Category Archives: Traditional

EP REVIEW: FOLLOW THE CROWS- ‘West is East’ (2017)

London based Celtic folk rock/Irish/bluegrass band with hard-driven vocals fused with guitar and mandolin mayhem, underpinned by riotous folk rhythms of rebellion, redemption and downright recklessness!

Formed in August, 2012 Follow The Crows are the latest in a growing line of bands playing in the London Irish-folk scene that have embraced some of celtic-punk’s harder edges. They have been playing regularly around London for a good while but so far apart from coming across them on Facebook we haven’t had the opportunity to check them out live in person as it were. Then this arrived on the doorstep, their new EP released last January and after just a couple of listens they have swiftly risen to the top of the list of bands I want to see.

Follow The Crows (left to right): James Cannon- Vocals, Guitar * Ben Sumner- Mandolin, Banjo, Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals * Dan Ferguson- Fiddle * Lawrence McNamara- Bass, Backing Vocals * Karl Hussey- Drums, Percussion

East Is West is Follow The Crows debut release and begins with the kind of song that our description at the top of this review fits exactly. ‘Lay It Down’ starts with the sounds of the ocean before slowing morphing into a song combining elements of trad Irish, bluegrass and Americana that makes this EP a real winner. Catchy as hell and a real foot tapper.

Extremely well played by very good musicians and while there are no thrashy guitars, or even drums, it’s given that bit of edge by singer, James raspy vocals.

“Freedom songs don’t say anything
When you’re out on you’re own
With those big wheels turning
Those bridges burning
West is east high is low”

They follow this with the soft rock edged ‘As The Night Comes Falling’. Threatening at any minute to go flat out, and part of me does wish they would, but they reign it in and keep it nicely subdued. Coming off here as part Tom Waits- part Mumford with a dash of rock’n’roll it’s another great number. Third track here is ‘Black For The Crows’ and if you’ve ever heard the Murder Ballads album by Nick Cave then that’s the territory we are in here. Great song and though underpinned by Irish/celtic music influences seep in from everywhere.

“They rose up their banners for glory on high
Sounded the bugle beneath the blue sky
‘Freedom will follow when the day is o’er”

The EP comes to an end with ‘Quiet Land Of Erin II’ and for me they save the best for last. Ever so reminiscent of The Waterboys here I think. With James sounding a real ringer for Mike Scott. The vocals are almost whispered while the Crows get plenty of guests in to give the song a real full band sound once it gets going. More proof that Follow The Crows are fantastic musicians and with the songs to match to bring the curtain down.

“Oh father now she said
The curlew and the cuckoo’s fled
Troubled is the heart that you’re hearin’
Oh father now she said
They buried you among the dead
On the quiet, quiet land of Erin”

At the moment East Is West is only available as a digital download for now and priced at a very reasonable £3. It’s a great introduction to the band and if they want to stray away from the London pub circuit then a follow up album of more like this is a necessity and will surely achieve it.

(listen to East Is West by pressing play on the Bandcamp player below)

Get West Is East

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Contact Follow The Crows

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HOW TO BECOME AN AUTHENTIC IRISH-PUNK BAND!

irish-instrument1The Irish are quite rightly famed for their music. Whether or not this would be so if the country and it’s inhabitants hadn’t had such a tragic past is debatable but traditional Irish music has been around centuries and has had an influence on many different forms of music, most notably in American bluegrass and country. By the High and Late Medieval era, the Irish annals were listing musicians and in County Wicklow a set of wooden pipes were discovered that date even further back to the Stone Age to prove it. There’s just something about the pipes and the melodies of an Irish song that brings out so many feelings and emotions in people.

So there you are sat at home thinking of starting up an authentic Irish folk-punk band but what instruments do you need to include. Sure you got your drums and guitar and bass but what about the ones that will transform you from just a run in the mill punk rock band into the next Dropkick Murphys or Flogging Molly. You may be surprised at actually how few of them originated in Ireland but here are the traditional folk instruments that you will find in celtic punk bands that Irish musicians have been blowing, strumming, picking, plucking and thumping for a very long time indeed.

Bodhrán

bodhran

Imelda May

Pronounced ‘bow-rawn’ this handheld goatskin drum is certainly easier to get around and less trouble than a drummer! The name ‘bodhran’ is an Irish word that derives from the word bodhar which means deaf or dull. Known as the heartbeat of trad music for good reason this large drum is covered with stretched animal skin and struck with a stick that was traditionally made from double-ended knucklebone to provide our music with a pulsating beat that turns listeners into dancers with ease. It’s speculated that the instrument served a double purpose as a husk sifter and grain tray. We prefer it as a drum. For a taster of what the bodhrán has to offer, re-watch Riverdance for the thousandth time.

Uilleann Pipes

uilleann-pipes

Liam O’Flynn

Now most celtic-punk bands that have pipes have the Highland bagpipes rather than the uilleann pipes. This is mainly down to the uilleann pipes, which means ‘pipes of the elbow’ because of their pump-operated bellows, taking years to master and that the Highland bagpipes are much much louder. The bag of the pipes is inflated thanks to a set of bellows fastened around the waist and right arm of the musician. The bellows are able to relieve the musician from putting in the extra effort required to blow into a bag to maintain its pressure. These ancient pipes have been mesmerising listeners with their haunting tones since the 5th Century but it was two County Louth brothers, William and Charles Taylor, who developed the modern version after emigrating with the instrument from post-Famine Ireland to the United States. The pipes are different from several other bagpipes with regards to their tone and wider range of notes. With a distinct structure, which sounds much sweeter and quieter than other bagpipes. The pipes are almost always played while sitting down and it is thought one of the reasons that the pipes were invented was to compose music for dancing.

