Wednesday 8 January 2014


CD Review


This latest offering from veteran folk singer Andy Irvine is clearly a very personal collection. It was recorded in Australia, a continent for which he professes a great affection, and includes songs from his homeland as well as from the vast island.

Andy Irvine and Rens van der Zalm 
Reading the blurb both from his website and the album cover you get a sense this could be something akin to Robert Johnson's 1936 recording in a makeshift studio set up in a San Antonio hotel room and which was something special.
However, Parachilna while recorded "in the wild" in Oz during its winter, shows little to indicate this because the tracks have been produced and put through a studio process. (That could be a hint for a live version some day)
This said it still carries something of Martin Simpson's Vagrant Stanzas and his sit around the kitchen table and just play guitar-style.
All these tracks are familiar and comfortable to Irvine and you can feel them rolling easily off his tongue and being as much a part of his fingers as the skin which feels the strings of the instruments he plays so expertly. Refreshingly this is a folk album in the most traditional sense, there is no experimentation or trailblazing or innovation it is simply a man who loves his craft, loves the songs he has chosen and plays them how he wants them to be played.
It opens, almost to ease you in gently, with the softest of ballads, I Wish I Was In Belfast Town, and of course from the very first word Irvine's distinctive and mellow voice reassures the listener this is how folk music was meant to be played.
The late great Dubliner Luke Kelly recorded a classic version of Come To The Bower and if you compare his version and this offering from Irvine, who learned this song from Kelly, then you realise they are opposite ends of the musical graph and both have set benchmarks, and unless something spectacular comes along every other version will have to fit somewhere in between. Kelly's offering was set in the deep roots of the isle it sings about and his roaring voice is the centrepiece of the stirring words. Irvine's version is much cleaner, modern with a more intricate weaving of sounds and, because of his different singing style, so much smoother and refined.
Oz gets it's first musical look in with Billy Far Out which arguably is Irvine at his best. It has that cheeky, irreverent sound that seems to fit Irvine's style and personality like a glove. And with lyrics such as, "Whatever that dog did in the tucker box, it can't compare with the smell of his socks." you can just feel Irvine enjoying himself as he sings.
He gives that sense that every time you caught the rhythm and tapped along he would change it just out of devilment. The opening bars on the fiddle from der Zalm give it that bluegrass country sound and Irvine's voice jumps in and leaps around like a march hare performing its spring ritual.
It is without doubt the most enjoyable song on the album and one to keep handy for those days when you need a real pick me up.
Andy Irvine - pictures Brian Hartigan
Sergeant Small is probably Australia's equivalent of Vigilante Man as it sings about the same events and the brutality meted out to hobos who were riding the rails during the depression of the 1930s.
Again it's perfectly suited to Irvine's style and his admiration for Woody Guthrie. Irvine shows off his skills with the gobiron on this and while the subject matter is quite serious Irvine keeps the beat light and flowing.
No traditional folk album would be complete without a little misery and disaster and Irvine offers a melancholy tune in the requisite style with the Aussie tale of  The Dandenong which was a cargo/passenger steamer that was wrecked in 1876 with the loss of many lives. Irvine's expert picking on his mandola and der Zalm's support on viola tell the sad tale perfectly.
An extract from The Argus (Melbourne) of Friday September 15 1876 reads:

"In the minds of nautical men there remains but little doubt that when the look-out man on board the Albert William lost sight of her lights, between 8 and 9 o'clock, she foundered, and of all those on board not one has been left to tell the sad tale of what took place from the time darkness set in."

