Noise Annoys: Arborist man Mark McCambridge on new Sea Songs LP

Arborist man Mark McCambridge has just released Sea Songs: Anatomy of a Drowning Man under the moniker M.Cambridge. Noise Annoys quizzed the Ballymena-born songwriter about this compelling album of 'traditional and original sea songs and interpretations of 19th century sea shanties'

 Mark McCambridge AKA Arborist AKA M.Cambridge

HOW did Sea Songs: Anatomy of a Drowning Man come about?

I've always had a keen interest in acapella song from old English folk music, the Alan Lomax recordings in the US and sean nossingers on these shores and had begun recording loose tracks at home over time. About 18 months ago I put a half-baked idea to record an album of acapella sea songs and shanties to the good people at Help Musicians UK/NI who thankfully were willing to help make it happen. The new Arborist record had been delayed so I saw it as a welcome focus and outlet for my music.

Where and with whom was the album recorded?

I wanted to take myself into the right headspace to record this and had the good fortune of being allowed access to The Curfew Tower in Cushendall with the view and sound of the sea.

It was built by an English sailor called Francis Turnley (1817) who is mentioned on the album and it is currently owned by Bill Drummond who claims it is haunted by the ghost of Elvis. The album is not quite in the spirit of the great man but we did have a late night visitation on our final evening there.

Additional recordings were done in the landlocked, buy equally unique, surroundings of Amberville Studios in Cullybackey with fantastic musicians; Laura McFadden (cello), Niamh Dunne (violin), Sean Og Graham (accordion), Mark McCausland (guitar) and Ben McAuley (percussion).

Do you have a favourite song from the record?

My Sailor Boy – which is based on an old Ulster weaver poet poem by James McKowen (1814 to 1889) – was the song that changed the direction of things and began the evolution into what the album eventually became. The poem itself is stunning in its taut and pithy language and I can only hope I did it justice in bringing it into the musical realm.

Elsewhere,The Fisherman's Wife by Ewan MacColl involved arranging and putting my own stamp on an existing song and which was something relatively new to me, but liberating, something I've begun to revisit since for future ventures.

You've also made the documentary A Musician at Sea to accompany Sea Songs, was that always part of the plan and did you enjoy the film-making process?

The documentary itself was always part of the overall project, however, the scope and direction of it changed significantly from the original idea. Having a cameraman follow a lowly musician around while he forages for old songs, tries to hone his craft and hauls a lot of equipment about soon opened-up a new arc in the story which became partly about what it is to be a musician trying to carve-out a career in this day and age but against the backdrop of trying to preserve a dying craft in sea shanties.

Sam O'Mahony, the director, was a driving force in getting the project over the line with his ideas and enthusiasm against my scepticism of having a camera frequently pointed in my face.

Why did you release the album under the M.Cambridge name rather than Arborist?

The second Arborist album has been ready to go for some time but has been delayed by the uglier side of the music business, so this project never fitted into that production line.

I saw it as a relief to record and release music without a grand plan or a large number of people involved and the pressures that come with that. Sometimes you can forget why you do this so it was nice to be reminded and get the fulfilment that creating music should bring.

Have you been/will you be performing these songs live?

I played the wonderful St Joseph's Church in Sailortown in Belfast as part of the City's Maritime Festival a few months back. The venue is in the process of raising funds for refurbishment and would be a fantastic resource for the arts in Belfast in an oft forgotten area of the city.

I would love to get the musicians I played with there out on the road with these songs soon.

The moniker M.Cambridge and the songs that come with that is something I plan to return to in the near future, perhaps after the next Arborist record of which people will hear from very, very soon.

Finally, you are shipwrecked on a desert island: please choose a book, film and record to help keep you entertained until rescued.

I think the approach has to be longevity, who knows how long I will be stranded here. Fittingly, I think I'd have to take Stan Hugill's weighty tome and bible of the form Shanties of the Seven Seas, should be enough there to keep me going for a few years.

For music, I may be pushing the boundaries of format here but give me Alan Lomax's entire archive to work through. Then, though not the obvious choice to complete this trinity, the Farrelly Brothers' Dumb and Dumber should keep the spirits up.

:: Sea Songs: Anatomy of a Drowning Man is available now via Arborist and Arco String Quartet will play Cleere's on August 15 during the Kilkenny Arts Festival, tickets €17 via Arborist (solo) supports Bleeding Heart Pigeons on August 22 at Duncairn Arts Centre in Belfast, tickets £8.50 via Visit

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 to get full access


Today's horoscope


See a different horoscope: