This song settles me and takes me back to my teenage years
I have chosen a folk song called Mary and the Soldier, from a 1976 album by Andy Irvine, Paul Brady, Kevin Burke and Dónal Lunny. Irvine and Brady are singing, and there are guitars, mandolins and a fiddle. It tells a love story about a soldier and a maid.
Mary and the Soldier was recorded when I was a year old. I first heard it when I was ten or eleven — my dad is a big fan of traditional folk music, so there was lots playing in our house when I grew up. It has real soul and beautiful tone: you can tell that the musicians are sitting in the same room making this music together, without any studio techniques. Kevin Burke, the fiddle player, has a wonderful, wholesome sound, and I’ve listened to him a lot over the years. All four musicians have been linked to a dozen or more influential folk bands, like Planxty and Patrick Street. They are absolute heroes of mine: I can draw lines from this song and album to so many things that have influenced me as a musician and composer. Even though I’m 38 years old, I’m still starstruck when I meet musicians like these from the 1960s and 70s, who took folk music from back rooms in pubs on to the concert hall stage.
There’s barely a fortnight in the past 20 years when I haven’t gone back to this song: it settles me and takes me back to my teenage years, when I was first trying to figure out what I wanted to do with music. It has shown me how beautiful and uncomplicated traditional music can be. It’s very simple and complete. I wouldn’t ever want to cover it: it’s perfect as it is. It’s just a really beautiful piece of music, and it will stay with me forever.
Photo: Peter McNally