Sing an Irish Song!

I slag off my home country a lot - and it usually deserves it - but we've got some amazing music here. From rock to pop to trad to, um, NOT country, stay away from that stuff! But there's a wealth of musical talent in Ireland, and in this thread I'll be doing my best to bring it to you, from every genre I can find. Feel free to post your own if you wish, just don't be insultin' me by refusin' a drink now, or we'll be after fallin' out, you and me. Right then: mine's a pint.

Now, it would be terrible sterotyping to begin with an Irish trad album, wouldn't it? Oh it would, now, it would. Terrible stereotyping altogether.

So let's start with an Irish trad album.

The Well Below the Valley - Planxty - 1973 (Polydor)

Responsible for creating some of the biggest and best talent in the Irish folk scene, Planxty were formed in 1972 by Christy Moore, who had at that time just finished recording his second album, and had had the assistance of his friends Donal Lunny, Liam O'Flynn and Andy Irvine. The guys liked working together so much that they decided to put together a band, and thus Planxty was born. Credited with raising the profile of Irish trad and folk music more than any other band prior, Planxty would later give birth to Moving Hearts, as well as, indirectly, the scourge we now know as Riverdance!
Uileann pipes and fiddle open "Cunla"(coon-lah), with the soon-to-be-familiar "scat"-style singing of Christy Moore, singing alernatively in Irish then English. Irvine on banjo and Lunny on bouzouki join in, Moore adding a sense of percussion via the bodhran (bow-rawn). I don't know that much about trad music, but I think this is a reel, maybe. It's certainly lively and makes you want to get up and dance, as a lot of trad music does. It's followed by "Pat Reilly", banjo and whistle in a sort of Irish uptempo ballad, with either Donal Lunny or Andy Irvine on vocals - it's not Christy, that's all I can confirm. Like much trad and indeed folk music there's little in the way of percussion, no drumming as the song is carried along on the banjo and backed by the whistle, the truest meaning of unplugged you could come across.
Two slip jigs (don't ask) follow, the first being "The kid on the mountain" (which I think is meant to refer to a goat rather than a child) and played mostly on uileann pipes with the second being called "An phis fliuch"(on fiss flue-awch) - I know "fluich" means wet, not sure about the phis part - with Christy Moore's bodhran coming in to add to the pipes. It all slows down then for "As I Roved Out", an old traditional Irish ballad played on acoustic guitar and pipes and sung by Andy Irvine. It's one of two versions on the album, the other being sung by Christy Moore. Why? I have no idea...

More reels to follow, with "The Dogs Among the Bushes" and "Jenny's Wedding", both merging as reels tend to, and played on loud uileann pipes again, a real dancing rhythm as the bodhran joins in and some mandolin and/or banjo adds to the proceedings. The title track is up next, on whistle and bodhran with Christy singing as bouzouki slips in, slowly taking over the tune on a mid-paced kind of a drinking song, as many of these trad songs are. Nice backing vocals, the first time on the album that Planxty have used more than one voice on any one song.
"Hewlett" then is a pipes-led instrumental, with banjo joining in as Irvine and O'Flynn go head-to-head, as it were, and "Bean Phaidin" (ban fawd-jeen), which best translates as either Mrs. Phaidin or Phaidin's wife, is sung entirely in Irish against harmonica, bodhran and fiddle. Not sure who sings it, but it may be Donal Lunny. Halfway through, this develops into a sort of jig or reel (I don't know the difference) as the whole band comes in with bodhran, pipes, harmonica, bouzouki and anything else they can get their hands on it would seem!

Two hornpipes are next, "The Fisherman's Lilt" and "Cronin's Hornpipe", again mostly on uileann pipes with harmonica and whistle, bouzouki coming in for the second one, which takes us to the second version of "As I Roved Out" on the album, this one sung by Christy with what would become his characteristic everyman charm, soft voice but loaded with passion and honesty. In fact, it sounds like a different song entirely. How weird. Little indeed do I know of the Irish trad scene. This is played on whistle with mandolin backing, much faster than the other version. It's also much shorter, almost a minute shorter than the Andy Irvine version.

"The Humours of Ballyloughlin" is a jig played on uileann pipes, a true solo as no other instrument is involved, from start to finish. We close then on the gentle acoustic guitar ballad "Time Will Cure Me", which is I think sung by Irvine. Nice relaxing whistle then joins in, with some lovely laidback mandolin adding to the mix.

An album of alternately incredible energy and enthusiasm, and fragile balladry, it's easy to see why this album lifted Planxty out of the realm of the ordinary, and why they as a band were able to do so much to advance the cause of Irish traditional and folk music. It wouldn't be my own favourite genre now, this music I used to disparagingly refer to as "skiddly-idle", but for anyone familiar with, or interested in folk, trad and celtic music and rhythms, Planxty is a very good starting point.


1. Cunla
2. Pat Reilly
3. Slip Jigs: "The Kid on the Mountain/An phis fliuch"
4. As I Roved Out (vocal: Andy Irvine)
5. Reels: "The Dogs Among the Bushes/Jenny's Wedding"
6. The Well Below the Valley
7. Hewlett
8. Bean Phaidin
9. Hornpipes: "A Fisherman's Lilt/Cronin's Hornpipe"
10. As I Roved Out (vocal: Christy Moore)
11. Solo Jig: "The Humours of Ballyloughlin"
12. Time Will Cure Me

I'm looking forward to this!

This is what you want. This is what you get.

One of Ireland's true national treasures, you'll go a long way, halfway across Ireland, and probably all the way from border to border and back before you'll find someone who has not at least heard of Christy Moore. And most Irishmen and women will tell you they love him. Oh, they may not be into his music, but Christy is one of the most genuine, honest and down-to-earth people in the entire country. It's almost impossible not to like him. We met him in the first album, playing with Planxty, but it's as a solo artist he has really shone. It's not like he's had hit singles, but his songs are known and loved all across the land. Everyone knows "Don't Forget Your Shovel", "Lisdoonvarna", "Delirium Tremens" and "Ride On". Christy has sold millions of albums worldwide and has worked with huge stars. If you could choose two words to describe him, it would be the title of this album.

Ordinary Man - Christy Moore -1985 (Walker)

Christy has long been acknowledged as one of the best ever songwriters and musicians the Irish folk scene has ever produced, and his output ranges from out-and-out traditional, folk and some blues influences to rockier material and some gorgeous ballads, including the superlative Jimmy McCarthy song, "Ride On". Some of his songs are satirical, some sharply so. His song "Lisdoonvarna", written about the Irish music festival that takes place there annually, is just good fun, as is "Don't Forget Your Shovel", but he can write some very cutting stuff too. This album opens with "Sweet Music Roll On", a lovely little trad-type ballad on acoustic guitar with uileann pipes backing. "Delirium Tremens" is a hilarious but very serious little ditty, ostensibly about the "D.T's", the withdrawal symptoms from alcohol addition, but features many references to Irish politicians, religion and other Irish figures too. Most of the lyric will probably be incomprehensible to anyone not Irish, but it's a great little song, carried on acoustic guitar and bodhran.
Christy tends to sing a lot of his material almost sotto voce, in a manner somewhat similar to John Martyn: he seldom raises his voice and you often have to strain to hear him, but his singing is the better for this. The standout track on the album breaks this habit, as Christy snarls out the title track, a sharp indictment of the plight of the workingman, when he snaps "The owner says he's sad/ To see things have gone so bad/ But the captains of industry/ Won't let him loose/ He still drives a car/ Smokes a big cigar/ He still takes his family on a cruise!" It's a mid-paced ballad, with great guitar and some nice steel pedal guitar too, tom-toms keeping the percussion beat.
Most of the album is simple acoustic guitar with minimal percussion, some banjo and the odd keyboard flourish, the uileann pipes adding some colour as well as harmonica and maybe fiddles, hard to say and I have no instrumentation listing. But it's very, very Irish and very, very Christy. "The Reel in the Flickering Light" opens on mournful keys and banjo or mandolin, features some lovely piano too, then Christy's guitar takes over and he returns to the normal way of singing for him, which is almost that of a man practicing alone in a room. This is part of Christy's charm: there are no airs or graces about the man. He plays on stage as he would at home alone, or on his records, and he's as honest and unassuming a man as you're ever likely to meet.

