The Dubliners, that boisterous Irish folk group who appear to have been endlessly anthologised, have reached the grand old age of 50 this year, outliving all the band's founding members in the process. To celebrate that notable anniversary EMI have rereleased re-mastered versions of four of their commercially successful, late 1960s studio albums. That series includes this evocatively-named treat, which is regarded by many as the album that made their name.
Why? These trailblazers of Irish folk manage to successfully cover a wide spread of musical styles and strains in 14 songs. Cheerily-recited murder ballads like 'Weila Waile', and rebel songs about Irish independence and rebellion, such as 'The Rising Of The Moon', 'The Old Alarm Clock' and 'Black Velvet Band', showed that behind the beards, lived-in suits and boozy image was a bunch of individuals steeped in folk tradition, with roots extending into Ireland's literary culture and republican politics.* Indeed, a streak of left-wing radicalism is present in their spirited version of 'Paddy On The Railway' - which works as a piece of history and as an act of contemporary protest. Whilst instrumental reels such as the pulsating 'The Fairmoy Lasses & Sporting Paddy' show that traditional musical instruments like the banjo, fiddle, and tin whistle can be used to achieve a propulsive effect in much the same way that an amplified electric guitar can. And it also features one of their very best drinking songs - the unreconstructed celebration of inebriation, 'I'm A Rover'. Some levity is provided with the bawdy, double entendre of the slightly childish 'Zoological Gardens', and the broad comedy of their hugely popular 'Seven Drunken Nights' single, which managed to reach to no 7 in the UK charts, despite the fact that the singer Ronnie Drew, "didn't think much of it as a song".
Clearly, the British record-buying public recognised the quality in these old-fashioned songs - delivered in a thick Irish brogue - A Drop of The Hard Stuff went as high as number 5 in the UK album charts in 1967.
The Dubliners released three albums on the Transatlantic label between 1964 and 1966, but it wasn't until they moved to Philip Solomon's new Major Minor label in 1967 that they had their real success. A Drop of the Hard Stuff was released in the spring of 1967 and started with what would become their biggest hit - Seven Drunken Nights. Although the risqué lyrics stopped the disc being played by the BBC Philip Solomon just happened to be a director of the offshore Radio Caroline so airplay was not going to be a problem! Anyone listening to Caroline in those days would have been VERY aware of the heavy rotation of Major Minor singles and the endless plugging of the associated albums by the station!
A lot of the material released by Major Minor was actually very good, and the four albums released by the Dubliners for the label still sound great today. It may be surprising then that these albums have never been issued on CD before - although most of the tracks have appeared on various compilations over the years. The Major Minor label ended up as a part of EMI and was mothballed for many years (it was briefly revived for a Morrissey album in 2010!), but EMI have now finally given the four Dubliner's MM albums the re-issue they deserve.
The four Major Minor albums include this one, it's follow-up -More of the Hard Stuff- from later in 1967 and the two albums from 1968 - Drinkin' & Courtin' and At It Again. All have been freshly remastered in 2012 by Peter Mew at Abbey Road studios from the original MONO master tapes (most compilations use the stereo mixes). The thin accompanying booklet contains an essay by John Tobler, front and back reproductions of the original sleeve, facsimiles of the disc labels, track details and a couple of photos of the band.
The Dubliner's numerous fans will have waited many years for these re-issues and they do not disappoint. A presentation of the four discs as a box set to mark the band's 50 years in the business would perhaps have been even better, but you can currently pick up the set of four from Amazon for less than twenty quid so they represent pretty good value even so. Newcomers to the band's music may be better off with a compilation album to start with - I would suggest EMI's Original Dubliners from 1993, which contains tracks from the four Major Minor albums and also tracks from the band's next two albums after the band had moved to EMI.
This re-issue is a straightforward version of the original album in mono with no bonus tracks and is aimed at those who remember the LP and want to have good sounding versions of these tracks in their original album order. For that target audience I give this CD five stars.
This is an all time classic. It's the original Dubliners line up at their very best and singing some of their best songs. Ronnie Drew's distinctive voice is a joy to listen too. Compilations are all very well, but you can't beat hearing an original album as it was intended. If you're a Dubliners fan you must own this. If you're wanting to discover The Dubliners or Irish music then this is a wonderful place to start.