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Script for audio journal

The Irish Rover

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Irish Rover is an Irish folk song about a magnificent though improbable sailing ship that reaches an unfortunate end. It has been recorded by numerous artists, some of whom have made changes to the lyrics over time.

The song describes a gigantic ship with “twenty-seven masts”, a colourful crew and varied types of cargo in enormous amounts. The verses grow successively more extravagant about the wonders of the great ship. The seven-year voyage comes to a disastrous end when the ship sinks. The narrator becomes the only survivor, the last of the Irish Rover, leaving no one else alive to contradict the tale.

According to the 1966 publication Walton’s New Treasury of Irish Songs and Ballads 2, the song is attributed to songwriter/arranger J. M. Crofts. (source, Wikipedia)

However, I have not been able to verify this after an internet search where this song is most often said to be traditional. I know if I had written it, I wouldn’t be hiding my light under a bushel- everyone would know about it!

Burl Ives is the earliest artist I can find who sang the song- his 1959 version, where he accompanies himself on nylon guitar, holds up rather well, over 60 years later. Of course, he was a noted singer with a great voice as well as actor and entertainer. He cruelled his place in history, IMHO, by recanting his socialist links during the McCarthyite blacklist period by appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1952 and by naming names to preserve his income from various projects in the entertainment industry. This precipitated a bitter rift between Ives and folk singers such as Pete Seeger, which lasted for decades.

The first time I heard the song, though, was from a 1962 Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem vinyl disc recorded live in a Chicago night-club. It was the first song on the first side. This group is arguably the catalyst for the explosion of Irish folk music in Ireland and across the world in the decades since this great recording. When The Dubliners teamed with The Pogues in 1987 the song gained a new lease on life.

Now, while the three oldest members of the band had been singing the song since the 1960s, when Banter formed in the mid-1990s, the fiddler, Mark, son of mandolinist Jim, was hesitant of playing the song with just guitar, fiddle, and bodhran as it couldn’t compete, sonically, with the racy and raucous rendition of the Dubs/Pogues!

So, here in lockdown, with the assistance of the Band-in-a-Box/RealBand combo and n-Track 9 mastering, I present something that approaches the density of that 1987 recording. The rhythm section is labelled Factory Industrial Rock comprising RockHard LA drums, metal electric guitar, and three House-Techno Trance loops. To keep within a light-year or two of the Irish influence, I use bluegrass mandolin, fiddle, banjo and accordion successively as acoustic embellishment of the verses. In the instrumental verse, I introduce the accordion and bring up the rest of the instruments which saw, blow and pick up a storm through the final verse. I sing the verses without doubling- there isn’t a chorus, alas, to use as a pretext…

By Quentin Bega

I was born in the middle of the 20th Century and have, somewhat to my surprise, found myself in the next one with something more to say and do.

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