Category Archives: China

ALBUM REVIEW: SMZB- ‘The Chinese are Coming’ (2016)

The new album celebrating the twentieth anniversary of SMZB.

One of the scene’s best bands and the only celtic-punk band in China!

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yes.. look again!

Celtic-punk in 2016 is truly a global music genre. Gone are the days when it was the preserve of spotty second, third or fourth generation Irish kids and welcome now to the World Of Celtic-Punk! SMZB hail from Wuhan in mainland China and were one of the first original Chinese punk bands forming in 1996. The name SMZB means Sheng Ming Zhi Bing and in English is literally, ‘Bread of Life’. Unsurprisingly when you hear their music the Chinese authorities have never taken kindly to them and so three of their albums have been banned at home. Sometime around the mid-noughties they made the decision to move away from their original raw sound of early British punk, ska and ’80s hardcore and add bagpipes, flutes and fiddles to their sound. Sounding like a combination of The Pogues, the Murphy’s and Rancid they have deservedly become absolutely huge in their native country and their fame is growing outside China too. They have toured Europe a few times, including earlier this year though sadly never visiting these shores, as well as recording several acclaimed albums including a split with Norwegian celtic-punk legends Greenland Whalefishers.

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The Chinese Are Coming was released on Maybe Mars Records on September 30 this year and begins with the drone of bagpipes through the ‘Intro’ with pounding drums joining in and soon enough the album explodes in your earholes with some quality celtic-punk. SMZB may have been the first and still are arguably the best Chinese punk band but the video to the album’s real opener ‘Ten Thousand Ways To Rebel’ shows they are not alone and features several other local punk bands and is a tribute to Lei Jun China’s first skinhead and Beijing’s punk godfather, who passed away a year previous to this video being premiered this year on the 6th of May.

Reading through the lyrics and knowing the conditions they live in you can only marvel at how brave the band are for singing what they do. It certainly shows up some of the ‘revolutionary’ bands in the west who seem more concerned with getting on the bill at Rebellion festival and getting a huge payday.

“You cannot change anyone in the world,
The only one you can change is yourself.
When you find out the truth and their lies,
That’s when you should do something”

The band to be referenced most here is of course The Dropkick Murphys and SMZB have nailed their sound perfectly. It is all bagpipes and catchy as hell punk rock. Up next is ‘The Chinese Are Coming’ which was the first single off the album and begins with a Ramones-ish

“Hey, Ho! Where shall we go?”

and while on the accompanying video the lyrics are sung in English on the album its in their native language but the words show SMZB’s great sense of humour as well as adding in a great bit of Irish folk thanks to some expert tin whistle playing.

‘Born In The PRC’ is not a celtic-punk version of The Bosses song but an angry and vitriolic response to the nationalism of their government and what punk means to those who face real oppression on a daily basis not like the pampered students here in the west whose oppression is only inside their own imaginations.

“I was born in the P.R.C., it’s such a tragedy,
It’s a so-called nation, but really a fake nation.
I don’t want to living here, I don’t have any choice,
There’s only one party here, I want to be their enemy.
I was born in the P.R.C., the nation with autocracy,
Punx Rebellion of China, is what it means to me.
I was born in the P.R.C., in 2 years I’ll be 40,
Still can’t live freely, that’s why I’m still on stage”

SMZB keep up the pace with ‘Road To Petition’ which brings in the banjo to great effect while ‘Generation’ has a much more traditional folky feel to it showing that the lads can turn it up and down when required. The next song is ‘Flower Of The Socialism’ and is fast heads down, balls out, two fingers to the world, punk rock which slows down only briefly for a few seconds of tin whistle while band founder Wu Wei spits out the words that obviously come straight from his heart.

“You have to try to play your role well, or choose to be a bastard.
You have to try to forget your dream, and then into the arm of reality.
You can’t to extricate yourself from here, you are the one of scars.
Socialism already in bloomed here, you have also sprouted in this land”

smzb-logo-2The next couple of songs, ‘Sunny Speculation’ and ‘One Night In Prison’ are sung in their native language again. Fast tuneful Murphyesque punk is the order of the day. They may have started as a straight up punk band but its thanks to the fantastic abilities of Tang on bagpipes and tin whistle and Tu Dou on banjo that that transition has been so successful. ‘Welcome To China’ sees a return to English in a song that bites back against tourism and the attitude of tourists when they visit China. Now if you have heard ‘White Noise’ on the Stiff Little Fingers album Inflammable Material then you will get what the breakneck ‘The Chinese Are Coming Again’ is about. If you haven’t heard it then give it a quick blast here. Its fair to say their still enormous mistrust of Chinese immigrants and here SMZB expose the bigots that would treat people as a mass rather than individuals. ‘Colonial Trip’ features a guest female vocalist and is reminescent of The Dubliners/Pogues until an electric guitar bursts in and we are brought up to the present day. A great song that nicely straddles both the past and present and even ends with some trumpet playing thrown in to the mix. ‘Tattoo The Earth’ again is more Poguesy while ‘Redemption Song’ takes Bob Marley’s original song and turns it into a celtic-punk classic with the pipes playing loud and proud. The Chinese Are Coming comes to an end with the absolutely stunning ‘Song Of The Seagull’. The longest track on the album, at well over seven minutes, its a tribute to Lin Zhao. A Chinese student from Peking University who was jailed in 1960 for pro-democracy activities. The song is based on a poem she wrote in prison where, forbidden to use pens, she composed countless articles and poems using a hairpin dipped in her own blood. In 1968 she was executed and in 1981 Lin was officially exonerated though the Chinese government still to this day are reluctant to allow any mention of her or her writings. Find out more about the tragic life of Lin Zhao here.

