David Samuel McWilliams (4 July 1945- 8 January 2002) was a Northern Irish singer, songwriter, and guitarist, best known for his 1967 song Days Of Pearly Spencer. During his career he released several solo albums. The late David Bowie once named McWilliams as his favourite songwriter. David himself died of a heart attack at his home in Ballycastle, County Antrim, in 2002, at the age of 56. He was married twice and had eight children.
Until now I never went deeper into his musical catalogue. With the rerelease of Lord Offaly a little bit of the veil that hangs above this musician is revealed for me personally. This new, official release has been newly re-mastered from the original Dawn master tapes and includes a booklet with liner notes and fully restored album artwork.
Those who followed the music scene in the seventies do know that Pye Records had from 1970 to 1975 Dawn Records, it was set up largely as Pye's 'underground and progressive' label, a rival of the EMI and Phonogram equivalents, Harvest and Vertigo. In the early 1970s David McWilliams signed a contract with at that time, the newly established progressive label Dawn Records. David would record three albums for the label. His first, released in 1972, was Lord Offaly. On this album you can really hear why he was often compared to people such as Bob Dylan and Donovan. Just like them his compositions have a lot of folk influences as well, but are never too complex. The songs also are very narrative and have a story to tell. Again just like Dylan and Donovan did with their written songs.
The 24-bit digital transfer from the original Dawn Records master tapes is gorgeous. All that beautifully recorded acoustic instrumentation now shining like a sixpence dipped in Coke, as if layers of dirt are removed. This is a fabulous sounding remaster and fans of the record will be thrilled with it...just like myself.
My personal favourite is the beautiful instrumental Spanish Hope, which opens the more-overtly folky side 2 on the original album. It is a ballad where acoustic guitars strumming are soon joined by a wailing penny-whistle lament, as deeply Celtic as you can wish for! That same folk jaunt follows with Blind Men's Stepping Stones about the legend of Emon Lynott. The beautiful sound of a bouzouki can be heard at the opening of the epic title track. Lord Offaly is another undoubted highlight on this release. It has a very warm melody from McWilliams that chronicles the distrust of England's King Henry by locals in Ireland's Maynooth. From time to time the music brings you into the direction of acts such as Fairport Convention and Sandy Denny. The album ends on more history lessons in the plaintive and hurting The Prisoner and The Gypsy. McWilliams sings about tales of ordinary hungry folk paying the price for stealing bread and wine and thereafter transformed into rebels at the hands of their heartless landlords.
All of the ten songs appeared on the original album and written by McWilliams himself. So this time around no bonus tracks at all. Strangely enough the LP didn't chart in any country. McWilliams made two more platters for Dawn Records in the shape of The Beggar And The Priest in 1973 and Living's Just A State Of Mind in 1974. Hopefully Esoteric Recordings will have those obscurities also in their reissue sights.
Lord Offaly is a wonderful album if you are into the music made by singer-songwriters. The album is probably way too obscure for lovers of progressive rock and that maybe shouldn't be the case. Also for this release I can say have a try before you by! For me personally it has its fine moments even if I am normally more into progressive rock territories.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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