Another ballad then in "The Diamandtina Drover", and there's another instrument to add in: the accordion. Not normally one of my favourites, but it works very well here. "Blantyre Explosion" opens with sounds of rain and thunder, and settles into another laidback ballad about a mining disaster in Scotland. "Hard Cases" is another little jaunty tune, in something the style of "Delirium Tremens" but a little slower, and a lot of accordion, while "Continental Ceili" (pronounced "kay-lee") recalls his satirical "Don't Forget Your Shovel", another jaunty, pleasant little ditty just celebrating the Irish traditional way of life (a ceili is an Irish dance with traditional music), and "St. Brendan's Voyage" depicts the journey of the Irish Saint Brendan the Navigator with a typical Christy Moore slant as he asks "Is it right or left/ For Gibraltar?/ What tack do I take/ For Mizzenhead/ I'd love to settle down/ Near Bantry Harbour/ Saint Brendan to his albatross/ He said." Great stuff!
The album was supposed to have included a song written by Christy commemorating the forty-eight young people killed in one of Ireland's worst accidents, the fire at the Stardust nightclub in 1981, but legal complications prevented him from adding it, and so instead, where "They Never Came Home" should have been, we have "Another Song is Born", which itself alludes to why songs are written, a direct attack at the powers that stopped him releasing "They Never Came Home", which was sharply critical of the Irish government for their treatment of the disaster and its aftermath, as well as the Butterleys, the owners of the nightclub, who themselves had strong ties to the party in power, Fianna Fail.

The album closes on the lovely "Quiet Desperation", featuring ex-Clannad member and solo artist Enya on backing vocals and keyboards. It's another lonely ballad, fragile and beautiful, perfectly crafted and delivered with gorgeous mandolin accompaniment from Donal Lunny, and it brings down the curtain on a fine album by one of Ireland's favourite and most-loved sons.


1. Sweet Music Roll On
2. Delirium Tremens
3. Ordinary Man
4. Matty
5. The Reel in the Flickering Light
6. The Diamondtina Drover
7. Blantrye Explosion
8. Hard Cases
9. Continental Ceili
10. St. Brendan's Voyage
11. Another Song is Born
12. Quiet Desperation

Shadow Hunter - Davy Spillane - 1990 (Tara)

Next I'd like to turn to another of our most accomplished and respected traditional musicians. Davy Spillane is one of the premier uileann pipes players in Ireland, and while that may not mean a lot to many people, it's quite an accomplishment, as uileann pipes are notoriously hard to master. A founder member of Moving Hearts, Davy has played with such luminaries as Rory Gallagher, Van Morrison, Mike Oldfield and Kate Bush. He has also composed, or played on, many film soundtracks including Eat the Peach, Wuthering Heights, Rob Roy, Dancing at Lughnasa and Michael Collins. This is his second solo album.
Low humming bodhran played by Christy Moore opens the album with "Introduction - Lucy's Tune/Indiana Drones", joined by Davy's pipes and quickly then slide guitar played by Anthony Drennan in a blues style which then slips very quickly into Irish trad, the pipes joining in with fiddle and accordion as the whole thing basically rocks along, a certain sense of Mike Oldfield/Paul Simon about the composition, and a great opener. Davy swaps his pipes for a low whistle to take us into "Carron Streams", a slow, atmospheric piece built on humming keys and fretless bass, Drennan's slide guitar again adding a touch of blues rock to proceedings. About halfway in it gets a little more bouncy, with spacey, Peter Gabrielesque keyboards and some nice acoustic guitar from Drennan.

Things hit back into high gear then for "Watching the Clock", with a long uileann pipes intro then electric guitar coming in, congas taking the percussion in what sounds like a reel of some sort, though as I mentioned on the review of Planxty's album I really don't know a jig from a reel. Certainly lively though, becoming very guitar-centric, and takes us into "Walker of the Snow", a beautifully laidback piece of music with electric guitar, dobro and mandolin, with the first vocals of the album, supplied by Sean Tyrrell. Davy uses both uileann pipes and low whistle on this tune, on the latter of which he performs a lovely solo halfway into the song.
Low whistle and fretless bass drive "Hidden Ground", with some very effective electric guitar and a nice drumbeat held by Paul Moran, with some delicious piano adding to the mix, courtesy of James Delaney, then "The White Crow" comes in on gentle congas and dobro, until Martin O'Connor's accordion takes over the tune, joined by Davy's uileann pipes and Christy Moore's bodhran. Next up is a fast, almost frenetic jig (maybe) which goes under the title of "Moyasta Junction" and is carried on fiddle and guitar, the former breaking out in a sort of Chicago blues vein before the fiddle brings things back to an Irish trad style, the song seeming to get faster as it goes along. Then in total contrast "Journeys of a Dreamer" slows everything right back down with lovely low whistle from Davy, with Anthony Drennan joining in on the electric guitar while James Delaney lays down a soothing keyboard melody against which the song plays, and everything picks up again for another reel (?) as Davy goes back to his uileann pipes for "One day in June", more great accordion from Martin O'Connor and bodhran from Christy as Kevin Glackin cuts in with the fiddle and Drennan's guitar keeps the rock element firmly alive among all the trad.

"Equinox" opens on uileann pipes and acoustic guitar with some electric too, nice measured drumming and some splendid fretless bass from Tony Molloy, lovely bit of piano there in the background and a special little mandolin solo from Drennan, the whole piece somehow acquiring a sort of Pink Floyd feel, then the final track is the only other one with vocals, again supplied by Sean Tyrrell. "The Host of the Air" is based on the poem by William Butler Yeats, carried on ethereal keys and mandolin, the latter of which is also played by Tyrrell. Very atmospheric, very eerie, without question carried on Tyrrell's strong yet matter-of-fact vocal, and appropriately enough, ends on a small uileann pipes solo from Davy.

Trad is not really my thing, but I have a lot of respect for it, especially as an Irishman. After all, this kind of music has been around for centuries longer than any other, and it has a lot to say to us about a time long ago when things were simpler. The musicians who play in the trad scene have nowhere to hide - not that they need to - as most of it is played acoustic, much without any sort of percussion and often no keyboards or even piano, so everyone has to know their instrument inside out and be able to play solo if needed, or as part of a group. In an acoustic setting, one person playing out of tune or time can upset the whole performance.

