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A Tribute To David McWilliams
David McWilliams is best remembered for his worldwide hit "Days of Pearly Spencer," latterly a hit for Marc Almond and more recently released by Brian Houston, whose version features on this album. McWilliams' story has been a revelation to me, indeed various revelations. The first revelation was that someone from my hometown had been on the front cover of the NME just weeks after The Beatles graced it with Sgt Pepper. The second revelation is that no one felt it important enough to tell a music fan like me until I was in my forties.
There are two more revelations in this independently released Tribute album. The first one is the quality of David McWilliams as songwriter. In the contemporary setting, these songs get a chance to breathe from underneath the psychedelic strings of their sixties production. In doing so they are given a vitality younger than their history. "God and My Country" was McWilliams' first single, and here covered by his daughter Meghan, it is as prophetically relevant about the Iraq War as it maybe ever was about Vietnam. "5 O'clock Flamingo Street," with its Knopfler-esque guitar swagger, opens his soft spot for the marginalized and his acute social observation. There is nothing silly or throw-away about his crafted literary love songs, like "Letter To My Love," "Harlem Lady," and "For Josephine." The poetic imagery is vivid throughout as in the mystical "Can I Get There By Candlelight" and pastoral "Early Hours of the Morning. "The last revelation is the plethora of artists from in and around McWilliams' County Antrim homes; his upbringing in Ballymena and his last years in Ballycastle.
Yes, Brian Houston, Henry McCullough and Tommy Sands will be known a little further abroad and are an indication of the artistic ambition, but the performances of Ursula Burns, Bob Speers, Richard Gilpin, Dawn Alexander and two McWilliams's daughters Meghan and Hannah, among all the rest, suggest that record companies could set up an office in Ballymena town centre. Now that is a revelation!
Tribute albums tend to be hit and miss, and they get even more precarious
when put together by an Appreciation Society, but this one works perfectly
with young artists starting out sitting alongside veterans of the industry.
For anyone interested in great songwriters in general or David McWilliams
in particular, this is an excellent acquisition with 22 tracks and a stunning
booklet of information and pictures of interest to the local and international
Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast,
Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has written two
books Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 which he is currently updating
and The Rock Cries Out; Discovering Eternal Truth in Unlikely Music. He
dabbles in poetry and songwriting and he has a weekly radio show on BBC
Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day or night @ www.bbc.co.uk/ni/religion/rhythmandsoul).
He has his own web page--Rhythms of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org
. He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin