The Mountains of Mourne

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.

Like so many high places, the Mournes have a mystical aura when you ascend one of the peaks. I did this, in the mid-1980s, with a group of students from The Ballymena Academy, in the company of Roger, a gentle but very fit R.E. teacher from the school. Before we were half-way up, I was struggling, regretting a lifetime of being unfit and rather fat. As the group ascended out of sight, I rested on a stone wall to recuperate. Then, vaulting over the wall came a trio of British soldiers who asked if I was part of their training team! Breathless, I assured them that I was not- and they loped away across the side of the mountain. I did finally get to the summit, and yes, as the cliché goes- it was worth it. At about the same time, I was involved as in a cabaret-style,  A night with Percy French, involving songs, stories, and skits at Cushendall Golf Club- a social and sometime performance venue for our local drama group.  Thirty-five years later, I hope that such activities still exist and haven’t been entirely submerged by the world of Tik Tok etc. The estimable Wikipedia now takes up the account:

William Percy French (1 May 1854 – 24 January 1920) became known as one of Ireland’s foremost songwriters and entertainers. Thanks to the late Oliver Nulty, French has become recognised for his watercolour paintings as well. William Percy French was a gifted polymath who had a number of artistic talents at his command. He could work very quickly, and his output is prodigious across many genres.

The lyrics to the song The Mountains of Mourne (originally spelt The Mountains o’ Mourne) were written by Irish musician Percy French (1854–1920), the music was composed by Houston Collisson (1865–1920)… The song is representative of French’s many works concerning the Irish diaspora. The Mourne Mountains of the title are located in County Down in Northern Ireland.

The song is a whimsical look at the styles, attitudes and fashions of late nineteenth-century London as seen from the point of view of an emigrant labourer from a village near the Mourne Mountains… It contrasts the artificial attractions of the city with the more natural beauty of his homeland. [An example of French’s satirical wit is set out below]

Are Ye Right There Michael, a song ridiculing the state of the rail system in rural County Clare caused such embarrassment to the rail company that – according to a persistent local legend – it led to a libel action against French. According to the story, French arrived late at the court, and when questioned by the judge he responded, “Your honour, I travelled by the West Clare Railway”, resulting in the case being thrown out…[source, Wikipediadonate if you can]  

French is also known as the author of a famous poem called, Abdul Abulbul Amir (1877) which  in the century and a half following its composition, has spawned quite a few risqué parodies- beloved by students with a sophomoric sense of humour and countless rugby teams. Here is a verse extracted from the original followed by an extract of one of the tamer parodies:

There are heroes in plenty, and well known to fame/In the ranks that were led by the Czar,/But the bravest of all was a man by the name/Of Ivan Potschjinski Skidar. /He could imitate Toole, play Euchre and Pool/And perform on the Spanish guitar./In fact quite the cream of the Muscovite team/Was Ivan Potschjinski Skidar. [Toole was a famous contemporary actor and entrepreneur]

The harems of Egypt are fine to behold/And the harlots are lovely and fair/But the fairest, a Greek, was wed to a sheikh/Called Abdul Abulbul Amir./A travelling brothel came into the town/
‘Twas run privately by the Tsar/Who wagered a hundred that no-one could out-shag/Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

Banter started to perform this song a couple of years ago as we were expanding the group’s repertoire. As we are still in lockdown, I use the virus, shamelessly, to purloin yet another of Sam the Man’s songs. I use Band-in-a-Box’s Medium Waltz setting featuring acclaimed session musos- Byron House on acoustic bass, Jeff Taylor on acoustic piano, Jason Roller on  strummed acoustic guitar and Brent Mason on finger-picked guitar. What more do you need? The solo vocal (with a touch of chorus on the last line of each verse) relates the artfully crafted story.

The Mountains of Mourne

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