Tin Whistle

Almost all primitive cultures had a type of tin whistle with a possible Neanderthal flute found in Slovenia dating from 81,000-53,000 B.C.,a German flute from 35,000 years ago and a flute made from sheep’s bone in West Yorkshire dating to the Iron Age. Known also as the penny whistle, since it could be bought for a mere penny, the tin whistle has six holes, a mouthpiece, and is played by blowing air into it and using your fingers to cover different holes to produce different notes. British entrepreneur Robert Clarke began manufacturing the modern tin whistle in the early 1900’s and it became extremely popular and soon made it’s way over to Ireland. Nowadays found in most celtic-punk bands it has and become indistinguishable from Celtic music and is a beloved instrument of Celtic musicians and fans alike.

fiddle

Fiddle

Arr now this is the classic debate that is had in all kinds of folk music circles! Is it the violin or is it the fiddle? Well looks can be deceiving as they both look absolutely identical. Take the Irish fiddle, for example, this essential traditional instrument may look the same as a violin, but its unique playing style and sound set’s the two apart. Probably the most common traditional instrument found in celtic-punk bands the high-pitched and expressive fiddle is often heard above all else, and can be both euphoric and heart-breaking in equal measure. In Ireland the counties of Sligo and Donegal in particular both have rich fiddling traditions and have been redefining the sound of this sweet instrument for centuries.

Irish Bouzouki

irish-bouzouki

Donal Lunny

Adapted from a Greek instrument and brought to Ireland in the 1960s, the Irish bouzouki is the latest addition to our traditional music arsenal. Looking not unlike a giant mandolin, the instrument was popularized by Irish folk legend Dónal Lunny from Tullamore, County Offaly, who used one in seminal trad folk band Planxty. With such a rich and bright sound its no surprise we stole the idea and made it our own.  Bouzoukis are now regulars at many a traditional music session. Another instrument we stole and is played with such regularity in celtic-punk band’s it second only to the banjo, originally brought to America by African slaves it was adopted by Celtic emigrants and became associated with country, folk, Irish traditional and bluegrass music.

Concertina

heaven-hellDeveloped in England and Germany in the early 18th century and spread to Ireland late in the 19th century. The concertina, also known as the squeeze box, was known in Germany as a lower-class instrument used mostly by workers to perform music on the streets while the English concertinas developed an air of bourgeois respectability with the upper classes enjoying the exact same melodies. The concertina has buttons and bellows on both ends and when pressed, the buttons move in the same direction as the bellows. The piano accordion became highly popular during the 1950’s and has flourished to the present day in céilí bands and for old time Irish dance music.

Celtic Harp

Now this is a long shot as I know of no celtic-punk band out there that has a harpist. If you do please let me know in the comments section. The only time I can remember seeing one played is at Wolfe Tones gigs in the 80’s. Anyhow you know an instrument has reached iconic status when it appears on the currency. The Celtic harp is that very instrument. Variations of the triangular, gut-stringed-instrument have been plucked in Ireland since as long ago as the 10th Century, when nomadic harpists would travel around Ireland performing songs for food or a warm bed. In 1792, the Belfast Harp Festival saw the best players competing for prizes. And today, the ornate and ancient Brian Boru harp can be viewed in Trinity College in Dublin. So if you are looking for something to set your celtic-punk band apart then why not get yourself a harpist!

Folk The System instruments

Folk The System

So there you go all you need to start a band. Finding the players you need is a different matter though but with Ireland’s trad music attracting more and more listeners and more and more people of all nationalities taking up the instruments it hopefully shouldn’t be too hard. With our music schools, concerts and pub sessions, there’s no shortage of opportunists to learn either so if you fancy taking up any of the instruments mentioned follow the links below.

Link1  Link2  Link3  Link4  Link5  Fiddle  TinWhistle  Guitar

EP REVIEW: TOXIC FROGS- ‘The Mermaid’s Song’ (2017)

French celtic-punk chicks band!
Four Girls Two Fiddles

Toxic Frogs are quite the anomaly within celtic-punk circles it has to be said. As much as i hate the idea of segregating bands into male and female it is refreshing to see a all-female band in the scene and standing tall too. Most of the time it seems to me that when ‘female’ music is brought up we are suppose to like it whether or not we do actually like it or not. The failed and discredited identity politics that handed the American election to Trump have ensured that people can no longer have an opinion on ‘certain’ things without being shouted at and labelled by hysterical bigots with no actually basis in fact. Anyway rant over and my point is that as a music reviewer my job is review music not ‘virtue signal’ to you all how right on I am by giving good reviews to bad or mediocre music just because the band fit someone else’s ideological pigeonhole. I don’t not have to worry about any of that shite here mind you as The Mermaids Song is abso-fecking-lutely fantastic!

I have heard plenty about Toxic Frogs in the short time they have been together without actually hearing an awful lot of what they have put out so far. Always on my list of bands to find out more about I just had never gotten round to it. Their 2015 album Kill The Devil somehow passed me by except for this review from Celtic Punk Folk And More here but they have kept up a steady stream of excellent videos that have at least introduced them to the wider celtic-punk scene if not me personally!

Toxic Frogs left to right: Lucianne Wallace- Guitar * Elvina Lynn- Bass/ Fiddle * Lydie Dupuy- Drums * Ella Beccaria- Fiddle/ Lead Vocals

Formed in the east-central French city of Lyon in September 2014 Ella came up with the idea of staring an all girl celtic-punk band so started to advertise the idea and soon enough the team of girls was ready. Having already played fiddle for French celtic-punk legends Celkilt she knew the scene and as soon as they hit the practise rooms something gelled. Taking their name from the not so friendly nickname the English give to French people they began to make waves in the celtic-punk scene almost straight away but the question everyone wanted to know was did the band deserve the hype and the answer listening to The Mermaid’s Tale is undoubtedly a resounding yes!

The EP begins with the instrumental ‘Scott Is Back’ and what a start to proceedings. The band consists of electric guitar, bass and drums and some almighty fiddle playing. The music sits nicely on the fence between celtic-rock and celtic-punk and many a time could fall into each within a single song and the standout here is that amazing fiddle playing though that’s not to say the rest of the band don’t play their part equally as well. The song begins with a Scottish feel to it I think because of the Scottish style drumming before a more traditional Irish sound comes in. The songs builds to a breakneck speed and ends with a fantastic flourish. There are a couple of bands in the scene that have female singers like Irish Moutarde and Brutus Daughter but most of the the ladies are confined to backing vocals or taking the lead on ‘Fairytale Of New York’! The band sing in English and ‘Criminal’s Heart’ is pure pop-punk heaven. Much more of a folk-punk number until near the end when the celtic fiddle kicks in and leads the song until the end.

