Saturday, April 01, 2017

''Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky'... The Tossers include new version of The Foggy Dew on latest album

Things are pretty dire. What the world needs now is obviously another Celtic band releasing a new version of the old Irish rebel song The Foggy Dew about the Easter Rising. The Tossers, as ever, step up and deliver, ending their new album Smash the Windows with their version of track, first written by an Irish priest some time after 1919.

It is, as is to be expected from the Chicago-based Celtic punk veterans, a very solid version. It breaks no new ground, but there is no call for it to do any such thing. This is in keeping with The Tossers modus operandi, as a band without any pretence at "evolving" their sound, merely seeking to do what they've been doing well since the early '90s even better.

And that is being the self-proclaimed "world's loudest folk band", with a seemingly endless well of songs of drinking and carousing, of working-class people surviving an often hostile world of war and exploitation, and of Irish history and tradition, filtered through Chicago's Southside.

Of course, it might be said to be timely as the Easter Rising had its 100th anniversary last year. Also, amid the chaos of Brexit, the united Irish republic the rebels fought for may be closer than ever (in form, if not exactly the progressive social content the rebel's' Proclamation envisaged.)

But really... there is never a bad time to record a version of the best song about the Rising, when Irish rebels struck out for freedom as the horror of World War I engulfed Europe. By 1916, the British crown that was not just pillaging Ireland and impoverishing its people, but sending increasing numbers of young Irish men to their untimely deaths. in the conflict. Many Irish men signed up in a form of economic conscription -- the Crown's shilling beat hunger. But the threat of actual conscription hung in the air.

The contrast — between dying seeking to free Ireland from colonial chains versus dying for its colonial rulers in a faraway land in a futile war between empires — runs right through the song.

As the song declares in the second verse: "'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky than at Suvla or Sud-El-Bar."

And, later, reflecting on the "lonely graves are by Suvla's waves or the fringe of the great North Sea", it reflects how much better it would had those Irish men "died by Pearse's side or fought with Cathal Brugha".

The rising, of course, failed, but violent British repression swung public sympathy behind the cause of Irish freedom. As the song concludes "For slavery fled, O glorious dead, when you fell in the foggy dew."

The album also features an original track about another decisive moment in Irish history. Called "1969" it is about, as the earth-shaking events in that year in the six counties in Ireland's north still claimed by Britain. Irish Catholics, suffering discrimination and oppression in the statelet, marched for civil rights, only to face extreme repression, setting in motion the violent conflict known as the Troubles that wracked Northern Ireland the next couple of decades.

No one can deny that this one is timely — in a way the band could not have predicted. The life and activism of veteran Irish republican leader Martin McGuinness, who died on March 20 died aged 66, was defined by the events of 1969 in his beloved home town of Derry, at the very centre of the storm. I talked about all that in my last post, but the song also tell the tale.


Long ago, far away, far across the sea
There were those in Ireland who had marched for equality

So that everyone would know
Everyone would know
That civil rights are something now
That everyone should know

Oh and still I hear their voices cry

God bless Ireland
And keep her evermore

They were burned and battered everywhere
By cops and mobs of men
And still they walked and still they marched
Unto the bitter end

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