Songs with History

Brían and Diarmuid McGloinn of Ye Vagabonds

Songs with History

In the fifth review from our new Music Writer Mentoring Scheme, supported by Galway City and County Arts Offices, Rachel Deckard reviews Ye Vagabonds at the Róisín Dubh in Galway, a concert to showcase their latest album 'The Hare's Lament'.

Ye Vagabonds’ debut album in 2017 was an artfully chosen selection of simply arranged songs. It was followed this year by the lusher, more densely orchestrated A Hare’s Lament. At the Róisín Dubh in Galway, Carlow brothers Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn played a set ranging from renditions of traditional ballads such as the sombre tales of unrequited love ‘Seven Little Gypsies’ and ‘I Courted A Wee Girl’ to the higher-energy lilting and close harmonies of ‘Tuirse Mo Chroí’ and ‘Bacach Shíol Andaí’.

Brían provided accompaniment on bouzouki for opening act Anna Mieke, mirroring their collaboration on her recently released album Idle Mind. The Wicklow born singer-songwriter established a forceful atmosphere for the evening with a strange and haunting performance of ‘My Lagan Love’. Her unique phrasing, dragging one note unexpectedly into another and alternating throaty softness with powerful wails, left the audience hushed.

Ye Vagabonds’ set recalled the Irish tradition of musical storytelling; it’s not unusual for the brothers to begin a song with a story on how they acquired it, such as when Brían uncovered archive recordings of their grandfather. Their ruminations on the history of the songs, as with the story behind ‘The Bothy Lads’, a group of rowdy Scottish farm hands and their conquests, made that tradition accessible to all. It’s a tradition that clearly continues to live, as Brían says: ‘People often come up to us after a gig to correct a story about a song or give us an extra verse.’

The night was also punctuated by the brothers’ original pieces such as ‘Go Where You Will’ and ‘Song Long Forgotten’ from their debut album which drew on the same storytelling tradition whilst adding contemporary simplicity in their lyrics, giving one the impression of an important cultural custom continuing to evolve and express itself. Their tenderness for the Irish language was also palpable, with the brothers laughing as they translated a passage about a ‘yellow-seaweed-haired woman’ in the last verse of ‘Tuirse Mo Chroí’.

Dark and delicate
Sailing through unison acapella performances of highly ornamented melodies, their thoughtfulness in arrangement was apparent throughout, particularly on ‘The Lark In The Morning’ with its precise harmonies. The bond between the two was cemented by the sharing of a microphone and frequent interchanging of instruments.

Brían’s voice is impressive and his expressive vocals take the lead on most of the songs, with Diarmuid’s baritone providing a resonant grounding during harmonic sections. The range of Brían’s voice is apparent on self-penned track ‘Pomegranate’ which alternates the boldly sung descriptive lyrics of the verses (‘Dry and papery, ruby so terrible…’) with the more poignant refrain reflecting it’s secretive theme (‘Dark and delicate, I try to keep you, all to myself…’). ‘The Foggy Dew’ made an appearance too and singing was encouraged.

Mention must be made of the performers accompanying the brothers during their set, with Galway native Alain McFadden providing the essential harmonium backdrop and an expressive and often mournful fiddle performance by Consuelo Breschi.

The charismatic performance of Ye Vagabonds created a rich, authentic experience, with the highlight of the evening being their version of Scottish folk ballad ‘Willie O’Winsbury’, played with a minimal guitar accompaniment to highlight both the love story within the lyrics and Brían’s delicately ornamented vocals. 

This concert took place at the Róisín Dubh, Galway, on 20 April. Ye Vagabonds’ upcoming concerts include Traidphicnic in An Spidéal, Co. Galway, on 5 July, then, with piper Brìghde Chaimbeul, in Machynlleth (26 June), Bristol (27 June), Worcestershire (28 June) and Sheffield (29 June), followed by Knockanstockan in Wicklow on 21 July. For more, visit

This is the fifth review published as part of  the Journal of Music/Galway City and County Music Writer Mentoring Scheme 2019 and is supported by Galway City Council and Galway County Council Arts Offices. Over the course of the year the editorial team of the Journal of Music will work with six new writers – Rachel Deckard, Massimo CattaneoJake Tiernan and Kerri Haberlin (Galway City), and  James Fleming and Tara Broderick (County Galway) – and publish their reviews of music in Galway.

Read more about our previous Music Writer Mentoring Schemes here.

Published on 21 June 2019

Rachel Deckard is a piano teacher and music student based in Galway. Having previously studied piano with the Royal Irish Academy of Music, she completed a QQI course in Music Theory & Composition from Galway Technical Institute in 2016 and has continued to study music theory and practice in her free time. She has also worked occasionally as a church pianist and vocalist. Rachel has had a keen interest in creative writing since childhood and is very excited at the opportunity to combine her love of writing and music within Galway’s vibrant music scene. She has a diverse range of musical interests ranging from classical and jazz to alternative and experimental.

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