I had finally tracked down the drummer Karl Wright, and the bassist Tim Zambonifunk. Now I was meeting them for the first time at a rehearsal room in the East Village called Rivington Street. While sitting nervously at a table waiting for the room to be free, a rugged man in a khaki shirt and grey workman’s trousers and tossed grey hair, sauntered towards me, was this Karl? Who else could it be?
He had a smoky tenor voice, I knew he could sing, and he does. I explained to him why I wanted a Jamaican rhythm section on my new album. He looked slightly puzzled, but he was taking it all in. The last time I was that nervous was when I guested as a DJ for RTE One. I wondered, what would these guys make of Irish folk songs?
“Have you heard about Cromwell sending Irish adults and children to
He shook his head: “Nah”
“Well, you can Google it. 25% of Jamaicans are of Irish heritage, and I believe that you can hear Irish melodies in a lot of reggae”
“Jamaicans are a little bit of all kinds of things”
“But I have always thought the Jamaican accent sounded like a Cork accent, that’s a county in Ireland”
“Anyway I want to throw these Irish folk songs at you, and for you to play the way you play, don’t think it through, just play the way you play”
The album Vinegar Hill is the end result of this encounter between me and Karl and Tim – “folked with” Irish folk songs. Many of these songs you will know, and if you know my sound, you will know that this recording turned these songs into Pierce Turner songs. Irish people are ready to hear these songs again, ready to sing along with them, and dance to them, this is a party album, and it is going over a storm live.
It was my Uncle Seamus who was always on to me about reworking old Irish folk songs, I didn’t think I was listening, but I was! In truth, Irish folk songs had always been a major influence – reworked versions of The Foggy Dew and Travelling People were a major part of our repertoire in Turner and Kirwan of Wexford. And it was spotted by others before it was by myself. For my debut album “It’s Only A Long Way Across” I remembered that there was a review in the New York Times by Stephen Holden, one of that paper’s most respected writers. In the review he implicitly refers to this. But at the time, I paid little attention to it, and thought the review underwhelming. So I dug it up to have another look, and was surprised to find that I not only liked it, but also that this insightful man had nailed down what I was doing that long ago, and not only did I not see it, but I also denied myself an apt description of my own music, something that has eluded me ever since.
So this is the album that I have made for you. To take the great Irish folk songs of my youth and mould them into my own. My version of Dirty Old Town ended up being used in H.B.O’s The Wire, so who knows, maybe I have been looking a gift horse in the mouth.
You can order the album here.