To the uninitiated, Ulster-Scots hillbilly gospel music might seem like an unusual amalgam. But for generations these three elements have been blended in the hearts, souls and voices of the Ulster-Scots people. And with the continued reawakening of Ulster-Scots culture comes the Low Country Boys.
The Boys (Gibson Young – 5 string banjo and vocals, Graeme Thompson – guitar and vocals, Ivan McFerran – bass and vocals and Mark Thompson – mandolin, dulcimer and vocals) have known each other since they were children. Like their parents and grandparents before them they grew up working the small coastal farms and attending the little gospel halls and mission halls of the Ards Peninsula. The Peninsula was the location of the first Scottish settlement in Ireland – the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement of May 1606 – and it retains its distinctive Ulster-Scots character to this day. The Boys are immersed in Ulster-Scots culture and language and plain, acapella sacred music. And as Hank Williams once said
“…to sing like a hillbilly, you need to have smelled a lot of manure…” – so these four boys are well qualified!
They’ve been singing and playing together for many years under various guises and have been performing as the Low Country Boys since February 2002 – as their debut cd booklet says
“…mony’s a lang nicht wi tha fower o us rinnin aboot tha countryside fae Kilkeel tae Omagh tae Bushmills an back hame again, daein wor wee bit…”. They play around 50 times a year, dividing their live performances almost equally between church performances and cultural events right across Northern Ireland
2002 - 2005
They first hooked up with their great friends the Ulster-Scots Folk Orchestra in November 2002 to do the first of what have now become regular joint concerts, leading to the Boys recording the track
“Gran Time Comin” on the USFO’s cd
“Bringin it Thegither” in October 2003.
The Boys were really thrust into the limelight when they played as part of the BBC Northern Ireland
Burns Night television broadcast in January 2004. From that they were inundated with invitations to play all over Ulster and an overwhelming demand that they should release a CD. The 18 track
“Gran Time Comin” was released in March 2005 and the first pressing sold out in 6 weeks to glowing reviews. (It is currently in its fourth pressing).
Live radio appearances and much airplay followed, with enquiries coming in from all over the country. Their acapella performance of
“Did Christ O’er Sinners Weep” was chosen to appear on a double cd showcasing the best of Northern Ireland’s Folk Roots and Traditional Music, released by the Northern Ireland Music Commission in October 2005.
2006 brought some more big opportunities – television appearances on the
“Danner With Drennan” BBC Northern Ireland tv series presented by renowned Ulster-Scots musician Willie Drennan, performances at the Belfast Maritime Festival, and two trips to Scotland – first to play with a bill of international artists at the Fraserburgh Gospel Music Convention in May, and then in July to Moniaive Gala Week – which led to an autumn recording session and the November 2006 release of their second CD
“Sangs O Bairns an Hame – Volume One” (a combination of old hymns and almost-forgotten Sunday School songs) with the first pressing selling out in the Christmas rush.
This year sees the Boys playing their usual local circuit of church halls, community centres and Orange halls, with another trip to Scotland in May, and then off to the USA to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC in June/July. They plan to get back into the studio during the summer months to put the final touches to their third cd
“Sangs O Bairns an Hame – Volume Two”.
Low Country Boys
c/o 55 Ravenhill Lane
Ralph McClean, “McClean’s Country” Radio Ulster (April 2005)
“…Great local act the Low Country Boys… beautifully packaged I do have to say – really really nicely packaged, and all congratulations to them for that. A wonderful collection of songs and it’s got a real old-timey hillbilly gospel feel to it…”
George Jones, “Just Jones” Radio Ulster (April 2005)
“…gospel music the way it used to be sang in the good old times… it’s fantastic stuff…”Ronnie Morrison, “Gospel Time” Downtown Radio (April 2005)
“…brilliant - just listen to the harmonies…”
Liz Kennedy, Arts Correspondent, News Letter (April 2005)
“…New standards are being set for traditional music in Ulster… The Ulster-Scots Folk Orchestra continues its innovative musical trail with
My Aunt Jane and the Low Country Boys’ debut release is
Gran Time Comin. Both are groundbreakers… the Boys’ true devotion to their faith as well as their music shines through on
Gran Time Comin…”