CD Review – Folk Radio UK

Barrule – Barrule
by JOHNNY WHALLEY on 2 MAY, 2013

It’s not often that I get to review an album whose declared intention is to bring an entire, previously neglected, sub-genre of music to its audience. But that is what Barrule and their self-titled album are about and the sub-genre in question is traditional music from the Isle of Man.

Barrule are Jamie Smith, Adam Rhodes and Tomas Callister, each of them with strong links to the island. Tom is a native, Adam, although born in England, was brought up on the island and Jamie has married into a family of Manx musicians and dancers. Jamie will be familiar to many as the front man of Welsh band Jamie Smith’s Mabon and Adam is also part of that line up. Tom has so far made his musical mark mainly on the island where, although still only 19, he has for several years been a major figure on the traditional music scene.

In one sense, the Manx language, Gaelg, the island’s strand of Gaelic, died on 27 December 1974 with the death of the Ned Maddrell, the last native speaker. But, for several years before, there had been strenuous efforts to revive the language and, with it, preserve the folk lore and traditional culture of the island. The Manx Heritage Foundation was set up in 1982, to provide a focus and stimulus for these activities and in furthering this aim, the Foundation has funded the production of the Barrule album.

The thirteen tracks on the album include 4 songs, 2 traditional and 2 penned by Greg Joughin. Greg is a fine singer of Manx Gaelic song and also happens to be Jamie’s father-in-law. He’s one of several guest musicians on the album, taking lead vocal on the 2 Gaelic songs and also on first vocal track, In Search of Mannanan. Greg’s lyrics for this song are inspired by the legend of the ancient Manx God, Manannan Mac Lir. Like many other powerful figures of legend, the Manx people can turn to Mannanan for help in times of threat to the island. But, there’s a twist, in that Manannan isn’t at all easy to find though rumours persist that he lurks around the summit of a mountain in the south of the island. The name of that mountain? Barrule.

The title of a popular 18th Century ballad, Ny Kirree Fo Niaghtey, translates as The Sheep Under the Snow and its inclusion on the album was uncannily prescient as vicious snowfall towards the end of March triggered just such a crisis for many Manx farmers. Barrule responded by offering the track for download in exchange for donations to the Isle of Man Agricultural Benevolent Trust. Over £6000 has been raised so far.

Barrule describe themselves as a Manx Trad Power Trio and Folk Radio UK had firsthand experience of this, listening to their storming set at the Halsway Manor Hothouse Festival (more on this soon). Their instrumental line up is built around melody from either Jamie’s accordion or Tom’s fiddle whilst much of the power drive comes from Adam’s bouzouki and zouk bass. This core sound was more than sufficient to get the audience moving at Halsway but on the album it is made even richer by several guest appearances. These range from ones you might expect, such as acoustic guitar from Dylan Fowler and Malcolm Stitt and bodhran from Will Lang, to more exotic additions such as lap steel guitar from Dylan Fowler, hurdy gurdy from Clare Salaman and Dylan Fowler (again) with tabrwdd, a distant welsh relative of the bodhran.

The album kicks off with the stirring Mylecharaine’s March, a traditional tune that inspired the Manx national anthem. The album is filled to overflowing with other traditional Manx tunes, most guaranteed to get the feet tapping and, on a good day, dancing round the kitchen. In contrast, O My Graih is a mournful slow air exquisitely rendered on Tom’s fiddle and the closing track. Irree Ny Greiney is a slow-building atmospheric piece based on a song celebrating the rising of the sun originally written by Bob Carswell.

All members of the band, along with several other Manx musicians, have written tunes included on the album. It is a measure of the health of traditionally based music on the island that such a variety of material could be included. On the strength of this debut, Barrule should have no difficulty convincing the world that the music of the Isle of Man is to be celebrated, treasured and above all enjoyed.

Review by: Johnny Whalley