Title track ‘The Mermaid’s Song’ is up next and there’s some blatant metal overtones here which remind me of all girl punk legends L7. Again the fiddle comes in well after the song has established itself showing that Toxic Frogs could easily get away with being just a run of the mill rock band as well. Again the fiddle brings the last curtain down on the last couple of minutes. We are in celtic-punk territory with ‘Toxic War’ and the girls go about their job with a frantic fast paced song with plenty of gang vocal “Hey, Hey” going on.

Last year Katie out of The Mahone put down her accordion for five minutes to record the now infamous ‘F*** You’ for the Hunger And The Fight Part Two album and now Toxic Frogs can add to that with their own ‘F**k You’. At just over six minutes long its a bit of an epic and begins with a slow and soaring guitar rock solo. Ella comes in with her vocals and the music lifts and then all of a sudden we back with the more trad Toxic Frogs sound. A great song that never drags and a brave song to record knowing that celtic-punk fans much prefer short n snappy songs …unless they are ballads and then you can go for as long as you like. Shades of grunge are back in ‘Go!’ with the chugging guitar and the EP ends with the majestic ‘Violins and Hammers for Ever’. Yeah they save the best for last in my humble opinion. Like I said just a few lines ago I am a absolute sucker for a well played ballad and here Toxic Frogs manage it in spades. A beautiful song where Ella’s voice on this EP never sounds better. The best way to bring the curtain down at the end of a celtic-punk record without a doubt.

So an excellent record and good enough for me to leave you in a minute to go and check out their back catalogue as well. Seven great songs that clock in at over thirty minutes so probably long enough for us to call it a album seeing as it is longer than a few other 2017 album’s. Their is talk from our fellow London celt’s Urbankelt about bringing Toxic Frogs over to play so hopefully that will come off as they deserve to be seen far and wide.

Buy The Mermaid’s Song

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Contact Toxic Frogs

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CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: THE CLANCY BROTHERS AND TOMMY MAKEM- ‘Come Fill Your Glass With Us ‘ (1959)

ST PATRICK’S DAY BLESSINGS BE UPON YOU

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh

(Byan-okht-ee nah Fay-leh Pawd-rig ur-iv)

May those who love us,
Love us.
And those who do not love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn’t turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles,
So we’ll know them by their limping.

Irish Songs Of Drinking And Blackguarding

Sung By Patrick Clancy, Tom Clancy, Liam Clancy, Tommy Makem and Jack Keenan

FREE DOWNLOAD

The Clancy Brothers were a group of brothers who, along with longtime companion Tommy Makem, are without a doubt among the most important figures in Irish music history. Still considered as one of the most internationally renowned Irish folk bands and some have even gone so far as to credit them as being among the main inspirations in the American folk revival of the ’50s and ’60s.

clancy

Bob Dylan claimed in the early 1960’s

“I’m going to be as big as the Clancy Brothers!”

With the Clancy Brothers dominating The Ed Sullivan Show and performing their sad Irish drinking tales and rebellious stories before thousands of people, Dylan’s declaration at the time seemed bold and impetuous. Its opposite came true, of course: Dylan submerged the Clancys’ pointed and poignant folk ballads into his stew of influences en route to rock ‘n’ roll superstardom while the Clancys peaked around 1964, then slowly drifted into a hodgepodge of break-ups, reunions, and greatest-hits CD collections. But in bringing Irish music into American mainstream culture, the Brothers were key figures in the 1960’s folk revival and helped Ireland rediscover its cultural traditions. Every Irish-music movement since then–from the Chieftains to Sean O’Riada, from Van Morrison to U2, from Enya to the Corrs–owes some of its success to the Clancys.

clancys-2

(Tommy and Liam)

Born in the small Irish market town Carrick-On-Suir, in County Tipperary, Tom and Patrick ‘Paddy’ Clancy were two of eleven children. Their parents, Robert, an insurance broker, and Joan, a housewife, sang Irish folk songs constantly, but neither Tom nor Paddy envisioned a professional music career when they were growing up. They served in both the Irish Republican Army and the Royal Air Force, Pat, a flight engineer in North India and Burma and Tom, an officer in Europe and North Africa. They left Ireland for Canada in 1947 and, after apparently hiding out in the back of a truck, immigrated to the United States three years later. Landing in Cleveland, Ohio, and then Manhattan, the duo pursued show-business careers. In addition to driving taxis and painting houses, they auditioned for acting roles by day and sang by night at clubs and coffeehouses such as the Lion’s Head and the White Horse Tavern. Tom had by far the most successful acting career, landing major Broadway roles and later on going on to appear in television’s Starsky And Hutch, Charlie’s Angels and The Incredible Hulk! Soon they were producing their own plays, at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village, but after three struggling years, they turned to midnight music concerts to pay the bills.

That was the beginning of the Clancy Brothers as they are commonly known. Drawing on their family singing background and their knowledge of Irish drinking ballads and rebellious folk songs, they began to build a small New York City audience. On-stage acting experience also helped. The Clancy’s told funny stories between songs and responded to applause with vaudevillian lines like

“You have very good taste, I must say”.

Soon their younger brother, Liam, and a friend, Tommy Makem, were joining them regularly on stage. Paddy Clancy created his own record label, Tradition, and put out albums of pointed but gentle folk harmonies, including 1956’s The Rising of the Moon, which was recorded around a kitchen table in the Bronx. Liam told CBSNews.com in 2002, promoting his memoir, The Mountain of the Woman.