Irvine returns to his homeland for Braes of Moneymore, which is a region of Derry. This is the perfect vehicle for Irvine's tones and while not totally unadorned, his soft, rich voice comes across as the gentle instrumental support takes a back seat, just adding the merest hint of colour to his singing.
Considering Australia's history it's no big surprise to find a song about an outlaw and this time it's not Ned Kelly but Scottish migrant Frank Gardiner. Gardiner is certainly the stuff of legend starting off as a horse thief then becoming a butcher dealing in stolen livestock before forming a gang and becoming a notorious bush ranger. After robbing a government stagecoach of a significant amount of gold he went into hiding with a new name and opened a shop. He was eventually exiled to America.
For this ballad Irvine provides crisp and slightly jaunty lyrics but in between the singing he inserts a blues harmonica which, again, has more than a hint of his hero Guthrie about it.
He Fades Away is an extremely poignant song from the perspective of a wife who is watching her miner husband dying from the effects of extracting blue asbestos in Australia and how they were kept ignorant of the dangers they were facing while trying to earn a living. Irvine plays this straight down the line with just his gentle voice, which seems at times to falter with emotion, and his precise bouzouki playing telling the tragic story of many miners through the example of this one.
Sir Douglas Mawson
The penultimate track. Farewell To Kellswater, is again in that great tradition of folk and is about a maiden's suitor who is not approved by her father and who does all he can to keep them apart. This is another gentle storytelling ballad which Irvine carries on his own and to which he brings a sound reminiscent of medieval music. His precise mandola playing is the perfect accompaniment to his voice.
The final track of the album Douglas Mawson is more like a narration set to a musical accompaniment rather than a bona fide song.
Yorkshireman Mawson was an explorer and geologist in early 20th century who made an incredible 160km journey across the Antarctic alone and with virtually no food after his two companions died.
Although Parachilna, which is a tiny town in Southern Australia, comes across as personal collection of songs, what Irvine et al have done with this album is almost set a blueprint for traditional folk collections. There is pretty much every element of the genre in these tracks and newcomers, veterans and would be folk musicians could do a lot worse than use this album as a yardstick.

Parachilna tracklist:

 1. I wish I was in Belfast Town (Trad. arr. Andy Irvine) 5:13
 2. Come to the Bower (Trad. arr. Andy Irvine) 5:06
 3. Billy Far Out (Andy Irvine) 3:34
 4. Sergeant Small (Trad. arr. Andy Irvine) 4:04
 5. The Dandenong (Trad. arr. Kate Burke / Andy Irvine) 4:41
 6. Braes of Moneymore (Trad. arr. Andy Irvine) 4:02
 7. Outlaw Frank Gardiner (Trad. arr. Andy Irvine) 3:28
 8. He Fades Away (Alistair Hulett) 3:58
 9. Farewell to Kellswater (Trad. arr. Andy Irvine) 5:27
10. Douglas Mawson (Andy Irvine) 6:40

I wish I was in Belfast town
You Rambling Boys of Pleasure give ear unto these words I write
I own I am a rover in rambling I take great delight
I cast my mind on a handsome girl and oftentimes she does me slight
My mind is never easy except when my true love is in my sight
Down by yon flowery garden where me and my true love do meet
I took her in my arms and unto her gave kisses sweet
She bade me take love easy just as the leaves fall from the tree
But I being young and foolish with my own true love I did not agree
The second time I met my love I thought her heart was surely mine
But as the season changes my darling girl has changed her mind
Gold is the root of evil although it bears a glittering hue
Causes many’s the lad and the lass to part though their hearts like mine be e’er
so true
And I wish I was in Belfast town and my true love along with me
And money in my pocket to keep us in good company
Liquor to be plenty a flowing glass on every side
Hard fortune would ne’er daunt me for I am young and the world is wide

