SEÁN DONNELLY - On Breezes Fresh and Fair

On Breezes Fresh and Fair
Spring Records SDCD001

Seán Donnelly is one of those singers that sound like Sweet Reason personified. Here he follows up his critically acclaimed "Erin's Lovely Home" with this very pleasing album of top-notch songs.

He is joined by some stellar names, not least Ben and Colum Sands. That these two (and indeed their brother Tommy who is thanked in the footnotes) are heavily involved with Seán, is no surprise. After all, should any of the three cry off with laryngitis from a solo-gig at short notice, well you can depend upon it, Seán could step in and do a passable imitation of any one of the brothers. An excellent selection of songs, with "The Connerys" (from the singing of Al O'Donnell) and the great Bernie Parry song "Man of the Earth" being the highlights.

My only caveat about the album comes with the latter song though.

Now look, it does not do for any of us to get too pedantic about a lyric. For instance the Vin Garbutt and Bernie Parry versions differ slightly. But not in any meaningful way. However here we have changes that DO affect meaning. For instance, Seán sings "For I work in the ironworks too/ I started there five years ago/ Only thirty five more years to go." Now, in the original it is FORTY five more years to go.

You might say, who cares? What's ten years? But, if you do, you miss the point. The point, you see, is that the boy has left school at 15, worked 5 years and has 45 more to go to bring him to the official 65 years retirement age (Ah! Those happy days of full employment in Britain!) In other words, he will know nothing of the workplace but a hard and boring job, and one which, once they "stuck a gold watch" in his hand at 65, he is shown the door from, as he is all washed-up and no further use to British Steel (perm, I.C.I. and the rest).

And then there is another deviation from the Parry original lyric. Parry says "he took to his garden to keep him alive", whereas Donnelly sings "LOOK to his garden to keep him alive". Nit-picking? No, far from it. "Look to" can imply hiring a gardener, or can imply a degree of DREAMING. Parry/Garbutt's "TOOK to" implies real ACTIVITY. And it tells you that after a lifetime of hard physical graft, his body NEEDS some physical activity as much as his pocket needs his own supply of free vegetables.

But caveat over, a very fine album indeed.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 70 of The Living Tradition magazine.