With traditional Irish folk music and some of their own originals Larkin rock it up while keeping it trad. Always a good yellin’, rebel song, drinkin’ song good time with Larkin!
Larkin are a superb 6 piece trad Irish folk band from Tulsa, Oklahoma in the USA that play traditional working class Irish protest song’s. They are led by Chad Malone, formerly of the American crusty punk political hardcore racket Brother Inferior, he has swapped one kind of music that comes from the heart for another that will surely stir the emotions of even the most stony hearted punk rocker. Leaving the hardcore punk growling behind Chad sings in a vein that crosses both Luke Kelly and Shane MacGowan while the band follow in the much same way inspired by the likes of both The Dubliners and The Pogues as well.
It has been eight years since Larkin’s last release and that is far too long. Their first release was The Curse of Our Fathers which was the first CD I had ever sent off for from America way back in 2003 when I had never even heard of the internet. Rustling up a bunch of dollars and posting them off not knowing if they’d ever get there! Lucky for me they did and a short while later the CD dropped out the letterbox and was ready for me to play constantly for months to come and tape for about at least fifty people! It was thirteen songs that included a smattering of old rebel songs and some brilliant original compositions that seriously marked them out as a band to watch. Irish-American life in song and Chad had obviously lost none of his songwriting ability’s when he made the dramatic (to some!) shift from hardcore punk to trad Irish. They followed this with Reckoning in 2005 and again it covered much the same track as their debut. More original songs this time but still a few rebs’s covering both the ‘auld days’ with ‘Broad Black Brimmer’ and the new with ‘Men Behind The Wire’. Again the music was exemplary and the energy through the roof. The following year they released a six track EP called Alexandra, named after the daughter of one of the band members, and again folks went bloody mad for it. Garnering great reviews from both folk and punk sites it seemed like Larkin were on the rise but whatever happened we this side of the pond were never to know and their international profile went down and we heard absolutely nothing till this their new album hit the streets running recently.
That new album A Toast To St. Jude has again been released, like all Larkin releases, on Know Records a punk rock and hardcore record label from Long Beach in Southern California. Available from the band on only vinyl for the moment on either orange (limited to 200) or green coloured vinyl, but that include’s a free digital download card. It is available as a download on other things like iTunes though so if you want one don’t be silly and delay… send off today.
A Toast To St. Jude begins with ‘The Ballad Of St. Patrick’s Battalion’ and straight from the off its a thigh slapping and merry fiddle led jaunty tribute to the famed battalion of up to several hundred mainly Irishmen who fought as part of the Mexican Army in the Mexican–American War of 1846–8. Famed in song already by the likes of Damien Dempsey (‘St Patrick’s Brave Brigade’) and The Street Dogs (‘San Patricios’) and countless others its a proud addition.
Larkin slow it down for ‘A Bottle And Two Days Later’ and it’s the tin whistle that dominates here aside from Chads vocals which shine out loud and proud over all. The music has a slight country twist to it but listen to the words and get carried away on the swell. ‘Row In The Town’ follows and is the first cover here and top marks for a song I have never heard covered in celtic punk before. Better known as ‘Erin Go Bragh’ it’s the story of 1916 and the brave leaders who fought and were executed in the Easter Uprising.
“God Bless gallant Pearse and his comrades who died
Tom Clark, MacDonagh, MacDiarmad, McBryde
And here’s to James Connolly who gave one Hurrah!