Davy Spillane is without question a master of his chosen instrument. Here he can make it do anything he wants to, and has created, along with those who helped him on the album, a recording that seamlessly meshes traditional, folk and rock themes to great effect. It's certainly no surprise he's as highly regarded as he is.


1. Introduction - Lucy's Tune/Indiana Drones
2. Carron Streams
3. Watching the Clock
4. Walker of the Snow
5. Hidden Ground
6. The White Crow
7. Moyasta Junction
8. Journeys of a Dreamer
9. One Day in June
10. Equinox
11. The Hosts of the Air

#5 Jan 30, 2023, 10:50 PM Last Edit: Jan 30, 2023, 10:54 PM by Trollheart
If there's one thing Irishmen like to do (other than drink) it's fight. Sure, you can call it a cliche, but I can tell you, Irish people (possibly like others but it seems pretty endemic to us) always go for the split idea. Which is to say, no matter where you are, there will be a divide, be it large or small, on either side of which it will be you against them. Divide Ireland in two (not really) you have Protestants in Ulster versus Catholics in the Republic. Now take the Republic. Dublin people look down on those from outside the capital, especially those in the more rural counties, which we call "culchies", and no I don't know why. we also call them rednecks and muck savages, which is easier to understand. Then, within Dublin, you have northside v southside (southside is where all those with money live, northside is where scum like me live). But it doesn't stop there. Take any area, any street, and it will be divided up.

There's not necessarily any violence involved (though sometimes there is) or any gang-related thing, but you grow up in or move into one or the other of ever-decreasing borders in Ireland, and whoever is on the other side is your (technical) rival. And so, too, with two genres of music, one of which has been around for centuries, the other is considered what we call a "blow-in", just arrived. Trad is trad and rock is rock, and never the twain shall meet, world without end, Amen.

Except Horslips didn't see it that way. It was this band who most agree went the furthest in fusing the music of traditional Irish with rock, two genres which had been not only separate up to then, but more or less universally despised one by the other. Those who played traditional Irish - or "trad" - music believed that rock musicians were bastardising the form, while rockers looked down on trad musicians as old men playing jigs and reels, which they were, mostly, but neither really gave the other any credit, considering their genre the only "true" musicians.

Horslips did a lot to change that. Formed, appropriately enough, on St. Patrick's Day 1972, Horslips began playing Irish trad music but soon began to inject folk and then rock and even pop music into their recordings. Their biggest crossover was the album below, one of several concept ones that they released during their ten-year career, and one which has helped to cement their position in Irish music history as the founding fathers of Celtic rock.

The Tain - Horslips - 1973 (Horslips Records)

The Tain* is an ancient Irish legend, which concerns the theft of the "Brown Bull of Cooley" from Maeve*, Queen of Connaught* (one of the four main Irish provinces) by the men of Ulster (yeah, another province, but you'll probably know that one) including the Irish legendary hero CuChulainn.* Rather than put in brackets how to pronounce all the Irish words, I'll stick an asterisk after each and put a key after the review, okay? Cuchulainn comes up against his foster-brother and friend, Ferdia, and has to battle him. As in most lore, this does not go well.
Much of the album is instrumental, and most of the tracks very short, and I have to pay a great debt of thanks to the official Horslips site (The Official Horslips Web Site) for its depth of information on this album, so that I can explain it the better. "Setanta", which is one of the many instrumentals, opens the album, and is essentially chronicling the early life of the hero CuChulainn, who began life known as Setanta, but got his name when he killed one of the hounds of the master of Chulainn - cu in Irish means hound, and Setanta agreed to stand in for the dog and protect the lord's place, thus becoming the hound of Chulainn, or CuChulainn. It's a short, almost Jeff Wayne-ish instrumental - even though it would be years yet before we even heard of a musical version of the War of the Worlds - and goes into a sort of jig, reel or something called "Maeve's Court", and then the first vocals come with "Charolias"*, a boppy uptempo song with guitar and fiddle, pipes and booming drums as the men of Ulster invade Queen Maeve's realm to steal away her black bull, which she is so proud of and which the king of Ulster covets, as kings often did. Nice tin whistle solo - yeah, it's trad, get used to such phrases! - from Jim Lockhart followed by a great guitar solo from John Fean, and while the main vocal is a little quiet, the backing vocals are quite strong.

A march then in the style of "The Battle Hymn of Munster", which also forms the basis of the preceding track, with some good organ and again some fine whistle, taking us into "You Can't Fool the Beast", with a great vocal line and some smooth guitar from Fean. Horslips were always at their best and strongest when they were all singing together, and indeed so it proves again here. Ian Anderson would have been proud of Lockhart's whistle, and there's also a great guitar solo that's just this side of Thin Lizzy, with the other foot tipping Carlos Santana territory. Oh, didn't I mention? Some excellent fiddle from Charles O'Connor too.
This takes us into Horslips' most successful and famous track, "Dearg* Doom". Literally, red doom, or red destroyer according to the Horslips site, it will be familiar to anyone who has ever heard the Irish World Cup song from Italia 90, "Put 'em Under Pressure", as it forms the main guitar riff in that song, and its use helped introduce a younger and wider audience to the band, and of course revitalised their career and back catalogue for a little while. It's probably the rockiest of the tracks on the album, hopping along at a great lick, with great guitar and fiddle, a bass line to die for and of course that guitar riff. Special. The song itself concerns CuChulainn, who is the "dearg doom" referred to, as he prepares to go into battle.

"Ferdia's Song" then is a reprise of the tune of the opener, as CuChulainn tries to dissuade his friend Ferdia from fighting him, knowing he must kill the man, but Ferdia of course will not be frightened off. Nice guitar again, some lovely keyboard work from Lockhart and some lonely tin whistle adding a real note of despair and frustration to proceedings. Another great guitar solo and some mournful fiddle, which runs then into an instrumental continuation of the theme, under the name of "Gae Bolga*", this being the name of CuChulainn's spear. Ends on some frantic, swirly keyboard as Ferdia dies.

A low tin whistle then accompanies the vocal as "CuChulainn's Lament" gives pause, he hero mourning his fallen friend, fiddle and percussion joining in with some nice uileann* pipes, then we hear from Maeve's messenger, MacRoth, as he reflects on the battle to come in "Faster Than the Hound", a sort of Beatles sound to the music, mixed with a certain sense of ELO. A nice, laidback ballad, the calm before the storm, as the men of Ulster prepare for battle in "The Silver Spear", which is, according to the Horslips website, a trio of different reels, and certainly gives the impression of building excitement and anticipation.
"More Than You Can Chew" is a folk/rock uptempo song, as CuChulainn warns Maeve that she does not know what she's taking on. Nice female backing vocals, unfortunately uncredited, as the song moves to the theme of the March of the King of Laois*, then one more instrumental in "The Morrigan's Dream", set to an Irish dance tune called "Old Nolls' Jig" - the Morrigan was the Irish queen of combat and war, usually represented as a crow or raven - and we close on "Time to Kill", set to another jig, "The Humours of Whiskey", as CuChulainn lies dying, wondering whether it was all worth it. Great vocal harmony opening, then the jig comes in with keyboards, guitar and fiddle, drums and whistles.