Beginning with just piano, acoustic guitar and the beautiful voice of their guest vocalist (sorry but I couldn’t find her name anywhere) before the full band kicks in with their tribute and some angry celtic-punk rock brings the curtain down on the song and the album. I simply cannot imagine a better way to end this album. A song dripping with emotion and meaning and that symbolises everything that SMZB stand for.

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Fifteen tracks and over fifty minutes to boot that gives you more than enough for your money and if there is ever a band in the celtic-punk scene that demands your support than it is SMZB. Being the only celtic-punk band in your state or city can be a lonely experience but SMZB have become an icon of Chinese music that deserve to be heard far beyond their own country. What they have to say is important and we can be grateful that they have chosen to wrap it some of the best celtic-punk music you will hear.

(listen to The Chinese Are Coming for free by pressing play on the Bandcamp player below before splashing out your $10 on buying it and supporting this awesome band!)

Buy The Album

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(full concert of SMZB from their 15th Anniversary show back in 2011)

2015 REVIEWS ROUND UP PART THREE- THE CHERRY COKE$, SMZB, THE GO SET, LEXINGTON FIELD, MICKEY RICKSHAW

2015 has been another exciting year for celtic-punk releases but sadly we haven’t had a chance to review everything we received or heard so here’s the last of our ‘Round-Up’s’ catching up with some of of the more obscure records we missed first time round as well as a couple of the scene’s major celtic-punk hitters. These releases prove that celtic-punk has gone global!

THE CHERRY COKE$- ‘Self Titled’

Cherry Coke$Now The Cherry Coke$ won’t win any awards for Best Name but when it comes to celtic-punk then that is more than possible. Formed in 1999 in Tokyo in Japan they play extremely tight and fast traditional Irish music. Absolutely huge at home, they regularly appear on TV, and this is their ninth release since forming. I have only heard two of their previous records but I can tell you that this self titled album is at least as good as what I have heard before. As mentioned they are tight and powerful and as clear an example of what James Stephens said back in the 1840’s that “it is not blood that makes you Irish but a willingness to be part of the Irish nation”. Easily as good as anything in celtic-punk this is proper party music and a perfect example of what the album has in store is the opening track ‘Rise Again’ for which they and Japan MTV produced this great video.

Ten songs coming in just shy of forty-five minutes so the songs gets plenty of time to develop and like all the best bands in celtic-punk they know how to play a ballad or a traditional folk number as well as punk it up to the high hills! The quality of the playing is amazing, especially the folk instruments. To be put in the same bracket as Flogging Molly but having grown up in different continents its hard to say who is following who here. Absolutely brilliant and well worth checking them out. Couldn’t find a link for you to buy the album but have a look round and see if you can.

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SMZB- ‘A Letter From China’  (BUY)

SMZBNow for something well out of ours (and yours too no doubt) comfort zone. Its one thing to review a Japanese band in The Cherry Coke$ but they been around for years and most celtic-punk ‘knowitalls’ would have heard of them but SMZB are the real underground celtic-punk band… from China. Yes China and they have been playing punk rock since 1996. Their lyrics and music are not appreciated much by the Chinese authorities so three of their albums have been banned. They toured Europe in 2005 and around this time took the decision to move away from their original raw sound of early British punk, ska and ’80s hardcore and add bagpipes, flutes and fiddles to their sound. How or why they decided this is unknown as the internet don’t have an awful lot on them. They have though received plaudits galore from the various celtic-punk sites and sounding like a combination of The Pogues, the Murphy’s and Rancid they have gone on to be absolutely huge in their native country. Previous releases include a split LP with celtic-punk legends The Greenland Whalefishers. A Letter From China makes the bands intentions clear. The cover features a red tank with the caption ‘1989-2014 25th Anniversary’ as well as their rather interesting band logo (have another look!!) Its basically well played melodic punk sung partly in English but with bagpipes chucked into the mix. Its all very very catchy and opener ‘A Song for Chen Huaimen’ seems to be about the singers grandfather where he compares himself to a Chinese fighter pilot who fought against the Japanese. Fourteen songs in just under a hour and some real beauties especially in ‘Smash His Statue’ SMZB hit the real celtic-punk highlights and its songs like this that get them into trouble and long may they rebel! There’s an oldish interview with Wu Wei from SMZB here from The Guardian in England

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THE GO SET- ‘Rolling Sound’  (BUY)

