As Fintan Vallely records in his introduction to this collection, "If video killed the radio star, the radio had already done much to kill off the ballad singer. And indeed the cinema, and in particular, the newspaper and literacy had a hand there too." Bearing the intriguing subtitle "Subaltern elements in contemporary Irish ballads", Sex, Sca & Sedition was the brainchild of the Cork singer Jimmy Crowley and appeared on his own Free State Records as the first and so far only release in its 'Altruistic Series'.
The album features seventeen then recently composed new ballads 'recorded with an active audience' at the Cork Arts and Theatre Club and at Barr a'Cuma, a pub near Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry (better known as "The Top of Coom"). The 'active' part of that description is worth remembering since the two audiences had little hesitation in singing along with the choruses or shouting an order for a fresh pint.
Though no information is given regarding the singers who almost all sing their own compositions, it would be fair to say that the majority do not earn their living through public performance, though the vocal quality is much better than one might expect and even when the singer does not have the best of voices, the balance is redressed by the quality of the song itself. A particular example would be John Maguire whose vocal shortcomings are more than compensated by the sheer wit of his two songs Me Floppy, Floppy Drive (which Jimmy Crowley himself has recently recorded) and The Roving Irish Pound. All the singers are male bar the duo of Máirín Uí Lionáird and Síle Ní Riordáin (who sing the only Gaelic song on the album — a bawdy ballad about the Clinton-Lewinsky incident).
Humour permeates much of the material here, especially in the songs of Gus McLoughlin who sings variously about the declining morals of the young, the digging of a new sea tunnel and, on Chandelier Charlie, about a boisterous sexual relationship. Sport also figures on Dennis McGarry's Mick Barry from Waterfall, a paean to the Co. Cork star of road bowling while other subjects range from The Ordnance Survey Man from Deaglán Tallon to tourism in The Heritage Trail by Jerry O'Neill. Music is also considered too in Cliff Wedgbury's eulogy to the late Pete Bellamy in Concertina Man and Don Murphy's The Pub Musicians' Complaint (inspired by a pub customer who demanded a Guns 'n' Roses number from a group of traditional musicians) which will strike a chord with many a session regular. A personal favourite is Jerry O'Neill's Ger Mac's Crubeens, a tribute to a Cork delicacy (savoury pig's trotter):
You can have all your pizzas and burgers,
I'd rather a juicy crubeen.
Finally, there is one word of warning. Many of the references in the songs are Cork-specific and some of the local argot may be impenetrable to anyone not born in the city. Indeed, after four years this reviewer is still none the wiser as to the meaning of 'sca' in the album's title — a definition would be very welcome!
This is an original review by Geoff Wallis
from The Irish Music Review
"Can you name a ballad in Irish about Bill Clinton? This album includes probably the first one. Brí?ste Bill is about Mr. Clinton's trousers. C.J. Haughey does not escape either and the reference to chandeliers must be left to the listener's imagination. Here are ballads about the millennium, the new Cork tunnel, about Mick Barry, the great bowler and a sardonic swipe at interpretive centres and every sacred cow grazing on Irish grass. Jimmy Crowley is convinced that there is a place for these post-modern bards he has recorded here in the national archives."
Dick Hogan, The Irish Times, 1999
"This latest offering from Free State Records, the brainchild of Jimmy Crowley, flies in the face of the predicable anomie of contemporary Irish music. In the spirit of Free State Records it is proudly oppositional and goes a long way to restoring the spirit of political protest and satire which was once the corner stone of the folk revival of the sixties.
As the title suggest, the album is thematically focused with songs about viagra pills; the sexual revolution; a lúibín beirte (two-person miniature folk drama) by a bard from Cúil Aodha: Dónal Ó Liatháin on Bill and Monica's antics in the White House observed by two native Irish speaking charladies, if you please. There's a song celebrating the opening of the new Lee Tunnel; a brilliant song by Denis Mc Garry: Two Thousand Candles which compresses the full gallery of Cork iconography and nostalgia into a few heart -rending verses - a genuine millennium song there's a song of tragic loss in today's contemporary computer world (Me Floppy, Floppy Drive) and Chandelier Charlie about the amorous adventures of a much-loved former Taoiseach."
Free State Press Release