To properly appreciate this album you need to understand the story of the Tain, but I have not the space or the inclination to go into it here. If you want to, you can look it up on Wiki: it really is a fascinating story. But you can still appreciate the difference Horslips made to Irish music by listening to this album: the fusion of various different styles into one cohesive and recognisable whole set the trend and laid the groundwork for some excellent albums that were to follow, and perhaps dragged both some trad musicians into the rock arena and also showed rock bands that trad could be cool too. It is, after all, our oldest form of music. As the late great Phil Lynott might have said: "Traditional: ye know what I mean?"


1. Setanta
2. Maeve's Court
3. Charolias
4. The March
5. You Can't Fool the Beast
6. Dearg Doom
7. Ferdia's Song
8. Gae Bolga
9. CuChulainn's Lament
10. Faster Than the Hound
11. The Silver Spear
12. More Than You Can Chew
13. The Morrigan's Dream
14. Time to Kill


*Tain = Tawn or sometimes Toyn
*CuChulainn = Coo-kull-in
*Maeve = Mayv
*Gae bolga = Gay bulg-ah
*Laois = Leesh
*Connaught = Conn-aw-ckt
* Dearg = Dar-ag or jar-awg
*Charolias = Shar-oh-lay
* Uileann = Illin'

Let's take a step away from the trad for now, and check out some of the Irish rock acts that have brightened our shores over the years, some of whom have sadly vanished into the (Celtic) mist of time. Like these guys,

The Long Acre - In Tua Nua - 1988 (Virgin)

Another great Irish band that you've probably never heard of, In Tua Nua (literally, in Irish, "A new lamd pr country") released their third album overall, second since signing to Virgin, in 1988. The Long Acre is a mixture of rock, pop, Irish trad with some nice ballads in there too. It kicks off with guitar, heavy bass and violins all behind a steady drumbeat, as uileann pipes join in and the first track, "Woman on Fire" gets going. The vocals of Lesley Dowdall are strong and impassioned, and the song rattles along at a great lick, Jack Dublin's jangly guitar forms the backbone of the piece, aided by sweet violin provided by Lovely Previn - yeah, that's her name, and she's the daugher of world-renowned conductor Andre. Things stay at a good pace for "All I wanted", the violins taking over a little from the guitar, and it's a great poppy/commercial song, which was actually released as one of the three singles from the album.
Things slow down a little then for "Wheel of Evil", and even more for the soft and tender "Meeting of the Waters", and its message of hope: "When I return we will be wed/ At the meeting of the waters." Some really nice acoustic guitar here, and Lovely gets to make that violin cry, with additional whistles and pipes from Brian O'Brian. It's a very short song, and precedes the best track on the album, and at five and a half minutes, the longest. "The Innocent and the Honest Ones" starts off slow with uileann pipes and guitar, with some precision drumming from Paul Byrne, and gets more intense as Lesley rails at the Church for its repressive regime, and for twisting the teachings of God: "You gave us sexuality/ Desire is no sin/ You gave out common sense/ But not in a catechism." For an Irish band, in the eighties, this is a brave and risky attack on the most powerful institution in Ireland. "I've learned to hate the holy hold on civil freedoms/ Rabble-rousing religious salesmen/ Self-denying catholic virgins/ The papal bull for useless reasons/ The holy wars against women/ Sacred vows against treason." It's a very powerful and moving song, and builds to a crescendo that's hard to ignore, or forget.
After that, it's hard to imagine anything being as good on the album, and generally speaking, you'd be right. "World Wired Up", while a good fast rocker warning about the dangers to the world, is no follow-up, and despite the anger in Lesley's voice, it's not as cutting or as sincere as she displays in the song she just sang, perhaps In Tua Nua's best ever. "Some Things Never Change" is pure radio-friendly celtic rock, while "Don't Fear Me Now" raises the bar a bit, with its acapella opening and great catchy melody, not to mention Lesley's tempting offer "I'm too tired to talk right now/ But if you wish it I will kiss you once more." Eh, yes  please!

It's only as the album approaches a close that the songs begin to hold a candle to "The Innocent and the Honest Ones", with "Emotional Barrier" a great, soulful ballad carried on some very gentle percussion, a showcase for the raw power of Lesley's vocals. The song has minimal instrumentation, with guitar, bass and violin there, but very much in the background. The title track then is a real "power-jig", for want of antoher word: a very Irish, traditional song recounting the emigration from Ireland that has been a constant bugbear for us, down through our history, and persists even today. For the only time on the album the vocals are not delivered by Lesley, but are taken on by Martin Clancy, with Lesley providing backing vocals along with Lovely Previn. Some great uileann piping on this too.
The album finishes on "Sweet Lost Soul", perhaps the fastest on the record, and really allowing Lovely to push herself on the violin, as she plays like some demented fiddler. Lesley's back on vocals to close out the album, and gives it everything she has. It's a great finale to a really great album.

Sadly, In Tua Nua are no more, one of those bands who flourished for a few years, never quite made it as big as they would have hoped to, and split to pursue different paths. Who knows what they would have come up with, had they achieved the success they should rightly have, but this album will forever stand as one of the very best Irish rock has produced. Give it a listen and see if you disagree.


1. Woman on Fire
2. All I Wanted
3. Wheel of Evil
4. Meeting of the Waters
5. The Innocent and the Honest Ones
6. World Wired Up
7. Some Things Never Change
8. Don't Fear Me Now
9. Emotional Barrier
10. The Long Acre
11. Sweet Lost Soul

Of course, this is a day I'd be likely to bring this back and spend some time on it, isn't it?

So let's do that now.

Feel No Shame - Aslan - 1988 (EMI)

Ah, the great could-have-beens of Irish rock! Aslan were formed back in the mid-1980s and were quickly snapped up by major record label EMI for this, their debut album, after their first single became a radio smash hit in 1986. The album, Feel No Shame, subsequently legged it to number one in Ireland and did extremely well in the UK, but the sudden success was too much for the band, who split, only to reform later on.
This, however, remains one of their most important and powerful releases, featuring no less than four hit singles in Ireland, and it firmly established them as a major new band and a very hot property. You only have to listen to it to hear the quality that was there from the beginning. It grabs you by the throat right from the start with the pounding rocker "Loving Me Lately", which chugs along on the guitars of Joe Jewell and Billy McGuinness, with the drumming of Alan Downey (any relation to Brian from Thin Lizzy? To be honest, I don't know...) carrying the track along at a great lick. It's a song laden with angst, but angry angst, if you can imagine that. Pretty simple lyric, but it works very well, especially as an opener.

"Pretty Thing", one of the tracks selected as a single, and which got to number 14 in Ireland, is a whole different proposal. Sung with wracked emotion by frontman Christy Dignam, it's a lament on the woes of the world, carried on a guitar and keyboard melody, which starts off slowly for about ten seconds, before Downey's drums kick things into gear, and the song gets going. Jewell's jangling guitar would come to be as recognised by Aslan's fans as the distinctive sound of the Edge in U2. In essence, the lyric is again simple, though deeper, if that makes sense: "Oh why, can you tell me why/ Is all this sorrow and suffering/ Still going on? / All they ever wanted was a chance to live/ Sometimes I wonder how can we still forgive?"
One of the standout tracks on the album, and the single that brought them to EMI's attention, and eventually their stable, "This is" is another deep song, slower, just as dark, and just as brilliant. "These are the hands of a tired man/ This is the old man's shroud/ These are the eyes of a blood-crazed tiger/ Staring at the maddening crowd." Aslan were from the very start all about speaking out on the wrongs in the world, trying to open people's eyes through music. The fact that this single was so successful on radio as a mere demo, and led to a record deal for the boys, speaks volumes about its quality, and the fact that it's still played on Irish radio a measure of the esteem Aslan are held in.