And faced the machine guns for Erin Go Bragh”
Written by the great Irish balladeer Peadar Kearney who also wrote the national anthem of Ireland ‘Amhrán Na BhFiann’ as well as a host of other well known and cherished Irish rebel songs. The song sticks to much the same tune as The Wolfe Tones version which is by far the most popular. ‘The Long Goodbye’ sees them back in thigh slapping mode again and despite it being almost entirely acoustic instruments they are giving it as good as any punk band and you can imagine the pit to this being pretty rigorous while ‘Shadows And Dust’ sees Chad giving it his best Shane as he sings of the evils of drink and drinking. Slow and mournful and the fiddle and whistle keep it moving on. A word here for the backline of non Irish instruments and the drumming and electric bass are both excellent additions and are as much of the sound as the others. Like all the best celtic-punk bands Larkin can switch it up and manage to follow a slow song with something like ‘The Wages Of Sin’ where Chad sings as fast as anything he managed in Brother Inferior. The beauty is though that you don’t notice that switch as it seems completely faultless. We are halfway through and they slip in ‘Lexy Slip Jig/Villain’s Octaves Jig/December Jig’ a collection of dance reels and jigs that prove Larkin are as an accomplished bunch of traditional musicians as exists in celtic-punk. Bloody superb is the only way to describe this and the fiddle playing of Karen Harmon is beyond brilliant. ‘Maybe Someday Outside Of Belfast’ slows it down again and Chad can turn his hand to much more than reb’s and rockers and he can give out a beautiful auld love song too. Of course it doesn’t have a happy ending but hey ho there you go! The longest track here and again I’m marvelling at this story teller’s words. ‘Midnight In The Fall Of Man’ ramps it up again with frantic acoustic guitar setting the pace with the band barely able to keep up. ‘A Wayward Lament’ again slows it down and Chad again hits a nerve with this my favourite song of the album. His voice may be a thousand miles from crooning but extols more emotion and feeling than anyone I have heard in a very long time. Album theme tune ‘A Toast To Saint Jude’ is exactly that a tribute to the apostle who is the patron saint of lost causes! He became associated with desperate situations because of a letter he wrote in which he says that the faithful must keep going even in harsh or difficult circumstances. Fast and utterly brilliant and over in just two minutes it sets up nicely for the album’s only other cover and poignant is not the word. ‘Back Home In Derry’ has been covered by a small handful of celtic punk bands and always sounds fantastic as it does here. Written by the peoples MP Bobby Sands while incarcerated in prison its an amazing song that never fails to move.
“Van Diemen’s land is a hell for a man
To end out his whole life in slavery
Where the climate is raw and the gun makes the law
Neither wind nor rain care for bravery
Twenty years have gone by, I’ve ended my bond
My comrades ghosts walk behind me
A rebel I came – I’m still the same
On the cold winters night you will find me”
A song about Irish freedom fighters sentenced to slavery in Australia by the British Government in the 1800’s the song was originally recorded by Christy Moore and Christy tells of the origins of his learning the song
“I was playing in Derry and staying with The Barrett Family. After my gig we were gathered in Chamberlain St having a banter and drinking tea when a bit of singing broke out. A lad, just home from The Blocks (prison), sang these verses and subsequently wrote out the words for me. At the time the name Bobby Sands was not known to the world as it is today.
He used the air of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald from Gordon Lightfoot, an air which I suspect has earlier origins. My version of Bobby’s song is shorter than the original”
Finally A Toast To Saint Jude comes to an end with ‘Have Another Drink, Boys’ and its altogether thirteen of the best songs I have heard in a good while. I simply cannot say how much I loved this album.
Larkin are almost the perfect band to symbolise celtic-punk. Heartfelt renditions of classic Irish songs that stir the emotions that will have you sobbing your heart out into your beer one minute and belting your lungs outs and thumping the table the next. That their own songs sound perfectly at home being sung right next to songs that are over a century old while at the same time giving off a very modern vibe is a fantastic achievement. Everything about Larkin is to be recommended right down to the artwork (once again done by the amazing Dublin punk artist Boz) and while some Irish-American’s may not know all that much of the history of Ireland that is not the case with Chad and the other bhoys and ghirls. History courses through the entire Larkin back catalogue and this is no exception. The band are named after the famed Dublin working class agitator and trade union leader James Larkin (1876 – 1947), a second generation Irish man born in Liverpool. He grew up in poverty and received little formal education but became a leader and a visionary whose influence still lives on today at home in Ireland and beyond. The hard life of the Irish who made the journey across the broad Atlantic and the sometimes hard life of their descendants (you see not every man is a king is in the US of A) is rarely better told and Chad sits comfortably up there with Tony from The Tossers or Leeson from Neck as a modern day celtic-punk story teller. The high praise doesn’t end there though and the music that accompanies is of the highest quality as well. Fast paced tunes with heaps and heaps of energy mix it up with soulful ballads and instrumentals that are all guaranteed to fill the dance floor with either swaying emotional mobs linking arms and pints in the air or a mosh pit you’d be taking your life in your hands to go near. With whistle, fiddle, acoustic guitar, electric bass, drums and vocals Larkin kick up an almighty storm and may just possibly be the world’s most punkiest folk band. No sod that… in fact make that definitely the world’s most punkiest folk band!
Buy The Album
Contact The Band
- you can check the wonderful artwork of the chief Larkin illustrator, Boz here at his web-site
- Know Records Facebook page is here.