The Mahones have always been one of Celtic-Punk’s heavyweights and last month celebrated their 30th anniversary in style with another knockout album to add to their ‘Irish Punk Collection’!
The Mahones are well regarded amongst Celtic-Punk fans and recognised indeed as pioneers of the scene. Formed in 1990 on St. Patrick’s Day in Kingston, Ontario as a band for a one-off show their reception was such that they would go onto become one of the most famous DIY Punk bands in the world and one of the hardest working bands out there. Their tours each year take them right across Europe and North America to every nook and cranny. In fact at this moment in time they ought to be on tour in Australia with The Go-Set! With a stack of studio albums behind them as well as Best Of’s, Live Albums, Compilations even tribute albums their back catalogue is second to none in the scene and to add to them now is this compilation of acoustic, mainly original, Mahones tracks taken from throughout their career.
I’m a sucker for albums like this and I’m sure those of you of a certain age will well remember Nirvana’s triumphant Unplugged album that set the scene for many albums of this kind afterwards. The Mahones may be one of the biggest ‘good time’ bands around but these songs given a raw and intimate performance gives them a new lease of life. The Mahones main attraction has always been their songwriting and whether wrapped around a three minute Punk Rock mosh pit filler or a five minute ballad the effect is much the same. Here Dublin born frontman Finny McConnell comes into his own and already famed for his ached and emotional way of singing his voice really suits these songs new arrangements.
The album begins with the romantic ‘Girl With Galway Eyes’ originally recorded for 2010’s Black Irish. Played at much the same tempo like the majority of songs here it becomes a new song played like this. ‘Rise Again’ is from the album of the same name from 1996 and is a bit of a cheat as it was acoustic then too! Still it’s a nice updating. ‘A Little Bit Of Love’ comes from 2006’s Take No Prisoners and Finny is accompanied on vocals by Canadian-Irish singer-songwriter Damhnait Doyle. So far the influence of country has been trying to make it’s presence felt and here it takes over but not in a cheesy way at all. This is followed by a couple of live set favourites with the fiddle heavy ballad ‘London’ and ‘Draggin’ The Days’ both from the early days of the band as well as the next, ‘Cocktail Blue’ and these songs lyrically show The Mahones singing about the Irish emigrant experience of drink, work and loneliness. The days of the Irish student gap-year supported financially by Mammy and Daddy were decades away. Back then the Irish emigrant was almost exclusively working class and like the generations who left before them worked the shittiest jobs and lived in the roughest and toughest areas. Like the best Irish singer-songwriters Finny takes you back to those days and makes you re-live them with him. ‘Far Away’, ‘Night Train To Paris’, ‘Will Ya Marry Me’, ‘100 Bucks’ and ‘Back Home’ also come from those early days and ‘Unplugged’ is becoming a really nice overview of those early albums and it’s even better to hear a few songs that don’t get played anymore. This is the sort of album that will have you re-visiting your record collection to search out the original. I haven’t played The Mahones so much since I started listening to this one!! Next up is arguably their most famous song, ‘Celtic Pride’, and the one that introduced yours truly to The Mahones. The title track for the 1996 film of the same name about two Irish-American Boston Celtics basketball fans starring Dan Aykroyd and Damon Wayans. I remember watching the film and sitting by the telly with a pen and a bit of paper trying to catch the name of the band on the soundtrack! It’s commendable that Finny has recorded an album of mostly originals and also songs from across The Mahones songbook but ‘Hurt’, famously recorded by the legend Johnny Cash towards his final days, is one of the albums highlights here, Finny’s vocals fit superbly and the slow accordion easily nails the sound. Written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails he described the song as being “a track I wrote in my bedroom at a black moment” but it was Johnny’s amazing version that brought the song to the public’s attention. Another highlight is Simon Townshend of The Who providing acoustic guitar and harmony vocals on ‘Stars’ telling the sad tale of Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde. Convicted of “gross indecency” at a time when homosexuality was illegal, he was imprisoned and died in poverty in 1900 at the tragically early age of 46. One of The Mahones best more modern songs it has a chorus that is out of this world and would I am sure have Oscar looking down with grace and a twinkle in his eye. We are nearing the end and it’s clear Finny writes directly from the heart and on ‘Someone Saved Me’ it can sometimes feel like you’re sitting in on a private conversation. Finny has experienced much tragedy in the last few years which we won’t go into here but if music can save us (the listener) then it can also save them (the performer) too. The curtain call for the album is another in the same style ‘Never Let You Down’ featuring singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer and her stunning voice is the perfect counterpoint to Finny’s. A slow burner of a song that slowly builds and builds and with the aid of tin-whistle and mandolin it’s the most Celtic sounding song on their last album Love + Death + Redemption from 2018.
So another release from the ever prolific Mahones and for me one of their best in recent years. Their is nothing here that most die-hard Mahones fans won’t have heard before but these new interpretations are worth getting as the often subtle and occasionally overt differences in the songs really make he songs sound fresh and even original. Their is plenty left in The Mahones cannon but this is probably the best imaginable way they could have celebrated thirty years on the road.
(Stream The Mahones Unplugged on the Soundcloud player below)