"Been So Long" is a slow grinder, with a sort of reggae beat, while "Hungry" gets rockin' again, before "Heat of the Cell" steps things up yet another gear, rocketing off with a hugely catchy hook and some great vocal harmonies/ "In the heat of the cell/ Sits a shell of a man/ In the shifting sand grows an ageing tree/ In the dark of the day/ There's a madman born /There's a voice in the room/ And he's speaking to me." The next track, "Please Don't Stop" was selected for a single, but I would have taken "Heat of the Cell" anyday, The former is poppy in its way, fast and boppy and quite commercial, but as I said, the hooks in "Heat of the Cell" should have made it a good contender for a single. Still, "Please Don't Stop" reached no. 7 in Ireland, so I guess EMI knew what they were doing. "Please Don't Stop" is a great little track, featuring again chugging drums from Downey and some great harmonica work from Billy McGuinness - how often do you say that? Good chorus too, real stadium stuff: "Climb to the top and shout out loud! /You're never stepping nowhere /With your head stuck in the clouds /Climb to the top and shout out loud!/ 'Cos you're never stepping nowhere, /Till you're stepping out of the crowd."
Thing slow right down then for "Down on Me", a very honest depiction of life in Northern Ireland during what would have been what we knew as "The Troubles", when protestant fought catholic and the IRA battled both the UVF and the RUC, as well as the British Army for control of the Six Counties. "Freedom is a precious thing/ In this world today/  We don't know how lucky we really are/  If there's something to be said/  There is nothing you can say /So don't look down on me." It's all driven on a guitar melody, growing more and more angry and frustrated as the song progresses, with Dignam's impassioned vocal calling out like a voice in the bomb-blasted wilderness. "If you think your life's a waste of time/
If you think your time's a waste of life /Come over to this land/  Take a look around. / This is a tragic situation/  And a massive demonstration on how to die/  So please don't cry, please don't cry/  Because they're falling all around me/ And I wish I was not here/ Broken bodies they surround me /And I wish that I was not here."

There's time to shift up through the gears once more before we close proceedings, with a fast and defiant love song, Jewell's guitar again setting the scene, with some truly excellent riffs from the young guitarist as "Sands of Time" powers along. The closer is also the title song, and it's worth waiting for. Seems to be the plea of someone separated from their lover due to misbehaviour - you could guess at abuse - as Dignam sings like a very tired man who has reached the end of his rope "Is it love or is it hate?/ When can I come home? / Why can't I feel no shame?" It's driven on McGuinness' magical harmonica and guitar, with a great drumbeat, almost like a train coming down the track. The harmonica gives the track a great blues feel, and it really is the perfect closer to what is after all quite close to being a perfect debut album. Who says we Irish can't rock?

The cover of the album shows a man holding a baby in his arms, and I could be wrong, but the child looks to be similar to the "boy" seen on U2's early albums, War and Boy, and who became their "mascot" early in their career. I believe this is meant to be a homage to U2, the boys tipping their collective hats to the most famous and successful Irish band in history. It's also possible that the child is wearing headphones, though I can't be sure.

Note: again, there is an extra track on the CD, but I first heard this album on vinyl, and that ended on "Feel no shame", so although "Book of life" is included in the download below, I haven't included it in the review. This is my usual position. Hope it doesn't bug anyone, but I prefer not to review a track I'm hearing for the first time.


1. Loving Me Lately
2. Pretty Thing
3. This is
4. Been So Long
5. The Hunger
6. The Heat of the Cell
7. Please Don't Stop
8. Down on Me
9. Sands of Time
10. Feel No Shame

Casanova - The Divine Comedy - 1996 (Setanta)

The biggest problem with the Divine Comedy is categorising their music. It's pretty hard, well nigh impossible, due to the many different influences and styles used on the albums, and Casanova is no exception. Everything from barqoue classical to Britpop is there, and you would think with such a varied amount of styles and songs it would all get horribly messed-up, but the genius of the Divine Comedy is that it doesn't: somehow, it all fits and a song about a ballet dancer played by a chamber orchestra can sit comfortably beside a song about going on a bus played in a pop style.

Kicking off with "Something for the Weekend", it's a nice slice of pop, jogging along at a decent lick, with some of the most absurd lyrics you will have ever heard - unless you've listened to other DC albums! "Get it through your sweet head/ There's nothing in the woodshed/ Except maybe some wood." The song actually starts off with a Kenneth Williams-like voice saying "Hello" as girls giggle in the background. This is the sort of thing you will come to expect of The Divine Comedy, which  is essentially created, driven and given life by singer/songwriter/musician/all-rounder Neil Hannon. His distincitive voice is strong, cultured, upper-class-sounding, and definitely not the sort of thing you would expect to hear on a "popular music" record! The songs are generally short, snappy, and about as different to each other as is possible, with "Becoming More Like Alfie" a case in point. The songs on the album are all loosely linked by a general theme of sex (hence the title), but really, no two songs are alike.
"Middle Class Heroes" again begins with a cultured voice speaking, this time saying "Hello, what have we here? A young lady? How may I be of service this dark and wintry night?" Turns out to be a fortune teller, who goes on to tell the girl what she can expect in her future life. "I see oriental paperglobes hanging like decomposing cocoons/ While exotic candles overload/ The musty air with their stale perfumes." The song is carried on a slow, almost jazzy beat, trumpets, trombones and tubas painting a sad and bitter tale of the realities of life for the "middle class heroes".

Hannon tends to see love as it is, and his sarcastic and acerbic comments on the "happy ever after" envisaged by starry-eyed couples shines through on each of his albums. This is not to say he does not believe in love, but he does have harsh words for those who think it's all hearts and flowers. You get the impression in his songs of a lot of knockbacks, failed romances and lessons learned. It's quite refreshing, and for perhaps his most acid "lovesong" you should check out "If..." on his A Short Album About Love. But back to this album, and on to the next track, "In and out in Paris and London", a sort of grungy rock arrangement, with Hannon's mellifluous voice almost incongruous against this melody. The song is an unashamedly brazen report of romantic conquests, as is "Charge", this time against the backdrop of a tango beat, likening the sexual act to a battle - "Cannon to the left, cannon to the right/ They'll go bang-bang-bang/ All night!"
"Songs of Love" you may find naggingly familiar, so I'll put you out of your misery and tell you that it's the theme tune for Father Ted, which Neil re-arranged specially for that show. It's a great little tune in its own right, almost entirely on acoustic guitar, with some great lyrics: "Their prey gather in herds/ Of stiff knee-length skirts/ And white ankle socks./ But while they search for a mate/ My type hibernate/ In bedrooms above/ Composing our songs of love" You'll hear the Father Ted theme right there in the instrumental section near the end. Then, after a fairly innocent and heartfelt ballad, it's back to satire and sniping attacks with "The Frog Princess".

