The Background Story To Powder & Shot

The Background Story To Powder & Shot

… In early 2013 we decided to record an album that would try and capture a performance of the band that typified everything that we were about…. We drew on a wealth of traditional material and performers that had gone before us and had been a huge inspiration to us all as we were growing up and learning our craft as musicians and performers in our own right, in particular Jim Kelly (R.I.P), to whom this album is dedicated! Powder & Shot is the result of that project.

The “Guns” behind the scenes….

From the outset we made a conscious decision to engage a producer for this project, someone of immense patience, who could keep us honest, steer us through the studio sessions and take the album where it needed to go… we decided to look outside of the traditional / folk community for such a person, we wanted our recordings to be accessible and relevant and yet still stay authentic and real.. We were extremely fortunate to engage Scott Poley, who Paul had met through his work with Dave Sharp (The Alarm).  Not only is Scott a recommended in house producer for the legendary Parr St Studios in Liverpool, but he has also played and recorded with many top artists including Cara Luft (The Wailin Jenny’s), and John “Rabbit” Bundrick, ( The Who/Free). A multi-Instrumentalist in his own right, Scott brought a huge influence to our studio experience and also played Dobro on “The Cuckoo” and “Old Tom”.

A huge Thanks to Scott for coaxing out of us the vocals and the performance and for insisting that there WAS a forbidden string that Ollie must NEVER play!

We recorded the album at Frog Studios in Warrington with one of the best sound engineers we’ve had the privilege of working with. Mark “Dickie” Walker was in large part responsible for capturing the sound we made, and working his magic to make our OK performances sparkle!! We salute you Dickie!!

Last but Not Least to Mr Ilan Sheady for the incredible artwork & Tom “Moose” Manson for his photography and ideas on the album images that we settled on!

Finally, it goes without saying… None of this album could have happened or been successful without the on-going support from our family and friends, and so our final dedication is to you all…!

Background to the Songs on the album……

1 White Hare of Howden –

(Bod – Lead Vocals & Bodhran. Paul – Guitar, Bouzouki, BVs. Sam – Fiddle, Tenor Banjo, & BVs. Ollie – Bass Guitar)

We first heard this sung unaccompanied by the Watersons in the 1960s. Our arrangement owes much to the Bullock Smithy arrangement originally put together by Jim Kelly and Ian Ball in the early 80s. We like the fact that the hare in question eludes her beagle and greyhound pursuers.

2 Bonny Ship the Diamond –

(Paul – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Congas & Percussion. Bod – Bodhran. Sam – Fiddle Mandolin & BVs. Ollie – Bass Guitar)

This song about West Greenland whale fishing, is said to have originated around 1820. It acquired a funk bass line by happy accident in the rehearsal rooms, thanks to Ollie. The dubious genre of “folk funk” was born!

3 O’Brien the Piper/The Rat Catcher/The sunny day –

(Sam – Fiddle, Mandolin & Tenor Banjo. Paul – Guitar. Bod – Bodhran. Ollie – Bass Guitar)

These are three jigs composed by Sam. He wrote the first tune for Michael O’Brien who had been a piper in the army. In later years he played tenor banjo in sessions around North Manchester. The Rat Catcher in question is Sam’s lifelong friend, singer and multi-instrumentalist Stu Thompson. The sunny day was a Sunday during the period that Sam was working with Jamie and Pat Knowles on the book Northern Frisk. All these tunes were published in that book in 1988.

4 The Cuckoo –

(Sam – Lead Vocals, Banjo, Fiddle. Paul – Guitar, BVs & Appalachian dancing. Bod – Bass Drum Percussion & Bv’s. Ollie – Bass Guitar. Special guest star Scott Poley on Dobro Slide Guitar!)

Sam learned the song from his Bullock Smithy friend and collaborator Jim Kelly and added the last three verses. There have been various versions, here’s our take on a classic.

5 Hogseye Man/Tarbolton/Toss the feathers –

(Paul – Lead Vocals, Guitars & BVs. Bod – Bodhran. Sam – Fiddle, Mandolin & Tenor Banjo. Ollie – Bass Guitar)

Hogseye Man was a favourite of Trevor Cowdrey. Sam learned the two reels from flute player Gary Walsh. A Hogseye was apparently a canal barge used in America around the 1850s. The term was derogatory amongst deep sea sailors and many of the verses were so obscene they never made it to print and have been lost.

