When Belfast singer/songwriter Padraig Lalor wants to share songs about life in Ireland, you might expect growing up in Belfast during the 1970’s to instil a degree of bitterness in the lyrical content. However, Padraig’s second solo album, Light Up, seems to turn expectations on their heads – not least, in response to life during his formative years. Rather than apportion blame and dish it out in acerbic song writing; Lalor has written and recorded songs that tell stories of immigration and exile, share local history and find hope in the 21st century peace.
Rise up in your glory, and see better days
Light Up Your Hearts
“I wanted to tell the stories of my family, our history and how it felt to grow up in troubled Belfast. It was an exciting but very dangerous time to grow up and we don’t hear too many songs that deal with staying alive and finding something to celebrate amidst the madness.”, says Lalor. One of the greatest successes in his new album, is conveying that sense of a personal journey. Like any good story-teller, though, he knows the value of history, and Light Up opens with Jeanie Johnston – a story of emigration, and a happy one, at that.
The Jeanie Johnston was a ship that made 16 journeys between Ireland and North America as 19th Century Ireland was beset by famine. Over 2,500 people made the journey on that ship, and not one life was lost. A unique achievement that’s celebrated in the album’s upbeat opening. The arrangement is richly textured and makes the most of Padraig’s impressive selection of guests. Not only does Tim Edey provides flawless and beautifully light guitars; the harmonies from his melodeon are well matched with the vocal harmonies provided by Swansea-based singer Sarah Passmore. Those, in turn, being an inspired and perfect match for Padraig’s own, expressive voice. A replica of The Jeanie Johnston is now docked at Custom House Quay in Dublin.
Padraig continues to perform with the band he formed at the start of his musical career while at college in Oxford, Henry Marten’s Ghost. Light Up, however, follows a successful solo debut in 2012, Ismay’s Dream. That album took the history of the people who built and sailed on the Titanic, and charted the ship’s journey from inception to destruction over eleven, memorable, self-written songs. It was poignant, joyful and stirring.
And so the chapter of maritime history provided by Jeanie Johnston makes a fine introduction; and there’s one more direct reference to that history on the album, in Lagan Love/Enjoy The Hour. The instantly recognisable and evocative opening melody from Selyf Edwards‘ fiddle leads to a song that discusses Belfast’s proud heritage of shipbuilding, and how the industry brought both prosperity and catastrophe to the city. Enriched by Tim’s carefully layered guitars and soothing melodeon, providing both accompaniment and colour, along with Gill O’Shea‘s soaring whistle and Selyf’s fiddle.
When you raise your glass to the shipyard
The emblem of Ulster’s power
Are you too proud to see that it hides tragedy?
Is this really our finest hour?
Both these songs were written by Lalor, but the album was conceived and produced in close collaboration with percussionist Greig Stewart and keyboard player Fyfe Dangerfield (Guillemots); and both have contributed to the song writing. As well as providing the album’s finely balanced percussion, Greig also co-produced with Padraig, adding a noticeable contemporary edge to the tradition-based melodies. The album’s first single, Light Up Your Hearts was co-written with Fyfe, and the song exemplifies Padraig’s aim of creating an album that not only deals with his home’s history, but looks forward to a lasting peace. The song also provides the first chance to enjoy Sarah Passmore‘s gentle voice in a duet with Padraig. The uplifting melody is bolstered by Fyfe’s guitar and electric organ, while the vocal is complimented by Gill’s whistle.
Like a troubled romance, God only knows
The heartache and suffering of a blood covered rose
But the joy of your children now fills you with pride
As they look to tomorrow and the turn of the tide
A number of the songs have been co-written with fellow Henry Marten’s Ghost member, Nick Gray. The Western Wind is upbeat, with an opening that’s strong on percussion and whistles. But it’s also a song of regret, and a mournful fiddle echoes the melody, contrasting the steady beat like a dissenting voice. Exiled deals far more directly with the problems Ireland endured as Lalor was growing up, comparing the consequences of internment with a kind of self-imposed transportation in an emotional vocal performance.
Kathleen’s Choice takes the hint of country employed in Light Up Your Hearts and expands the sound for an emigration song, and another fine duet, in which Sarah confirms just how well suited her voice is to the sound. Fyfe’s honky-tonk piano and Andrew Wal Coughlan‘s bass provide a second memorable pairing.
With such accomplished song writing on offer it initially comes a surprise to find a Nanci Griffith song on the album. However, It’s A Hard Life and its trans-Atlantic call for an end to intolerance is undoubtedly a perfect fit for Light Up. It’s a passionate, tearful vocal from Padraig, and no wonder. This song has mighty power. Hatred is hatred, whichever side of the Atlantic it’s on, and whoever are the direct victims, ultimately, the victims of hatred are those who inherit the consequences.
Padraig still finds room for a sense of fun, and I’m Not Turning provides a livelier outlook. A cheerful song of adventure that’s carried by Greig’s percussion while layers of fiddle from Balkan/Gypsy specialist Piotr Jordan toy with a square dance. Sarah’s voice and Danny Kilbride‘s guitar add gentle harmonies, and a perfectly timed bass helps strengthen the unstoppable rhythm. In time, Gill’s whistle takes up the hints from the fiddle and joins the dance at the close. The album itself closes on an even livelier note, with the raucous Rinty Monaghan. Guitars, tom toms and a singalong chorus carry this song about Belfast’s boxing champion (and music hall star). It would be a crime to close this album without some more of Sarah’s stirring harmonies and this live recording is also enhanced by the short duet between Gill’s whistle and Welsh fiddler Jamie Nemeth – an understated joy.
Padraig Lalor and Greig Stewart first met in the 1990’s, before the Guillemots appeared on the music scene. Whatever chance brought them together last year was a lucky one, because with Greig in the producer’s chair there’s an added freshness to Padraig’s music that’s even further enhanced when he and Fyfe Dangerfield write together. Those songs benefit from a foundation of abundant whistles and fiddles, Tim Edey‘s exquisitely developed layers of guitar and melodeon, and the gentle charm of Sarah Passmore‘s voice; providing a remarkable range of texture and colour. Light Up has the multi-faceted appeal of songs that have grown from the Irish folk tradition and reference the life and history of Belfast itself, in an approach that’s refreshing while still retaining an appealing familiarity.
Light Up is out now.
Friday 1st Diablos Carmarthen.
New album Launch in Ireland
Friday 15th Jacksons Hotel Ballybofey Donegal
Saturday 16th The Sunflower Club Belfast
Sunday 17th The Venue Tramore
Friday 5th The Lawrenny Arms.
Saturday 20th Private Monmouth
Saturday 27th Private Cardigan
Sunday 28th Private Devon (Day)
Friday 2nd Diablos Carmarthen.
Saturday 10th The Gravity Station Swansea.
Sunday 11th White Lion Ferryside 3pm start.
Saturday 8th The Sun Inn St Florence Nr Tenby.
Saturday 15th The Lawrenny Arms.
Saturday 22nd Royal George Solva.
Saturday 5th Inn at the sticks Llansteffan.
Thursday 17th The Gravity Station Swansea.
Friday 2nd Diablos Carmarthen.
Saturday 10th Royal George Solva.
Friday 16th The Gravity Station Swansea.
Saturday 31st Jolly Huntsman KIngton St Michael Nr Chippenham.