Most American artists we only get to know from their record releases but it seems T.C. Costello drops over this side of the broad Atlantic often enough for him to develop quite the following for his anarchic accordion Folk-Punk!
Horizon Songs is the sixth studio album from long time auld mucker of London Celtic Punks T.C. Costello. Though based in his adopted home town of Greenville, South Carolina he’s also a part time member of Leicester based folk-rockers The Brandy Thieves and is often found crossing the pond to join them here on stage in the summer months during festival season. During this time he also ventures across Europe and has always also found time to do a couple of shows for the London Celtic Punks, as well as spending the afternoon entertaining the auld folk residents at the Nursing home I work at! A visual tour de force its not many who can pull off a gig supporting punk bands or playing for the oldies but T.C. manages both with ease. The official release date for Horizon Songs was 28th December, 2018 but I am ignoring that and putting it down as a 2019 release. I actually did have a copy in my hand at TC’s successful gig at The Lamb in Surbiton at the end of last Summer but TC sold so many CD’s I had to give him my copy back so he’d have some for the later gigs on his tour!
T.C.’s roots, like many Irish-Americans, are lost in the midst of time and the chaotic nature of their ancestors arrival in America but cherished they are and though not entirely responsible for T.C.’s output they do play a large part. Among the ‘murder ballads’ and sea-shanties here are gems from Ireland’s musical history (except for ‘The Wild Rover’. He fecking hates ‘The Wild Rover’!) and his identity as descended from immigrants fleeing famine and oppression has played a large part in the songs he plays and writes.
“The tour I did this year took me to Italy, England, Scotland and Ireland,” Costello says. “And their traditional songs have a lot of influence on my songwriting, anyway. I just draw off the traditional sources, both musically and lyrically, and if you write in that style, you’re probably going to write about immigration or murder.”
T.C. Costello’s latest release, Horizon Songs is pretty much a one man Celtic-Folk-Punk album as T.C. is one of those talented bastards who can play a multitude of instruments from tin-whistle to accordion to the hulusi (sort of a Chinese bagpipe). The album opens with the darkly humorous ‘The Muse Of Mary Malloy’, a perfect example of a ‘Murder Ballad’ in which poor Mary gleefully goes about murdering any poor man who falls for her charms until she finally finds the man of her dreams and after accidentally bumping him off is sentenced to death. Originally penned by and for T.C’s English band mates in The Brandy Thieves T.C. plays a memorable version here.
Next on an album that is heavy on traditional immigration themes is the old trad Irish folk classic ‘The Leaving Of Liverpool’. Played with gusto and for good reason this is a popular song among the punkier bands in the Celtic-Punk scene as it can be played at 110mph as T.C. shows here! It’s bittersweet tale of a Irish man saying goodbye to his beloved,
“so fare thee well my own true love; when I return united we shall be”
, to leave to mine for Gold in 1800’s America, The jocularity of the tune is tempered by our realisation that this journey ended in tragedy for most of these young men. T.C. gave his comments on this great ballad in his recent review on these pages of the new album from The Templars Of Doom, here, last week. With two toe-tappers so far it’s time for a slow one and ‘Dear Bonnie’ and T.C gives full vent on the accordion and his vocal range is impressive as well. Now no one would accuse him of ‘crooning’ his way through things but his is a voice that portrays emotions and feelings and fits snugly within his songs. No Celtic-Punk album is complete without a drink song and ‘The Ballad Of Being Born In A Bar’ does the job ably, complete with cautionary tale that absolutely none of us take any notice of! ‘Run Like Hell / See The World’ is not two songs but one I think he couldn’t decide to name. Played fast again with a gang chorus of friends its a ode to sailing across the oceans leading into ‘It Starts With A Funeral’ ,a short but sweet song lasting just eighty seconds that finishes with a heavily Irish influenced flourish at the end that I would have liked to have seen extended. Next up is one of the album highlights and the wonderful ‘May The Horizon Be Your Home’ sees T.C. accompany some utterly fantastic accordion here with equally good tin whistle, 12-string guitar, ukulele and clawhammer banjo. The words here are aimed at those that would deny sanctuary to those in desperate need.
One of the jobs that immigrants, especially the Irish as their farming skills were all but useless in the new country, found work in was the mining industry and not many jobs were more dangerous and badly paid than down the pit and ‘Murder In The Diamond Mine’ tells of the desperation of one poor soul to get out of the mine which he eventually succeeds in doing but at a great price to his soul. Another tragic traditional Irish song follows with ‘Botany Bay’, sung by many Irish bands including The Pogues and the Wolfe Tones it tells of an an Irish labourer dreaming of immigrating to Australia to make his fortune.
“Farewell to your bricks and mortar,
Farewell to your dirty lies.
Farewell to your gangways and your gang planks,
And to hell with your overtime.”
We coming towards the end and ‘Horizon Songs’ ends with three excellent songs, the first of which ‘Highlands of Afghanistan’ is a modern re-working of the traditional folk song ‘Lowlands of Holland’ while ‘Grine Kuzine’ (in English ‘My Green Cousin’) sees T.C. test out his Yiddish language skills. One of a group of songs known as ‘disillusionment songs’ as they deal with the disappointment felt by many Jewish-Americans that the streets in the USA were not ‘paved with gold’ and instead they carried the poverty and hard times across the ocean with them from Europe. Horizon Songs ends with the amazing ‘Over The Skies’ and a angry, but told beautifully, ballad again with excellent accordion. Thinking that was the end it came as a shock to find an, admittedly not too surprisingly, eccentric extra track hidden away at the end so be sure not to miss that…
Recorded in 2018 while T.C. was touring Ireland, Italy and England and in between gigs reflecting on his immigrant heritage while passing from country to country with ease. The news was filled with stories from home with hardly a day going by without the headlines being about border walls or people attempting to enter the US. For this reason the album he wrote leans heavily upon new and old stories of immigration alongside ones about drinking, murder, sailing and death. All online sales of Horizon Songs will be donated to the non-profit organisation familiesbelongtogether.org, helping families at the US-Mexico border. Admittedly like many in the Celtic-Punk scene T.C. is best captured live on stage but he always manage to capture the energy of his live shows admirably on his records and I defy you to find many more in the scene who are as entertaining.
(have a listen to Horizon Songs on the Bandcamp player below)
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(T.C. entertaining the crowd at The Gunners for the London Celtic Punks masses last Summer at the start of his European tour. Thanks to Anto Morra for filming.)