FATEA MAGAZINE UK | ALBUM REVIEW – Reassuringly optimistic and beautifully played, The 4 Of Us “Sugar Island”.
Sugar Island is the sixth CD to be released by the Irish Band, THE 4 OF US  led by Brendan and Declan Murphy. It is a rare event, the first one being released in 1989. the most recent in 2006. This one is more autobiographical than the others revealing the times the boys had growing up in a border town during “the troubles.” They would have been growing up there at a time when I would visit Northern Ireland and Eire on business. I well remember the checkpoints at and around the border and the sights and scenes that are reflected in the songs included in this CD. The first song “Bird’s Eye View,” describes the fear, trepidation and fun that the boys felt living in Newry at a time of conflict. “I’ve got a Birds eye view upon the hill tonight” explains how a young boy would naturally be tempted to watch events through his bedroom window. It might only be a string of lights but he can’t help but take a peep. “Going South” depicts the border crossing when heading south for a holiday. Vivid memories of armed soldiers in camouflage, the long lines of cars, the barriers at the border, the stale smoke and the general atmosphere of mistrust on their annual journey south The best bits were the enjoyment they had whilst there despite the tensions, the young boys were always looking forward to the vacation.
The troubles, whilst always being there did not stop normal life going on. The things that most people all over the world might see and regret passing. “‘73” Remembers things and people that were once beautiful The old lady on the bus turns out to be an ex beauty queen, his old car that won’t start, the piano in the front room, now only good enough to hold photographs, wishing things were as they were back in ’73, Yesterdays were gold, yet somehow not so far away. A nostalgic wishful song that has a nice melodic flow that takes the listener along with it.
Like kids do, they would congregate at their favourite spot, in this case “Sugar Island” where the old wharves were that received imported sugar from the Caribbean. Like all such focal points it saw times of delight and despair. The song bearing the name of that place remembers a lost love, a tearful farewell, at the favoured meeting point, wishing you could get back in touch, but you cannot or dare not. A sad reflective and regretful song, but not maudlin, the jolly music contrasting with the message within the lyrics.
Whilst the newspaper headlines screamed conflict, the toil of everyday life went on. The work, the job you are trapped in, the machine like track behind the song emphasises the daily grind and the occasional bump in the road, perhaps causing you to not have time for the goodbye kiss in the morning. Hence the track “The Little Things.”
Something more newsworthy was HMS Argenta which in the 1920’s was a prison ship used for the incarceration of Irish Republicans. In 1923 a total 542 men were held on the ship and in other land based prisons without trial culminating in a hunger strike in the winter of that year. “Argenta” describes the conditions aboard the ship, the cold, the wet, you can feel the shivers through the music. Being an optimist the singer promises that he will return – if he survives.
There are other tracks of note on this CD. “The River Flows” which I suspect takes us back to Sugar Island. Let’s go and watch the unchanging river flowing under the bridge. Catch this special moment before it’s gone. Childish delight in watching something which never changes and yet offers an opportunity to get close to someone else. You can hear the ripples of the water cascading over the rocks at the water’s edge.
The final track of this CD is the essence of the whole. “Hometown on the Border” remarks on children with guns, soldiers in the fields, whilst ordinary families tried to shield the youngsters from the reality of what was happening right in their town. The debris made sure that reality struck home. One line in the song illustrates the thinking in trying to drive away the conflict “The world of pretend was always a friend.”
I picked up the emotion of this CD totally. I made friends of customers on both sides of the divide, often going from one direct to the other and having a great sense of pity that the lovely people I met in a beautiful country were trapped in a conflict which seemed to have no end. This CD, whilst touching on that also proves that ordinary life went on too. I found it reassuringly optimistic and beautifully played. It will be treasured album in my collection for a long time. It was released in Ireland in 2016 and is due for issue in the rest of the UK on August 20th 2017
Tony Collins