Come to the Bower 
Will you come to the bower o’er the free boundless ocean
Where the stupendous waves roll in thunder and motion
Where the mermaid is seen and a fierce tempest gathers
To loved Erin the Green the dear land of our fathers
Will you come to the land of O’Neill and O’Donnell
Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone and the immortal Dan O’Connell
Where King Brian drove the Danes and St Patrick the vermin
And whose valleys remain still most beautiful and charming
You can visit Benburb and the storied Blackwater
Where Owen Roe met Munroe and his chieftains did slaughter
Where the lambs sport and play on the mossy all over
From these bright golden views to enchanting Rostrevor
You can visit Dublin City and the fine groves of Blarney
The Bann, Boyne and Liffey and the Lakes of Killarney
You may ride on the tide o’er the broad majestic Shannon
Or sail around Lough Neagh and see storied Dungannon
You can visit New Ross, gallant Wexford and Gorey
Where the green was last seen by proud Saxon and Tory
Where the ground is sanctified by the blood of each freeman
Where they died satisfied their enemies they would not run from
Will you come and awake our lost land from its slumber
And together we will break, links that long have encumbered
And the air will resound with hosannas to meet you
On the shore will be found gallant Irishmen to greet you.

Billy Far Out 
I’ll sing you a song of Billy Far Out,
True story without a shadow of a doubt
He lived in Melbourne in Footscray
But he found himself up Sydney way
He had an old car it was tired and worn
It was built before Noah was born
But Billy and his mates on one fine day
They set out for Footscray without delay
By the time that they arrived in Yass
Fourth gear was a thing of the past
But Billy and his mates they were not bereft
They said we’ve still got three gears left
With Gundegai five miles away
They stopped for a beer and Billy did say
Whatever that dog did in the tucker box
It can’t compare with the smell of me sox
O happy as Larry and sound as a bell
They were dreaming of the beer in the Retreat Hotel
When they came in sight of Albury
Third gear it was history
Says Billy we’ll have to drive from here
All the way to Melbourne in second gear
Well second gear it wasn’t the worst
Forty miles later they were down to first
They entered the city in the finest style
Leading a procession of seventeen miles
When they came to Brunswick the mates got out
See yez all later says Billy Far Out
When Billy got back in the driving seat
He found first gear was dead on it’s feet
But Billy didn’t swear and Billy didn’t curse
He set out for Footscray in reverse
Come one come all from near and far
Come all who drive automatic cars
Like Billy Far Out your final abode
May be living in a banger on the side of the road
Living in an old banger on the side of the road

Sergeant Small
I went broke in western Queensland in Nineteen Thirty One
Nobody would employ me and my swag carrying days begun
I started out through Charleville and all the western towns
I was on me way to Roma destination Darling Downs
Me pants was getting ragged and me boots was a-getting thin
And as I came into Mitchell the goods train shunted in
I could hear her whistle blowing it was mighty plain to see
She was on her way to Roma or so it seemed to me
I wish I was about twenty stone and only seven feet tall
I'd go back to western Queensland and beat up Sergeant Small
Now as I sat and watched her inspiration's seeds were sown
I remembered the Government slogan: ‘Here's a railway that you own’
And as the sun was getting low and the night was coming nigh
I shouldered my belongings and I took her on the fly
And as we came into Roma I kept me head down low
Heard a voice say "Any room mate?" I answered "Plenty ‘Bo"
"Come out of there me little man" ‘twas the voice of Sergeant Small
"I have caught you very nicely - you've been riding for a fall"
I wish I was about twenty stone and only seven feet tall
I'd go back to western Queensland and beat up Sergeant Small
The old judge was very nice to me he gave me thirty days
Saying "Maybe that will help to cure your rattler-jumping ways"
So if you're down and out in the outback boys I'll tell yez what I think
Steer clear of the Queensland railway it’s a short cut to the clink
I wish I was about twenty stone and only seven feet tall
I'd go back to western Queensland and beat up Sergeant Small

