The recent pandemic was a difficult time for those of us of the ‘folk persuasion’, as it was for everyone. Fortunately, many musicians turned to sessions and concerts in the online world, with some real successes emerging. One group live-streaming during this period was The Mary Wallopers. I, along with approximately 40,000 other international listeners, tuned in to enjoy several hours of some of the most entertaining singing available online at that time.
Having been singing as a trio for some time pre-lockdown in their local area of Dundalk, County Louth, they could be described as perfectly regular (if somewhat boisterous). However, brothers Andrew and Charles Hendy together with their old school friend Seán McKenna appear to thrive on the unpredictable, whether it’s broken-down vans, bodged instruments, or the lack of live gigs. When the local outputs for their music were closed by the pandemic, The Mary Wallopers decided to build a pub in their living room, play some songs, sink some tins of Beamish and, naturally, stream it all on Youtube.
The live streams were an unexpected success and within a few months had thousands of views. The band subsequently released an EP, produced merch and as soon as post-lockdown conditions allowed, booked gigs throughout the UK. It felt like only a matter of time before we’d be hearing a full-length album from them, and low and behold, collecting songs performed during their live sessions, the Wallopers have managed to create an eponymous album without losing the fun of their live streams.
They have reminded us that boundaries can always be pushed, different paths can be taken and that in this way, the new can meet with the old.
The first thing to note is that these songs make you want to sing. The opening ‘Eileen Og’ (or ‘The Pride of Petravore’, Roud V33922) is belted out with all the vigour of a pub session (and a few rounds in, at that). A gentle start quickly unravels into slamming guitar chords and a booming chorus slurring over the famous line, “But there’s none of them like the Pride of Petravore!” It then smoothly slides into ‘Love Will Never Conquer Me’, a beautifully sung ballad delivered by Seán McKenna that, originally recorded by The McPeake Family, stands up alongside the oldest traditional songs on this album.
‘The Night The Gards Raided Owenys’ (apparently learned from a great drinking friend of theirs) is a fascinating tale of, well, exactly what it says on the tin. The simplicity of the story combined with the passion in Charles Hendy’s voice seems reminiscent of great ballad tales like ‘Willie O’ Winsbury’, but with a distinctly Irish twist.
A stand-out track for me is ‘Building Up And Tearing England Down’. The Mary Wallopers demonstrate the power of folk song through their performance of the truly moving lyrics of hardship; it’s a staggeringly powerful and melancholic song made famous by The Dubliners, which tells of the Irish men who lost their lives building the railways in England, and the construction groups who were responsible for the loss of life among their workforces in the 19th century. But it’s not all doom and gloom. The album closes on the much lighter note of ‘All For Me Grog; (or ‘Good Brown Ale and Tobacco’, Roud 475), another song made famous by The Dubliners, which marries perfectly with the picture of a lively group in the back of a pub, louder and more cheerful than the sum of their parts.
The Wallopers decided to build a pub in their living room, play some songs, sink some tins of Beamish and, naturally, stream it all on Youtube.
This collection of songs leaves you singing and whistling to yourself, but beyond this, The Mary Wallopers have brought a kind of excitement back to ballad singing that I haven’t heard for some time. They have reminded us that boundaries can always be pushed, different paths can be taken and that in this way, the new can meet with the old. Importantly, they don’t lose sight of what these songs are all about, but neither do they try to cater to what folk music listeners might want or expect to hear. Instead, they perform it how they experience it. It’s messy, it’s funny, it’s sad and you do it with your mates when you’ve got something to say.
The Mary Wallopers debut album is available from all good online stores. For more info, head to marywallopers.com.
Note: This review has since been corrected based on the comment below.
Sorry, “Love Will Never Conquer Me” isn’t an original Walloper’s tune, The McPeake Family previously released it on the album “At Home With The McPeakes” (number 7 on the B side, titled it “Love Will Never, Never Conquer Me”). I believe the Wallopers wrote “The Night The Gards Raided Owenys” with Jinx Lennon during the taping of an episode for the show “Cumasc: Seisiúin sa Black Gate”.