There were times I thought Welcome to Ballsgrove (WTB) would never be finished. The success of the project on the radio airwaves, at the launch night and the support of the people who took part in it has shut up many people. WTB is in many respects an artistic manifesto. These tired arms at last landed the punch.
I find it amazing how a boxer or an inter county GAA player gets a pass for hours a week when completely committed to a goal. Yet when its art of any kind we are somehow seen as a lifesize Peter Pan. That struggle is something every artist goes through. Believe me when I tell you, its fucking painful. We get ridiculed by people who dont understand or support us. And the same people come up and shake our hands when it goes well for us. Its just nuts.
There was no hurry to release WTB apart from the deep feeling that the songs and the documentary captured the pandemic, a time of great change and pain in my life - this chapter had to be closed for a new one to begin.
Below are the track notes and a full thank you list which I couldn't have printed on the album due to the turnaround on a larger booklet being 6 weeks longer and we were out of time for the launch!
01: Welcome to Ballsgrove The Bonfire event in Ballsgrove at Halloween was one of the things that has never stopped in Ballsgrove for 50 + years. A lad jumped in front of me while I was driving home from work one day. He had a trolley with tires in it. I almost hit him! The memories of looking for tyres 20 years before that came back to me. Instead of being annoyed I started laughing and I took the turn into Ballsgrove on the way home. That evening I went home and wrote the song.
02: Turns and Tolls - featuring Róisín Ward Morrow (to be released 28th October 2022) This song gives away my Rock DNA and shows off Breifne’s arranging style with the talents of the wonderful Róisín Ward Morrow on fiddle.
03: Spencer the Rover ( trad .arr ) The thoughts of a man realising the most important thing in the world fused me to the song and lends itself to the importance of family and home in Ballsgrove.
04: Our Jack - featuring Aaron Fahy "We'll pretend that we don't want more" - Our Jack is written from the perspective of a parent in Ballsgrove looking forward to their only son leaving to find his own home. There’s a whole generation of working class people who can't afford to live where they grew up. It's wrong. This song is from the parent’s perspective and how they stay positive even when they are in this difficult situation. Special thanks to Aaron Fahy for his drumming and home studio facilities to cut this track and to Andrea Delaney who appears on backing vocals here.
05: The Hope that Hope will give - featuring Andrea Delaney "Keep the faith and don't stop" - And when I think about neighbours my mind goes back to Ballsgrove. The saying "keep the faith '' is a funny one to me. Some people think of Bon Jovi or Religion! I think of someone with a crumpled up bookie's docket in their hand after their horse has lost. Or people who's Sunday league team lost in the cup on penalties. It’s genuine. Andrea Delaney made this song special by having so much input on the choice of harmonies and vocal arrangement. Thanks Andrea.
06: Cradle of Love "and on the river bank, forgotten the rivers name" - Seamus Heaney - St Kevin and the Blackbird. The joy of children is transient. And precious. This song, inspired by the poem, celebrates the sacrifices we all make when we become parents.
07: We are all Charlatans A song about acceptance that I have worked on for a long time. I want to dedicate it to a dear friend who passed away during the oppressive years of COVID-19.
08: The Commuter’s Song (Part Two) It always felt like The Commuter’s Song from my first album Dreaming is Allowed was unresolved in both its story and in its context. Most of my friends don’t work in Drogheda. Growing up in Ballsgrove, I can’t remember anyone who commuted daily to Dublin City. That has all changed in this day and age.
Seán Mathews - 12 string guitar, M4 dulcimer, octave mandolin
Breifne Holohan - fretted instruments, keyboards, percussion and programming
Andrea Delaney - backing vocals
Róisín Ward Morrow - fiddle
Aaron Fahy - drums
All music and lyrics by Seán Mathews*
Arrangements by Breifne Holohan & Seán Mathews
Produced & Recorded by Breifne Holohan
Mastered by Ben Rawlins
Recorded on location at Gerrard’s Church, Drogheda, Co Louth between 2020 and 2021.
*except Track 6 Cradle of Love with Breifne Holohan and Track 3 Spencer the Rover (trad arr)
I want to thank my daughters Ava and Erin for continuing to inspire and amaze me at every opportunity. Breifne Holohan, you were the core of everything in this project. We spent long evenings during lockdown writing, preparing, talking - and drinking! I’ve been spoiled with your positivity and zest for creating. That’s the way you do it. Thank you, brother. There were many dark hours in the past couple of years and the people involved at Droichead Arts Centre; Colette Farrell, SJ McCardle, Ciara Corrigan and Rita McQuillan - nurtured this project through those hours providing a Bursary and a creative space. Create Louth also funded this project acknowledging my commitment to it with crucial funding in the final stages. Magnificient support. I’ll never forget it. Thank you.
