The Wee Wee Man
An inventive mixture of poetry and song in the Ulster-Scots Irish tradition
Like many people in Northern Ireland, the first I heard of Randall Stephen Hall was on the Gerry Anderson Show on Radio Ulster. Anderson rightly recognised Hall as an accomplished and talented musician, poet and artist, someone with a unique and distinctive voice deserving of a wider audience.
The few Hall tracks I heard piqued my interest, primarily because of the self-deprecating humour that runs through his songs and poems. Hall clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously, and whilst there are important themes covered in his latest album, The Wee Wee Man, such as identity and sense of place, the songs and poems raise more than a few chuckles too.
A self-funded and produced album, which was recorded in Hall's 'moon shed' (a work room at the top of his house), The Wee Wee Man is an assured and competent album of songs and poems rooted in the Ulster-Scots tradition.
The cover art, also designed by Hall, is beautifully produced, but the first detail of note, and perhaps the most important, is the strap line printed on the front cover that reads: 'In the finest tradition of Ulster Scots Irish.'
By putting this on the front of the album, Hall wisely sidesteps any questions of 'Is it a language? Is it a dialect?' He acknowledges that there is an important distinction to be made between cultures, but recognises the shared heritage and tradition of the Northern Irish people.
What Hall is doing, in my view, is asking people to look beyond the obvious and politicised traditions by arguing that we are a mix of the old and new. We are of a mongrel bloodline: a hotchpotch of Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English, to name a few of the obvious strands of DNA flowing here in Northern Ireland. As Hall states in the musical poem 'The Lang Staine':
'So culture vultures listen. Listen long and hard. Ulster Scots a hybrid. Nae dull aul lump of lard. A shiny shiny dappled thing. A mongrel through and through.'
It would be futile to draw any comparisons to previous prominent works within the Ulster-Scots tradition. The Wee Wee Man isn’t about a lonely man walking the B roads of Northern Ireland trying not to sink up to his oxsters in shucks whilst battering a lambeg drum. It is an Ulster-Scots Irishman’s view of modern Northern Ireland, written with tongue firmly in cheek from his artistic base in Larne.
The mix of spoken word and song at first jars, but with repeated listening the form becomes familiar. Hall has been writing poetry since his days at the University of Ulster's Art College in Belfast, so it’s safe to assume that there are a lot more original compositions to be heard in the future.
My favourite song in this collection is 'Reiver and the Gael', which informs us of what went before the Plantation of Ulster. With its melodic mandolin and catchy chorus, it's a great song, and one that will appeal to listeners young and old. The eponymous 'The Wee Wee Man' is an infectious song, as is 'Star Child'.
Hall's humour, however, is no more evident in the songs ‘Biscuits’ and ‘Get Yer Pig On’. 'Biscuits' starts with a woman's voice beseeching someone (Hall?) to get out of his scratcher and get his keks on - as unlikely a start to a song as you're ever likely to hear.
Asking for 'One and half and a pig to Ballycastle', complete with snorts and the sound of the bus's engine, sets the tone for 'Get Yer Pig On', and is another example of Hall's sense of fun and the ridiculous. The song is overlaid with idle conversations on an imaginary bus ride, and finishes with the driver, somewhat strangely, commenting on the pig and how it reminds him of his wife's cousin!
The Wee Wee Man is a welcome addition to the Ulster-Scots musical lexicon, and an album that will make you smile, hum and sing along to every word. And if it doesn't sound like your kind of thing, consider the line from Hall's poem 'Rebellion': 'The biggest rebellion is when you change your own mind, for you will never ever be the same again.'
For more information, or to purchase a copy of The Wee Wee Man, log on to Hall's website here.