ALBUM REVIEW: ShamRocks- ‘Captain’s Log’ (2016)

The founding fathers of Ukraine’s celtic punk movement and the originators of ‘Stout Rock’. A blend of Irish, Scottish, Breton and Finnish folk with a variety of rock and metal styles.

shamrocks-lp

ShamRocks formed in 2009 in Kiev in the Ukraine. With a mutual love of traditional Irish and Scottish music, Finnish polkas, ancient sea shanties and good old fashioned punk rock and metal they set about introducing the people of Ukraine to some out of this world modern adaptations of classic folk songs. Combining traditional melodies played on the violin, mandolin, flute, and accordion with head-banging riffs that are both heavy and danceable at the same time. Their debut album Captain’s Log is a collection of the best of ShamRocks songs since they were formed from their first demo to their last studio sessions. The tracks have been professionally mixed and re-mastered to successfully recreate a ‘crowded pub’ feel.

Captain’s Log kicks off with ‘The Blood Of Cuchulainn’ and will be instantly recognisable to many of you as the theme tune to the 1999 Irish-American movie The Boondock Saints. The film features several celtic-punk numbers and has become a must see of the celtic-punk scene. Written by brothers Jeff and Mychael Danna it also featured in one of the battle scenes from Braveheart and is a rousing spirited instrumental and a fantastic way to start proceedings. Though the original includes bagpipes the ShamRocks version doesn’t distract by playing it with fiddle instead. Chugging guitars and accordion ensure we slip nicely into ‘Leaving Of Liverpool’. A classic of Irish (and British) folk music. Perhaps overdone a little but I’m sure not so much for a Ukrainian audience. The song starts and is unrecognisable before finally exposing itself. Top marks to the boys for recording trying something different here with a ska beat and trumpets and all sorts going on with all the time the song bursting in and out of celtic-punk and even Dub! Collected by Richard Maitland, who learnt it on board The General Knox around 1885. The lads next give a straight up, heads down version of the Dropkick Murphys ‘I’m Shipping Up To Boston’. Without that bagpipe player ShamRocks have to try something a little different and again they manage to pull it off easily. A really good version though to be perfectly honest I’m yet to hear a bad one! Instrumental ‘Kaalifornipolkka’ is an absolute corker of a song. The chugging guitars are back, the accordion is pushed to the fore and the band gang vocals it with “Hey” every now and then. Celtic-punk pure and simple! We’ve another Irish folk standard next and if any Irish song was designed for smashing a beer glass on and off a table to then it is ‘The Wild Rover’. Not a song you hear too much in celtic-punk circles but its up there in the Top five Irish songs of all time. Again it’s not just a cover and ShamRocks throw plenty of their own selves into it with a lovely accordion tune in here. ‘Lord Of The Dance’ is funnily enough a is a hymn with words written by the English songwriter Sydney Carter in 1963. We use to sing this at school when I was a child and to be honest we loved it as it made a change from some of the more stuffy old hymns that would bore the pants off you. Later it became a football chant with a few line changes for Chelsea! With growling death metal like vocals ShamRocks play with it and when it come’s to cover versions they never take the simple route.

“I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black;
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back.
They buried my body and they thought I’d gone;
But I am the dance, and I still go on”
The old sea shanty ‘Bully in the Alley’ follows and its fast paced with a really cool ska beat to a song you’ve heard before but never like this. Thought to be of Caribbean origin when first heard in the West Indies but the legendary Cecil Sharp also found a version in Somerset. The meaning of the words is as mysterious as its origins with ‘Bob’ thought to mean ‘God’ as in ‘God help me’ and ‘Bully’ to mean ‘drunk’.

We have a couple of Irish standards up next and if you have learnt anything from my review so far its that they are not the standards that your Nannie use to play when you were a nipper. ‘Molly Malone’ is up first and is as close to the original as any on here but still without enough of a ShamRocks stamp to carve it out as their own. The real highlight of the album is, without a doubt, their version of ‘The Rising Of The Moon’. Written by John Keegan Casey, the ‘Fenian Poet’, and first published in 1866 he based the poem on a battle between the United Irishmen and the British Army during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 in County Longford. ShamRocks have real fun here mixing the Sex Pistols song Anarchy In The UK into the mix and while it may upset some folk music snobs I thought it was absolutely fecking brilliant!

Captain’s Log comes to an end with the Jem Finer/Shane MacGowan penned ‘Wild Unicorns of Kilkenny’ otherwise known as ‘Wild Cats of Kilkenny’ which featured on The Pogues classic second album Rum,Sodomy & The Lash. Again the Bhoys do an outstanding job of giving us just enough of the original with an equal amount of themselves as well. An amazing song that was ShamRocks contribution to the Tribute To The Pogues double-album that came out earlier in the year and is till available as a free download here. Well it’s not really the end as their is a hilarious cover hidden at the end. I won’t say what it is but it will have the folk purists recoiling!
shamrocks-band

ShamRocks from left to right: (sitting) Alexey Sletkov- Drums * Serge Vdovychenko- Bass/ Lead Vocals * Sergiy Khudoliy- Accordion. (standing) Anatoliy Khomenko- Violin/ Mandolin * Andrew Yakovenko- Guitars

As I already said there is plenty here to upset the folk purists (or snobs as I prefer to call them) but these people would like to keep the folk music of our people locked up in a box. Put away and kept out of the hands of people who (in their opinion) don’t respect or cherish them as much as they do. Their way is noble yes but is also a surefire way to kill off folk music. They attacked the Dubliners and then The Pogues in their time and now fawn longingly over the bands they once called sacrilegious. ShamRocks have taken a bunch of songs and added so much more to them than by simply folking it along. That they are Ukrainian adds another dimension to them. An absolutely stunning album with the only tiny criticism I may have is that their’s not enough ShamRocks own self-penned songs and to that end they have already began work on a EP that may or may not develop into a LP and I for one can’t wait to hear it!
(you can listen to Captain’s Log for free by pressing Play on the Bandcamp player below)

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