“The crowds got so wild and they would hoist crates of beer up onto the stage and demand that we drink them. It was a wild and wonderful time… Greenwich Village was an island for people escaped from repressed backgrounds, who had swallowed the directive to be inferior, to know your place, to kowtow to royalty, to hierarchy, and all the other nonsense”

Their timing was impeccable. The Clancys’ Greenwich Village audiences at the time included young folk-music aficionados such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, who would later say, in the same article, of Liam Clancy

“For me, I never heard a singer as good as Liam. He was just the best ballad singer I ever heard in my life. Still is, probably. I can’t think of anyone who is a better ballad singer than Liam”

As legend has it, after hearing the Clancys’ version of Dominic Behan’s ‘Patriot Game’, Dylan tinkered with the lyrics and retooled the ballad into his own ‘With God on Our Side’. More than 30 years later, in 1992, the Clancy Brothers would reunite with Makem for Dylan’s recording-anniversary celebration at Madison Square Garden in New York City. They sang ‘When the Ship Comes In’, an Irish ballad Dylan recorded on The Times They Are A-Changing.

clancys

(left to right: Tommy Makem, Paddy Clancy, Tom Clancy and Liam Clancy)

Two major events in the Clancys’ career happened in 1961. First, they received a package from their mother as related by Paddy to the irishmusicweb website.

“It was a very cold winter in New York and my mother in Ireland read about the snow and the frost in New York. And her three sons were in America. So she knitted three Aran sweaters and she sent them out. We had a Jewish manager, Marty Erlichman. He saw them and said ‘That’s it. I’ve been looking for some identifiable costume for you. It’s perfect!'”

The thick, roped sweaters became their trademark–especially when, upon signing with Columbia Records, they wore them on the cover of 1961’s A Spontaneous Performance Recording. The second event was The Ed Sullivan Show, the influential television variety show that gave the Beatles their big break three years later. When a scheduled guest became sick, the Clancys sang for 18 minutes on the air. After that, they were international celebrities, playing ‘Fine Girl You Are’, ‘The Holy Ground’ and ‘The Rambler’ at Carnegie Hall and fancy venues everywhere. Dylan, jazz hero Stan Getz, and a promising young singer named Barbra Streisand were among their opening acts. The Clancys went on to record 55 albums and performed for luminaries such as President John F. Kennedy, a fan, at the White House.

As the 1960s wore on, with Dylan and the Beatles steering popular music away from traditional folk ballads and towards electric rock ‘n’ roll, the Clancys’ star power began to dim. They drifted from traditional signatures such as ‘The Old Orange Flute’ and ‘Whiskey Is the Life of Man’ and began writing and producing their own material. Makem left for a solo career in 1970; Liam left five years later. With Liam’s replacement, the Clancys’ youngest brother, Bobby, the group slowly devolved into a nostalgia act. Makem and Liam Clancy sometimes performed as a duet, and they came together on special occasions (including the Dylan thirtieth-anniversary show) in various singing configurations. But they never approached their early 1960’s star power again. Paddy returned to Carrick-on-Suir to raise cattle with his wife on a farm. Tom died in 1990; Paddy died in 1998. Liam and Tommy Makem continued to have successful solo careers before Tommy passed away on 1 August 2007, at the age of 74, after an extended fight with cancer. Two years later Liam died of pulmonary fibrosis, the same ailment that had taken his brother Bobby. He died on 4 December 2009 at the age of 74 in a hospital in Cork, Ireland.

This is the second album from the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and is among their most notable efforts. It undoubtedly helped launch the group to international success. As you can tell instantly from the album’s title, ‘Come Fill Your Glass with Us’, the album is a virtual soundtrack of Irish pub life. The recording perfectly evokes the hard-drinking, late-night atmosphere of a working man’s Irish pub.

Tracklist

Whisky You’re the Devil
The Maid of the Sweet Brown Knowe
The Moonshiner
Bold Thady Quill
Rosin the Bow
Finnigan’s Wake
The Real Old Mountain Dew
Courting in the Kitchen
Mick McGuire
A Jug of Punch
Johnny McEldoo
Cruiscin Lan
Portlairge
The Parting Glass

FREE DOWNLOAD FOR THE FIRST 100 PEOPLE. IT SAYS ‘NAME YOUR PRICE’ SO PUT 0p IF YOU LIKE. AFTER THAT IT’S ONLY AVAILABLE BY DONATION. ALL MONEY GOES DIRECT TO THE JUSTICE FOR THE CRAIGAVON 2 CAMPAIGN.

CLICK HERE!

although this album is available for free download if you wish we would appreciate it if you could spare a few pennys or cent’s to donate to the Justice For The Craigavon 2 campaign. Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton are two young Irishmen that have been unjustly convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. We ask you to find out more information on the case by visiting
jftc2.com
www.facebook.com/JFTC2/

and please do all you can to publicise these poor men’s imprisonment.

(listen to the album below just press play!)

