THE FOUR OF US – Sugar Island (Future FUTURECDS011)

Sugar IslandThe Four of Us have had limited exposure elsewhere in the UK but have been a major force in Irish music since 1989 when they had a massive hit with ‘Mary’. The core of the band are brothers Brendan and Declan Murphy. They beat U2 to the title of Best Irish Band in the early 90’s and have had six Top 20 albums in Ireland. Sugar Island was released there in 2016. It has a UK release date of August 20th 2017.

The album is a deliberate move away from the more electric folk sound with which they have had much of their success and a return to the acoustic sound from when they started out and created again on the Classified Personal album in 1999. In an interview with the Irish News, Brendan Murphy said, “That was the brief we set ourselves, we put rules in place for ourselves that this record would have no electric guitars and no cymbals, to create the pure sound we wanted”.

The songs themselves are largely based on growing up in Newry in Northern Ireland at the height of ‘The Troubles’ as we’ve come to describe the period. ‘Going South’ describes literally that – going south, listening to Mungo Jerry’s ‘In the Summertime’, sitting with your brother in the car, leaving the checkpoint behind. The video below starts with a visual of the checkpoint but also flicks through pictures of a joyous family holiday – in the same way as the lyrics capture the then normality of the co-existence of family life and “over by the trees there’s soldiers hiding/faces painted green and black”.

The title track is a letter to ‘Jane’ about “the day I left you crying/ On the bridge at Sugar Island/ Wish that I could take it back/ But it’s way too late for that”, a gentle song looking back with regret on a teenage farewell on the bridge at Sugar Island in the centre of Newry.

The album closes with ‘Hometown on the Border’ – the stark opening of “Children with guns, fatherless sons/ Hometown on the border” building to “What you always thought was ordinary/ Really isn’t all that ordinary/ I fool myself/ Helps to keep you safe”.

Purely personally, I find the delicacy of the acoustic playing too gentle when set against the lyrics. I’ve been looking for the electric guitar and cymbals that were deliberately left off. However, although various of my friends were, I wasn’t in Ireland at the time – and I’ve been reminded that my father’s generation came home in 1946 having seen enough fighting and wanting to create a gentler world. It may just be, then, that this is exactly the right feel for the songs.

The Four of Us are on tour in Ireland during July and August.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website:

‘Going South’ – official video:

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