Lockdown Jukebox #9 : Ye Vagabonds : The Foggy Dew

Ye Vagabonds, brothers Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn, are from Carlow, a town that sits roughly midway between Dublin and Waterford.

With Lankum and Lisa O'Neill, Ye Vagabonds are part of Irish folk's vibrant front three, a trio bound by the quality of their work and a shared method of honing the fine emotional detail of a song as a watchmaker might restore life to a worn timepiece.

All three have repeatedly featured in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards - most recently when Ye Vagabonds' version of The Foggy Dew (above) was awarded the accolade of 'best traditional track' in 2019.

The Foggy Dew is not the only prizeworthy song that can be found on Ye Vagabonds' last album, The Hare's Lament, but it is as fine a recording as any to highlight the duo’s craft.

First, any confusion needs dispelling. There are several songs titled The Foggy Dew, most notably Canon Charles O'Neill's 'rebel' song written to mark the loss of life in the 1916 Easter Rising - with its sentiment clear, 'Twas far better to die ‘neath an Irish sky, Than at Suvla or Sud el Bar'.

The track Ye Vagabonds recorded for The Hare's Lament is a very different, personal tale - 'an archetypal English folk song' as Martin Carthy has described it - with a less definite lineage.

There are versions of this song with a clear narrative (Carthy's included), and more abstract forms - the latter is the path Ye Vagabonds chose for their arrangement, having learnt the piece in part from A. L. Lloyd (a key singer and song collector in the 50-60s folk revival), and in part from a friend, Mick O'Grady.

The Foggy Dews' meaning fascinated A. L. Lloyd, as he detailed in the sleevenotes that framed his first, 1956, recording of it,

'This true-life story is known in many forms. Sometimes the girl is frightened by a ghost: the 'bugaboo'. Sometimes she seems disturbed by the weather: the 'foggy dew'. Some say the foggy dew is a virginity symbol; others say the words are there by accident or corruption, and all the girl was pretending to be frightened of was ghosts.' (1)

Brían Mac Gloinn's vocal, with restrained but exquisite instrumental framing, builds on the possibilities of the song, and wraps them in a veil of regret.

For the video the brothers chose a beautifully composed animation as illustration, edited from the short film Islander's Rest by Claudius Gentinetta.

The Foggy Dew is an excellent start point to explore Ye Vagabonds' work.

The duo have released an EP, Rose & Briar (2015), and two albums - Ye Vagabonds (2017) and The Hare's Lament (2019). Each set of recordings has been a step further on a road of musical revelation. In his review of the most recent album, Thomas Blake, a writer who brings a level of illumination to music akin to that Robert Macfarlane brings to places, attested,

'Irish folk music is in a very healthy state at the moment and with The Hare's Lament, Ye Vagabonds have emerged as its most accomplished exponents.'

A view no doubt underscored if you have ever seen Ye Vagabonds in full, elegant flight on a stage.