COME FILL YOUR DRINKS WITH US ALBUM SLEEVE NOTES

by Patrick Clancy

A group of workmen were tearing down a very old distillery in the south of Ireland. It had not been used for fifty years and was full of birds’ nests. When they reached the vat where the whisky had been stored, they found a small metal pipe leading from it and going into the ground. It had been well hidden. They dug down following it one foot underground till it ended in a small hollow under a tree two hundred yards from the distillery. No one could explain it. The facts end here, but they suggest strange stories of men long ago stealing to that hollow at night and draining off the whisky out of sight of the distillery.
There is no one to tell of the nights of drinking and song that came out of that pipe, But I’m sure some of the Irish drinking songs on this record were sung, as some of them are much older than that distillery. Drinking and singing have been enjoyed by men everywhere and always. As islands were discovered and jungles penetrated, all new found peoples had songs of some kind and had found a way of making intoxicating drink. If you hear a lot of singing from your neighbor’s home at midnight, you just know there is drinking going on.
In Ireland people would gather in the pubs on fair days and market days when their business of the day had ended, to “wet their whistle” and hear n song. A travelling piper, fiddler, singer or fluter would provide sweet music for pennies and a farmer could learn a new song or two. My grandmother kept one of these pubs and learned quite a few of the songs, one of them being ‘Whisky You’re the Devil’, which I have not heard elsewhere. Another one of her songs was ‘Portlairge’, which is a local Gaelic song, and all the place names mentioned are within twenty miles of her pub. The words translate as follows:
— 1 —
I was the day in Waterford.
Fol dow, fol dee, fol the dad I lum.
There was wine and pints on the table.
Fol dow . . .
There was the full of the house of women there,
Fol dow . . .
And myself drinking their health.
— 2 —
A woman from Rath came to visit me,
And three of them from Tipperary.
Their people weren’t satisfied.
They were only half satisfied.
— 3 —
I’ll set out from Carrick in the rooming,
And take a nice girl with me.
Off we’ll go thro’ “The Gap,”
And northwards to Tipperary.
Like Tom and Liam and I, Tommy Makem learned most of his songs from his family, particularly from his mother, Mrs. Sarah Makem, who still lives in County Armagh, Ireland and sings on Tradition Records The Lark In The Morning, TLP 1004. When Tommy sings ‘Bold Thady Quill’, he is singing about a champion hurler from County Cork, whom I understand is still alive. The song ‘Finnigan’s Wake’ gave the title to the famous novel by James Joyce, who was interested in Tim Finnigan’s resurrection from the dead by having whisky (water of life) poured on him during a fight at the wake. The Gaelic chorus of ‘Cruiscin Lan’ (My Little Full Jug) means:
Love of my heart, my little jug, Bright health, my darling.
Most of these songs tell their own story. They are not merely curiosity pieces or antiques; they are still very much alive and are as popular as the drink that inspired them.

More Information On The Clancy Brothers And Tommy Makem

Wikipedia  WebSite  LastFM  Facebook  YouTubeLive

(The story of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem in their own words)

THE LONDON CELTIC PUNKS ‘STEPPING STONES’ CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW SERIES

This album was brought to you as part of our regular series where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re maybe use to. Lost or hidden and sometimes forgotten gems from the legends and also unknowns that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern age celtic-punk music. The albums are usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.

You can find our Steppin’ Stones page here with the full list of albums to choose from.

THE LANGER’S BALL FROM MINNESOTA ANNOUNCE DISCOGRAPHY AVAILABLE FOR FREE DOWNLOAD!

Straight up, no-frills Irish ballads from the frozen Mid-West with just a hint of razor blades, safety pins and American rock ‘n’ roll!

The Langer's Ball 2

The Langer’s Ball have long been hailed as one of the most interesting and innovative bands in the north American celtic-punk scene. They have never been afraid to mix in other genre’s of music while all the time keeping one toe firmly in the music of The Emerald Isle. It’s bands like The Langer’s Ball that keep the scene alive and fresh and bring new ideas to the celtic-punk table. Just recently they took the unusual step of releasing their entire Bandcamp back catalogue for free download,a move that will I am sure get them the recognition they so richly deserve.

The Langer’s Ball two studio albums

Hailing from Saint Paul in Minnesota in the frozen mid-west of the USA have long been at the forefront of the celtic music scene in the area and now their fame reaches right across the America’s and it’s time us over this side of the Atlantic tuned into what they have to offer. The story of the Irish in Minnesota is remarkably similar to many other states across the States. They may only be the second largest population of the city at 14% but despite being only half the number of those of German descent they managed to somehow (I wonder how they managed that?!?!) control all facets of government for decades. Of course the days when the Irish ran the city are long gone now but still many of those in local government, the Police and Fire Service come from typical Irish backgrounds.

The Langer’s Ball began life as a duo back in 2007 and the release by Michael and Hannah of a couple of low key album’s that were well received by the celtic-punk community. This persuaded them to fill out the sound somewhat and so they recruited a few local musicians expanding from a duo into a full on band and so The Langer’s Ball were born. Taking their name from the Irish word ‘Langer’ which has its origins in county Cork and can mean up to three things. A right eejit, being pissed or your dick! After those two early albums back in 2007 and 2008 The Langer’s Ball went on to release ‘Drunk, Sick, Tired’, a live St Patrick’s day recording, in 2011 and ‘The Devil, Or The Barrel’ in 2012. Their first studio album went on to garner #1 Rock/Trad Album Of The Year by Grinning Beggar, #2 Album of The Year 2012 for Shite’n’Onions and #3 Album of The Year for Paddy Rock as well numerous outstanding reviews across the board and not solely from the celtic-punk media.

They followed this with 2014’s ‘7 Year Itch’ their last release from a couple of years ago which we reviewed here and described it as

“The title of the EP refers to this being the bands seventh year together and with a bunch of new songs they were itching to release and with the success of the session it all came together perfectly to release this to The Langer’s Ball growing army of fans at home and abroad. The music itself is reminiscent of the more folkier side of celtic-punk but with plenty of bite with the extremely well played accordion to the fore throughout the EP”

They followed this up last year with the stunning Whiskey Outlaws, their first full-length studio album in 4 years. An absolute killer of an album which made all the Best Of lists of the major celtic-punk media and confirmed their place as one of the best bands in the scene.

Brilliant originals and a superb choice of covers complement each other well. When we reviewed it here we thought

“One of the things I love about The Langer’s Ball is their sense of humour and its evident on every recording I have heard of theirs. ‘I’m Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover/Bye Bye Blackbird’ just about sums them up. A three minute romp that is guaranteed to get you up and jigging about”

From the band’s interesting and knowledgeable choice of traditional folk covers to their incorporation of Americana, country, rockabilly, hardcore, baroque, klezmer and even psychobilly alongside the Irish punk The Langer’s Ball are constantly evolving and constantly improving and you can get on board and check out that from begiinning to present with their very generous decision to make it all *FREE!!!!* So don’t delay you never know how long these offers are going to last do you?

Contact The Langer’s Ball

WebSite  Facebook  Twitter  YouTube  ReverbNation  Bandcamp  Google+  Soundcloud

The band have made their entire Bandcamp discography ‘Pay What You Like’ which means you can download for free. Just click the ‘Buy Now’ option, which will ask you to ‘name your price’ but there is no minimum price, so just have it, the band want people to share their music.

