Belfast people are world-famous for their feuding and fighting, but they deserve to be better known for their musical talent. That's why its such a pleasure to find the Freemen, a four-man group which is putting Belfast on the international folk music map at long last.
Like all Ulstermen, they hate pretence and sham Irishness. They ape no one. Their arrangements are all their own, and if you hear a broad Belfast accent creeping into a Scottish song, that's no accident. They'll play and sing good folk music from any-where-but always they give it a distinctly Ulster flavour.
Jimmy McPeake, on double bass and vocals, is of course one of the original McPeake family, celebrated throughout the folk world. He helps preserve the authentic folk sound, so often lost in the quest for commercial success.
John McNally has a so known fame before, as a boxing silver medalist (bantamweight) in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. He plays tenor banjo and mandolin.
Ray McAreavey, who can be heard on most of the love songs, and Kieron Manning both played pop guitar before returning to their first love, folk. The experience broadened them as musicians and performers, and it shows.
The name Freemen, incidentally, was chosen not for any political reasons, but to emphasize their freedom of choice of music. They have a weakness for true folk, but theyll keep the party or the pub swinging with more familiar Irish melodies if the occasion demands.
This ability to turn a hand to any tune they fancy, from North, South, East, or West, is clear from their choice of material for their first LP.
Some songs are English or Scottish, like "Nancy Whiskey," "Lammas Time" or the lovely "Dainty Davy". Most, of course, are Irish, and theres a nice blend of the heartwarming, like "Curragh of Kildare" and the rousing, like "On the One Road". Two are strictly Belfast, recalling the sweated labour days of linen manufacturing. "Freedom Walk" is an original protest song, with a message for every land.
Some are familiar, some are known only to connoisseurs, but the Freemen give them a fresh sound, owing largely to their own arrangements, and their unique combination t of instruments. Each is a master of what he plays, and this is nowhere more apparent than in "Lark in the Clear Air". Normally, a vocal solo, this timeless song is heard in an entirely new medium, with harp, three mandolines and 12-string guitar. "Carrickfergus" is another haunting love song, as only the Irish can write them.
A year ago, in the summer of 1969, the boys knew and admired each other, but had never played as a group. Today, they are one of the best-known names on the Irish singing pubs circuit and already have a successful season at the Old Shelling, Upper Manhattan, behind them. With another American trip in the offing, its not difficult to predict a big future for a group who so obviously enjoy playing, singing and being together.
Here is a collection of songs which we really liked and enjoyed singing. They each carry a particular message and express a sentiment of life. Some were picked just for the sheer loveliness of the song itself e.g. "Pitten Ween Jo", while others, because of the beauty of the words and the meaning which they contain. Since our last L.P. (GEM/GES 1050) "ON THE ONE ROAD" we have been joined by Desmond McHenry (all the way from Portaferry, Co. Down!!!) who has brought with him a wealth of material—some of which we are using in this album.
Pitten Ween Jo (arr. Freemen)
Is a Scottish folk-song about a boy meeting a girl, but there is it touch of Scottish guile in Jo's answer "Oh Man, I know you're game. But ne'er .the less you're awful kind. In fact I realty wouldn't mind." Could yon beat that for understatement?
Killiecrankie (arr. Freemen)
We have to admit that sonic of the Scottish dialect here baffles us. It's the rousing music, strong-sounding names and the whole atmosphere of Bonnie Scotland that made us pick it.
Streets of London (Ralph McTell)
Out of the unlikely setting of the London streets comes another contemporary folk-song dealing with the plight of the aged and forgotten—something we too often forget.
Mary of the Curling Hair (Griffin-Crofts)
Jimmy has been singing Irish folk songs for years (he won't tell us how many though!!) and we felt we could best bring out the sadness in the young man's heart for his Mary "of the curling hair" whom he has lost. It is a traditional Irish air with the lament coming over in the music.
Follow Me Up To Carlow (D. Behan arr. Freemen)
This song is about a rebel named Fiach Mc Hugh O'Byrne during the time, of Queen Elizabeth I and this is the version collected by D. Behan and we enjoy singing it for its rousing chorus.
Jolly Beggarman (arr. Freemen)
The old "gob music" of the traditional lilters dominates the aire of this song and rejects the carefree attitude of the beggarman to his life and surroundings.
Jolly Waggoner (arr. Freemen)
This is a song of the travelling people, whose attitude towards changing times—"the world's turned topsy-turvy lads and things, is run by steam"—is light-hearted and carefree. The very rhythm of the song is easy going, like the pace of the tinker's horse.
Three Score and Ten (arr. Freemen)
This is another sea song about a tragedy at sea where seventy men lost their lives. The rousing music of the song brings out very well their acceptance, of a death at sea as a fact of their lives.
Lord of the Dance (S. Carter)
This is a hymn treated in a modern idiom. It is full of the joy of "life" bursting into the world and being controlled by a triumphant "Lord of the Dance."
Fiddlers Green (arr. Freemen)
Des, who sings this song, regards it as one of his favourites. He himself, who lives in a fishing village, can understand the sorrows of the fishermen seeing death creep up inevitably. "Fiddlers Green" is their hereafter where they can sail with the breeze and pluck the bottles of rum off the trees and be happy with their old ship-mates.
The Coolin' (arr. Freemen)
Just let John play the first few bars of this aire, and the loudest drunk
in the dingiest pub shuts up! Songs like this give Ireland her world-wide reputation in traditional music.
Lark In the Morning (arr. Freemen)
This is an old traditional song from Co. Fermanagh, and it tells of a young girl who got into the wrong sort of trouble by a Jolly ploughboy and we have used this as our title track.