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Henry Marten’s Ghost: Ireland – A Troubled Romance: Irish Ballads

“I am of Ireland…Come dance with me in Ireland.”

So W.B. Yeats proclaims in the linear notes of Henry Marten’s Ghost’s CD of Irish ballads. Yeats is a good figurehead for the disc itself, as both share common traits –dramatic, airy, heroic, poetic and fully of Ireland.

A talented bunch, HMG were formed by Belfast’s Padraig Lalor, who is the singer and guitarist, and Nick Gray, who was/is(?) the fiddler. They added Polish born fiddler Piotr Jordan and mandolinist Chris Knipe to the mix and off they went. Presently, Gray doesn’t seem to be performing with the band, but it seems they have added Maire McSorely as a bodhran player to the bunch. And a talented bunch they are.

As you should be able to tell by the title, this isn’t a collection of Irish punk cum rock-n-roll rave-ups, it traditional balladry at it’s finest. Along the lines of The Wolfe Tones meets Solas or something to that effect – while not as rowdy as the Dubliners, it still produces the same amount of emotion and response.

As explanation for the group’s name – Henry Marten was, as is told in the notes, an Englishmen who supported the Irish cause during Cromwell’s invasions. He was subsequently tried for treason and imprisoned. And something of the disc seems to represent him, too – seems to conjure his spirit. At times, these ballads seem ghostly, almost otherworldly, as if Mr. Marten himself placed a long gone cold hand on the music, and made it more – something that transcends a simple tune. The music of HMG raises these ghosts and images of the land itself – a land where, as the song says “legends remain” and the impossible seems possible – if you only believe…..

This disc contains 11 ballads, all done very professionally; ranking this band among the most talented of the genre, complete with that resounding sadness that cascades through these songs like a Donegal fog – a sadness that is present in all the best of the form. Favorites like “Spancil Hill” “Carrickfergus” and “Back Home in Derry” all make their mark with resplendent style that is HMG. My favorite cut is probably “The Galway Shawl.” Melancholy and haunting – this simple tale of unrealized love represents the band at it’s best – nothing is overstated. It simply is done powerfully and with much emotion. Back to the basics. I’d like to hear what HMG can do with a jig – so I’ll be investigating their other albums as soon as possible. HMG have established themselves over the years as among Ireland’s finest balladeers and this disc cements this rep. So pick this up when you are in the mood to be transported back to the Ireland of old – of tales told round the fire while banshees dance ‘round the windows, of crashing waves against rocky coasts – and find solace in the arms of the past with HMG.

May 2003

By Sean Holland