It starts off with a riff from the "Marseilleise", the French national anthem, then becomes a nice little ballad, but with a hidden message, as the princess in the tale declares "You don't really love me/ But I don't really mind/ Cos I don't love anybody/ That stuff is just a waste of time/ Your place or mine?" But the best line is reserved for near the end, when Neil sings "I met a girl/ She was a frog princess/And yes, I do regret it now/  But how was I to know that just one kiss/ Would turn my frog into a cow?" and then, with some glee"And now I'm rid of her/ I must confess/ To thinking of what might have been/ And I can visualise my frog princess/ Beneath a shining guillotine!" complete with the sound of a guilloine blade falling down!

This really serves to illustrate Neil Hannon's peculiar talent for poking fun - often savage fun - at love and its foibles, and that his characters are almost always flawed, in one way or another, whether the prodigal Alfie, the stuck-up and self-absorbed frog princess, or the heartbreaker in "In and Out". More philandering occurs in "A Woman of the World", with its carefree whistling intro and jaunty melody, its 40s/50s chorus "She's a fake/ Yeah, but she's a real fake/ On the make/ Making up for lost time/ Just you wait/ Hey give the girl a break/ And a fistful of dollar bills will see to that!"
One of the most powerful tracks on the album comes next, and Neil really has saved the best for last. "Through a Long and Sleepless Night" is a searing, heart-pounding, almost terrifying journey through one man's psychosis (*), with an almost breathless vocal describing a descent into madness and isolation, possibly to link in with the final track. "It's four o'clock and all's not well/ In my private circle of Hell/ I contemplate my navel hair/ And slowly slide into despair." His acerbic humour again comes through even here as he sings "You deserve to be horsewhipped/ But I've no horse/ That joke's so sh1t/ And whips would only make it worse/ Don't tempt the lonely and perverse!" You can hear the rage and frustration in Neil's voice as he spits out the lyric, and the music tries to keep up with him. An acoustic passage about two-thirds of the way through has him sing "Bored with normality?/ Why not go mad?/ It's easy to do if you try." The song picks up again then for its thundering conclusion as Neil slides into madness and perhaps close to death.
Before the closer we have a really weird track, called "Theme from Casanova". Introduced like a radio programme that has just ended, credits are read and the instrumental plays out as "one extra item". In of itself, that could have been a good enough closer, but eager to outdo himself, Neil hits us with a parting shot, the amazingly powerful and emotional "The Dogs and the Horses", which looks at a man on his deathbed (the same man from "Through a Long and Sleepless Night"?) and notes that as he dies, all the dogs and horses he has had, who have passed on before him, gather round to say goodbye. "Sing a happy song", he advises, "For spring does not last long/ A flower blooms and then it's gone."

It starts off very very gently, with piano and acoustic guitar, and Neil singing very quietly, but when he gets to the chorus the orchestra kicks in and the song simply soars to new heights, and becomes a real powerhouse. "So the only thing to feel sad about is/ All the dogs and the horses you'll have to outlive/ They'll be with you when you say goodbye." The orchestration on the track is immensely moving, and when the track finally ends on a last "Good... bye..." you really feel like you've been through the wringer.

I can go on and on about how great the Divine Comedy is, but there's no way I'll ever have the words or the skill to do them justice. You simply have to take the plunge and listen to the recordings to properly appreciate the breadth of this man's genius, and Casanova is not a bad jumping-off point. It was mine, and I've listened to all his output since, and not looked back once.

(*) = Of course, that's what I THINK it's about, but Hannon's lyrics are so obscure and ambiguous at times that it's virtually impossible to say for certain what he means in any of his songs.


1. Something for the Weekend
2. Becoming More Like Alfie
3. Middle-class Heroes
4. In and Out in Paris and London
5. Charge
6. Songs of Love
7. The Frog Princess
8. A Woman of the World
9. Through a Long and Sleepless Night
10. Theme from Casanova
11. The Dogs and the Horses

Photo-finish - Rory Gallagher - 1978 (Chrysalis)

There have been many superlatives used to describe the late Rory Gallagher's playing, and attitude towards his music, but my favourite one is I believe also the most appropriate - honest. There never was anything contrived or false about Rory's music. From the time he picked up a guitar at age nine to the moment he breathed his last on June 14 1995, all Rory ever wanted to do was play the blues. His huge catalogue of albums reflect this, and when he wasn't rockin' out Rory was pickin' out the blues, each of which he could do with consummate ease on his favourite 1961 Stratocaster. This album is one of my favourites by him, and every track is a gem.

Titled Photo-finish, the story goes, due to his just barely managing to record the album to the very deadline, it's full of hard rock standards that became synonymous with the great man, a few blusey ballads and some quite frankly unbelievable guitar work. Rory didn't go in for complicated album sleeves (no room for him in my "Secret life of an album cover" slot, then!), and most of his sleeves show a simple picture of him either playing the guitar, or surely about to. The exception is 1975's Against the Grain, which shows his beloved Strat on the cover, with an inset of him. Simple, honest, no-frills, no pretensions: that was Rory.
But his music. Ah, that was something else!

Kicking off with "Shin Kicker", the album blasts off with a good rocker, a real biker's anthem: "It's a shin kickin' mornin'/ Gotta kickstart the day/ Wind up my machine and I'll be on my way!" Like most of Rory's work it's a vehicle for his amazing guitar playing, backed up by his two stalwarts, Gerry McAvoy on bass and Ted McKenna on drums. Until now, Rory had also had a keyboard player, but he decided to dispense with Lou Martin for a harder, blues/rock edge, and it certainly worked. I liked Deuce and Calling Card, and Against the Grain was a great album, but they do lack a certain type of raw energy that's evident in abundance here. You can really tell the guys are enjoying themselves.

Rory's voice is in fine fettle as he powers on to "Brute Force and Ignorance", another hard rocker written with tongue firmly in cheek. The opening guitar chords are enough to bring a smile to any Rory fan's lips. It's a lot slower than "Shin Kicker", but still strong and powerful, and like most Rory songs it develops into something of a guitar jam at the end. Then things kick into serious high gear for "Cruise on Out", with Ted playing the drums so fast you'd swear he must be an octopus! Let's put it this way: if you planned to headbang to this, check your neck is still attached afterwards! This is "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" for the nearly-nineteen-eighties! I tells ya, if you can sit still for this track get yourself checked out, cos you ain't human!
Rory always had a great interest in spies and secret agents, and this comes through on the next track, the aptly named "Cloak and Dagger", a hard blues number, which sees Rory break out his harmonica. Sweet! There are two ballads on the album, the next track being the first. "Overnight Bag" starts off with a guitar lick and then kicks into the tale of a wandering rocker leaving his latest lover: Packed my things in an overnight bag/ Toothbrush, a guitar: got no tail to drag/ Gonna leave on the next passin' breeze." Ah, the freedom!

It should probably also be pointed out that Rory wrote every single song on this album himself, as he did on most of his repertoire, except where he covered old blues numbers. He also produced this album, as he does many of his others. A hands-on guy, indeed, very much in control of his own music.

Things don't stay mellow for long, as next up is "Shadow Play", another Rory standard, with a truly spectacular guitar solo, kicking everything back into high gear, before slowing down for a crunching blues number, "The Mississippi Sheiks", and then powering right back up to ten for "Last of the Independents", which I find very similar to "Cruise On Out", though that's no bad thing!Ted the octopus at it again!  Everything comes to an end then in a glorious slow-burner ballad, "Fuel to the Fire".

