10. Johnson’s Motor Car
  11. Shall My Soul Pass Through Old Ireland
July 22, 2017 / rockroots

Green Sleeves

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I recently had the opportunity to check out the exhibition currently on display at the National Print Museum in Beggars Bush Barracks. Green Sleeves: The Irish Printed Record Cover 1955-2017 takes a look across all genres of LPs and singles from that time, all either printed in Ireland or for the Irish market. The exhibition displays some record artwork previously featured on this website (that’s not a coincidence!), but the overall presentation is really a revelation in terms of the breadth and diversity of the Irish record cover design and print industry beyond this site’s narrow focus.

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Grouped by genre or by era, the sections are in semi-enclosed spaces that give the sense of moving through a series of time-capsules from the golden age of vinyl in all it’s technicolor / mundane / ambitious / tacky glory.

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Of course this would appeal to me, but anyone who grew up owning and listening to vinyl records will get a kick out of seeing these and remembering the time before MP3s and streaming, when music was as much a physical art form as a background sound.

The exhibition runs until the 1st October 2017 and has free admission (details here).