Ever since Shane and The Pogues knocked our ears into gear in the ’80s, hundreds of bands have followed in their footsteps. Year after year, they bring us exciting Celtic punk songs, albums and gigs to light up a somewhat shit world. But what about Celtic punk stories? Why ain’t there many of them floatin’ aboot?
Maybe there’s more than one way to entertain people. If you’re into Guinness, St. Paddy’s Day and young people embracing the Celtic spirit worldwide, then what we have here will be right up yer alley, ye ken. They say hope springs eternal…and so does folk!
Have you ever wanted to read a short story, or even a novel, about Celtic punk? As if The Pogues, Tossers and Mahones were ready to jump off the page at ya? If that sounds cool, then meet Gus, Lin, Herman and Rash. Four characters from the far-flung reaches of Nova Scotia, Canada. They’re passionate musicians, folkin’ the Irish pubs and refusing to bend to society’s wishes. Below, I give ye four reasons why you should give a shit.
1. They have the bottle of smoke
Yes, that’s a Pogues reference! The Bottle of Smoke is the band’s aptly-named local Irish pub. We kick things off with them playin’ The Smoke mid-week to an appreciative audience; Gus on guitar and vocals, Herman on mandolin, Rash workin’ the accordion, and Gus’s cousin Lin banging the bodhrán (not in a sexual way). Gus is essentially the band’s very own Shane MacGowan; a troubled ratbag who likes a drink or six, but a songwriting genius with a fistful of dreams and a big, beating heart at the centre of it all. And speakin’ of The Pogues, if there’s one band you would automatically compare these four musicians to, then the London Irish legends are it.
As well as playin’ The Bottle of Smoke as often as the pub’ll book ’em, the band are making inroads into the rest of Atlantic Canada as well. They’ve played out west a little, they’re set to play Cape Breton Island on St. Patrick’s Day, and they’re keepin’ their well attuned ears to the ground for more. The stage is quite literally set for a Celtic punk love affair.
Sounds good so far? Read on, ya big bollocks 😉
2. They have ideals
We all realised we weren’t gonna get anywhere in life unless it was through the music. Ozzy didn’t wanna do what his father did for a living, and Tony didn’t wanna do what his dad did. Neither did Bill, and neither did I.
Geezer Butler, Black Sabbath
While Kilmainen (being the band’s name) might not be working-class, backstreet kids from Aston, Birmingham, they ain’t exactly moneyheads either, to use Gus’s own word. Gus himself is a standout example of this, working just 15 hours a week in a music shop. Underpaid, no doubt, but doing something he actually cares about. Cousin Lin is similar, having snubbed the corporate world to go part-time in an artsy café. The band members take the time and energy saved, and reinvest it into the one thing that matters most to them: their music.
The plan is that writing songs together, recording albums, doing interviews, playing gigs and working with other musicians will one day become the quartet’s full-time gig, their sole source of income. That’s certainly what the Austrian-born Herman dreams of, as he spends Sunday afternoons promoting the band’s music online. The biggest dreamer, though, is once again Gus: what you’re about to read is one of the entries he pours into his diary mid-way through the story.
I don’t want to live by society’s rules. It’s boring. I don’t wanna live life with no idea what I want. Society wants you think you’re worthless, and that it’s YOUR fault if you’re unhappy. But I can see through that. I KNOW what my purpose in life is. It’s the best feeling you can get, when people say your music’s helped them. Tell me it’s just a hobby? Bollocks to that. I wanna BE someone in life, change things up.
Guthrie “Gus” Ward, Folk Springs Eternal
I once saw a great film where actress Julia Jentsch said, “I want to live young, wild and free.” Most people will tell you that’s stupid, but her co-star Daniel Brühl said, “that’s not stupid.” He was right, and so is Gus above. There’s nothing wrong with having a dream, with looking at the world and asking questions. Asking whether life can be lived differently, rather than the way it’s spoonfed to us. That’s where the hope lies, my friend. And hope – like I started out saying above – springs eternal, right?
Will folk music spring eternal in Kilmainen’s case, too? Read on, because here’s where it gets nail-biting.
3. They have to fight society
Unless you’re sheltered from the world, or just strike lucky, you won’t follow your dreams without some serious backlash along the way. Numerous examples exist: Mahatma Gandhi, Carl Brashear, Jacinda Ardern, Mark Oliver Everett, the list goes on and on. These people had to battle their way to success, and our four musical heroes are no exception to this rule. We get a glimpse of it in chapter 4, when Rash’s office colleagues disregard his ambition to become a professional musician. “There’s no money in that game,” they tell him.
If that seems quite harmless, wait a little. Lin gets on a bus five days later, and is violently attacked by three youths who don’t like women who think and dress for themselves. “Irish music ain’t cool,” they say, and apparently neither is being a lesbian. Luckily a trip to hospital is averted just in time, BUT: bring on St. Patrick’s Day, where things go from bad to worse. In less than 24 hours, the band is all but over, with their morale and reciprocal support in the gutter.
4. They have to win.
What will become of the band? Will the quartet survive their trial by fire? Or will they fail and self-destruct among the flames? Well that I won’t tell you 😉 I will only promise you that the Celtic punk author doesn’t make a habit of letting people down.
So you have two options, my friend. One: you’re invited to take a wee look around my website, where the story and other cool stuff is available for purchase. Click HERE to check it out. Or two: if you want chapter 1 for free first (plus a free song!), then click HERE instead. I swear by the holy iron which I hold, that I, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser (okay, no), will not pass your email addresses on to any gobshite else.
I hope you enjoyed the read, my friend. Sláinte mhaith! 🥃