Having scoured all the text on the digipack of this CD and not been able to find their names, I think it fair to say that The Jeremiahs are examples of that rare breed, four unassuming musicians. I hope this lack of self-publicity is firmly rooted in a confidence that their music will do the job for them. It certainly should be. But let’s also help out a little. Dubliner Joe Gibney takes vocals and adds some whistle; Brian Corry, from Co. Clare, plays whistle, flute and fiddle; Dublin based James Ryan is, amongst other things, the rhythm section on guitar and bouzouki; Jean Christophe Morel, a Frenchman drawn to Dublin by Irish traditional music, does the bulk of the work on fiddle. Getting together in 2013, they gained immediate recognition, winning the Showcase competition at Ballyshannon Festival that year. Two years later, they’ve released this self-titled debut album, including a track, Forgotten Sons, that won the 2015 TradConnect Songwriter Showcase competition. The competition was judged by Christy Moore who picked Forgotten Sons as the song that “tickled my ears the most”.
Forgotten Sons is the only self-penned song out of five on the album. Dealing with the perennial Irish issue of emigration, it has a time honoured line and refrain structure paired with twenty first century lyrics that pull no punches, highlighting the fate of young emigrés who don’t find that better life. It’s an arresting song, delivered by a singer, Joe Gibney, whose voice perfectly communicates the cruel contrasts between hope and despair inherent in the lyrics. If this is a sample of the song writing talent in the band then we should surely look forward to a second album giving prominence to their own compositions.
Of the other four songs on the current album, one is traditional, the band giving their take on Hog Eye Man. They attack it less frenetically than many renditions, still giving it pace, but allowing the bawdy humour of the lyrics more time to register. For the remainder, it’s interesting that none are Irish songs. There’s a fine example of contemporary writing from Edinburgh’s Adam Holmes with his song of the highs and lows of young love, Mary. Dave Sudbury’s 1980s composition, The King of Rome, is steeped in the typically northern England pastime of pigeon racing. The North Sea Holes is a Ewan McColl song from further back, written for 1960’s Singing the Fishing Radio Ballad. All three are strong, well-respected songs and to that extent could be thought of as safe choices. On the other hand, there are widely praised versions of all three against which any new arrangements will be judged. I’m pleased to say that the band’s decision to include these songs is thoroughly vindicated. Joe’s voice adapts unerringly to the very different needs of each song. The instrumental arrangements complement this splendidly, varying from the barest minimum, the first half of Mary for example, to a complex interweaving of driving guitar chords, fiddle and whistle in parts of The North Sea Holes that all but takes over from the vocals. I can honestly say I prefer their version of The King of Rome to the most widely known one by June Tabor. Joe is the only band member given a vocal credit but sections with two and three part harmony are found throughout the songs. If this was achieved entirely by overdubs of Joe’s voice then my respect for his abilities grows ever stronger.
The band’s instrumental prowess takes centre stage on the remaining five tracks, three band compositions and two credited to Finbar English. As with the instrumentation behind the songs, there’s an abundance of excellent musicianship in evidence. Whilst the compositions are unmistakably Irish in flavour they don’t fit easily into traditional categories and are all the stronger for that, keeping the listener intrigued as well as entertained. With the pairing of two whistles or flute and whistle, at times I was reminded of Flook, though I missed John Joe Kelly’s bodhrán of course.
With this album, The Jeremiah’s have shown an abundance of skill, producing both songs and tunes of high quality. The even better news is that all the signs lead us to expect a lot more from them in the future. They’ll be on a short gig tour of the UK at the end of June (dates below) and if you’re lucky enough to be around, you’d be wise to give them a listen. Fingers crossed, by next year, they’ll be booked around the UK festival circuit, they’ll go down a storm.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
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Jun 21 – The Cobblestones, Smithfield Dublin
Jun 25 – St Michael’s Irish Centre, Liverpool U.K
Jun 26 – Carlisle Folk & Blues Club, Carlilse UK
Jun 27 – Cockermouth Live, Kirkgate Arts Centre U.K
Jun 28 – The Carousel Sessions, Chorlton Irish Centre Manchester U.K
Aug 08 – Feakle Festival, Feakle Co.Clare, Ireland