Francy takes rare delight in the common ground

Francy Devine and producer, Steve Byrne, at the launch of his new album, An Ownerless Corner of Earth (Photo: Colm Keating)

FRANCY DEVINE AN OWNERLESS CORNER OF EARTH

An Ownerless Corner of Earth is the stunning double CD collection by Francy Devine, mainstay of the Howth Singing Circle and welcome guest at singing sessions throughout Ireland and many parts of Britain. Although a remarkable cast of musicians and singers have made themselves available to occupy supporting roles, producer Steve Byrne (recently named as Scots Singer of the Year in the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards) is meticulous in ensuring that Francy’s rich nutbrown voice is front and centre throughout.

Reflecting his Scottish heritage, his English early upbringing and his strong Irish roots, Francy’s album includes some of his favourites from his extensive repertoire of songs from these islands and some of his own compositions and poetry which include recognition of his abiding interests in labour history, ornithology and football (or rather Finn Harps, to be precise).

Steve Byrne and Shona Donaldson (left) at the launch of the album (Photo: Francy Devine)

Every track is thoughtfully constructed and presented to deliver the song or tune to the best effect. None fall short in this respect. While reluctant to single out particular highlights on an album of sustained quality, I am compelled to commend Francy’s self-composed air for The Labour League which fits the mood and sense of this nineteenth century labour anthem perfectly. Shona Donaldson’s vocals on The Banks of Inverurie, her husband, Paul Anderson’s sensitive fiddle playing on the poem, Gazing at Lochnagar, Liam O’Connor’s equally impressive fiddle coda to Francy’s reading of his poem, When Abdul Moneim Khalifa Met Darach Ó Catháin, and Steve Byrne’s complementary singing on Tramps and Hawkers and The Hound Of Granemore contribute generously to this magical album. Francy’s beautifully heartfelt rendering of the alternative version of The Lowlands o’ Holland is exceptional. Noteworthy, too, is Graham Dunne’s exquisite guitar accompaniment throughout the first CD.

On the second CD, two of Francy’s own compositions, Dark and Slender Boy and the poignant Magaidh Ruaidh seem destined to enter the canon of standards to be performed in singing circles and folk clubs on these islands. Devine’s compositional skills are also applied effectively to the task of producing a tune for The Miner’s Song – the third of three Jim Connell songs on the album, after The Old Poacher’s Song (which provides the title for the album) and My Nellie. The unique vocal and instrumental talents of Kristin Borgehed on double bass provides the familiar Maid of Culmore with a more arresting treatment. Scattery Island, Devine’s well-crafted poetic tribute to the Kelly traditional music dynasty, is lifted by the sensitive playing of two members of that dynasty, John and Aoife Kelly.

On Where Oh Where is Our James Connolly?, while modifying Patrick Galvin’s original lyrics to make them more inclusive, Devine reveals a controlled vocal power which turns a plaintive historical lament into a defiant and purposeful declaration of future intent. The project ends with two songs of parting – the exuberant Fare Thee Weel Regality from Northumbria (where Dave McCracken shares the vocal duties) and the Kirkintolloch weaver Walter Watson’s Scots anthem, Sae Will We Yet, which affords the perfect opportunity for Francy and his main Scottish collaborators – Steve Byrne, Paul Anderson and Shona Donaldson – to sign off together in a final valediction.

The double album is accompanied by copious liner notes, as one might expect from a historian and educator – so much so that it calls to mind Donal Lunny’s affectionate comment that the late Frank Harte produced such comprehensive liner notes that he suggested that Frank was giving away a free CD with his book. In this case, of course, Francy is giving away two CDs with his book!

The double album is available as a CD for €20 or as a digital download for €16 from BandCamp (click here) – where his earlier album, My Father Told Me, is also available.

Track Listing:

CD1

  1. The Old Poacher’s Song
  2. Alexander
  3. One Starry Night
  4. The Labour League
  5. On Yonder Hill
  6. The Banks of Inverurie
  7. Gazing at Lochnagar
  8. The Lowlands o’ Holland
  9. Tara Monster Meeting
  10. When Abdul Moneim Khalifa Met Darach Ó Catháin
  11. On the Banks of the Reedy Lagoon
  12. When the Snows of Winter
  13. Tramps and Hawkers


CD2

  1. My Nellie
  2. Dark and Slender Boy
  3. The Shellback/Three Little Drummers
  4. The Hound of Granemore
  5. Maid of Culmore
  6. Scattery Island
  7. Magaidh Ruadh
  8. The Ballad of Brendan Bradley
  9. The Miners’ Song
  10. Diamond Ring
  11. Where Oh Where is Our James Connolly?/The Blackbird
  12. Fare Thee Weel Regality/Memories
  13. Sae Will We Yet

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