Hadrian's Wall,
Hadrian's Wall
(McGill University, 1996)

My first exposure to Hadrian's Wall was at an outdoor concert. Even as I picked up a pair of the raucous band's CDs, I wondered if the studio recordings could do justice to their jolly concert presence.

I needn't have worried.

"Donald Where's Your Trousers?" sets the stage from the outset, starting with a slow and bashful refrain before launching into the lively tune of a pantsless Scotsman. And the band retained every bit of their concert shenanigans, shouting for accents, making silly voices and letting listeners know that, damn it, they're having fun. With that kind of approach, it's hard not to join in.

They don't slow down much at all, leaping straight into the accordion-laden "Bonnie Jeannie McColl" and "The Irish Rover" -- without a doubt, one of the happiest songs ever performed about the death of an entire ship's crew and a dog. Then, sticking with the nautical theme, the band charges into another ill-fated sea-faring foray, the chanted chantey "Barrett's Privateers."

Hadrian's Wall slows down for their first breath with "Jock Stewart," a somber drinking song and pub standard.

Don't get too melancholy, however! The slow drinking song leads into a wild medley, appropriately titled "The Drunken Mix." The medley begins with a tale of poisonous romance, "Henry, My Son," before rattling through lively snippets of "Maire's Wedding," "What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor" and "Mari-Mac" (which has some odd vocal cadences, but that doesn't take anything away from the tune). The band's lively yelps and shouts throughout add a definite live feel to the experience.

Bagpipes are added to the mix for "A Glengarry Foot Stomp," a definite foot-tapper. Then "The Martintown Song" teaches folks not from the Glengarry area just how important a drink or two can be. "Instrumental #46" is pretty much what you'd expect from the title. Good fun ... but this band's strengths definitely include vocals!

The recording ends with "The Jolly Tinker Boy Mix," another pub song medley. (Odd pronounciation of "maggotty" -- as in "full of maggots" -- but hey, it's not a word used often in conversation.)

Overall, an excellent first album. My only complaint is the packaging. Sure, it's tough to fund that first album, but this one came out with no liner notes, nor even a cover. It's just the disc in a plastic jewelbox, which means learning anything about the musicians is impossible, and if you want to check the title of a tune you're hearing, you have to stop the stereo and read it off the disc.

Still, that's certainly a minor thing compared to the quality of music, and in that arena, Hadrian's Wall shines.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

If you like this band, be sure to check out:
Great Big Sea
Spirit of the West