Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Patriot games

Beatles-inspired Scots doing an Irish folk tune with republican overtones. Doesn't sound like a winning recipe, now does it?

Surprisingly, it was. In 1983, The Bluebells released the song "Sugar Bridge." The single's b-side was an Irish ballad penned by Dominic Behan (though his older, more famous brother is often erroneously named as the writer). The song's narrative is from the point of 17-year-old Fergal O'Hanlon, who -- along with Sean South -- was killed on an attempt to storm a police station in County Fermanagh during the IRA's ill-fated border campaign.

Behan was a family friend of Ken and David McCluskey, The Bluebells' singer and drummer, respectively. The track's inclusion in The Bluebells' catalog, which featured its share of power pop numbers, was no surprise to those who knew the McCluskeys well. The siblings harbored a deep love for folk music and after The Bluebells had called it quits, they dedicated themselves to this genre fulltime. (Growing up during the folk-rich late 50s and early 60s, the brothers also likely heard covers of this tune by The Kingston Trio and The Clancy Brothers, as well as Bob Dylan's reworked version.)

An interesting side note: Behan was quite displeased with The Clancy Brothers' version, which excluded a verse criticizing President Eamon de Valera. Leaving out the lines, according to Behan, took away some of the song's political punch. The Bluebells didn't sing the verse, as well.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "The Patriot Game" by The Bluebells.