ALBUM REVIEW: SONS OF O’FLAHERTY- ‘The Road Not Taken’ (2017)

Who are Sons Of O’Flaherty? Six good friends who grew up in the Celtic nation of Brittany in love with punk rock, folk and traditional Celtic music.

Yec’hed Mad and see you soon !

Now the history of the celtic nations and their people and culture and their languages has never been a particularly happy one with each nation experiencing waves of repression ever since they were taken over and with none of them free this repression continues but out of adversity springs hope and what I love above all else is to hear a band out of the Celtic nations embrace celtic-punk as a way to promote their identity and culture. The Sons Of O’Flaherty hail from Vannes in the north-western tip of Brittany, an area where almost 10% of children are brought up in Breton speaking schooling so were definitely talking about that rare thing here. A Celtic celtic-punk band!!
Now the Celtic League, the main body incorporating all the Celtic nations, identifies only Brittany, Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Cornwall and Wales as being Celtic nations. What is left of the once mighty Celtic peoples who stretched from Ireland to Turkey and tied by language and culture and traditions. There are of large Celtic connections to all of Britain and present day France and parts of Belgium (the Gaulic tribes) and Spain (Galicia) but these are not considered to be “Celtic” by some. The Celtic League classifies only the 6 nations as countries where their native Celtic language is spoken into modern times. I’m not alone in thinking this a rather closed mind classification and anyone visiting Galicia for example is struck by how similar it is to the Celtic nations rather than Spain. Every Celtic nation has suffered war and plunder as well as suffering attempts to destroy their culture and languages. The British governments crimes in this regard are well documented but the French have also long tried to suppress any cultural and lingual distinctions of the Celtic Bretons. Like the other five nations this has led to massive emigration and Celtic Breton communities all over the world especially in Canada and America.
Now, like me, you may remember Asterix the Gaul and his band of merry men and their exploits fighting against the Roman invader. Originally as a comic and then a cartoon that featured on the TV all through my childhood and it was it is in the northwest tip of France, in Brittany, that the famous stories were set. Asterix and his tribe were Gauls taking on the ‘Latin’ invaders who had spread across a large part of western Europe, establishing their towns and villas and changing for ever the history of Europe. Pushed westward it was only in the furthest northwestern extremity of France that the ancient Gauls, with their Celtic language and culture, managed to survive; and they have done so to this day, leaving Brittany – the land of the Bretons – as the largest outstanding stronghold of Celtic heritage on the continent of Europe. The Breton people are proud of their identity, and many think of themselves as Bretons not French. Throughout Brittany, small festivals and other events strongly stress the region’s distinct Celtic heritage and cultural identity. The most important event in the annual calendar is however the massive annual InterCeltique festival. Taking place every year in early August, in the port of Lorient. Founded in 1971 it has now become one of the biggest festivals in Brittany and France with well over 600,000 visitors attending each year.
The flag of the Bretons may be a modern design but is now recognized and accepted as a representation of the Breton folk. The nine horizontal stripes represent the traditional dioceses of Brittany. The five black stripes indicate the French speaking areas, while the four white stripes represent the Breton speaking regions. The flag has a canton in the upper left corner, indicating an ancient Breton coat of arms. Speaking and teaching Breton was prohibited til 1951 but ever since the French government have tried to chip away at the Celtic speaking inhabitants. 
Successive French governments, left and right, have consistently refused to sign the European Charter of Minority Languages and to recognize the linguistic rights of the Bretons. Despite the large amount of speakers and the interest in learning the language there are little to none radio and television broadcasts. The use of the Breton language in legal and commercial documents, as well as in publicity, is against French law and are therefore illegal. It remarkable then that the language has survived to the extant that it has and has been expanding for over a decade with more and more young people taking it up and Breton nurseries and children’s schools opening up across the region.

Alan Stivell

In the world of celtic-rock Breton music has played a major role with the Breton cultural revival of the 1960’s exemplified by Alan Stivell who became the leading proponent of the Breton harp and other instruments from about 1960, he also adopted elements of Irish, Welsh and Scottish traditional music in an attempt to create pan-Celtic folk music. This had considerable impact elsewhere, particularly in Wales and Cornwall. From 1972 he began to play electric folk with a band including guitarists Dan Ar Braz and Gabriel Yacoub. Yacoub went on to form Malicorne in 1974 one of the most successful electric folk band in France. After an extensive career that included a stint playing as part of Fairport Convention in 1976, Ar Braz formed the pan-Celtic band Heritage Des Celts, who managed to achieve mainstream success in France in the 1990s. Probably the best known and most certainly the most enduring electric folk band in France were Tri Yann formed in 1971 and still recording and performing today. As is often the case the Breton’s have embraced the celtic-punk revolution with open arms and bands like Les Ramoneurs De Menhirs, The Maggie Whackers and Sons Of O’Flaherty use their Celtic heritage to push for more civil rights and recognition for their language. The Breton’s have often looked to the Irish for influence when organising resistance to this oppression with several armed groups going back to the 1930’s with Gwenn Ha Du (Breton for “white and black”) to the Breton Liberation Front (Talbenn Dieubiñ Breizh) which was active in the 1960’s up to the 1990’s which in turn led to the militant Breton Revolutionary Army (Armée Révolutionnaire Bretonne, ARBwhich is still active to this day. The ARB, unlike its counterparts in Corsica with the (FLNC) and the Basque country (ETA) does not seek to hurt any individuals but instead to cause economic damage. Support for the ARB may be smaller than at it’s hayday in the 70’s when it attracted thousands to its demonstrations but its non-lethal attacks and policies still attract widespread tolerance and a certain level of support.
Sons Of O’Flaherty debut record was a self-titled five track EP released back in 2010. Clearly influenced by trad Irish ballad groups like The Wolfe Tones and that is reflected in the choice of songs with two Irish folk covers and a song titled ‘Bobby’ about legendary Irish hero and rebel Bobby Sands. It has since been made available as a Free/Name Your Price download so follow the link below.

