To say we are overwhelmed to be able to publish this feature on his Top Ten Influential Albums by the the legendary Nick Burbridge is an understatement! Encompassing everything inbetween Folk to Celtic-Punk it’s a glorious ride through some famous and legendary artists and some little known outside the communities they hail from. Second gen Irish singer-songwriter, Nick has been playing Irish-influenced acoustic music since his teens influencing countless others, including in their own words, The Levellers. His band McDermott’s 2 Hours were among the first to ever think of combining punk and Irish folk so he is a trailblazer among the Celtic-Punk scene but also so much more as well.
No time to waste so put the kettle on, crack open some biscuits and save the next couple of hours…
Andy Irvine & Paul Brady- ‘Self-Titled’ (1976)
When I was asked to name ten indispensable albums on Facebook some time ago, I decided to work from the late sixties to the millennium, and pick out those most influential on my development as a musician and songwriter, and end where I began, as it were. The first album I chose was this one. It’s a classic of its kind, melding yet never losing the distinctive characters of two of the most innovative and enduring musicians working in the Irish traditional idiom. There’s not a song on it I can’t still recall to memory, give or take a verse here or there, and the quality and range of the musicianship and arrangement, while capturing the essence of Planxty, somehow has an irresistible intimacy the full band doesn’t quite match, though they were perhaps the best of their kind.
(As Andy Irvine says this is Mr. Bradys classic. “Oh, me and my cousin, one Arthur McBride As we went a-walking down by the seaside Now, mark what followed and what did betide For it being on Christmas morning…” )
The Copper Family- ‘A Song For Every Season’ (1971)
This box set was, unexpectedly perhaps, essential listening for the punk-folk band I was in, when we lived in the red light district of Mainz one summer in the mid-seventies. We sang a few Copper songs a capella in our set – the Germans loved them. I spent fifteen years growing up in Rottingdean, Sussex, and I guess that’s as authentic a connection as you can get to this unique family who’ve kept alive a whole tradition on their own initiative, and are rightly recognised for it across the world. Their singing is rough, genuine, heartwarming, and eccentrically tuneful. I’m proud we introduced our audiences to their material, among chaotic jigs and reels and rebel songs. Once again, while I often forget what I’m meant to be doing these days, I can still remember almost every line, such was their influence on me.
(The whole Box-Set of four albums on You Tube. ‘Tater Beer Night- Spring’, ‘Black Ram- Summer’, ‘Hollerin’ Pot’- Fall’ and ‘Turn O’ The Year- Winter’. Nearly three hours long!)
The Bothy Band- ‘After Hours’ (1979)
There are so many unforgettable albums by Irish traditional bands who pushed the form in all directions in the 70s, and influenced countless more to follow suit. I guess The Bothy Band stand in the vanguard, and this album with its driving sets of tunes, and exquisitely sung ballads, live yet virtually faultless, is indispensable to anyone trying to understand just why this music is so effortlessly infectious, exhibiting a musical intensity few others come close to, always ready and able to form the soundtrack to a particular phase in someone’s life. It did mine. It has long been an immeasurable influence.
(You Tube seems to have started allowing whole albums on their site these days. While I’m not too sure of the legality lets just sit back and enjoy)
Dick Gaughan- ‘Handful Of Earth’ (1981)
Dick Gaughan made Handful of Earth on the way back from a major nervous breakdown. And there is something not working within ordinary tramlines here. His errant but extraordinary guitar accompaniments weave their way under an utterly compelling voice, as if to make a world turned upside down both inimitable and unforgettable. The choice of songs is faultless. Gaughan, whatever his fate, will always remain a mighty force. Those who do try to imitate him simply don’t have whatever it is that comes from wherever it does…
(Dick’s folk masterpiece album in full, unabridged on You Tube)
The Pogues- ‘Rum Sodomy & The Lash’ (1985)
By the mid-80s folk and punk had well and truly fused. Much as I think ‘Iron Masters’ by The Men They Couldn’t Hang May may well be my favourite track from the era, I don’t think any such album surpassed this one. Too much academic writing has attached itself to the formidable Shane MacGowan opus, and The Pogues’ irregular but compulsive sense of Irish identity. All I want to say is that I hope their influence on my work hasn’t been too obvious – I’ve tried to pay them the greatest compliment by sowing their seeds as deep as I could in wherever my songs take root, in the hope that what hybrid growth occurred would be as substantial and organic as possible, and not some hasty GM copy of their timeless and outstanding work.
(Which one to choose? How about ‘Sally MacLennane’ from British TV in 1986)
The Waterboys- ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ (1988)
This would probably appear on the all time list of anyone involved in folk-rock music. They call some albums seminal – Fishermen’s Blues epitomises what it means. Like Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks it simply has an originality, authority and impact reserved for those who find themselves, by design or accident, at the cutting edge, and who have the courage to take the task on without flinching. From the monumental to the simply made, tracks etch themselves into the memory. I keep them there, and bring them out from time to time. I always will.
