ALBUM REVIEW: THE WINTER CODES – ‘Set The Darkness Reeling’ (2022)

Debut album from The Winter Codes an Irish Folk duo formed by David Walshe and Barney Murray who found fame as the original, and distinctive singer, of legendary and ground breaking Celtic-Punk band Blood Or Whiskey.

Back in June we posted a review announcing the debut single from Irish band The Winter Codes. The song was utterly fantastic and instantly made me think ” Jeez, that sounds like that fella from Blood Or Whiskey” but as the press release made no mention of it I thought no more. After all if you were the singer in one of the most popular and influential Celtic-Punk band in history surely you’d give it a mention? Well it seems the guys were just being modest and it was indeed Barney from Blood Or Whiskey! For The Winter Codes Barney has teamed up with virtuoso musician David Walshe, brother of the late Paul who was also a founding member of Blood Or Whiskey, and a handful of guests to record their debut album, Set The Darkness Reeling.

The Winter Codes are based in Tullamore, the county town of Offaly in the Irish midlands. The town is famous above all else for the wonderful Irish whiskey Tullamore Dew, which since 2010 is being produced in the town again after decades away. Offaly also have the nicest shirts in Gaelic games which is why I had their pictures on my wall as a kid despite having no connection with the county! With Barney’s unmistakable voice it will come as no surprise that comparisons to Blood Or Whiskey come easy but we will try our best to avoid them, after all this is a Winter Codes review not Blood Or Whiskey.

Originally planned as as a five track EP but when the creative juices began to flow it soon developed into the full length album Set The Darkness Reeling. The duo recorded at the famous Grouse Lodge studio, which once housed Michael Jackson where he recorded and lived for a time! The album begins with ‘NCR’, short for North Circular Road which could be Dublin or London or maybe it could be anywhere but is packed with imagery about a terrible relationship and the bitterness that comes with it. Spicing up the song with mariachi trumpets alongside some cool Irish trad and we are in the same territory that Barney left us with with his old band but how he hits them low notes is beyond me!

“rather die all alone in a bedsit room on the North Circular Road than go back to you”

‘Long Time She’s Been Gone’ is a catchy number that again talks of regret though this time in a lost love way. ‘Troublesome Girl’ stars Irish Folk singer Lisa Loughrey on vocals and after recording originally with Barney the bhoys thought it needed something different so asked Lisa to recommend someone and that person ended up being Lisa herself! A soft-poppy Folk/ Country number her voice fits perfectly. The title of the album from a line in the song.

The music is definitely Irish Folk but comes with a pop edge to it that brings in elements of Country too. Barney flexes his vocal chords next on the moving ’30 Years Of Tears’ a poem half sung/ half half spoken with no accompaniment that really makes you sit up and listen. For Barney it is the next song ‘Friend In Tullamore’ that means the most. Moving from his home town Leixlip to Tullamore after leaving Blood Or Whiskey and years of relentless touring and almost burnt out he settled in easily

“I feel that it was the town that gave me a second chance and maybe the song is my way of saying thanks for that.”

‘Erin’s Lovely Lee’ is a Rebel song whose origins are a bit obscure despite having been recorded by Willy Clancy in the mid-60’s. The story tells of a Irish immigrant arriving by boat in New York in 1863 who are met by Americans who curious and want to know more about important figures of Irish rebellion like the Manchester Martyrs, Wolfe Tone’s, Captain Mackey and Michael Dwyer. He then thinks “to float a Fenian boat down Erin’s lovely Lee”. One of the album’s highlights.

‘Satellite Town’ is another moving song about a young girl moving from home in search of fame and glory. The album has a mournful feel to it and, of course, Barneys voice is the perfect fit for such songs. Maybe it’s not surprising seeing as the album is an emotional tribute to the late Paul Walshe who is immortalised within the album that even features him on banjo on several of the tracks thanks to some rough demos of the songs that Sean Montgomery Dietz was able to adapt and mix into some of the tracks. ‘Dublin Girl’ rings of The Pogues track ‘London Girl’. We’re back in Rebel territory again with ‘Ovidstown’. Not sure if this is a cover or not, it certainly has an ancient ring to it. The song tells of the battle of Ovidstown, between Irish forces and the during the 1798. It took place at 19 June 1798 at Ovidstown Hill not far from Barneys hometown of Leixlip in County Kildare.

His home town pops up again next in ‘Last Night In Leixlip’ and another standout track. With electric guitar (could been a bit louder) and then them trumpets again make for a great song., The trumpets reminding me of ‘Ring Of Fire’ ironic considering the hilarious name check Johnny Cash gets in the song! The album has a great choice of covers and ‘Skibereen’ is no different. Thought to originate from the 1880’s the songs tells of a son asking his father why they had left the village of Skibbereen, in County Cork to live in America. The father tells him of the hardship he faced at home. Of An Gorta Mór / The Great Hunger and of the oppression the British rained down on the Irish after the Young Irelander rebellion of 1848. The song ends with the son promising his father

“O father dear, the day will come when vengeance loud will call,
And we will rise with Erin’s boys to rally one and all.
I’ll be the man to lead the van beneath our flag of green,
And loud and high will raise the cry ‘Revenge for Skibbereen”

Next up is the track that announced The Winter Codes to the Celtic-Punk world back in June and ‘Too Sly To Die’ went down a storm. The video was filmed in the landmark Dublin pub The Cobblestones, located in one of Dublin’s oldest neighbourhoods and famous for hosting traditional Irish music for decades. A rousing number that we went into detail back in June if you care to look up. ‘Dearthairin O Mo Chroi’ (Irish for brother of my heart) written and recorded originally by Pauline Scanlon it’s a beautiful ballad which leads us onto the album’s final song, fittingly, ‘And Then No More’.

Sadly The Winter Codes have no intention of ever playing live. In a recent interview this was put down to

“The problems with playing live is that you are at the mercy of the local sound person. If they are good then the gig might go well but if not the whole night is ruined. In a studio, you have almost complete control and that’s the way I like it.”

I’m done with gigging so he says but I hope he changes his mind. Maybe they can be persuaded to do a live stream or something but it’s still absolutely fantastic to hear those dulcet tones again taking me back a few years when everything was a lot simpler. Thanks for the memories but it’s time to make some more now fella’s.

Buy Set The Darkness Reeling  Spotify

The Winter Codes  WebSite  Facebook YouTube

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