FRANK HARTE AND DONAL LUNNY - There’s Gangs of Them Digging - Songs of Irish labour

FRANK HARTE AND DONAL LUNNY - There’s Gangs of Them Digging - Songs of Irish labour
Daisy DLCD022

This is the sixth in a series of Frank Harte and Donal Lunny collaborations. The previous five, on the Hummingbird label, received well-deserved praise in this magazine. This final production was completed just a couple of weeks before Frank’s death on 27th June 2005. It has been eagerly anticipated.

The listening has been, for me, an emotional roller coaster – and I am sure my reaction will be shared – to hear such magnificent renderings, solid, weathered singing at its very finest.  It has all Frank’s vocal trademarks: superb phrasing, flawless timing and crystal diction.  The accompaniments, as we’ve come to expect from Donal Lunny, are models of subtlety and good taste, minimalist and highly effective and in service to the text(s). The songs are a fine mix, nineteen tracks in all, and range from the poignant to the humorous as they chronicle the trials, tribulations and fortitudes of the Kilroys of spade, pick, shovel, scythe and plough.  This production also includes a 46 page booklet, which includes full texts and copious scholarly notes by Frank, photos, and an excellent bibliography.

The opening track is The Galbally Farmer delivered in rollicking style.  The theme is familiar; Darby O’Leary is a miserly cratur, e.g.

                  I well recollect it was Michaelmas night
                   To a hearty good supper he did me invite
                   A cup of sour milk that would physic a smile
                   It would give you the trotting disorder.

It follows with the witty and risqué Tambo, where the farm labourer is finally persuaded to hire on when promised marriage with the attractive young widow employer. The Mickey Dam, Hot Asphalt - cracking stuff! - are all there.  Contemporary writers are well represented including Dominic Behan and Ewan MacColl including the latter’s Just a Note a fine example of what can be achieved in sixteen lines… Mick Curry’s Murphy Can Never Go Home gives sharp focus to the plight of retired labourers now marooned and desolate in London.  Once again, there are many highlights and in particular Frank’s way of The Blantyre Explosion – the best I have ever heard.

I heartily recommend this album its quality and merits are of the highest.

Geordie McIntyre
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This album was reviewed in Issue 76 of The Living Tradition magazine.