Record Review: The Legend of Sweeney’s Men

SWEENEY'S MEN - Legend Of Sweeney's Men: Anthology - 2 CD - Import - **Mint** - Picture 1 of 1

By Patrick Maginty

Some new music arrived here on Monday, a compilation 2CD album from 2004 called The legend of Sweeney’s Men. I had ordered it about ten days ago and a few days later I heard the sad news that Shane Macgowan had passed away. That was a strange coincidence because one of Sweeney’s Men was Terry Woods who later became a member of Shane’s band The Pogues. Some of the Sweeney’s songs such as The Waxie’s Dargle were also part of The Pogues repertoire, so you can see that they were a very influential band. I had been meaning to listen to Sweeney’s Men for a long time for various reasons. I first heard of them through my late brother Paul who told me that on various occasions he had two of their members Johnny Moynihan and Henry McCullough play in his pub in County Mayo in the 1990s. Paul got especially friendly with Henry. I remember a famous occasion when they met up at Glastonbury 1999 after Henry played on the acoustic stage.

Another reason I wanted to learn more about this band is because of their association with Anne Briggs who apart from Sandy Denny is my favourite folk singer of all time. For several years in the 60s to the early 70s Anne was Johnny Moynihan’s girlfriend and spent several summers with the band travelling and singing around Ireland. I actually think it is a shame that Anne didn’t join the band and record with them. Johnny wrote Standing On The Shore in 1969 for the album The Tracks of Sweeney. Anne said this about the song, “This song was Johnny Moynihan’s vision. He expresses what he saw so beautifully and sadly and seems to convey this feeling of endless whiteness”. Anne recorded this song two years later for her album The Time Has Come on which Johnny played. Anne also recorded Step Right Up written by Henry. Johnny is famous for having introduced the bouzouki to Irish folk music. Anne learned how to play the bouzouki from him and recorded Living By The Water playing that instrument. There are extensive sleeve notes to this 2CD set expertly written by Colin Harper. He is a wonderful writer about the folk scene in Britain and Ireland. I have one of his books Dazzling Stranger the definitive biography of Bert Jansch.

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Richard and Linda Thompson: Hard Luck Stories 1972–1982 review – a tempestuous tale worth retelling

The highlight of this eight-CD box set is 31 previously unreleased tracks

Box sets often exist merely to evacuate the wallets of the faithful. Here, though, over eight CDs (or a big download) is the story of one of the most intriguing partnerships in British music: the silvery folk-rock duo Richard and Linda Thompson. It is a tale worth retelling – and shelling out for.

As vocalists, the Thompsons shared a startling contralto directness that, squared, offered up a vision of often spare, unfussy beauty at one remove from convention or theatricality. This chronology kicks off with the pair’s first casual rock’n’roll experiments for a low-key ensemble project. It ends with the duo’s live immolation, when the Thompsons fulfilled lucrative 1982 tour dates despite their relationship having, as one of their most famous songs goes, “withered and died”.

A little like Fleetwood Mac – a more lucrative British late-60s outcropping – these former soulmates sang songs about their curdled love at one another across blasted North American stages. But Stevie Nicks never gave birth in a Sufi squat without hot water or electricity, or stole a car in Canada on a bender; she may never have kicked Lindsay Buckingham’s shins while he soloed – unlike Linda Pettifer, who, pre-Richard, performed as Linda Peters.

“After I hit Richard on the head with the Coca-Cola bottle it was fine,” Linda Thompson reminisced about that final tour to Rolling Stone in 1985. “I suddenly went from being this lady with three children – covered in scarves, with my eyes turned to the ground – to stealing cars and living on vodka and antidepressants. And I felt fabulous! Hitting everybody. You know, people’d say good morning to me and I’d say, ‘Fuck off.’ It was great therapy.”

The ballad of Richard and Linda has been rehearsed a great many times before of course, and the Thompsons’ work has been amply bootlegged and box-setted previously. But there are many great verses here not previously aired.

Key to the excitement of this collection is its 31 unreleased tracks – such as Amazon Queen, an early Richard Thompson psych-pop outtake, or the demo of Dimming of the Day, unadorned and devastating, on a CD devoted to the duo’s 1975 album Pour Down Like Silver and its outtakes.

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