Music - Billow Wood - You Guys Have Nailed it!
Billow Wood are a multi - instrumental traditional Irish pop group from a wee town called Ballina in county Mayo Ireland. The young outfit comprises of Mark, Ciara, Harry and Bríd and seeing I was the drummer chosen to perform with them at a home coming concert, it was only right that I listen to their back catalogue in order to get a better feel and sense for what it is that they do, plus…it looks professional from my standpoint.
So, with roughly 18 songs for me to learn, I got to work one afternoon with the hope of charting out most of the music by that evening. However, that wasn’t the case as my mind quickly strayed from the task at hand as I became transfixed by the musical prowess that was pouring out of these four individuals. Not for the faint hearted by any means, this was musicality I myself hadn’t heard in quiet a while - if ever even. Musicality of a ferociously high standard, fit enough to be ranked up there with the best of them. Seriously. Music that was carefully refined. Polished. Dextrous and creative. In a word - Inspirational. The fluidity of this well oiled machine took me altogether by surprise and I’m not sure why. So I sat back and listened some more. And truth be told folks, things only got better.
“The Mountain Song” starts off with Harry belting out an uptempo sequence of chords on an open tuned acoustic. His playing has a rich tonal warmth about it as well as having the rhythmic certainty of a seasoned percussionist. His playing style is physically strong and full of unwavering conviction. Savage. Harry is (in my opinion) the main driving force behind “The Mountain Song” for he effortlessly carries the music forward like a spinning wheel thus providing the group with a solid platform so they may plant down their vocals and their melodies. And my goodness, how well they do it. Every. Single. Time.
“Carry Me Home” is a much slower song that sees Bríd take centre stage as she dominates the lead vocal in this haunting rendition. The track is texturally dark and ominous with heavy emphasis on the backbeat, not to mention the superb yet eerie accompaniment she gets from Mark, Ciara and Harry and because of this, the piece, as it sludges along, will make the hairs stand up straight on your head. The song also showcases the band’s stunning ability in the field of four part harmony. Each member sings as if wounded in some way and clinging to the words there is this beautiful sense of helpless angst - a longing if you like - which only adds to the haunting quality of it. “Carry Me Home” is a fine achievement.
“Two Doves” is a pulsating narrative that brings you on an emotional journey from start to finish. It tells the tale of a love between two people - or Doves - that has sadly fallen apart over the course of time. Ciara takes the limelight here with a heartfelt and moving performance, singing with unmissable care and subtlety as she plays the part of a lost (yet hopeful) dove with gorgeous empathy and tenderness. You sense the pain and regret in her voice as it waves throughout the piece, and as it plays out, we really get an understanding of what she is vocally capable of as she seems to transcend her emotional suffering by slaying an almost operatic solo over the backing vocals, demonstrating to us her vast vocal range and acute knowledge of technique. A powerful original track.
And seeing as we are at that time of year again folks it’s only right that I finish by acknowledging Billow Wood’s version of the Christmas classic “Carol Of The Bells”. I have to say it - this song COMPLETELY blew me away. On this track, as with all Billow Wood tracks, we hear Mark, Ciara, Harry and Bríd further excel on their instruments both vocal and melodic. The piece starts with the rumbling of chords and sparse vocals from each member in free time. Mark’s plucking on the fiddle adds wonderful drama and tension to the piece as he establishes that waltz feel the song is famously known for. Then, just when you thought Billow Wood couldn’t get any better, they go and get a choir to sing along side them for the duration. I have to say that the first time I heard this, I was simply lost for words. The pitch perfect power all these voices had as they tore holes in my speakers was like listening to something that was from other world. “These are not people” I thought to myself. These are foreign creatures of a divine nature. I was certain of it. The attention to detail in this piece is phenomenal. The different time signatures within the choir are carefully thought out - always syncing up with everything else the piece has to offer at just the right time. It is beyond satisfying. Mark’s fiddle playing really stood out for me in this one. He really attacks the instrument. He’s violent with it but loves it all the same, tearing notes out of it with such musical ferocity there was a point as he played where I wasn’t sure whether he was putting music into the fiddle or taking music out of it. Wonderful. The tension continues to grow towards the end after the main groove is established. The choir gradually seems to multiply from the back as Mark, Ciara, Harry and Bríd drive it home from the depts of the trenches. And BANG - the song finishes. It’s out of nowhere. It’s quick, and all too abrupt. The choir voices fade off like diminishing echoes into the background and you are left buzzing because you know you’ve not just listened to a song, but rather fell victim to a remarkable experience.
They maintain that in order to do good artistic work you need to fulfil the there E’s (Entertain, Educate, Elevate) - Billow Wood….you guys have nailed it.