Brona McVittie announces debut solo album and single

Brona McVittie

We Are The Wildlife is the forthcoming debut solo LP from celebrated Irish folk chanteuse and harpist Brona McVittie. As a taster of the magic to come, Brona is sharing a double A side single featuring the traditional love ballad ‘Newry Mountain’, a lesser-heard folk song from her home of County Down, and the evocative original composition ‘Under The Pines’. These two tracks feature harp and subtle ambient effects with the lush richness of orchestral strings from specialist Richard Curran, who has recorded with Bert Jansch and Steve Tilston, trumpet from film-composer Hutch Demouilpied, flute from Keiron Phelan (State River Widening, Smile Down Upon Us, littlebow) and slide guitar and drums from artist/producer Myles Cochran.

Brona recently returned to living in her native County Down after many years in London and has found herself living beside ocean, forest and the Mourne mountains. Thestark contrast between the urban chaos of London and the pastoral beauty of County Down has been rich inspiration for her new compositions, and ‘Under The Pines’ arose spontaneously after a jaunt in the forest, she explains:

“One day while out running my usual circuit I stopped at the kennels on the edge of the pine forest to catch my breath. As I listened to the dogs barking I noticed they were replying to their own echoes; the build up and reverberation of sound off the trees seemed almost supernatural.”

Aside from finding fresh inspiration for writing new songs, another boon in moving back to County Down has been her discovery that there are so many more folk songs from the area than that well-worn Percy French ditty ‘The Mountains Of Mourne’. Brona has explored the archives and has uncovered some fabulous ballads in the collections of Jackie Boyce and Cathal O’Boyle. ‘Gra Geal Mo Chroi (Bright Love of My Heart)’ or ‘Newry Mountain’ was initially collected by Sam Henry in his Songs of the People, and later recorded by Joe Holmes on his album After Dawning (Topic, 1978). Brona states “the song is a vow of love, although I’m still wondering where Newry Mountain actually is”.

Brona’s musical influences are wide ranging, from the hymns that she sang at school and her teenage obsession with Prince, to the 70s folk innovators such as John Martyn and Bert Jansch. She tends to write on guitar, later translating song arrangements onto harp. Her influences include modern day post-folk electronic artists such as Tunng and Colleen, and even Portishead, in contrast she also is equally stimulated listening to traditional archive recordings e.g. Alan Lomax, and classical composers including Satie and Beethoven.

Aside from her fledging solo career, Brona has built up widespread international acclaim for her work with Irish all female folk legends The London Lasses, a capella ensemble Rún and post-folk trio littlebow with Katie English (Isnaj Dui/The Doomed Birds Of Providence) and Keiron Phelan. She premiered her new compositions in London in May 2017, and will be touring the UK and Ireland in Autumn 2017.

Artist’s website: http://bronamcvittie.com

An old film but none the worse for that. ‘A Stor Mo Chroi’:

FINTAN McHUGH – Wait Till The Clouds Roll By (own label)

Wait Till The Clouds Roll ByWait Till The Clouds Roll By is the debut album from young Irish singer Fintan McHugh. It has been available for a while but has only recently come into our possession and we feel compelled to bring it to your attention. Fintan plays guitar and cittern and for his instrumental breaks he chooses harmonica. Bringing a modern style of moothie to a traditional ballad gives the song a new slant.

Fintan opens the set with the title track, a nineteenth century parlour until it was appropriated for the folk scene, probably by Uncle Dave Macon. It’s an excellent start with a good chorus to settle the listener in but, for me, the key track comes next. ‘Lord Saltoun & Annachie Gordon’ is one of my favourite ballads and Fintan’s long version wrings every ounce of pathos out of the text. The use of the harmonica somehow transforms the song, giving it a modern resonance in a way that I can’t quite explain.

‘The Rocks Of Bawn’ is a song I’ve never quite understood but it would seem that after Cromwell “subdued” Ireland the best land was given to the Protestant incomers while the Irish were moved to the inhospitable west coast. Some versions refer to a recruiting sergeant because a life in the army was considered a better bet than scratching a living out the rocky coast. Fintan’s version goes straight to the top and wishes for the Queen herself to ride along and recruit him. He uses the cittern almost as a percussion instrument on the song, maintaining a steady beat on the bass strings.

Fintan was much influenced by Andy Irvine as a youth, borrowing ‘You Rambling Boys Of Pleasure’ from him and basing his arrangement of ‘The Blacksmith’ on Planxty’s. There is a dynamism about his guitar playing that reflects their style. He sings ‘A Stór Mo Chroí’ unaccompanied, almost as a warning to the addressee who has made the decision to leave Ireland to escape the potato famine rather than as a song of sentiment and longing.

There are two of Fintan’s own songs in the set and it’s interesting to note that sometimes his phrasing echoes the uneven line lengths of traditional ballads. To be honest, these songs are rather insubstantial compared with the mighty texts they sit among, but this is still an impressive debut album.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.fintanmchugh.com

‘A Stór Mo Chroí ‘ – official video: