Last Man Standing / Comfort
Deafear Productions LMS001 / Deafear Productions DECD002
* See new red note at end.
Last Man Standing: 1. Maid of Lismore; 2. Don't be Beguiled; 3. Moyasta Shore; 4. Johnny Carey; 5. In the Month of May; 6. The Widow and the Sergeant; 7. Young Willie; 8. Shoheen Shoho; 9. Mary of the Wild Moor; 10. Battle of Benberb; 11. Spalpeen Fanach; 12. What put the Blood; 13. Margaret Garrity; 14. Lonely Now Your Gone; 15. The Pretty Chambermaid; 16. She's my Joy; 17. Bold Paddy Ryan; 18. Bridget Molloy; 19. Heaven Borne Valiant Souls; 20. Lord Lovett.In 1992, the great Aberdeenshire singer, Lizzie Higgins, was diagnosed with cancer of the gullet. Brave and determined, only once was there anything like despair, when she said: "Who will sing the auld sangs now?" Cut down at the height of her powers, she was to die the following February, to be buried on the Broad Hill, close to where her mother lay. In a somewhat similar vein, Thomas McCarthy has said "When I'm gone, it's gone." Not that he's about to die, I'm pleased to say, but that he's probably the last singer to hold this precious hoard of family songs - thus the title of this CD.
Thomas is not alone in realising the fragility of the situation, for recorder/producer Brian Despard has secured a grant from the Heritage Lottery Foundation to extensively record Thomas McCarthy and produce Comfort for sale, plus this companion CD Last Man Standing to be distributed free of charge to schools, libraries, community centres etc. What a splendid idea, and offer. Rather strangely, though, it's not available for sale. For that you have to turn to Comfort.
Comfort: 1. Green Brooms; 2. Bridget Molloy; 3. Maid of Lismore; 4. Lord Lovett.; 5. Moyasta Shore; 6. Heaven Borne Valiant Souls; 7. Johnny Carey; 8. Lonely Now Your Gone; 9. Margaret Garrity; 10. Paddy McInerey.And to continue the strangeness, while Last Man Standing runs for a very satisfactory 70+ minutes, Comfort is only of 35 minutes duration, and inludes only three tracks not included on the former CD. So I don't really understand why Last Man Standing isn't available for sale as well.
However, lets have a listen to what Comfort has to offer. Thomas McCarthy is a very special, and splendid, singer. I've often praised some good English traditional singers for the way that they can effectively communicate the emotional aspects of the story, and keep the listener's attention, without resorting to any obvious musical ploys. Some other singers do use obvious musical ploys - and they seem to do so more in Ireland. Thomas is clearly one of these and, beyond the extensive use of decorations, he both shortens and lengthens lines, varies the melody considerably, and often almost swallows words. This is not the place to try to describe his methods more fully, but they clearly work; at a Bristol gig I attended, he sang and chatted to an en-raptured audience for two and a half hours without a break! None of the organisers seemed able to tell him to stop for the interval!
Thomas's previous CD, Herself and Myself, was in fact dedicated to his mother, Mary McCarthy, and contained some five of her songs (one of which she sang herself). Mary sings in a very similar style to the wonderful Mary Delaney (on From Puck to Appleby, MTCD325-6), who was one of their relatives. The interesting aspect of this is that Thomas doesn't really sound very much like his mother, or indeed, any of his other relatives on From Puck to Appleby. He told how his mother was very strict about him getting the song absolutely correctly, but then would say: "Now do your own thing on it." It would appear that he has! A number of reviewers have compared Tommy's style to that of Joe Heaney; that's fair, I think, because he does sound a little like Joe at times, although his decorations, while similarly complex, are noticeably different.
We start with Green Brooms - and it's a great song to start with as it's fairly well-known, and you'll get a clear idea of what Thomas does with his songs. Bridget Molloy is not one you'll know, I would guess, but it has nice simple tune, and I think you'll be able to hear many of the ploys I mentioned above. The same may be said of the next two tracks, The Maid of Lismore and Lord Lovett - plenty of his strategies on show here.
The remainder of the CD is songs unlikely to have been heard before, so I'll give you the Notes about them, in Thomas's own words.
Heaven Borne Valiant Souls: "To draw Erin's sword and aim it at the lion's paw." An elegiac song of rebellion and the fight for freedom of the Irish people in 1798. The song pays tribute to those who gave their lives and promises redemption, whilst leaving the listener with an element of hope for the future.
Johnny Carey: A local beauty Molly is forbidden to marry. She suggests they elope ("won't you follow me") when her father suddenly dies (not from drinking water...) and Molly inherits - but she herself falls ill...
Lonely Now Your Gone: A song of unrequited love held by a man of the town for a Traveller girl, who only catches a fleeting glimpse of her and will not rest until he finds her again........
Margaret Garrity: This song has been handed down through the McCarthy family of Virginia, USA via Honest Tom McCarthy, a great grandfather of mine. It tells the story of a crime of passion - a woman who murdered her vengeful and unfaithful lover, who had married another. Due to the respect with which she was regarded by her community, and his disgraceful breach of promise, she felt she had no option but to reclaim her honour. Having given herself up she was acquitted and released to great celebration.
Finally Paddy McInerey: A song about a man from the North of Ireland who went around looking for a wife. He found one in the County Cork and you can tell how his life goes in the song. It was a secret song that got out to the country people - certain songs were supposed to be secret but it got out and circulated everywhere.
This is a great, if short, CD, and clearly shows Thomas McCarthy at his best. It's available from Peta Webb, for £12 + £1.65 p&p. * A FREE copy of Last Man Standing will be included. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your postal address to get the PayPal link.
Rod Stradling - 20.9.20