Review: The Mary Wallopers at Trinity CentrePosted on: 14 Nov 2023
"...a group that expertly blends the jolly with the deeply political, intricately played ballads with riotous odes to drinking..."
I hate being late to gigs, I like to get there with good time to set myself up with a good vantage point and an anxiety-quashing pint in my hand. However, that didn’t stop me from finding myself racing through Old Market, having been caught off guard by the early start time of one of my most eagerly anticipated shows of the Autumn season.
Dundalk folk group The Mary Wallopers first caught my attention at End Of The Road festival earlier this year. A riotous mid-afternoon half-set that left me purring for more of The Wallopers’ now signature blend of biting politics, expertly played folk music, and high-spirited, sweary banter.
Formed by brothers Charles and Andrew Hendy (previously hip-hop duo T.P.M) and their childhood friend Sean McKenna, The Mary Wallopers began as a three-piece ballad group, playing all over Ireland. Rising to wider prominence thanks to their famously raucous lockdown live stream performances, the lads enlisted the help of Roisin Barrett (bass), Ken Mooney (drums) and Finlan O’Conner (tin whistle) to recreate this energy on stage.
And recreate it they have with the Bristol show proving to be a constant stream of raw energy that perfectly blended cuts from The Wallopers’ latest album, Irish Rock N Roll, and singalong classics from their older material – although it’s all pretty catchy.
The set itself was perfectly paced, kicking off with two lively tracks from the new record - ‘Bold O’Donahue’ and ‘Love Will Never Conquer Me’. However, it was not until the fourth song, ‘Rothsea-O’, that the audience was truly at one with the band as the playful pub balled was broken up with a sweary back and forth between the Hendy brothers and Sean McKenna – who bares the brunt of the jokes throughout. A similar atmosphere is cultivated for ‘The Rich Man and the Poor Man’, a traditional number about the fiery fate of the wealthy after they pass away.
A strong political vein ran throughout the show with songs that railed against the rich, the establishment and landlords, whilst championing the outcast (in songs such as ‘The Idler’ and ‘The Turfman from Ardee’) and those mistreated by society. These more solemn, stripped-back moments see one of the brothers taking to the front of the stage to perform and the others disappearing into the background.
Highlights of these more poignant moments include Charles’ acoustic number, ‘Building Up and Tearing England Down’. Made famous by The Dubliners, this tale of Irish ‘navvies’ and their struggles in England had the crowd silent and enthralled. Then, there was Andrew’s solo rendition of Frank Harte’s ‘Do Me Justice’. A song that rails against the stereotypical way in which the Irish were depicted in the newspaper and which Andrew declares sadly, still happens to many people all to this day. The band dedicated this, and another song, to the people of Palestine, demonstrating the relevance of these stories – many of which were penned a long time ago.
Then, it was time for the hits in a whirlwind run to end the set. ‘Eileen Óg’ is a perfect live number, beginning tentatively before erupting and igniting the venue with boisterous energy. Another fan favourite, ‘Cod Liver Oil & The Orange Juice’ (a cover of Scottish folk singer Hamish Imlach’s famous song) provided the most singalong moment of the set thanks to its cheeky lyrics. Finally, we are treated to an immensely energetic version of the traditional sailor’s song ‘All For Me Grog’ that left the whole crowd crying out for more – but also completely wiped out.
Many declare The Mary Wallopers to be the new Dubliners or The Pogues but - whilst the Dundalk band do share much of the eye twinkling of the former and the febrile energy of the latter – they are firmly their own beast. They are a group that expertly blends the jolly with the deeply political, intricately played ballads with riotous odes to drinking – with plenty of laughs sprinkled in throughout. Make sure you catch them when they’re next in Bristol!
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Stan is a born and bred Bristolian, recently graduated from studying English Literature in Sheffield. His passions are music and literature and he spends the majority of his time in venues all over the city, immersing himself in Bristol’s alternative music scene. A lifelong Bristol City fan, Stan’s Saturdays are spent watching his team both home and away.