Two Finns, A Yank and three Japanese making Irish flavoured tunes in the craziest city in the world.
A group of drunken musician from all over the world who met up in Tokyo to play aggressive Celtic-Folk-Rock telling tales of drinking, relationships and war.
Angry McFinn And The Old Yank were formed in the Japanese capital of Tokyo in May 2014 by Irish-American Dean Lewis. Dean had grown up listening to a sweet mixture of Appalachian country music and The Beatles. From the age of five he was writing poems and songs so fast forward to the adult Dean and he could be found in the famous bars and clubs of the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Then after a visit to Tokyo and falling in love with the city he turned his back on his old life and packed his bags and set off for a new life. Settling into his new life playing the occasional solo gig he had continued to write songs and so it meant to sense to start thinking of playing them so one night in 2014 near the famous Nihonbashi Bridge, Dean was chatting to an auld friend, a Finn named Petja Marttinen. Now despite knowing Petja for years he had never mentioned before that he was a classically trained musician who had even spent time in Ireland playing jigs and reels in local Irish bands. So as they chatted over a few pints of Guinness Dean asked Petja if he knew anyone interested in playing traditional Irish and American folk music with an attitude? Petja quietly said, “I know someone” and so Angry McFinn The The Old Yank was born that very night. Over the next few years the band grew quickly and with the the band now consisting of a stable and regular line up of Dean Lewis on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, Petja Martinnen on mandolin and fiddle, Yosuke Iwanaga on fiddle, fellow Finn, Petteri Pussinen on electric guitar, Nobu Kimura on bass guitar and Giant Sakimura on drums and bodhran. Regular gigs around the city saw their reputation flourish and so it was time for them to get some recording done and the result has been their debut album Songs of Whiskey, Women And War.
(Opening their set at their spiritual home the What the Dickens pub in Tokyo. May 2018)
The album begins with ‘Seamus’ and from the very off you know what’s coming over the next three quarters of an hour. Gaelic fiddle over fast paced Irish tinged folk music that builds and builds and gives plenty of scope for some audience participation too. I bet this goes down well at live gigs. The song tells of Seamus T. O’Malley a brave son of Ireland from Boston who took his fight to the Germans in WW2 and kicked everyone’s arse but still ended up answering to a French girl in France. Another sad one next with ‘Bitter’ but wrapped again in a joyous romp of a song and told with a bit of black humour of a relationship breakdown. The fiddle is more reserved here leaving the mandolin to take the lead alongside Dean’s great vocals. His love of Appalachian country shines through and here on ‘Bitter’ where the music is clearly influenced by Country music it works absolutely perfectly which is not to say he can’t belt out a Celtic-Punker with the best of them!
The pace returns with ‘Making Whiskey’ and the tale of making the “water of life” again its influenced by Country but the Gaelic is never too far away. It’s catchy stuff and reminds me of fellow Japanese bands The Cherry Coke$ and Royal Shamrock and even though the style of music is different they all play with a wild abandon that is a joy to listen to. That said on ‘Burn’ they slow it right down and as we know no Celtic-Punk album is complete without a couple of sad ballads! Adding in some heavy guitar licks and some fantastic fiddle alongside Deans mournful voice keeps the toes tapping (or thigh slapping in my case) while the songs builds towards the end and ends loud and proud. One of the highlights of the album without a doubt. ‘Never Was Your Friend’ starts off slow but soon kicks into another Celtic knees-up with more bitter tale of life and the shite you have to put up with just to get by. The album’s only cover is up next and is a good choice in the wonderful anti-war song ‘Mrs. McGrath’ with its fantastic chorus. Recently made famous by The Boss himself (here on You Tube) on his 2006 roots album We Shall Overcome. Brought to the USA during an Gorta Mór (the great hunger) in the mid-19th century the song is soon adapted as a marching song by Irish soldiers fighting in the American Civil War.
The version here sails closely to both the Bruce Springsteen version and the more traditional folk standard. An excellent song that portrays the horror of war and its effects with Dean’s voice on the album never better than here. ‘1017’ is next and we are back into the Celtic/Country fusion that has worked so well for Angry McFinn And The Old Yank so far. The mystery of the opposite sex is explored while Dean plays in a bar wondering where all the years have gone. Again its a sad song wrapped up in a real stomper of a tune. One of the outstanding things about this album has been the songwriting and it’s clear that Dean’s experiences across continents has paid dividends. On ‘Sally’ while the song has more than a tinge of Flogging Molly about it to my ear it’s the lyrics that really got me so no excuses for re-printing them all here so you can sing along to the video.
(The video for ‘Sally’ is a early versions of the track on the album. The song here represents the band before fiddle and electric guitar added to the mix)
“Sally, my lovely one, where have you gone? Fair thee well my chosen son, now here’s your gun. We marched all through the winter time. Summer has now come. But Sally, my lovely one is gone. Sally, my chosen one, you’ll not reckon’ me. I’d like to think when we were young that you’d have married me. But a hussar’s blade took away my smile and a dragoon my left eye. Sally, my lovely one, goodbye. Take me away, to the rolling hills of old. Take me away, to where the winter is never cold. Take me away, to the sunlight in her hair. Take me away, take me away from here. Sally, my broken one, I ask one thing of thee. If you’ll do me this one kindness, my soul will be set free. Tell my kin, tell all of them, to drink to me in Hell. Sally, my lovely one farewell. Take me away, to the cherry blossom spring. Take me away, to where my love, she wears my ring. Take me away, to where the guns they ring no more.. Take me away, to where she waits behind my bedroom door. The things I used to do with you, the summer rains, the morning dew. The long walks in the fields of green the way you used to dance and sing. They took away your soft caress, replaced it with a gun and death. They took away my light of day, now only pain and sin remain. So not the part I longed to play, a false flag led me far astray. They took my heart, took my name, and took away every damn thing that day. They took you away.”
We are sailing up to shore and the penultimate song ‘Whiskey & Blood’ is the album’s second ‘ballad’. A it of epic as at just over six minutes it’s the longest song on Whiskey, Women And War but the vast majority of songs here all hover around the four and half minute mark giving them plenty of scope to develop. A slow song that belies it’s length and seems over far too quickly leaving us with just ‘Pirate’s Life For Me’ to wrap the album up. Another one that’s a bit of a epic at five and a half minutes and winds proceedings up nicely with a lively and jolly sea bound number.
Loud and brash but often quiet and reflective Angry McFinn And The Old Yank have produced an outstanding debut album and though it makes for an emotional ride it’s also played for fun with I am sure audiences cheerfully singing along and relating to the songs. Watch out for these Bhoys they are going places!
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