If nothing else, Photo-finish establishes Rory Gallagher as one of the premier blues guitarists of his generation, and the rock world is definitely lessened by his sudden passing. Rory always lived hard, but complications brought on by a necessary liver transplant in June 1995 brought to an end a career that, although it had blazed an unfogettable trail across the firmament of rock and roll, had so much more to give. In departing though he left this world with some truly exceptional music, and reminded us all why the humble guitar is such a force in rock. Rory didn't need synthesisers, programmed drums or batteries of mixing equipment to make his music: pure and simple, he let his Strat do the talking.
When I bought this it was again one of my infamous vinyl records, so although the CD version features two additional tracks, I've never heard them before, and for me the album has always ended on "Fuel to the Fire", so that's where I'm ending my review. Never fear though: the two extra tracks are included in the download below.


1. Shin Kicker
2. Brute Force and Ignorance
3. Cruise on Out
4. Cloak and Dagger
5. Overnight Bag
6. Shadow Play
7. The Mississippi Sheiks
8. The Last of the Independents
9. Fuel to the Fire
10. Early Warning
11. Jukebox Annie

Tourist History - Two Door Cinema Club - 2010 (Kitsune)

Another reason to be proud to be Irish. There are reasons to be proud to be Irish? Uh, yeah. Sometimes. Maybe. Like this, the debut album from the oddly-named Two Door Cinema Club, which scooped the first prize at the Meteor Choice Awards (our version of the Brits: very posh). Their star is certainly in the ascendancy at the moment, with their long-awaited second album due out soon. Maybe. Hopefully.

Alex Trimble (lead vocals, rhythm guitar and synth), Sam Halliday (lead guitar) and Kevin Baird (bass) met while at school, and soon realised their talents and their future lay in music, concentrating on their newly formed band. Considering the band has only properly been in existence since 2007, and that their first recording, an EP, only came out in 2009, Two Door Cinema Club's rise to fame and glory has really been nothing short of meteoric, sorry about the pun.
The album opens with "Cigarettes in the Theatre", a sort of echoey, atmospheric start before jangly guitars and heavy drums cut in and the song takes off as a real airplay-friendly rocker, definite flavour of very early U2, especially in the guitar, with splashes of everything from Big Country to the Housemartins and some Deacon Blue as well. Poppy but also with a real edge of rock, and Alex's voice is clear and distinct, one of those rare voices that rises effortlessly above the music without having to shout or scream: kind of reminds me of John McManus from Mama's Boys. There's a great feeling of optimism about the opener, very upbeat and happy, a real toe-tapper. The mad trumpet bit at the end is really weird though, and, I feel, out of place: kind of knocks the whole thing askew, and it's the last thing you hear, but I think the track itself is good enough for that little bump not to ruin it.

"Come Back Home" is a harder, rockier track with not so much of the pop music about it, touches of the Killers maybe, early Simple Minds? Sam Halliday has certainly decided to try to make his own signature guitar sound, and so far it seems like he's succeeding. It does owe a lot to the Edge's style of course, but has its own individuality and charm, enough so that it doesn't seem like he's trying to rip off or ape the U2 guitarist.

Everything here is around the three-minute or less mark, one or two going towards the three-and-a-half minute but nothing longer, which is good, as this seems to fit the musical style of TDCC; can't see them engaging in any epic tracks really. "Do You Want it All" slips back into the pop style, very catchy, very radio-friendly material, with nice effects from Alex on the synth, and a really infectious hook. There's a pretty mad guitar passage in about the last minute or so as the song really speeds up, and I have to say I really like this: makes a great impression first time, which is always good, with a nice and unexpected acapella ending. It's followed by "This is the Life", which sort of carries the musical theme through, another mid-paced popper, with lush keyboards and some nice sharp guitar. Here they really remind me of those happy pop icons the Lightning Seeds, and they definitely seem to be enjoying themselves on this song, and why not?
There's a much more funk drive to "Something Good Can Work", and indeed it does, with sparkly keyboards and catchy hooks, very pop with hardly a breath of rock about it at all, but still very nice to listen to, then things speed (and indeed, rock) back up for "I Can Talk", with an interesting phrasing in the vocal, almost spoken in ways, and some pretty damn good guitar from Sam. There's no slowing down for "Undercover Martyn", driven along on a great keyboard line and some fine drumming from Johnny Welton, some powerful guitar from Sam backed by bippy keyboard noises from Alex, and Sam's guitar drives "What You Know", with some excellent bass from Kevin Baird, laying down one heck of a groove. Alex's vocals should in no way be overlooked, either, as they are the glue that holds this fine band together, never too high or low in the mix, and always meshing with the music, not detracting from it or relegating it to second place.

The whimsical "Eat That Up, it's Good for You" bops along nicely on keyboard and bass, with some nice touches on the guitar, and the album ends on "You Are Not Stubborn", a rocker somewhat in the style of Tom Petty, not as hard but very upbeat and tight. My only quibble is that there are no slow songs on this album: I would have liked to have seen how Two Door Cinema Club handled a decent ballad. Everything here is fast or at least mid-speed, boppy and uptempo. Would have been nice to see what happens when they take their foot off the pedal. Ah well, they're young after all. Maybe next album.

As I say, you'd have to hold your head up high really though as an Irishman, to realise we have home-grown talent of this calibre to export our music to the world at large. Especially this week, when everyone wants to be Irish, because often I feel Irish music - be it pop, rock, electronic, soul, punk or native noseflute music (!) - tends to be largely ignored by the music press outside Ireland. To the rest of the world, we're the home of U2, Rory Gallagher, Phil Lynott and (no please don't say it!) Jedward and Westlife, but there's so much more to hear and enjoy about good Irish music.


1. Cigarettes in the Theatre
2. Come Back Home
3. Do You Want it All?
4. This is the Life
5. Something Good Can Work
6. I Can Talk
7. What You Know
8. Undercover Martyn
9. Eat That Up, it's Good for You
10. You Are Not Stubborn

Bloodless Coup - Bell X1 - 2011 (Bellyup)

Formed from the ashes of Juniper, the first band to feature a man who would later go on to solo fame and glory, one Damien Rice, Bell X1 take their name from Chuck Yeager's supersonic aircraft of the same name (though with a hyphen inserted), the first aircraft to break the sound barrier. They have become very successful in the USA, are loved in Ireland but have generally failed to crack the UK market. Bloodless Coup is their fifth and most recent album, and just last week missed out on scooping the prestigious Meteor Choice Music Award, having been shortlisted but beaten to it by Jape.

We get underway with "Hey Anna Lena", electronic keyboards and drum machines ushering in the sound with a lush, luxuriant feel until the vocals of Paul Noonan, who also plays guitar, drums and kazoo (?) slides in like a cool, refreshing stream, soothing and cool, soulful and elegant. A nice little understated bass line keeps the time as the song slips along on soft feet, carried mostly on the keys until Dave Geraghty's guitar makes its presence known, adding a harder, sharper layer to the song without changing it that drastically. Dramatic and urgent, it's a great opener, and it's followed by the first single to be taken from the album, "Velcro", with an electro/dance beat and a very clear sense of Talking Heads, which has been remarked upon before, but I only really hear the David Byrne influences now.
Much more uptempo than the opener, it's a good choice for a single, with some very Gary Numan-style synth, and some nice breakout guitar from Geraghty. I'm not certain who plays the keyboards, as Geraghty is credited with "electric piano", but whether he also plays the keyboards as well as the guitar is debatable. Anyway, whoever plays them does a great job, and they're certainly central to the music of Bell X1. "Nightwatchmen", in contrast though, is built on a gentle acoustic guitar melody with accompanying electric guitar, a hard half-ballad with real bite, a great vocal performance by Noonan, who approaches the passion and intensity of Bono at his most intense.

