The picture on the cover of Tommy Sands recent album is a literal illustration of an old Irish saying which, in England, is only uttered by football club managers. It has a number of meanings and interpretations. Superficially Fair Play To You All would seem to be a simple album but it’s far from that. Sands blends politics, history and nostalgia with a lacing of humour and some fine singers and musicians in support.
The first track, ‘The Answer Is Not Blowing In The Wind’, isn’t a rewriting of Bob Dylan’s song although it borrows some of the questions and adds new ones. Sands’ argument is that Dylan’s simplistic answer won’t do any longer and presents a better one. It really is an attention-grabbing opener. The album’s title comes from ‘Clanrye Side’, set on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. I believe it’s now called Newry River and the song is set in a pub frequented by drinkers from both sides with a tolerant landlady and a young girl who had those words as a tattoo. Whether or not there is poetic license in the song I can’t say but it sets the tone of the record.
‘Ballyholland’ picks up on the nostalgia but also remembers thirty emigrants to America who promised to return but never managed it. ‘Refugees’ and ‘What’s Going On In Jerusalem’ follow the theme of displacement. The latter relates the story of a Jewish family who escaped from the Nazis only to be driven from the US by McCarthyism to settle in Israel. The youngest son returned to America in protest over what he was asked to do in the Israeli army.
Sands is a bit cheeky sometimes. In ‘Refugees’ he appropriates part of the refrain of ‘A Pair Of Brown Eyes’ but I‘m sure Shane won’t mind and he sets ‘Ode To Europe’ to a well known bit of Beethoven. ‘American Dreams’ and ‘Who Killed JFK?’ both take a swipe at the USA and then Sands switches to rather more distant history with ‘Caoineadh Mhacha’, which is also a feminist clarion call. If I understand correctly, Sands wrote the song in English and employed Pádraigin Ní Uallacháin to translate it into Irish.
Humour comes with ‘Paddy And The Judge’ alongside politics and class warfare and finally Sands goes to the family and clan with ‘Every County On The Island’ and ‘Gathering Of The Clans’ bringing to a fitting end an album that has Irishness running all through it. Fair Play To You All boasts eight backing vocalists, perhaps better described as a choir, with Uilleann pipes, fiddles, bodhran, whistles and Sands’ banjo, not to mention an entire pipe band. This isn’t theme pub Irishness, though, this is the real thing.
Artist’s website: www.tommysands.com