Studio Life: Screaming Orphans

How turning old into new can lead to a 9/10 Americana UK review.

Screaming Orphans are an Irish band of sisters who are known for their melodic mix of musical genres, fine musicianship and tireless touring.  However, their relentless live schedule was curtailed during the pandemic and the sisters used the extra time productively to record a new album in 2020, ‘Sunshine and Moss’.  In the middle of a lockdown, the record was recorded at their childhood home in Bundoran, County Donegal, Ireland, on the basic equipment they had to hand.  They focused on creating new versions of the songs they grew up listening to, their old favourites and familiar, traditional pieces.  The result is immediate and intimate.  In our 9/10 review of ‘Sunshine and Moss’, we said: “This flawless performance advances from being delicately tragic to defiantly strident, showcasing the fabulous range of emotion and musicality from the sisters…The sisters all master their varied instruments and vocals with such passion, precision and excellence. No wonder, collectively, they go down a storm wherever they play live.”  AUK is not alone in praising the sisters’ joyful blend of styles and genres.

The band took their name from a friend’s reference to the sisters being ‘orphans’ once they set out on their own, without their manager/sound engineer father and their mother, who had been their long-time lead vocalist.  Their re-invention was a challenge but the sisters have gone on to be successful in pop and world music charts in both Ireland and the USA.  Though they are known for pop and rock, Screaming Orphans have always remembered their family and Celtic roots, which brings us back to the delightful mix of songs on ‘Sunshine and Moss’.

One of the highlights from the recent album is ‘Mary from Dungloe’ and AUK spoke to the Screaming Orphans to explore the song and what inspired them to record a new version.

‘Mary from Dungloe’ is a well-known traditional song.  What inspired you to record it and how did Screaming Orphans make the song your own?

“The song ‘Mary From Dungloe’ could be described as an unofficial anthem for Donegal. It was written about a tragic love story based on a local girl Mary Gallagher who was courted by a man returning from the U.S. Her parents refused to allow the match and the young man returned heartbroken to America in 1861. Mary married another man of her parents’ choosing but sadly died after childbirth.  This song became a traditional Irish staple and we learned it as children from our mother.  Tradition is very important to us as a band so that influenced our decision to include this song on our album as we wanted to pass the song on to a new generation just like our mother passed it on to us.  We decided to take the song in a new direction as most of the versions we know are either traditional or based on the Emmet Spiceland version which has been recognised as the most notable cover.  Coming from a female perspective it is difficult to sing a man’s story. We thought about changing the lyrics to a female perspective but felt that this would disrespect the song and tradition.

We recorded it during one of the 2020 Covid lockdowns in Donegal in our home music room. At the time, we could not travel more than 2 km from our house and had very little equipment to work with, just a Tascam DP 32 and some Shure SM58’s.  Usually ‘Mary From Dungloe’ is sung in a ballad form but we decided to change the rhythm to jig tempo and it ended up working really well as in our opinion it didn’t take from the spirit of the song but rather added a new propelling element. Performing it live we don’t have the fiddle as Angela is on bass duties but Marie Therese on keyboard fills in for her and it works very well in both a live and recorded setting.

We really enjoyed putting our own spin on this iconic song and look forward to introducing it to new audiences.”

‘Mary from Dungloe’ lyrics:
Oh then fare thee well sweet Donegal, the Rosses and Gweedore,
I’m crossing the main ocean where the foaming billows roar,
It breaks my heart from you to part where I spent many happy days.
Farewell to kind relations, I am bound for Amerikay.
Oh then Mary you’re my heart’s delight, my pride and only care,
It was your cruel father would not let me to stay here,
But absence makes the heart grow fond, and when I am over the main,
May the Lord protect my darling girl, ‘till I return again.
And I wish I was in sweet Dungloe and seated on the grass,
And by my side a bottle of wine, and on my knee a lass,
I’d call for liquor of the best, and I’d pay before I would go,
And I’d roll my Mary in my arms, in the town of sweet Dungloe.


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About Andrew Frolish 794 Articles
From up north but now hiding in rural Suffolk. An insomniac music-lover. Love discovering new music to get lost in - country, singer-songwriters, Americana, rock...whatever. Currently enjoying Ferris & Sylvester, John Smith, Jarrod Dickenson, William Prince, Frank Turner, Our Man in the Field...

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