Saint Patrick’s Day weekend is the liveliest time of year in Dublin. This year, it coincides with Easter and the centenary of the 1916 Rising so the city is in extended carnival mode. It’s a good moment for the Mariannes to release their new single, ‘The Black Diary Waltz’, inspired by the trial and execution of Roger Casement.
The Workman’s Club is set up cabaret style with tables and chairs at the front of the stage to facilitate the older members of the audience. The six members of the group fill a stage which offers little room to move at the best of times. Lisa Loughrey opens proceedings with a tin whistle lead melody and her Mary Coughlan influenced voice.
The bands modern take on traditional music combines mandolin, keyboards, guitar, bass and drums. There are beautiful harmonies amid the rock structures of ‘I Still Remember’ while drummer Nathan Maher provides counter melodies to Loughrey’s lilting tones. The band are looking every inch the trendy folkies with plaid shirts and beards as they swap instruments for ‘Maybe Here’ and Jack Cassidy sits at the glockenspiel.
Loughrey puts on a guitar and sings the next song plaintively to slow strummed chords before the rest of the band kick in and the song changes tack unexpectedly. She notes in surprise that “The place is jammers” and the packed house shout encouragement. Indeed there are so many people that they are sitting on the floor between the tables.
Next song, ‘Ache in my heart’, has banjo and slide guitar giving it an Irish-American feel and the densely populated stage gets more crowded when Mongoose’s Muireann Ní Cheannabháin joins the band on cello for the performance of the new single. Cassidy switches to melodica as Loughrey mournfully intones “The battle was lost before the judgment was passed”.
There is more swapping of places for ’Thirty Years a Maid’. Ní Cheannabháin and Loughrey are joined by Handsome Handsome’s Niall Murray for a mournful sean-nós style eulogy to a hard life. The three sing with eyes closed to a reverential silence in an otherwise noisy room with only some reverb for accompaniment.
Loughrey tells the origin stories of many of the songs before performing them. As she is telling the story of the haunting of Saint Audeon’s, about how a catholic girl fell for a protestant boy, it elicits a gasp of mock horror from the audience followed by gales of laughter. After so many years, sectarianism is now treated with the ridiculous response it deserves. The Mariannes finish with a flourish, ‘The Ballad of Darkey Kelly’, a song about Ireland’s best known female serial killer. “And she's with us tonight!”
For a band who are yet to record an album to play well over an hour of original material is impressive in itself. They encore with ‘Lost with All Hands’ and ‘God Fearing Woman’ before exiting to a standing ovation. Granted, most of us were standing already but nevertheless…
Watching the Mariannes is like reading a book. A gothic fantasy that builds an immersive world in which to lose yourself. It's lump in the throat stuff. It ain't cheery but it's moving in such a way that you don't want it to end.
It's not all murder ballads, hauntings and doomed love.
But it mostly is.