Combining Gypsy rhythms and punk energy, ska grooves and folk storytelling, The Brandy Thieves have created a sound that is uniquely their own, a sound that has stolen the hearts of all of whom that have seen them perform. Stephen Francis Bourke was at the release party at the Soundhouse Leicester for London Celtic Punks.
Already renowned as one of the Midland’s best live acts, The Brandy Thieves gypsy rhythms and punk energy, ska grooves and folk storytelling create a sound that is uniquely their own. ‘Raucous’ ‘Infectious’ ‘Enthralling’ ‘Captivating’ and ‘Sweaty’ are just a few of the words that have been used to describe the alcohol stealing gypsy punks. Now they have taken a new direction, embracing grass roots Americana in the form of new EP ‘The Devil’s Wine’.
Chatting to the punters ahead of the EP, ‘The Devil’s Wine’ launch at the Soundhouse in Leicester it became clear that I was in for “a hellava good show!”. The Brandy Thieves have a varied local fan base from punks that are old enough to remember seeing The Clash at Granby Halls, now a car park for The Tigers Rugby ground, to ska fans who had been encapsulated by the Two Tone launch just up the M69, through to ex-ravers disillusioned by the commercialisation of the scene, bearded lovers of country folk and exuberant students.
In a week when the City had come together in grief following the tragic loss of the football club’s beloved chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha they needed something to celebrate, felt when Demarai Gray’s strike put the winner in for the club on Saturday, felt on this Friday night. In short, there was a lot of love in the room.
This was more than a gig. We had a magician compère, fortune telling, belly dancers and free shots of brandy. Having already appeared on Monday at a London Celtic Punks show TC Costello, self proclaimed punk folk accordion player and part time Brandy Thief entertained the crowd with his highly entertaining solo slot, The Splitters supported with their tight, edgy rock/ska sound with added sound effects, like the embodiment of Mick Jones’ mind somewhere between the Sandinista album and Big Audio Dynamite. They played their way right through a blown amp!
Then we had the main event.
The Brandy Thieves are a live band, first and foremost. They told me that when they write the songs Andrea and Cain bring the lyrics to the rehearsal and the arrangement is done by the whole group. The first album ‘Old Tattoos’ has that live feel, ‘ The Devil’s Wine’ demonstrates just how in tune with one another’s mood the Brandy Thieves must be.
So how does the collection of new songs fit in? – Well the lyrical themes of earlier songs continue. A folk lore devil is ever present, right down to the title of the EP. He’s a curse to the protagonists of the ballads and an ever present feeling that the ‘old one’ may well have the best tunes. ‘Down the River’ is a personal lament of battling demons inside. The track was an early taste of the forthcoming EP and works well as a bridge from the old ska/punk folk beats of the first album ‘Old Tattoos’ towards the new cooler sharper sound of ‘Devils Wine’ by providing a gospel blues feel with the more familiar reggae beats.
For the new EP marks the Brandy Thieves anew. Like they took the Chattanooga choo choo, picking the grapes and grain of Americana music on the way and distilling a spirit of their own into ‘The Devil’s Wine’.
Andrea’s vocals are just as powerful but smokier and melodic throughout. Listen to her scat on jazz blues inspired ‘Midnight Circus’ and all of their voices come through the intro of the EP, an untitled drinking song in the form of a spiritual for the 21st Century, reminding us, in Brandy Thieves style, of our own mortality.
Joe’s trumpet and Sebastion’s banjo have been let off the leash of the rhythm section to offer encapsulating melodies and freestyle solos. Hear the horn sing with TC Costello’s accordion on ‘Midnight Circus’and the hauntingly restrained banjo, echoing southern gothic on ‘ This Mountain’, while Chris’ tight drum beats and Cain’s waking bass riffs have taken up their rightful role as the heartbeat of the band, saying “keep cool, we’ve got this”. the aforementioned ‘Midnight Circus’ is as rhythmically rolling as a Stray Cat Strut.
Gone on ‘The Devil’s Wine’ are the runaway mixed tempos of ‘Old Tattoos’ although they still went down well during the show, taking the crowd from swaying folksy singalongs and then distinctively upping the tempo in a ‘1,2,3,4!’ punk/ska rhythm to get them jigging and pogoing with abandonment. Whether that was ‘Didikai Lee’; The hurdy-gurdiness of ‘Broken Record’ or title track of the first album itself; ‘Old Tattoos’ this was the case tonight. The exceptions are ‘Molly Malone’ a swaying murder ballad reminiscent of the classic traditional song ‘Rose Connelly’ and on the night an acoustic version of ‘Blackbird’ that had loyal fans singing along, both these tunes will, I imagine, be mainstays of the band whatever direction they take.
The Brandy Thieves have evolved away from ska. This was acknowledged midway through the gig when they covered Toots and the Maytals’ ’54-46 Was My Number’ saying that this would, probably, be the last time their Leicester faithful would hear it, and then playing it with the gusto of saying goodbye to an old friend. Now we have a sound that is just as comfortable for the listener at home or played in the car as it is live. ‘Girl from the Black County’ with a clear acoustic guitar, plucking banjo and singing accordion wouldn’t sound out of place blasted on the eight track of a classic 1970’s Chevy pick up as it kicks up dust from the road on the way to see Billy Jo Spears at the Whiskey River.
(listen to the EP below on the Bandcamp player)
Buy The Devil’s Wine
Contact The Brandy Thieves
The Brandy Thieves are bringing their sweaty, dancing, skanking frenzy to London on Saturday 17th November at the Hootananny in Brixton. Plenty of bands on so check the Facebook event here for details. Its free to get in before 10pm and gig ends at 3am. Hootananny Brixton, 95 Effra Road, Brixton, London SW2 1DF.