The Mary Wallopers - Irish Rock’n’Roll

2023 studio album

Irish Rock’n’Roll - The Mary Wallopers

the bright young folk review

Irish Rock’n’Roll is the second album offering from the Mary Wallopers: a title which truly befits this pulsating collection of songs.

The core of the Mary Wallopers are guitar and banjo-playing brothers Charles and Andrew Hendy and their friend Sean McKenna, who trod the traditional touring apprenticeship path together in Ireland gigging and collecting songs. During lockdown, they built up an online following playing livestreams as a trio from their home studio.

Subsequently, the band expanded to a seven piece with the addition of Seamas Hyland on accordion, Finian O’Connor on pipes/whistles, Roisin Barrett on bass and Ken Mooney on drums. This ensemble has a fierce reputation as a raucous live act; viewers of Jools Holland’s 2023 Hootenanny will doubtless have been struck by their energetic and joyful performance at the turn of the year (although the splashes of what my Irish grandfather would have termed “colourful language” were notably absent on TV!)

Their first track offering of Bauld O Donoghue - with it’s opening lyric “Here I am, from Paddy’s land, the land of high renown” - boldly declares the band’s pride in their heritage. And yet this album is far more than a time capsule of Irish tradition.

Among the thirteen tracks there are ten traditional songs and three original compositions. Standards such as Madam I’m a Darlin’, The Blarney Stone, Holy Ground and Hot Asphalt are delivered at full tilt with fulsome instrumentation and boisterous communal choruses. They are balanced by softer poignant ballads; Wexford, for example, conveys a tale of a travelling family struggling to join the settled community. The use of distorted or muted accordion and guitar accompaniment allows the emotional truth of the vocal to shine through.

There is an interesting counterpoint created when The Rich Man and the Poor Man, a rhythmically-driven arcane fable about a rich man being sent to dine with the Devil is immediately followed by the original ballad The Idler. Both are observational laments about disparities of wealth, but the new song examines the insidious subtlety of present-day cultural manipulation more closely. It criticises the vilifying of ’idlers’ by a corrupt establishment who seek to deflect blame for macro-economic difficulties onto addicts, immigrants and the most deprived in society.

Similarly, Vultures of Christmas presents an individual anecdote of despair and mocks the media stereotype of a rural idyll dotted with cosy homesteads, far different from the current reality of struggle within agriculture. A continuous undercurrent of anarchic sentiment and railing against injustice flows and grows through the album as the tracks unfold.

The third and most powerful of the original songs is Gates of Heaven; an eloquent indictment of the theocratic institutions in Ireland and modern scandals arising from abuse of power within them, including the Magdalen Laundries, land fraud and child abuse. These songs feel like important bulletins for future generations, infused as they are with the righteous anger that is reflected in the numerous unscheduled public memorials to be found in present day Ireland to the numberless victims of these state-sanctioned atrocities.

Irish Rock’n’Roll demonstrates how the essence of modern Irish trad music is being enriched by evolutionary forces. Every genre must adapt to survive, but this album proves the Mary Wallopers are positively thriving within it and driving this process forward.

Angela Stock

Released on CD and digitally October 13 2023 on BC Records

1. The Bauld O Donoghue
2. The Holy Ground
3. Rakes of Poverty
4. The Rich Man and the Poor Man
5. The Idler
6. Madam I’m A Darlin’
7. Vultures of Christmas
8. The Turfman from Ardee
9. Hot Asphalt
10. Wexford
11. The Blarney Stone
12. Rothsea O
13. Gates of Heaven

The Mary Wallopers discography