Lisa O’Neill grew up in Ballyhaise, County Cavan and now lives in Dublin. “Heard A Long Gone Song” is her fourth album and consists of four original songs and five traditional songs. Two of the songs are sung unaccompanied – one of them a sensational duet with Radie Peat of Lankum. I have to thank one of my musical gurus, Richard, for introducing me to this staggeringly wonderful album.
The first known version of “The Galway Shawl” dates from 1936. The song tells the story of a girl wearing a bonnet and a Galway shawl (a heavy weight shawl worn by women when the weather is particularly cold). She meets a man in Galway and takes him to her father’s cottage where he plays four songs on hornpipes and she sings along. Next morning she sets off for Donegal and along with her shawl, “she stole his heart“. Lisa O’Neill sings this song unaccompanied. She was invited to sing this song in a film called “Song Of Granite”, which tells the life story of Irish folk singer Joe Heaney.
The Irish Traditional Music Archive’ is the national public archive and resource centre for Irish traditional music, song and dance. It currently hosts an online catalogue of over 100000 entries. This is where Lisa O’Neill found a recording of an Irish Traveller woman named Kitty Cassidy singing “Along The North Strand”, which is nearly eight minutes long. The song tells the story of a “pretty young boy” who persuades a girl to marry him if she will give him some money and some horses. Before they wed, he attempts to murder her but she manages to turn the tables on him and she tosses him into the sea. The fiddle playing of Christophe Capewell and the eerie concertina sounds played by Cormac Begley paint a bleak and black musical scene.
Lisa O’Neill writes in the sleevenotes that she “can’t help but wonder how might birds perceive humans?” and these thoughts inspired her to write “Blackbird”. The song is a rumination on her own sadness after a failed relationship. “I’ve come to love him like I couldn’t fathom.” She sings a song to a blackbird, hoping to find some understanding. The playing of her Spanish guitar and Christophe Capewell’s fiddle are sublime.
“The Lass Of Roch Royal” is Child Ballad 76, dating from the early nineteenth century. Lisa O’Neill sings a shortened version of the song called “The Lass Of Aughrim” which tells the story of a woman begging for her and her newborn child to be given shelter, only to be left in the rain as the child dies.
“Violet Gibson” was born into a wealth family in Dublin and on April 7th 1926, aged 50, she attempted to assassinate Benito Mussolini in Rome, but the bullet only skimmed his nose. She spent the remaining 29 years of her life in a psychiatric hospital in Northampton. The story inpsired Lisa O’Neill to write this song on which she is accompanied by Libby McCrohan’s notable bouzouki playing.
“The Factory Girl” is a traditional song in which a rich man tries to tempt a girl, who works in a factory, to leave her work and marry him. She rebuffs him by explaining that “Love and temptation are our ruination”. The version her is a sensational unaccompanied duet between Lisa O’Neill and Radie Peat of Lankum.
“Rock The Machine” is another Lisa O’Neill composition in which she describes how thousands of men lost their jobs as dockers in Dublin between the 1960’s and 1980’s. She finds hope in the beauty of the cormorants that inhabit the Liffey. In the sleevenotes, she writes “In Irish mythology, the Cormorant bird might appear to you in your dark hour with the purpose of taking your troubles away“. The combination of Lisa O’Neill’s remarkable voice and inspired banjo playing make this an album highlight.
Frederick William Burton was a 19th century Irish painter and one of his works was called “The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child”. When Lisa O’Neill saw the painting, she remembered that a superstition of the Aran Islanders was that “if a child died by drowning, that this was an unnatural death and that the child must have been taken by some otherworldly entity, perhaps the fairies.” This story inspired “A Year Shy Of Three”, which displays another remarkable vocal accompanied by Cormac Begley’s doom-laden concertina.
“Lullaby Of London” was written by Shane MacGowan of The Pogues and appeared on their 1988 album, “If I Should Fall From Grace With God”. It’s a wonderful song of sad recollection from a man a long way from home. The title of this incredible album was taken from the opening lines of the song. “As I walked down by the riverside, one evening in the spring, heard a long song gone from days gone by”.
One thought on “Heard A Long Gone Song by Lisa O’Neill”