The Go SetIf there was an award for most hard working on the other hand then I think it is The Go Set who would deserve it. Yeah I know The Mahones never stop touring but for an independent DIY band to be able to finance themselves to be able to tour quite as much as The Go Set do is quite an amazing achievement. This year not only did they play a pretty long tour of the USA but they also made in over here to Europe including Blighty to play a few gigs around the big Rebellion punk festival. Formed in 2003 in Melbourne in Australia we have long been big fans of the Aussie celtic-punk scene and The Go Set are one of the biggest and best bands among them. With a bunch of first rate and critically acclaimed albums The Go Set released seventh album Rolling Sound to a helluva lot of expectation and it didn’t disappoint at all. The album begins with a bagpipe dirge that grows in sound before exploding into ‘Bones’

which has all the trademarks of The Go Set’s fantastic sound. Justin’s clear and distinctive Aussie accented vocals atop of catchy tuneful punk rock accompanied by great bagpiping and mandolin from Lachlan and Ben. Politics is never too far away and the lyrics deal with the social and political plights of the working classes, speaking out both for them and with them. The music doesn’t stand still for a second but the boys spread their wings beyond celtic-punk and as is the way for a typical Go Set album it’s their slower stuff I actually prefer more than their full on punk. Stand out punky tracks include the title song, ‘Bones’, ‘The Struggle And The Fight’ but its the working class celtic ballad ‘In The Streets’ that gets me. Yet another blinder from The Go Set and further cements their place as one of the best bands in the celtic-punk scene.

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LEXINGTON FIELD- ‘Greenwood’  (BUY)

Lexington Field

Lexington Field formed in 2009 in San Diego, CA and Greenwood is the bands fourth album so they have been pretty prolific in their short existence. They describe themselves as ‘Fiddle Rock’ and while it is true that the fiddle does loom large in Lexington Fields sound it by no means dominates and when its quite hard to pigeonhole a band then it makes sense to invent your own genre! Having followed the band since their early days I am again happy to say that Greenwood has hit the spot nicely. Thirteen tracks and forty minutes gives the songs plenty of time to develop and Beau’s great vocals and lyrics stand out as usual giving Lexington Field that extra bit more. Their has been a fair amount of personnel change in the last couple of years but finally the band are settled down and Greenwood is the result. The more celtic-punk days are behind them and Lexington Field are another band who have spread beyond the genre while at the same time keeping one foot firmly in place. The album starts with the furious ‘Ghostwriter’ and the rest of Greenwood keeps up the place with ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide Out of Suburbia’ following.

The catchy, fist in the air music coupled with the dark lyrics is sometimes at odds with the almost jolly sometimes music. The fiddle and the banjo keep them in folk-punk land and they are signed to folk-punk friendly East Grand Records who have no end of great bands on their roster, including more than a couple excellent celtic-punk bands. From the pounding and metalesque ‘Target Rich Environment’ to the slow punk rock ballad ‘Calarity Jane’ this is a fantastic album and Beau further shows his talents as one of the best lyricist’s in celtic-punk.

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MICKEY RICKSHAW- ‘No Heaven For Heroes’  (BUY)

Well well well we all know The Dropkick Murphys can’t go on for ever and with Boston’s place secured in celtic-punk folklore who then will take on their mantle when they have gone? Well fellow Bostonians Mickey Rickshaw are up for the job. A team of young fired up blue collar Irish Americans in touch with both their working class American lives and their roots back in the auld country. With Boston’s massive Irish population as well as its place in the history of punk then traditional celtic folk and punk rock aggression equals the 100% perfect sound for the Boston Irish and if the Murphys invented celtic punk post Pogues then its bands like Mickey Rickshaw that will carry for the flame for the next generation. The EP ’16 Down and Back Again’ came out in 2013 but it has been No Heaven For Heroes that has seen their name explode onto the celtic-punk scene with universal great reviews and plaudits heaped upon them from all corners of the globe. The first of the album’s twelve tracks starts with an eastern European flavour before ‘Sapphire Hills’ hits you in the jaw. The album flows mercilessly at at breakneck speed with no let up and the few times you think a ballad is on its way you are resoundly proved wrong!

‘Sapphire Hills’ is an early standout as is ‘I’m Sorry Mrs Mahoney’ but after a few listens you begin to realise that the whole album is one big standout. The album takes in some nice touches of ska as well as hardcore and will leave you out of breath and ready to swop all your Dropkick t-shirts for Mickey Rickshaw ones. Unbelievably the album is available to download for just a single dollar so get on there as quick as you can and make haste to get it into your earholes! LONG LIVE BOSTON CELTIC-PUNK!!!!

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So ends Part 3 and again apologies to all the bands that we weren’t able to give each album the full London Celtic Punks treatment but was just not possible with time on our backs. If you missed Parts One and Two check them out (Part One here and Part Two here)but if you don’t want to miss any of our posts in future then you can follow us by simply filling in your e-mail address in the box that is either below or to the left depending how you are viewing and you will receive every post to your in-box.

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