Special thanks must go to Michael O’Reilly from Gerrard’s Church. Michael allowed us into the church to record this album over many many days and he placed his trust in us. We are forever grateful for your support of the Arts in Drogheda, Michael. To Andrea Delaney and Róisín Ward Morrow, thanks for your talents on this album and for your great humour and advice.To Gerry Simpson, thank you for your time and words of wisdom to us whipper snappers. Aaron Fahy & Shane O’Brien, thanks for the great chats, your interest, your enthusiasm, and most of all sick grooves! To Seán Conway, for a short time in 2019, Seán mentored my performance. Seán had jaw dropping musical talent, well worded honesty and eclectic creative methods that I was drawn to. He had a massive impact on my approach to this album. RIP Seán.
When my Granny and Grandad moved into Ballsgrove in 1964, the world was a different place. When my Mam and Dad moved into their own house in Ballsgrove in 1984 the world was even more different. I’m very proud to have grown up in Ballsgrove. The work ethic of our neighbours passed through us. Parents suffered - Kids thrived - but they all moved and prospered together!
When I started playing music none of my friends in Ballsgrove played music. I took myself off to other houses all over Drogheda to begin making friends and writing music. Often I wondered if I ever belonged anywhere. Welcome to Ballsgrove made me realise that I have always belonged. For the next generation, for every young child who grows up in Ballsgrove, always be proud of who you are wherever you go. At the end of the day everybody makes it up as they go along. You can be who you want to be. We are all Charlatans. Dreamers. Chancers. Some are just better at hiding it than others!
To Seán Collins, your interest in people is inspiring a chara, there is a belly aching book of your funny stories waiting to be written. Thanks for being a source of Historical reference on the project. Conor McGuinness, a special thanks to you for all your video work and editing. You made it easy, amigo. Liadan Holohan, thanks for your well thought advice on the Documentary editing. Thanks to Craig Reay, the bravest drone driver in Ireland! Jolene Matthews, your graphic design has been the backbone of everything I have ever published, thank you so much. To Kelan Molloy, thanks for helping me make it up as I go along and going along with it! Your photography has been magnificent. Thanks to Paddy McQuillan, who not only took part in the documentary but who’s networking helped provide so many great still images from Ballsgrove for the documentary. Special thanks to Tony Brady who provided the image that the great Rodney Thornton painted for the cover.
Thanks Dom WIlton for having us in bits laughing when you took part in the Documentary. Same for Petrina Finn, thanks for allowing us into your home and feeding us and then giving us great stories for the documentary. Declan Nipper Garry, your wit coloured in everything for this Documentary. Thank you. Anthony Buck Martin, my godfather, thank you for being the personal link to the documentary. Thank you for sharing so many great memories with me and for being a part of my childhood.
Finally I want to thank my family and friends. You gave and gave. You kept me together. Welcome to Ballsgrove has been a personal project. The concept was to capture how life was in a small estate in Ireland’s largest town. The border sensibilities, the history, the identity. Drogheda is not just a commuter town. Drogheda was the envy of every aspiring blue collar town in Ireland in the 1970s. Somehow, someone, somewhere decided to transform Drogheda into a Service town. And this brought the headlines, depravity, confusion, lack of community led policy. The work ethic of the people in Ballsgrove completely contradicts the notion that public housing has created a generation of people who don’t want to work. The net contribution of Ballsgrove as a rent to buy scheme - in tax paying citizens - is astonishing. And it could be again - if only TD’s were brave enough to heavily tax owning a second home.
When my Granny and Grandad moved into Ballsgrove in 1964, the world was a different place. When my Mam and Dad moved into their own house in Ballsgrove in 1984 the world was even more different. I’m very proud to have grown up in Ballsgrove. The work ethic of my neighbours passed through us. Parents suffered. Kids thrived, moved and prospered.
When I started playing music none of my friends in Ballsgrove played music. I took myself off to other houses all over Drogheda to begin making friends and writing music. Often I wondered if I ever belonged anywhere. Welcome to Ballsgrove has transformed me to accept that I always belonged. For the next generation, for every young child who grows up in Ballsgrove, always be proud of who you are wherever you go. At the end of the day everybody makes it up as they go along. You can be who you want to be. We are all Charlatans. We are all dreamers. We are all chancers. Some are just better at hiding it than others!
Enjoy the album and Documentary,