“The music business is an odd one, especially when you love to make music and have people enjoy it. We have worked for nearly 10 years to better ourselves as musicians and play as often as we can. We are still trying to make the transition to full-time musicians, and are of the mind that if people love what we do, we can do it! That said, people have to hear what we do before they can love it, so we want to afford them the opportunity to do just that”

So what are you waiting for?? BUT if you’re feeling generous then chuck them a few bucks and if you like what you hear then why not visit their store here and get the  physical CD’s.

ALBUM REVIEW: ORTHODOX CELTS- ‘Many Mouths Shut’ (2017)

Sixth album from Serbia’s Orthodox Celts. The first and still one of the best Irish/Celtic bands from not just Eastern Europe but anywhere!

orthodox-celts-lp

There are so many bands in the celtic-punk scene that for one reason or another can be regarded as legendary. One of these bands well deserving of that word are the Orthodox Celts. They may not be a name very familiar to you but as the first band in Eastern Europe to play Irish music we can safely say that all who came after them owe them a debt for popularising Irish music and culture. Orthodox Celts hail from Belgrade in Serbia and celebrate a quarter of a century together this year with the release of their new album Many Mouths Shut. Over the last 25 years they toured right across Europe with their energetic and mesmerizing performances playing to packed houses wherever they go. I have never seen them live but a friend of a friend had a live DVD of the band and i can certainly attest to the amazing show they put on with a great and positive atmosphere for an army of fans that follows wherever the Celts play.

Despite Irish/Celtic music being unheard of in their home country the Celts have risen to become one of the biggest bands in the Serbian rock scene and have gone onto influence many, if not all, of the newer Celtic punk bands in the region. While we were getting all excited at ‘An Irtish Pub’ by The Rumjacks easing into the millions of views on You Tube Orthodox Celts version of ‘Star of the County Down’ recently racked up an incredible 10,000,000 (aye ten million) views and continues to grow.

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Orthodox Celts left to right: – Dragan Gnjatović- Whistles * Dušan Živanović- Drums, Bodhran, Percussions, Accordion * Dejan Lalić- Octave Mandola, Mandolin, Guitar * Aleksandar Petrović- Vocals * Dejan Grujić- Bass * Vladan Jovković- Acoustic Guitar * Nikola Stanojević- Fiddle.

Many Mouths Shut begins with ‘One / Milk & Honey’ which was the first single from the album released last year and you can tell from this opening song pretty much what you going to hear for the next half hour. Put simply its energetic mostly acoustic Irish folk. The sort of stuff you use to only hear where the Irish gathered but bands like the Orthodox Saints have helped introduce it far and beyond almost anyone could ever have imagined.

“Many Are Drowned In This Sea That I Swim
Many Nailed To The Cross That I Bring
Many Are Burnt In The Flames That I Feel
But I’ll Never Be The Fallen One”

The first part of the song is followed by a beautiful Irish tune and shows right from the start that the standard of musicianship is outstanding and there’s more than a bit of a punk rock spirit in there too. These Bhoys play louder than Motorhead live! They follow this with the cracking ‘I Wish You The Very Worst’ with some great lyrics about someone who somebody doesn’t like.

“I’m So Sick Of Being The Lamb, In This Game I’ll Be The Wolf”

Wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of this! The first of the album’s rockier songs but again the song is interspersed with some brilliant Irish reels and has some great fist (or pint!) in the air chants to get the crowd going.

As I already said about the standard of musicianship here and with ‘Morrison’s Jig’ they take an old Irish traditional folk song named for the Sligo-born, Irish-American fiddler James Morrison from the 1930’s and breathe new life into the tune. They take it and make it almost unrecognisable while still keeping true to the song itself. We are back in more in more upbeat Celts territory next with one of the poppier songs on the album, ‘Save Me’, a song that would fit snugly into a set of The Saw Doctors or The Bible Code Sundays. They have come a long way since their debut album of all Irish standard covers.

Not one of my favourite songs here I have to say but great lyrics again and I never cease to be amazed how some celtic-punk songwriters who have English as a second and sometimes third or fourth language can write such great stuff. It is a talent I will be eternally jealous of.

“Save Me Girl
Give Me Shelter In Your Arms
Save Me Girl
And Blow Away My Harms
Save Me Girl
Arise Me From The Dead Tonight”

The second of the traditional Irish songs is next and again they come up trumps with ‘The Banshee’. A fast and furious reel that was thought to have been written by famed Monaghan tin-whistler James MacMahon (1893-1977). The sort of reel that at a session just gets louder and faster and faster till your head bursts!  Named after the female spirit in Irish mythology that heralded the death of a family member by shrieking. ‘King Of The Hill’ is next and is a bit more upbeat with a great drum back beat keeping the lot of them in time. Another traditional instrumental ‘Flowers Of Red Hill’ keeps the momentum flowing and the tin whistle playing here is exemplary with the only problem is that again it’s over in just over a minute. Recorded by many great Celtic bands like De Dannan, Bothy Band, Silly Wizard we can now add Orthodox Celts to that esteemed list. You can compare The Bothy Band here to the Orthodox Celts here. Been waiting on a ballad for half the album and with ‘Lone Wolf’ its arrived. A simple song that starts with just voice and acoustic guitar before the rest of the Celts team join in and takes us through to ‘Revolution’ where as usual the same old story comes out of politicians betraying the very people who put them into power.

“Hey You Are The Same As Those Who We Dethroned For You, You’re Spitting On The Faces Of Those Who Cleared Your Way
We Bled For You, We Fought For You, And Gave You All Those Years, You Became A Kind Of Master For Whom We’ll Never Be Obeyed”

The break up of Yugoslavia and the subsequent war that followed saw many innocent people killed and homes destroyed across the region. That the Serbian people deserve something better cannot be in dispute and I hope they get the politicians in power that will deliver it. ‘Banish Misfortune’ is another traditional instrumental folk song arranged by the Celts followed by ‘Double Cross’ which delivers an album standout of epic proportions. With an album that is roughly half and half Celts compositions and trad folk covers I love that they choose to avoid the better known tunes and delve deep into Irish folk history to find some tunes worthy of them. For the penultimate track they do come out with ‘The Parting Glass’ and as is their way the Celts turn it on it’s head and while 99% of the time bands play it as a slow ballad the Celts speed it up and deliver something as close to original as a cover can be.

