Review: The Mary Wallopers

Richard Nevin has a Friday night at the Mill.

As a Brummie of a certain age, if you want to mark the passage of time a visit to Digbeth is always a good measure. Twenty odd years ago it was a relatively bleak, post-industrial area, known mainly for its links to the Birmingham Irish community, the derelict Birds Custard Factory and a ‘temporary’ flyover that acted as a sort of gateway from the east side of town.

Fast forward to today and the change is remarkable. Those dimly lit streets now sparkle with festoon lighting, pubs that were once down at heel and dilapidated are now elegantly dressed, the Custard Factory, a catalyst of culture, has seen its influence spread through the area to the point that the choice for a pre-gig drink on a mild spring evening is plentiful. Eschewing some of the newer venues, we chose a trip back in time with visits to the Big Bulls Head and the Rainbow. Once full of contractors and labourers supping porter, talking of horses and home now you have hipsters talking of hip-hop and hot takes, wearing flowery shirts and drinking flowery gins. The surrounding streets were busy as people headed to the various venues that now populate the old factories and warehouses, one of which was The Mill, Lower Trinity Street where The Mary Wallopers were making the latest stop on their UK tour.

Hailing from Dundalk, the band have made quite a stir as part of a new traditional Irish music scene alongside the likes of Lankum, putting a different slant on some old folk tunes for a new audience. Support came from hip-hop trio Kneecap, an overtly political outfit from Belfast who were outspoken, aggressive and won’t be appearing on the One Show anytime soon.

I liked the fact that we went from turntables to banjos so that two vastly different styles can sit side by side in front of the same audience. The Wallopers are not shy of politics but it’s less in your face. Centred around brothers Charles and Andrew Hendy the band came to prominence with lock down streamed gigs and a cover of Hamish Imlachs Cod Liver Oil and Orange Juice which inevitably gets an outing here along with much of their debut LP. They also throw in a few old surprises as well. When I was discovering Irish folk via my Dad’s record collection, never did I think that I’d hear Bold O’Donoghue or Hot Asphalt in a live setting, let alone watched by a relatively young audience.

The curse of the gig talker struck during the gentler, more reflective moments. Keeping quiet and showing respect for the artist just proves too difficult for some but it’s a minor quibble in what was a fantastically raucous performance, topped off with a rousing rendition of The Dubliners All For Me Grog. The whole night was very much the past meeting the present and despite those that would tell you otherwise, we should glory in the past while enjoying the present and dare I say it without getting too deep, relish the future. The Mary Wallopers on this evidence certainly have a successful one to look forward to.