Music

The Mary Wallopers on being anointed by The Pogues, their debut album and return to Belfast

Dundalk trad disruptors The Mary Wallopers return to Belfast tonight on the tour to celebrate their acclaimed debut album. David Roy quizzed head Walloper Charles Hendy about the anti-authority sentiment of their music, the decision to remain based in their borderland hometown and why they are now branching out into craft beer...

David Roy
Lock up your daughters, The Mary Wallopers are back in Belfast tonight

WHILE Dundalk tradsters The Mary Wallopers might be renowned for their lively, booze-soaked performances, it seems frontman Charles Hendy might not be as able for the craic as he once was, at least based on the last time the group were up in Belfast.

Back in August, Hendy spent the day on the lash with their friends Kneecap and was on-hand to witness the Belfast rappers' 'big reveal' of their headline-grabbing mural depicting a burning PSNI Land Rover.

"We were at the Hawthorn Bar doing the mural unveiling with them, which was great craic," recalls the singer and guitarist of these summertime shenanigans, which coincided with the as Gaeilge rap trio's sold-out show at Féile An Phobail.

"By the end of it I was actually that tired I wasn't able to go to their gig that night."

The Wallopers' career is currently taking off on the back of their acclaimed self-titled album: released back in October after much Covid-induced delay, it's a compelling collection of rousing, tuneful and often entertainingly raucous interpretations of traditional numbers, including recent singles Cod Liver Oil & The Orange Juice and Frost is All Over (which features Radie Peat from Lankum) and live favourites like Building Up and Tearing England Down, Lots of Little Soldiers, All For Me Grog and The Night The Gards Raided Oweny's.

The record has attracted rave reviews from critics and seen the group playing their biggest shows to date, including Dublin's National Stadium – so it would be a cruel irony indeed if their frontman's capacity for revelry has already peaked.

"Well, if that's the case, all I can say is 'thank God'," chuckles Hendy at the notion his messiest moments might now be behind him.

"I'm so glad to have made it this far."

The core of the group comprises Hendy and his younger brother, Andrew, alongside their mate Sean McKenna. Originally formed as a parallel project to the Hendy brothers' popular comedy rap project TPM, the Wallopers have now recruited extra firepower for live performances and are back in Belfast tonight for a sold-out engagement at The Mandela Hall.

 

The crowd have a lot to live up to, as the bandleader explains.

"The last time we were in Belfast for an actual gig was The Empire and that was fantastic," he enthuses, referring to the Wallopers' show that took place exactly one year ago.

"That was a mad gig, there was loads of crowd surfing and all. So we're delighted to get back to Belfast because it's as close for us as Dublin – and we much prefer Belfast."

The album and the band themselves have tapped into a zeitgeisty attitude of dissatisfaction and inclination towards dissent – something that's very much in keeping with the trad and folk tradition The Mary Wallopers are proud to be part of.

"People are fed up with a lot of things that they're forced to accept," offers Hendy of their appeal to listeners in Ireland and beyond (the current tour is taking them to England, Scotland, mainland Europe and America).

"So it's good. We gave them some class of bite back, you know what I mean? Like, like people need to be able to roar and shout about stuff, it's very important. One of the things is that we're not always incredibly serious, and I think it confuses people. We're fairly seriously political, but we can also have a laugh as well. That's important, because you can't have one without the other.

"We don't get people to come to our gigs so that we can preach to them. But if we can make their lives any better by complaining about stuff and also having a laugh, well, that's kind of the aim of it, you know. It's folk music – it encapsulates all emotions."

After turning down several record companies, The Mary Wallopers decided to just go ahead and release their hugely anticipated debut album themselves from their base in Dundalk.

 

The Mary Wallopers' debut LP is out now

 

"People say about New York, 'If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere', but I actually would argue that if you can make it in Dundalk you can certainly make it anywhere," explains Hendy, who cites maverick Dundalk noisemaker Jinx Lennon as his "biggest influence of all time".

"We got offers from different big record companies, but they were so insulting and suspicious that it made sense to put the album out on our own record label, BC Records. And we didn't even have a record label – now we do: because we have an album, we have a record label, too. So we're happy, we own it and it's ours.

"People move away from their home towns for many different reasons. But if you're moving away to become a success in the arts, and you're moving to Dublin, or London, or New York, I don't really see how that helps.

"People would say there's greater opportunities, but I totally disagree. I think it's just more saturated with people looking for it for the wrong reasons, you know – maybe fame or something like that.

"But I think, why doesn't Dundalk deserve our effort as much as anywhere else? We're living in a time where people are getting their art out there from their sitting rooms, their kitchens or even their bathrooms, you know? So there's no need to go to different places: you'll find that the places that you come from, they mould you and shape you. And they deserve your effort.

"If you feel your area does not have enough art and culture for you, why not make your own? Anyone can do it. Certainly, my worst nightmare is the thought of coming back to Dublin after every gig."

The reception to their debut has been tangible in terms of ticket sales, helping the band to build on the momentum the established through early live work, their 2019 debut EP A Mouthful of The Mary Wallopers and the success of their live streamed sessions from their home-built pub during the 2020 lockdowns.

 

"I suppose the interesting thing is that we were playing for so long, with no album," muses Hendy.

"But pretty much since the album was released, I've noticed that people are now singing along to all the songs we do live now, which is fantastic. That's an unbelievable thing to see. Just to see those songs getting out and being well known - you know, it feels almost like a duty to be putting them out there and making them more popular.

"I think we're all just so happy to have something tangible out there, that the reception to it is just a second part that I haven't really thought about that much, to be honest. I'm just glad people are listening."

However, Hendy admits that there has been one bit of praise which definitely has given them pause for thought:

"The other day, The Pogues put up a tweet about us," he tells me of how the band have now been officially anointed by the pioneers of punk rock-informed Irish folk devilment.

"They said, 'If you have a Pogues shaped hole missing in your life this Christmas, go down to The Mary Wallopers tonight at The Electric Ballroom in Camden'. So we got a shout out and a recommendation from The Pogues. That's amazing, a serious highlight."

Getting back to the subject of tonight's Belfast show, it seems that punters at the Mandela Hall will be among the first to sample The Mary Wallopers' very own Christmas gift to their fans.

"We have our own stout and we've only a limited amount of it – 500 numbered bottles in total, and they're going to only be available at the gigs," reveals Hendy.

"It's a lovely Christmas Pudding type stout that the Brehon Brewhouse did for us. At the moment, they've no labels, so later today I'm supposed to be gruellingly putting them all on by hand."

More power to his elbow.

:: The Mary Wallopers, tonight, Mandela Hall, Belfast, sold out. The Mary Wallopers is out now, available via marywallopers.com

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