Martina Stafford – Goodnight Irene

• “Goodnight Irene” original music video, live from an abandoned church! Thanks to Colin O ‘ Donovan.

9.4 “Classic Folk from Ireland”

First published via YouTube in October 2011, then later included on the various artists compile “The Washboard Hour Volume 1” (no label) in October 2014.

Apparently Lead Belly had been tinkering with this song as far back as 1908. Alan Lomax was the first to capture any sort of rendition on tape – on July 16, 1933 at Louisiana State Penitentiary!

He would record “Irene” many times in the 30s and 40s – although never a commercial success in his lifetime, the song seems to have developed a life of its own in the several decades which have followed – Second Hand Songs lists almost 100 versions. Heck, Martina isn’t even the first Stafford to have a go – that honours falls to Jo!

Over the years, Huddie’s love problems and suicidal fantasies in the song seem to have been translated as being ideal for a pint-in-hand pub-sing-a-long vibe; it’s even been turned into a football chant at Bristol Rovers. What’s all that about?

I can’t claim to have heard all 100 of these cover versions – but I doubt very much that I’ll ever hear a version so pure and true. Her intense reading is simply sublime, with immaculate phrasing very much in the spirit of the lyrics as originally penned.

On the strength of her renditions of “Goodnight Irene” and “St. James Infirmary” I reckon Martina could deliver a knock-out solo album. From there, she’d be just one Jools Holland appearance away from stardom.

Surprisingly though, Martina is not noted as a solo performer; since this was recorded in 2011, she’s been the front for the Cork-based blues-swing quartet, Boxcar Bertha, a group who seem to keep themselves very busy in the local scene.

A real hidden gem.


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