6 Step it out Mary –

(Paul – Lead Vocals, Guitars & BVs. Bod – Bodhran & BVs. Sam – Mandolin & Tin Whistle. Ollie – Bass Guitar)

The song was adapted by RTE Radio presenter, song writer and character Sean McCarthy from a children’s skipping rhyme from Kanturk in Co Cork. The children chanted the chorus as they played their skipping game. McCarthy, unable to trace the full song, wrote the story of the countryman, Mary, the soldier and Mary’s unscrupulous father to fit the music.

7 Old Tom –

(Paul – Lead Vocal & Guitars. Bod – Bodhran & Harmonica. Sam – Fiddle. Ollie – Bass Guitar, Scott – Dobro Slide Guitar)

This is one of Paul’s songs. He wrote it shortly after his Grandmother passed away and there are echoes of her and many elderly relatives in the song; including only having the TV for the company.

8 Sally Brown –

(Bod – Lead Vocals, Paul & Sam – BVs)

This capstan shanty probably originates from the West Indies. When Paul and Bod were children their parents were fans of the Three Crows folk band who were popular in the 60s and 70s in the North Manchester area. They ran a residency in the Junction pub at Mottram in Longendale. This version is taken from one of their live recordings.

9 Blackleg miner/Star of Munster –

(Paul – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Percussion & BVs. Bod – Bodhran, Bv’s & Bass Drum. Sam – Fiddle, Mandolin & Tenor Banjo. Ollie – Bass Guitar)

This was one of the first songs we put together, with the well-known reel to round it off. It remains a favourite amongst our loyal followers. It was one of pot-holer, mountaineer, character, and Bullock Smithy front man, Stan Gee’s favourites too.

10 Captain Ward –

(Paul – Lead Vocals, Guitars. Bod – Bodhran, Percussion & Bass Drum. Sam – Fiddle & Mandolin, Ollie – Bass Guitar)

Sam heard this song done by Alba, a group from Glasgow who recorded on Rubber Records in the early 70s then split. Two members went on to join the Tannahill Weavers, who remain one of his all-time favourite bands. He came up with the riff and we were in business.

11 My wife upon the heather moor/Sam McGrady’s Reel/Cavanagh’s Tavern –

(Sam – Fiddle, Mandolin, Octave Mandolin, Tenor Banjo & Percussion. Paul – Guitar. Bod – Bodhran & Chimes. Ollie – Bass Guitar. Everybody – Clapping (almost in time!))

Three more of Sam’s compositions. The Slip jig was written after he’d received a phone call from his wife Lynn while she was on a walking holiday in the Highlands. The first reel was his first attempt at writing a dance tune in the Irish style. Gary Walsh recorded it as Mrs McGrady’s Tater Pie. Cavanagh’s was a bar in Ashton–under–Lyne, where we had Irish music sessions in the early 1980s.

12 Chicken on a raft/ Larriden –

(Paul – Lead Vocals, Guitar. Bod – Bodhran, BVs & Bass Drum. Sam – Fiddle & Mandolin, Ollie – Bass Guitar)

Cyril Tawney wrote this song featuring a less than popular Royal Navy gastronomic delicacy involving fried eggs on fried bread. It was another song Trevor Cowdrey inevitably sung in his car on the way to Bullock Smithy gigs in the 1970s. For some reason it’s picked up a reggae beat over the years. Sam learned the Breton tune from another Bullock Smithy stalwart, accordion and whistle player Arthur Ball.

13 Mrs McGrath

(Paul – Lead Vocals, Guitars & BVs. Sam – Fiddle, Tenor Banjo, Tin Whistle & BVs. Bod – Bodhran & BVs. Ollie – Bass Guitar)

We’d all heard the more familiar version of this song which was recorded in the 60s by the Dubliners and many others since. Paul had Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger sessions on in the car on the way to a gig one evening and we decided to have a go at a darker version of the American variant.

14 Three Drunken Maidens/Sally Gardens/Sligo Maid/Silver Spear –

(Paul – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Percussion & BVs. Bod – Bodhran, Bv’s & Bass Drum. Sam – Fiddle, Mandolin & Tenor Banjo. Ollie – Bass Guitar)

Three Drunken Maidens is a foot-stomper and none of us can remember where or when we first heard the song. In the early 18th century the Isle of Wight was a den of smugglers, and cheap booze led to ribald behaviour. Sounds like our sort of place. Sam thinks he got the Sally Gardens and Sligo Maid from Michael O’Brien’s fiddle playing Brother Eoin. At some point the Silver Spear got added and he’s been playing them together ever since.