The Dandenong 
 Wild and furious blew the blast
 And the sky with anger frowned
 When the Dandenong from Melbourne sailed
 To Newcastle port was bound
 She had eighty-three poor souls on board
 Through the storm she cleaved her way
 And it's sad to relate the terrible fate
 'Twas just off Jervis Bay
 And I long for you, I long for sleep
 I dream of being warm
 But through the night I have to sail
 To brave this raging storm
 While steaming through those angry seas
 Her propelling shaft gave way
 And the waters they came rushing in
 Which filled them with dismay
 All hands on board did all they could
 Till at length all hope was gone
 And they hoisted a signal of distress
 On board of the Dandenong
 It was not long until a barque
 With a brisk and a lively crew
 Came bearing down and the Captain cried
 "We'll see what we can do!"
 Came bearing down with might and main
 In spite of wind and wave
 They did all they could as sailors would
 Those precious lives to save
 And I long for you, I long for sleep
 I dream of being warm
 I pray the sea will let me be
 To brave another dawn
 Well some in boats they tried to reach
 That kind and friendly barque
 And numbers of their lives were saved
 But the night came on pitch dark
 What more could mortal man do then
 When the storm increased so strong
 And the rest now sleep in the briny deep
 Along with the Dandenong

 And I long for you, I long for sleep
 I dream of coming home
 Tonight the sea it buries me
 Beneath this raging foam

Braes of Moneymore 
Farewell to you old Ireland since I must go away
I now shake hands and bid goodbye and can no longer stay
Our big ship lies in deep Lough Foyle bound for the New York shore
And I must go from all I know and lovely Moneymore
That little town encircled round with many’s the grove and hill
Where lads and lassies they do meet for pleasure there’s the rule
Through Springhill Braes and flowery fields where oft I’ve wandered o’er
And by my side was the girl I loved the rose of Moneymore

How lonely is the pigeon’s coo and sad the blackbirds lay
And loud and high the thrushes cry on a long bright summer’s day
And as I sat down to cry me fill sure the tears come trickling down
For in the morning I must leave you my own dear native town
Kind friends I’ll bid you all adieu I can no longer stay
Our big ship sails tomorrow and its time I was away
So fill your glasses to the brim and toast with one loud roar
And we’ll sing in praise of Springhill Braes and lovely Moneymore

Outlaw Frank Gardiner 
 Well Frank Gardiner he is caught at last he lies in Sydney gaol
 For wounding Sergeant Middleton and robbing the Mudgee Mail
 For plundering of the gold escort the Carcoar Mail also
 And it was for gold he made so bold and not so long ago
 His daring deeds surprised them all throughout the Sydney land
 And on his friends he paid a call and he quickly raised a band
 And fortune’s always favoured him until that time of late
 Until Ben Hall and Gilbert met with their dreadful fate
 Young Vane he has surrendered Ben Hall’s got his death wound
 And as for Johnny Gilbert near Binalong was found
 He was there with Dunn they were on the run when the troopers came in sight
 Dunn wounded ran but the other man got slaughtered in the fight
 Farewell, adieu to outlaw Frank, he was the poor man’s friend
 The government has secured him for it’s laws he did offend
 He boldly stood his trial and he answered with a breath
 Do what you will you can but kill, and I have no fear of death
 Day after day they remanded him, escorted from the bar
 Fresh charges brought against him from neighbours near and far
 And now it is all over and the sentence they have passed
 All sought to find a verdict and ‘guilty’ was at last
 When lives you take a warning boys no woman ever trust
 She will turn round I will be bound, Queen’s evidence the first
 He’s doing two and thirty years, he’s doomed to serve the crown
 And well may he say, he rues the day he met with Kitty Brown

 He Fades Away
 There’s a man in my bed I used to love him
 His kisses used to take my breath away
 There’s a man in my bed I hardly know him
 As I wipe his face and hold his hand
 And watch him as he slowly fades away
 He fades away
 Not like leaves that fall in Autumn
 Turning gold against the grey
 He fades away
 Like the blood stains on the pillow case
 That I wash every day
 He fades away
 There’s a man in my bed he’s on a pension
 Although he’s only fifty years of age
 And the lawyers say we might get compensation
 In the course of due procedure
 But they wouldn’t say for certain at this stage
 He’s not the only one
 Who made the trip so many years ago
 To work the Wittenoom mine
 So many young men old before their time
 And dying slow they fade away
 Wheezing bags of bones
 With lungs half clogged and filled with clay,
 They fade away
 There’s a man in my bed nobody told him
 The cost of bringing home his weekly pay
 And when the courts decide how much they owe him
 How will he spend his money
 As he lies in bed and coughs his life away
 There’s a man in my bed I used to love him
 His kisses used to take my breath away
 There’s a man in my bed I hardly know him
 As I wipe his face and hold his hand
 And watch him as he slowly fades away.

