The Freemen accompany themselves on guitar, American banjo and bass fiddle. But as thousands of us heard them here, they retain a delicacy of melody and phrase which is pure Ireland. And there is an overall gentleness which recalls the honest farmers and fishermen of that green land, who want not conquest or power but rather treasure the love and warmth of their own family firesides.
I hope they will visit us again soon. America and the world also have need of help from that traditional Irish music magic. There are perilous times ahead. Some of these melodies are probably thousands of years old. Let us ask them to help the Human Race through the next couple of hundred.
Beacon, NY — June 1970
Belfast people are world-famous for their feuding and fighting, but they deserve to be better known for their musical talent. That's why its such a pleasure to find the Freemen, a four-man group which is putting Belfast on the international folk music map at long last.
Like all Ulstermen, they hate pretence and sham Irishness. They ape no one. Their arrangements are all their own, and if you hear a broad Belfast accent creeping into a Scottish song, that's no accident. They'll play and sing good folk music from any-where-but always they give it a distinctly Ulster flavour.
Jimmy McPeake, on double bass and vocals, is of course one of the original McPeake family, celebrated throughout the folk world. He helps preserve the authentic folk sound, so often lost in the quest for commercial success.
John McNally has a so known fame before, as a boxing silver medalist (bantamweight) in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. He plays tenor banjo and mandolin.
Ray McAreavey, who can be heard on most of the love songs, and Kieron Manning both played pop guitar before returning to their first love, folk. The experience broadened them as musicians and performers, and it shows.
The name Freemen, incidentally, was chosen not for any political reasons, but to emphasize their freedom of choice of music. They have a weakness for true folk, but theyll keep the party or the pub swinging with more familiar Irish melodies if the occasion demands.
This ability to turn a hand to any tune they fancy, from North, South, East, or West, is clear from their choice of material for their first LP.
Some songs are English or Scottish, like "Nancy Whiskey," "Lammas Time" or the lovely "Dainty Davy". Most, of course, are Irish, and theres a nice blend of the heartwarming, like "Curragh of Kildare" and the rousing, like "On the One Road". Two are strictly Belfast, recalling the sweated labour days of linen manufacturing. "Freedom Walk" is an original protest song, with a message for every land.
Some are familiar, some are known only to connoisseurs, but the Freemen give them a fresh sound, owing largely to their own arrangements, and their unique combination t of instruments. Each is a master of what he plays, and this nowhere more apparent than in "Lark in the Clear Air". Normally, a vocal solo, this timeless song is heard in an entirely new medium, with harp, three mandolines and 12-string guitar. "Carrickfergus" is another haunting love song, as only the Irish can write them.
A year ago, in the summer of 1969, the boys knew and admired each other, but had never played as a group. Today, they are one of the best-known names on the Irish singing pubs circuit and already have a successful season at the Old Shelling, Upper Manhattan, behind them. With another American trip in the offing, its not difficult to predict a big future for a group who so obviously enjoy playing, singing and being together.