“Goodnight and joy with you all”

Another old Irish trad song brings down the curtain on Many Mouths Shut and a rollicking version of the ‘Kesh Jig’, again made famous by, and I would say right up there with, The Bothy Band.

Orthodox Celts are that thing that raises shackles back in Ireland.  A band that plays Irish music as good and as great as any Irish band at home or abroad. Their love for the music and culture of our tiny island is evident in all they do. Band front man Alex said to me

“The Pogues were the only major influence when we talk about music as we didn’t want to sound like any other band so we sound very different from all the other bands in this genre. My definitive personal literary influences are Shane MacGowan and Alexandre Pushkin. Talking about the whole figure my major influence is Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners”

They have established themselves as unique ambassadors of the Emerald Island and have spread and continue to spread the very best of what we are to the entire world.

Discography
Orthodox Celts- 1994, The Celts Strike Again- 1997, Green Roses- 1999, A Moment Like The Longest Day- 2002, One, Two… Five- 2007

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(you can hear the whole album below by playing via You Tube)

ALBUM REVIEW: PLANXTY- ‘Between The Jigs And The Reels: A Retrospective’ (2017)

The word ‘legend’ gets chucked around with wild abandon these days but no other word seems fit to accompany an article on a band that truly were ground breaking and have gone onto have an everlasting effect on Irish music. Put together by Planxty themselves this is the ultimate retrospective of their music coming, as it does, with a DVD featuring over two hours of previously unreleased performances.

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Forty five years after Planxty formed back in January 1972 comes Between The Jigs And The Reels – A Retrospective. The band was made up of Christy Moore (vocals, acoustic guitar, bodhrán), Andy Irvine (vocals, mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, hurdy-gurdy, harmonica), Dónal Lunny (bouzouki, guitars, bodhrán, keyboards) and Liam O’Flynn (uilleann pipes, tin whistle). They released six studio albums starting with Planxty in 1973 and following with The Well Below the Valley (1973), Cold Blow and the Rainy Night (1974), After the Break (1979), The Woman I Loved So Well (1980) and finally Words And Music in 1983. At the time of that debut album their music was quite simply revolutionary and they popularized Irish folk music like no other band from that era.

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Andy Irvine, Liam O’Flynn, Donal Lunny and Christy Moore

Back in 1972 Christy Moore who was already a star in both the Irish and British folk scene’s had begun work on his second album and grouped around him some of the best musicians Ireland had to offer. His old friend from school in Newbridge, County Kildare, Dónal Lunny was a gifted multi-instrumentalist who had taught Moore how to play both guitar and bodhrán while the London born Andy Irvine of late-60’s Irish folk group Sweeney’s Men was a prominent figure on the Dublin trad scene and who co-ran a folk club with Lunny. Finally came Liam O’Flynn a true master of the uileann pipes. This group gelled instantly and with Christy Moore returned from England Planxty were born. With their bedraggled hair and bohemian image their music they literally took Ireland by storm. For the first time uileann pipes were accompanied by guitar, mandolin and bouzouki while Christy and Andy were possibly the finest singers of their generation. Although labelled Jigs And Reels the scope of the songs on this album is simply breathtaking from stirring tunes of war to gentle balllads and haunting airs. Planxty didn’t just play they also collected these songs saving many from obscurity or even death. Their music bridged the gap between the developing rock music scene in Ireland and the new wave of folk music musician.

There are seventeen songs here and it all begins with the tragic love story of an Irish emigrant to New Mexico ‘True Love Knows No Season’ and Liam O’Fynn’s beautiful piping is sure to send a shiver down the spine of listeners. Andy Irvine belts out the glorious ‘Pat Reilly’ followed by the instrumental ‘Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór’ while Christy returns to the fore to do ‘Follow Me Up To Carlow’ a song that tells of the battles of the Gaels of Ireland fighting the English oppressors in the war that began hundreds of years ago.

‘Băneasă’s Green Glade / Mominsko Horo’ takes us back to Andy’s time living in Bucharest in the 1960’s swiftly followed by the instrumental ‘The Aconry Lasses / The Old Wheels Of The World / The Spike Island Lasses’ and then by ‘The Pursuit Of Farmer Michael Hayes’ as arranged by Christy Moore who still contends that their are several verses missing that he puts down to

“the realisation that it was opening time”

On ‘Accidentals / Aragon Mill’ the heartbreaking main song is preceded by a short acoustic guitar piece that he is joined together by Liam’s piping with ‘Aragon Mill’ which Andy learnt from the North Carolina singer songwriter Si Kahn.

“But there’s no smoke at all
Coming out of the stack
For the mill has closed down
And it’s not coming back”

In Si’s neck of the woods, cotton has always been of paramount importance and closing of a mill brings with it, not only unemployment, but also the end of a way of life, whether it be a cotton mill in North Carolina, Lancashire or Belfast.

“But the only tune I hear
Is the sound of the wind
As it blows through the town
Weave and spin, weave and spin”

‘The Irish Marche’ is an English composition from the 16th century written by William Byrd while ‘The Rambling Siúler’ is from the early-19th century and tells the odd tale of an Irish colonel and the lengths he will go to win fair maid. Having heard a version of ‘The Well Below The Valley’ where Christy is only accompanied on bodhrán it was nice to hear a full band version of this beautiful song. Planxty are back in full on jaunty mood next with another instrumental ‘Junior Crehan’s Favourite / Corney Is Coming’ before Andy sings ‘Roger O’Hehir’, the story of an not very good petty criminal whose career leads to the gallows. Now for that Balkan tune that seems to have ruffled a few reviewers feathers with ‘Smeceno Horo’ Not knowing much about this I’ll just leave the video up for you to decide.

With the album nearing the end perhaps three of the widest heard and better known songs finish the album starting with the stunning Andy Irvine composition ‘The West Coast Of Clare’.