Farewell to Kellswater 
 Here’s a health to you bonny Kellswater, where you’ll get all the pleasures of life
 Where you’ll get all the fishing and fouling and a bonny wee lass for your wife
 O it’s down where yon waters run muddy I’m afraid they will never run clear
 And it’s when I begin for to study my mind is on them that’s not here
 For there’s this one and that one may court him but if anyone gets him but me
 It’s early and late I will curse them that parted lovely Willie from me
 O a father he calls on his daughter two choices I’ll give unto thee
 Would you rather see Willie’s ship a-sailing or see him hung like a dog from yon
O father dear father I love him I can no longer hide it from thee
Through an acre of fire I would travel along with lovely Willie to be
O hard was the heart that confined her and took from her her hearts delight
May the chains of old Ireland bind around them and soft be their pillows at night
O Yonder’s a ship on the ocean and she does not know which way to steer
From the east to the west she’s a-blowing she reminds me of the charms of my
O Yonder my Willie will be coming he said he’d be here in the spring
And it’s down by yon green shades I’ll meet him and among yon green bushes we’ll
For a gold ring he placed on my finger saying love bear this in your mind
If ever I sail from old Ireland you’ll mind I’ll not leave you behind
Here’s a health to you bonny Kellswater where you’ll get all the pleasures of life
Where you’ll get all the fishing and fouling and a bonny wee lass for your wife

Douglas Mawson
Once more the cruel Antarctic calls me back
To set my foot where no man yet did go
O memories of nineteen eight of taking chances tempting fate
And the happy days we spent in McMurdo
So we dropped our anchor off Adélie Land
And we built a hut to stand the winter gale
And when the sun returned again the air rang out with sounds of men
And Greenland huskies eager for the trail
 From Aladdin’s cave we started on our way
 Our friends they bid goodbye and turned for home
 Xavier Mertz was there with me and Cherub Ninnis just we three
 Were left to carry on our fate unknown
 The black crevasse claimed Ninnis and his dogs
 It claimed our food our fuel it claimed our tent
 I never heard one single sound, just by chance I turned around
 As Ninnis to his death in silence went
 Defeat and death now stared us in the face
 We had one lightweight tent and that was all
 Just to stay alive we knew we’d have to kill the dogs for food
 How were we to know that they’d be our downfall
 A leaden glare now spread across the land
 And neither shape nor feature reached our eyes
 And nothing left to eat only deadly poison meat
 For my brave friend death has no disguise
 He wears the mask of illness on his face
 He wears the cloak of silence at the trace
 One night he bit his finger through and spat it out in the snow
 His cries of madness caused my blood to freeze
 When I awoke next morning he was dead
 The wreckage of his body stiff and cold
 I have to try and reach firm ground at least my diary must be found
 That someday this sad story may be told
 The soles of my feet became detached
 Teeth, nails, muscles all are gone
 Down icy pits I fell through space till brought up by my harness trace
 Give up give up there’s no point in going on
 Three weeks I staggered on across the ice
 Then a cairn of snow by sheer chance I struck
 A letter there told the tale of searching men that very day
 Even now I can’t believe my luck
 My pulse was racing as I saw the men
 My journey at an end no more to do
 My skeleton was easily raised and gently on the sledge was laid
 My God they cried which one of them are you?
 And later tears were wet upon their cheeks
 And my own eyes fill with the telling of the tale
 And on that bleak and distant shore the blizzard blows for evermore
 For those in icy tombs out on the trail

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