SJ McArdle is songwriter and musician from Drogheda, Ireland, known for his previous work in award-winning Irish folk band Kern and his career as a singer-songwriter in Nashville and Germany, which produced 2014’s critically-acclaimed Blood and Bones album. SJ is also one third of Long Woman’s Grave, featuring Nuala Kennedy and Trevor Hutchinson. SJ’s songs and performances have been featured in radio, film and television and he has toured and recorded extensively in Ireland, Europe and North America, gathering a loyal following and critical accolades along the way.
When SJ was appointed Artist in Association at Droichead Arts Centre it gave him the opportunity to realise an idea he had been turning over in his head and heart for years: a song-cycle based around Drogheda Port. The Port has been at the epicentre of life in the town of Drogheda for a millennium and more, providing culture and communication and food and escape and employment. It is tied to everything in the town and has played a role in every part of its history. But a port, by its nature, is also a link to other places, and to adventure and peril on the high seas. And of course the land-based stories of the port are just as rich, almost a converse of the stories of life at sea.
A year-long period of research and writing led initially to the conception of the live show. Producer Trevor Hutchinson and SJ then effectively started again from scratch, picking nine songs from the show and stripping them down completely to be reimagined for the album.
All the songs smell of the sea, laced with everything life of a sailor brings - loneliness, hope, heartache, nostalgia, sadness. The Porcupine is known to the fans of Kern. McArdle's distinctive vocal shines through, in this case joined by Carol Keogh who adds the gentle female element, the right dose of love to the story. These stories aren't sentimental, they're raw, evocative, observing life as it is, with its ups and downs.
Fanny Clark is a standout track on this collection, with its upbeat rhytm, engaging lyrics and both vocalists joining forces, it all the ingredients. However, the songs flow smoothly like water in the sea, moving from one song to another so it's not an easy task to highlight one track.
The album was named RTÉ Radio 1 Album of the Week, it became Album of the Month of August on Mike Hacknett's International Folk'n'Trad Show. In July, it became Album of the Month on The Songwriters Show presented by Tommy Keyes on Downda Road Radio.