Irish Music Magazine June 2012
The Tyrrell Chronicles. Irish Music Magazine June 2012 Phil Gaston.
It seems that, no matter what you’re doing or talking about in Ireland, it’s impossible to get away from the topic of the weather.
It’s a bright spring evening and I’ve just driven across the Burren to talk to Sean Tyrell at his home in County Clare about his new album. I ask him what it’s called. ‘Walker of the Snow.’
The album takes it’s name from one of the tracks on the album. Another one of those lyrics that Sean delights in putting music to and turning into songs. For those of you familiar with Sean’s work it will ring out as typical of Sean’s way of going about crafting a song. ‘Walker of the Snow’, Sean tells me, is a 19th century poem by Charles Dawson Shanley. A pre-Robert Service tale of the Yukon, Sean says, set to music by himself and sourced from his constant creative wellspring, the book ‘One Thousand Years of Irish Poetry’ from which, through the years, Sean has unearthed many hidden gems, mostly from poets long forgotten,. The lyric tell the tale of a trapper returning home through the snow, whistling as he makes his way along. He is joined by a stranger, who, mysteriously, by the end of the song we find out, leaves no foot prints in the fresh fallen snow.
A ripping yarn right up Sean’s alley, with that oak-smoked voice always redolent of fireside tales on long winter nights: the story, the sentiment, the mystery, the poesy, all make it a track cut from the same cloth as his past work. From his very first album ‘Cry of a Dreamer’, with its trio of John Boyle O’Reilly poems reflecting on the hypocrisy of church and state, it’s home grown every day observational songs like Johnny Mulhern’s ‘Mattie’, Sean has looked to poetry, to lyrics with a message that means something to him on a personal level for the greater part of his repertoire.
This album has been a long time in the making, or at least a long time from conception to release. Six years Sean reckons, due to some difficulties with track he wanted to use on his first attempt to get it done. In the meantime he recorded, released and toured the ‘Message of Peace’ project. When he eventually decided to return to the ‘Walker of the Snow’ album he had a listen to recordings from what he calls ‘the vaults’; all the back material that Sean’s long-time collaborator/co-producer Colin Boland has archived on his computer.
Listening back to previously recorded songs, Sean’s new perspective ‘from a distance’ so to speak, allowed him to hear things differently and allowed him to make choices that he would perhaps not have done six years earlier. One song in particular, his own ‘The Black Hole’, Sean felt made the album change focus, made it more balanced and more of what he is himself. ‘Sammy’s Bar’ a song from his first group ‘The Freedom Folk’ in his Belfast days, long, long ago, made its presence felt. Another track ‘Working Life Out to Keep Life In’ inspired Sean to reflect on the present day Ireland of the Austerities. Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’ was already part of the set-up. A day that Colin Boland came to visit bringing all the old material on the computer and sat down and played it for Sean, seems to have been a turning point. Sean became re-energised and determined to finish the album.
Part of the hold-up on the recording had been money – of course. And Sean’s method of overcoming that particular obstacle turned out to be the herald of another phase of the ‘Walker of the Snow.’ Sean turned to the internet facility Fund It. A web site where artists/musicians/writers/poets put up a description of a project the have in hand or want to start and appeal for funding from fans, contacts and whoever else they can reach out to who might have an interest. Donations can be small or big. In Sean’s case for a twenty five euro donation the donor receives a c.d. Plus a limited edition 5 track e.p. Which meant that not only was Sean looking at material he had already recorded and originally earmarked for the ‘Walker of the Snow’ album, but that he also had to record five new tracks to send to his donors on their exclusive bonus e.p.
As it happened Sean’s Fund It appeal not only reached its target, giving Sean more than the means to complete his album the response he got from it gave him a creative boost too, ‘gave him great heart’ as he says. He was amazed and encouraged by the people who wrote to him offering their support. One of the major donors even offered to pay his expenses out to Florida to do a concert. Another turned out to be the owner of a small music label in New York, ensuring that there will be a c.d. release in America. The online response to his appeal lifted Sean from being down in the dumps and wondering if it was worthwhile at all, he became enthusiastic about his music again and determined to produce a great album.
So, with the wherewithal to actually make the album. Sean began assembling the tracks and thinking about the running order. The material was coming from several different phases of his recording career. He had material from six years back that was originally intended for the album. He had tracks he had done in a session at Windmill Lane. He had the tracks from the vaults that Colin Boland had played and prompted him on and he had the new tracks that he was recording for the Fund It e.p. The ‘Walker of the Snow’ project was well and truly back on track. In fact, some of the five new tunes for the e.p were turning out to be contenders for inclusion on the main album.
Reflecting on the whole long drawn out process and the various ups and downs of the past few years of putting ‘Walker of the Snow’ together Sean is philosophical about the way it has turned out. It virtually takes in his entire career. He talks fondly of his early days when he was teaching in Belfast, of Pat’s Bar and the huge influence his friends of that time had on his music and the encouragement he had from playing in the Freedom Folk. He talks of the changes both in his own attitude to some of the songs, what they mean to him, how he finds them charged with meaning both personally and in a wider context. He talks of the business end, the changes in ways of putting an album together and getting it out there. He talks of the quality he looks for in his versions of other people’s songs, Tom Paxton’s ‘Can’t Help but Wonder Where I’m Bound.’ or the standard ‘You are My Sunshine.’ He talks about the conviction he brings to performance.
Ideally he would love to have a small band, guitar, bass, drums, fiddle maybe, to go and tour and present the album but realistically he knows that the only way for him to work is, in the main, as a solo artist these days.
Sean will be launching ‘Walker of the Snow’ in the Crane in Galway on May 25th and will be gigging all over Ireland in the summer. He tours USA in September and October 2012.