Though not a ‘proper’ release they also gathered a few random tracks and released them as a 3 track EP titled Misc Songs last year and have also made them free to download.

The Road Not Taken was released at the end of last month and from the first couple of bars you know you are in for a good time here! I don’t know how much content their is of Breton music here as the Bhoys sound soooo fecking Irish they could be from Ballylooby! From the first song onwards I am simply astounded (and extremely, extremely jealous) at the quality of the lyrics here. ‘Dead And Gone’ opens the album and is a fast and furious pipes’n’punk tune about the day we die and then party/wake we want in our honour that name checks “the sweet hoarse voice of” Mike Ness, the Dropkicks and Sick Of It All.
“Have one last drink, one last laugh and maybe one last song
The last one for the road, the funeral’s upbeat
We’ll see you soon, we’ll miss you and please keep us a warm seat”
What a start. Ticking all the required boxes to get a great review after just one song the Sons Of O’Flaherty confirm it next with the Dubliners favoured ‘Sam Hall’. An old English folk song about a bitterly unrepentant criminal condemned to death. The song was known originally as ‘Jack Hall’ an infamous thief who was hanged in 1707 at Tyburn. Jack Hall’s parents sold him as a climbing boy for one guinea, which is why he is identified as a chimney sweep. The celtic-punk is flowing out and ‘The Lucky Ones’ tells about how lucky the Bhoys feel to be in a band and their determination to keep going.
“I don’t care how hard it will be, my songs I’ll always stammer out”
The harmonica is out for this and I always love hearing it. It may finally be finding its rightful place in the celtic-punk world judging by recent album’s I have heard.

We hit our first drinking song next with ‘Once Upon A Binge’, a straight forward punk rock tune garnished with mandolin and tin whistle while ‘Saint or Sinner’ tells of a bartender’s guilty conscience while the punk is turned up even louder with mandolin standing out proudest above the thrashing guitar.
“I don’t care what they think or say it’s death I’m selling”
The wonderful of pipes take the song out into ‘Red Wine Teeth’ and it’s more of the same. The Sons Of O’Flaherty could stand on their own feet as a punk band but the Celtic instruments add so much more. They are not just played over the top of the rock music but you the impression if anything it’s the other way round. 

Now any band who records ‘Fields Of Athenry’ in this day and age better be prepared to have it savaged unless they have managed to find a way to record it that takes it out of Irish ‘showband’ territory. They play a solid punk rock version with gang vocals and I always love to hear the “Let the free bird fly” add on. Gang chorus and the whole band having a go on vocals give the song a nice touch even though its pretty much influenced by the Dropkicks version.

The DKM’s influence pops up again on next song ‘The Better Claim’ with male/female vocals about the break up of a love affair that was never meant to be with some wickedly hilarious lines
“I met you, I loved you, you were all I hoped for
I gave you all I had, everything I had in store
I met you, I loved you, and your loss I’ll deplore
But things changed, now this can’t go on anymore”
that of course has the fella as the villain and rightly so in my experience! Rolling towards the end and ‘Glory Days’ starts off with a country vibe before the band rock out. A class song with the band playing magnificently here. Slow and epic sounding with a great chorus and clever and meaningful lyrics about a old mans life and what he has left to show for them. 
“I am now facing an old wrinkled man, his life has come and passed and his skin’s there to show
That even though his glory days might be far behind, there’s no regrets to have and no will to let go”

This is the album standout for me and though English may not be their first language, or even their second, by Christ you wouldn’t know that reading through their lyrics. Luckily for you they are included on the Bandcamp page so follow the link below and have a good read of them. ‘Love Me’ returns us to fast paced punk and then ‘The Townspeople’ brings the curtain down on an album with a gentle country folk number that is the perfect ending.

Those expecting a band from a Celtic nation to provide a purely folk album will be sorely disappointed here as Sons Of O’Flaherty are as equally influenced by Social Distortion as they are by Soldat Louis! Here is eleven songs with two covers lasting near forty minutes that keeps your interest up right until the very end. If we ever needed evidence that celtic-punk has begun to make inroads into celtic music we need look no further than Brittany and Sons Of O’Flaherty.

(have a listen to The Road Not Taken before you buy at the Bandcamp link below)

Buy The Road Not Taken

FromTheBand  iTunes

Contact The Sons Of O’Flaherty

WebSite  Facebook  Bandcamp  YouTube

You should also check out THE FOLK’N’PUNK BRIGADE which is a local celtic-punk collective similar to London Celtic Punks. A group of friends and musicians from French bands The Moorings and Saints and Sinners and Breton bands The Maggie Whackers and Sons Of O’Flaherty- Facebook

The Celtic League is an inter-Celtic political organisation, which campaigns for the political, language, cultural and social rights, affecting one or more of the Celtic nations- Facebook  WebSite

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