The keyboards and synths are back in force for the more gentle "Sugar High", and I hear echoes of a-ha's Morten Harkett in there. Nice solid percussion, with more very Talking Heads keyboard noises and melodies, with indeed a real flavour of the Cars, or at least Ric Ocasek in evidence too. Heavy bass introduces "Built to Last", which starts slowly and builds on a nice electric piano line and echoing percussion, then "4 Minute Mile" is quite funky, with slap bass and wah-wah keyboard sounds, shuffling along in quite a Prince manner - that could be Paul Noonan's mentioned kazoo sound there. Like I said, funky!

This theme then continues on through "Safer Than Love", with handclaps and bassy keys, some nice high-register melodies on the keyboards, again very Tubeway Army-like, while acoustic guitar and some banjo or mandolin merge with some really nice piano for "The Trailing Skirts of God", which kicks up into a nice mid-pacer a minute or so in, and would probably make a good second single. Paul Noonan's vocal is a little more restrained here, with the lyric seeming to contain the title of the album, thereby I guess making this as close to the title track as we're going to get. It's certainly worthy of the honour, one of the standouts so far.
The oddly-named "Haloumi" reminds me of Matt Johnson, specifically around the time of Mind Bomb or Naked Self, with whistling keyboards and thumping bass, Noonan's voice going into a sort of falsetto here. Nice gentle guitar intro to "74 Swans", marching-style percussion cutting in but the song still stays fairly laidback, although there hasn't really been anything yet that I would point to as an actual ballad, and this is not one either. I doubt there will be one, as there is only one track left to go. It doesn't detract from the album, but still, would have been nice to have experienced.

The album closes with what is in fact the longest track on the album, at just over six and a half minutes, and is also not on every release of the album, seen as a bonus track. It's on my copy though, and just as well, as it's the ballad I've been waiting for. Beautiful blues intro as "Amsterdam Says" gets underway with truly gorgeous strings (made on the synth, yes, but it doesn't make the sound any the less beautiful), an understated vocal from Noonan backed by some lovely electric piano, the strings coming back in to take the whole thing up into the clouds, kissing the roof of Heaven, then right back down to earth for a superb guitar solo. Noonan's voice gets more urgent and intense as the song winds on, the passion evident in his singing, the strings backing him and echoing his frustration and despair. The ultimate breakup song? Quite a possibility.

After having listened to this - for the first time - all I can say is Jape better have made one hell of an album, because how this lost out on the top prize I am at a loss to say. Also, how this kind of music is ignored by the UK market is another mystery, but hey, it's they who are losing out. The original Bell X-1 may have broken the sound barrier, but the band Bell X1 are breaking down barriers of their own, and soon there should be none left for them to surmount.

Bravo, guys.


1. Hey Anna Lena
2. Velcro
3. Nightwatchmen
4. Sugar High
5. Built to Last
6. 4 Minute Mile
7. Safer Than Love
8. The Trailing Skirts of God
9. Haloumi
10. 74 Swans
11. Amsterdam Says

Pop music and rock music is all well and good, and I'm sure the older heads would nod and take a pensive pull of their pipes (why? What did you think I was going to - oh you dirty lot!)  :laughing: and a swig of the black stuff and say "Ah yeah but sure tis not real music, now is it? Is that the kinda thing you kids're listening to?"

No. On this of all days you'll hear the strains of Paddy Reilly, the Dubliners, Wolfe Tones and the Fureys, and pubs will later tonight erupt into spontaneous sing-songs as people who know nothing about such times reminisce, through song, about things like "Dublin in the rare ould times" and "Molly Malone". It's a great time to be Irish. And if anything screams Ireland, it's her wealth of traditional music. So let's go back to that for a while.

Ireland has a rich history of traditional music, much of which is hundreds of years old, and some of which go back perhaps thousands of years, to a time before Christianity came to this island. Most of the songs have been passed down through generations, many in oral form, sung acapella around a fireplace by the seanachai (shan-ah-kee), the revered storyteller, perhaps at the time the only man in a village or town who could read, and then woven into musical compositions to be learned and handed down from father to son.

Many sing of legends from Irish folklore, many of battles and bravery, and many of the strife Ireland has been through in her long and troubled history - we have certainly been invaded more than once. These songs speak of times past, people long dead, ways that have been overtaken by modern life, but they also tell the stories of conflicts of this time, like the Great War and the Easter Rising, among others. They are played by our better known traditional groups, like the Wolfe Tones, the Dubliners and the Chieftains, Planxty and others, as well as singer/songwriters like Christy Moore and Mary Black. Although they often reference and remind us of bad times, there are the joyful jigs and reels, and other songs which celebrate life and love, and remind us why these songs are still sung today.

Here are a few of the ones I know and recognise, the ones that will come up most likely tonight if you happen to be in a bar or at the home of an Irishman or woman, or maybe just sung out on the street by someone, or several someones, who have indulged a little too freely in the juice of the shamrock, so to speak...

One of the most famous is "The Green Fields of France", which although only written in 1976 has quickly become one of the most recognisable and well-loved Irish trad tunes (given that it was written by a Scot, perhaps it shouldn't be claimed as such, but we do) and has been performed by, among many others, the Chieftains, the Dubliners, the Furies, Makem and Clancy and Stockton's Wing.

Referencing the "Troubles", as we called the thirty-year occupation of Northern Ireland by the English Army, and the rampant sectarian violence that sprung from that conflict, "The Town I Loved So Well" is another recent song, written by one of our greatest pianists and composers, Phil Coulter, and covered by among others, the Dubliners and Johnny MacEvoy. It's a searing indictment of the "war" in Northern Ireland, and the legacy left behind, the human cost as the lyric laments "With their tanks and their guns/ Oh my God, what have they done/ To the town I loved so well?"
A song written, ostensibly in the 1970s but with parallels in a written manuscript from 1880, "The Fields of Athenry" concerns a convict sentenced to deportation to Australia, and the memories of a town he will never see again. It comes up a lot in Irish football chants, and our most famous and popular version is sung here by Paddy Reilly.

Irish songs were often written from an emigrant's point of view, as the unfortunate who had to leave his home reflected on what they had left behind. "Carrickfergus" is such a song, its origins said to go back to the late eighteenth century, and a very popular song wherever the Irish in America gather.

As I mentioned, Ireland has had its fair share of conflict and invasion, mostly by "the damn English" (!) and many of the traditional songs reflect that, rebel songs which reference things like the Easter Rising of 1916 or various battles (won or lost) fought against the English. Songs like "Boolavogue"

"Off to Dublin in the green"

"Rising of the moon"

and the popular "A nation once again".

But not all Irish trad songs are sad or morose. Indeed, many celebrate the simpler things in life, like partying and getting drunk and just generally enjoying yourself (sound familiar?), as in "Lanigan's ball"

"The Rose of Tralee"

and of course "If you're Irish".

And who doesn't know "An Irish lullaby"?