(Absolutely cracking live version of the album’s title track)
Wolfestone- ‘Unleashed’ (1989)
I was travelling to play at Reading Festival when someone put this album on in the van and immediately I realised this band were truly fellow-travellers – and there was much to learn from their blending of traditional music with good original songwriting, where sensitive guitar playing had a central part. They weren’t The Waterboys, but they had the same sense of attack, and an obvious love of what they were doing. Perhaps the least known of the albums chosen, this should need no introduction – it is, in its own way, a classic.
(Nick is right. A band I hadn’t come across before but as this whole feature is about introducing us all to good music I’m glad I found it here. The opening track of ‘Unleashed’ from 1992)
Levellers- ‘Levellers’ (1993)
The band didn’t tell me they were putting my song ‘Dirty Davey’ on this album – but they were well aware of my attitude to ‘folk’ music: it’s common property, as far as I’m concerned, whatever the source. And that isn’t why I chose this record over, say, Levelling The Land. It seems to me a broader, more ambitious production, without losing its roots. It was released about the time my young son made a short film for a BBC Children’s television programme, about how much the band meant to him, and had seen him through some rough years. They were, you might say, at their height. Their legendary Glastonbury headline spot was soon to come. They had successfully entered the mainstream without squandering their gifts. And those gifts are abundant here. I should say I’ve always felt privileged that they cite me as a main initial influence. The fact that they’re still working now says it all.
(Nick Burbridge performing with the Levellers in 2004 live on stage at Buxton Opera House doing his own song!)
Eithne Ní Uallacháin- ‘Bilingua’ (Initial Recording 1999- Posthumous Release 2014)
While she was in the midst of putting down vocals for this album Eithne killed herself. Working with what they had, and eventually fighting through their grief and misgivings, the musicians in her family and others released it fifteen years after her death. It’s an irresistible recording, centred round the most evocative female Irish traditional singer I have ever heard. Whether tackling old Gaelic pieces or fronting tales of her own battles with darkness and her sharp visions of light, it’s impossible to listen to her without being deeply moved – especially if much of her inner torment feels as deeply shared. We should all be indebted to those who loved her at first hand, who have kept her memory alive. It’s not discourteous to say that, through her music, I have found my own love for her. It will not die.
(“But grief can be translated from the light into the darkness; In the belly of the shadow with all its shades digested. Its true colours will unfold.”
(In 1998, Eithne returned to Shaun ‘Mudd’ Wallace’s Homestead studios to record a solo album. Ní Uallacháin’s vocals were completed and much of the music was arranged, but the album was not released. Eithne died in 1999 and her son, Dónal, took residence at Wallace’s studio as an assistant engineer, and during times when the studio was not booked worked with Wallace on the album. Due to contractual issues with the original record label, the album was not released until 2014,15 years after its recording and 14 years after mixing was completed. The album was titled Bilingua and was released with Gael Linn, who released Eithne’s first album, Cosa Gan Bhróga.)
Finbar & Eddie Furey- ‘First And Last’ (1968)
If I’m sometimes cited as an influence on certain others, forced to pick one album that influenced me most, it’s this one. It marks the beginning of a fifty year long journey so far, and whenever I listen to it, even now, I find it impossible to skip through. It represents everything good about Irish music. The instrumental playing is (apart from one or two odd passages) fearless and full of guile; the singing has both a tender and a punkish edge; the arrangements are often ornate and yet always seem gritty and spontaneous; and of course Ted Furey’s sons were born into an authentic travelling family, and it’s immediately audible. I was glad to cross paths with the duo once upon a time in Germany, when side-stage at Ingelheim festival Finbar (rightly, I’m sure) called the band I was in ‘a pile o’ shite’…I took it as a compliment he’d bothered to listen… That a wider family group went on to make a big name covering more commercial, and sometimes questionable material is neither here nor there, in my opinion. Good luck to them. I’ve been fortunate enough to be recognised as a poet, and where songs are concerned, use the idiom of my grandfathers to carry as complex and penetrating a vision as I’ve been able to pursue. But, in contrast to what often seems to masquerade as what it’s not, this is the real thing. The 1968 recording also forms the first half of The Spanish Cloak: The Best of the Fureys (1998) – available on all the usual selling and streaming platforms. On we go…
(Eddie’s first song was written by Scottish TV producer Gordon Smith. The words are set to the traditional Irish air ‘Buchal an Eire’)
Nick continues to produce great music and his last album, under the name of his original band, McDermott’s 2 Hours – ‘Besieged’ was not just featured on these pages but positively drooled over by our man Francis! On the album he is accompanied by members of both The Levellers and the Oysterband and showcases his work as not just a musician but also, in the best Irish tradition, as a poet, playwright and novelist as well. Available as a limited edition two CD set including a Best of compilation, Anticlimactic but you can buy several versions including the download direct from Nick here and also available from all streaming services inc. Spotify, Amazon etc here. You can contact Nick Burbridge over at his WebSite and Facebook. Thanks to Nick for taking his time out to pen this great feature ‘Go raibh maith agat’.
Tagged: Andy Irvine, Bothy Band, Dick Gaughan, Eithne Ní Uallacháin, Finbar Furey, Levellers, Nick Burbridge, Paul Brady, Planxty, Shane MacGowan, The Copper Family, The Fureys, The Pogues, The Waterboys, Wolfstone