CD Review: Folk Radio

Barrule – Manannan’s Cloak

It’s two years since Manx trio Barrule released their debut album with the declared intention of bringing the music of the Isle of Man to everyone’s attention. Since then Jamie Smith (accordion), Tomás Callister (fiddle) and Adam Rhodes (bouzouki) have played festivals and gigs up and down the UK and also festivals in France and Australia. So, having made a start on conquering the world they’ve now produced a second album that is more varied and even more energetic and appealing than the first.

The first album introduced us to Manannan, in the band’s words, the bad-ass Celtic sea god, and the legendary protector of the island. Mannanan’s Cloak alludes to one strand of this protection; if Manannan saw invaders approaching he would shroud the island in his cloak of mist. The opening track, The Wheel of Fire, celebrates his backup plan, if invading ships did reach shore he would transform into a wheel of fire, rolling down the flanks of his mountain home, Barrule, to see them off. The Wheel of Fire sets the album off at a great pace, two traditional jigs and two traditional reels sandwiching a tune by Manx flute maestro Peddyr Cubberley. These fast-paced tunes are ideal illustrations of the tight integration the trio have honed over the last two years. On this, and four other tracks, a lively and inventive bodhrán part is added by Tad Sargent.

The first of four songs on the album, The King of the Sea, is the only one sung in English, the others have Manx Gaelic lyrics. Helpfully, the notes sheet included with the album gives English translations. This first song may be in English but deals with a topic close to the Manx heart, the herring fishing that has always been an important part of traditional island life. Scotland’s Paul McKenna guests, taking the lead vocal while Dylan Fowler adds some subtle but decidedly non-traditional phrases to the arrangement on lap steel.

Guesting as a lead vocalist on two of the Gaelic songs is Manx native Greg Joughin. Yn Ven-Ainshter Dewil (The Cruel Mistress) is traditional while Fir-Hammag Yioogh is a decidedly modern song, words by Chris Sheard and adapted to a song by David Speers. The title is rendered in English as High Net Worth Individuals and the song is a scathing examination of those who have been drawn to Man by its tax regime and whose actions, once settled on the island, have been so detrimental to the land and its people.

Jamie Smith handles the third Gaelic song, Illiam Boght (Poor William). South Wales native Jamie has been heavily involved with Manx traditional music for the past ten years, he’s married to Greg Joughin’s daughter Gráinne and they’ve now moved to live on the island. The move seems to have boosted his confidence with the Manx language and he puts that to good effect on this song. The story it tells is a familiar one, that of the Child ballad, The Outlandish Knight, where the intended seventh victim of a rogue lover turns the tables on him. The tale is pared down to the bare essentials and set to an unfamiliar tune (unfamiliar to me at least) but is no less effective for that. Dylan Fowler adds some rather ethereal and eerie notes to the backing on a Weissenborn acoustic lap guitar.

Following this song the album closes with another of Barrule’s signature lively tune sets, The Laxey Reels, all the tunes written either by Jamie or Tomás. In amongst the set is a Tomás tune, the title translating as Daub Grease upon the Rump of a Fat Pig. Just felt I had to mention that. The set is fast and furious, with Tad’s bodhrán again making its presence felt and given further boosts from the uilleann pipes of Calum Stewart and the piano of David Kilgallon. It’s five and a half minutes of splendidly arranged contemporary Celtic tunes that are impossible to sit still to, top notch cheering up music.

This is such a well-rounded album, one that made a big impact on first hearing and that’s destined for a lot more play around the Whalley house. If you took our advice and discovered Barrule’s first cd, you’ll need no persuading to pick up this one. If Barrule is yet to enter your musical life, open the door right now.