Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mary McPartlan's 'Petticoat Loose'

All text copyright Ita Kelly (c) 2008

‘Petticoat Loose’ the eagerly awaited second album from Mary McPartlan has just been released, every bit as interesting as her first recording ‘The Holland Handkerchief’. Mary McPartlan emerged three years ago as a lady of incomparable ability and talent leaving critics and audiences wondering where she had been all along. Settling into her own voice and material, Mary has spent a long time working on this latest collection, working with the same fervour and energy she has spent all her life injecting into other peoples music, theatre and television projects and her studies which since the last recording have earned her an MA in Drama and Theatre Studies. Mary is not one to sit still and not one to embark on any old scheme. Each phase in her life she now sees as having been a pathway towards her current work and her current calling, that of a singer, an interpreter and a researcher too. With the aid of a Deis award from the Arts Council, Mary was able to spend time researching material and collaborating with others, the result of which is a new body of work comprising six new pieces of music. She unearthed two songs in the Irish language from her native village of Drumkeerin in Co. Leitrim and these were set to music by Brendan O’Regan. Three songs were written by the playwright Vincent Woods and set to music by Máirtín O’Connor and a new song by Padraig O’hAoláin was translated by Tim Dennehy.

This recording sees Mary moving into a new space and bringing a strong team of artists with her. “My ability is to be able to nurture and get people to collaborate with each other, to see that and make it work for the creation of new material, and that’s the essence of it. Bringing incredible people with you allowing them to create new pieces of work that you can be part of, that’s what this CD was.”

“'Petticoat Loose' is not about me” says Mary. “It’s about Vincent Woods, it’s about Máirtín O’Connor, it’s about Seamie O’Dowd, it’s about Brendan O’ Regan; it’s about musicians like Frankie Gavin and Cathal Hayden, it’s about Garry O Briain’s great ability to write for Contempo. It’s also my collaborations with all of them, it’s a myriad of things and I see it as a project as much as a CD.”

All the artists and people who worked with Mary on this project are people she has known for a long time. “Now that is the key to this CD” she continues. “It’s the people I know all my life, people that I love, people that I respect and how joyous and timely that I was able to bring them all together in the one space to create all kinds of different things together.”

Mary was reared in Drumkeerin in Co. Leitrim, the oldest in a family of six.

“The music of Leitrim for me growing up was traditional music of course” she remembers, “but because my mother always played Radio Luxembourg, we got a good diet of country music and rock and roll as well. We had our ears open from day one. My father loved music and he loved the songs. He would make us sing when we didn’t want to sing growing up, when people would come into the house.”

The singing is something that has always been with Mary and only in the last four years has it become her main occupation. The new album gets its title from an old story about a witch who was called Petticoat Loose’. Mary first heard the story told by her friend Anne O’ Connor. Apparently Petticoat Loose got her name because her petticoat was known to fall down when she was in the throes of dancing having drank her fill of alcohol. She was a wild woman by all accounts and Mary thought her name would make a great title for an album. The well known playwright Vincent Woods took the story and researched it and came up with the song words.

Vincent grew up in Tarmon, the next village to Drumkeerin. He and Mary have been friends all their lives, so much so that she refers to him as part of her family, like another brother. He composed two other songs for Mary, ‘Sanctuary’ the opening track and ‘Kiss the Moon’. Máirtín O’Connor composed the music for all three. Staying firmly on home ground, Mary sings two songs in the Irish language which were noted in an MA thesis by a man called Stiofán Ó Céilleachair. Proinn Duignan a neighbour from Drumkeerin introduced Mary to this material, remnants of what was left in terms of the Irish language in and around Drumkeerin. The songs go back to the 1800s when Irish was spoken in the area. Brendan O’Regan composed the music for ‘Síos Faoi Braoch Loch Aileann’ and ‘Caoine Sheáin Mhic Searraigh’.

Mary set her sights on another great Irish song, this time a newly composed one by Padraig Ó hAoláin called ‘Cúmha’. She heard Pádraig singing the song one night in Hughes’ in Spiddal and was really taken by it. Some time later she asked him would he mind if she had it translated into English. The decision to get Tim Dennehy to translate the song was a very good one and resulted in lyrics which capture the essence of the song to perfection. “Tim was able to get to the heart of the song” says Mary, “and Pádraig was delighted with the translation.”

Mary managed to include some fine traditional songs into the mix as well, the unaccompanied ‘Generous Lover’ and ‘Barbara Allen’ with rich harmonious backing vocals, and the final ‘Lowlands’. Mary was taught the old Romanian folk song ‘Lumé, Lumé’ by Contempo, the string quartet in residence in NUIG with whom she has collaborated before.

Another interesting song on the album which shows Mary’s diverse tastes and indeed her ability is Leonard Cohen’s song ‘The Sisters of Mercy’. Long time collaborator Seamie O’Dowd who was musical director and producer for the project, built a musical interpretation for the song around Mary’s singing yielding a most original version. “He makes everything with his own stamp” remarks Mary about Seamie. “He’s a genius really.”

No newcomer to the music scene, Mary has performed extensively since the release of ‘The Holland Handkerchief’ and intends to tour ‘Petticoat Loose’ to the four ends of the world over the next three years.

As someone who always has an ear open for music, she finds herself now drawn to music from other ethnic traditions. “The big influence coming at me now is African music” she says. “I really feel that I want to experiment with ancient traditional Irish music and African music and that’s where I’m going next”

Mary celebrated ‘Petticoat Loose’ and gave her first concert to friends at a party in Galway shortly before Christmas where Frankie Gavin “said all the lovely enlightened words to launch the evening.” The following night she shared the songs with her neighbours in Drumkeerin.

‘Petticoat Loose’ will be officially launched in Dublin at a concert with many of the musicians who feature on the album on February 21st next.

Click here to buy Mary McPartlan's 'Petticoat Loose' from the .tradnet e-store at Amazon.

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