“Sorrow and sadness, bitterness, grief
Memories I have of you, won’t leave me in peace
My mind is running back, to the west coast of Clare
Thinking of you, the times we had there”

The sensitive and definitive version of ‘Nancy Spain’ keeps the momentum building and has since been made famous by Christy during his solo career. Written by Barney Rush who also wrote ‘The Crack was Ninety in the Isle of Man’, which Christy has also recorded. Sadly Barney passed away back in 2014 and this wonderful song brings us up nicely to the album’s end and ‘Timedance’. Commissioned back in 1981 for the Eurovision song contest back when it was big news and back when Ireland use to win it every year! This was, in many ways, a precursor to Riverdance and was for millions around the Europe the first time they had ever heard authentic traditional Irish music and can be said to have had a lasting effect on Irish music’s popularity.

Planxty Re-Union Show, Live at Vicar Street, Dublin. February 2004

Compiled and chosen by the band themselves they could literally not squeeze another minute onto the CD with it clocking in at seventy-nine minutes. The CD comes with a bonus DVD of previously unreleased performances from the RTÉ (Irish Televison) archives that lasts over two hours. The care and attention that has gone into this release is breath taking with an absolute goldmine of recordings, TV appearances and live sets that does the band the justice they deserve. Planxty ruffled a few ‘trad snobs’ feathers when they were around the first time and some of the modern day era trad snobs may find the inclusion of harmonies, compositions, English songs and Balkan tunes somewhat odd but for me it only adds to what is one of the best traditional album’s I ever heard. Planxty were one of the major reasons for the revitalisation of Irish music that led eventually to the development of celtic-rock and then celtic-punk so do yourself a favour and check out this album and find out where we came from.

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ChristyMoore  AndyIrvine

ALBUM REVIEW: THE LOGUES- ‘Comin’ of Age’ (2016)

The Logues are five culchies from Co. Tyrone who play music!

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Formed in 2006 in the sleepy small village of Castlederg (in Irish: Caisleán na Deirge, meaning ‘castle on the Derg’) in County Tyrone in the north of Ireland. It lies on the River Derg and is just across the border from County Donegal. The various members were keeping a drunken promise by having a informal jam session on St Patrick’s Day that went down so well that now ten years later it has seen the lads tour right across Ireland and Europe (and America in 2017!). The five piece folk-rock band is made up of drums, bass, acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, tin whistle and vocals and with plenty of talent, wit and charm too! the-logues-1They self released their debut album ‘Tough at the Bottom’ in July 2011. A semi-concept album of eleven original songs based on that great Irish activity- drinking! Part autobiographical, part satire, the album explores house parties, being in love with mentally unstable women, being a ‘culchie’ (an Irish word for country personand even the literature of Flann O’Brien. They followed this up with a bunch of single releases that kept them in the public domain receiving plenty of airplay and eventually helping them become one of Ireland’s most sought after bands. The band name is not as you probably imagined a tribute to the #1 celtic-punk band but is in fact the surname of vocalist and tin whistle player Justin Logue. The Logues did though begin by playing mainly songs from The Pogues/The Dubliners song book before taking the adventurous step to move beyond cover band status and into the realm of real music. The band have an unmistakable folk-rock sound and their music has drawn some interesting comparisons to, among others, Christy Moore, Goats Don’t Shave, The Waterboys and The Saw Doctors and they are all well deserved.

Comin’ Of Age sees The Logues at ten years old and if Tough at the Bottom was a superb, though unpolished, debut album then their follow up is certainly set to see them cross over into the big leagues. The album kicks off with ‘Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder’ and it’s a strong opener with the trad Irish butting up against electric guitar and making for a lovely racket. Short and sweet and over before you know it and next up is ‘Bless the Land’ which was released as a single back in August 2014.  An album standout with great vocals from all the band and a real catchy chorus. ‘Better Man’ is up next and slows it down for a lovely ballad of just vocals and acoustic guitar and banjo. The universal theme of trying to prove you can be a better person. The best celtic-punk bands can knock out a ballad or two and The Logues do it with ease while ‘I Don’t Love You at All’ is a short and sweet song lasting just over two minutes. Busting with humour and with the welcome sound of a trumpet too!

They follow this up with a cover of the Philip Phillips hit song ‘Home’. Not so much in love with this one sounding as it does like The Lumineers or one of them other ‘Posh Folk’ bands from this side of the water. I’m sure will be popular enough mind but for me it just sticks out a bit from the rest of the album.


The LP returns to Irish trad with ‘Yvonne John’ with a country/ folk/ rock romp with a song based around the mispronunciation of a brand of Dutch rolling tobacco. ‘Sirens Call’ is pure folk-rock with a loud and bombastic beat but never too far from their folky roots.


‘Fly Free’ begins with piano and was another song released as a single in the run-up to the albums release. Nice to hear a ballad that shows that their prowess as a band and even though it has no folkier touches it fits snugly into the album. After a non folky song they follow it up with the country tinged ‘Drinkin’ with God’ and the full on country themed ‘All I Want Is You’.


‘No Place Like Home’ originally appeared on that 2011 debut album but The Logues have re-recorded it and it’s slighty shorter but ten times the original with the much better production only emphasising how much better the production on that debut could have been. More of the country feel to it and great banjo and lyrics about well you don’t need me to tell you.

‘Paisley Pattern’ is banjo led and catchy enough and over fairly quickly before we get a real standout track with ‘Logan’s Lament’ and an instrumental that really shows the Bhoys can play their instruments and also know their stuff as well. Fast and furious with all the band getting stuck in it’s traditional Irish folk for now and as good as any you’ll hear.


Comin’ Of Age comes to an end with ‘I’m on Fire’ and yeah it’s The Boss tune and while it may seem a bit sad to say the album standout track is a cover please don’t take it that way. All the elements of the original song are here but what The Logues have done to it is truly make it their own. An absolutely brilliant way to wrap up the album and the live version below doesn’t quite do it justice so hunt down this album just to hear ‘I’m on Fire’.

Signed to one of Ireland’s most respected music agency’s the future looks extremely bright for The Logues and with their army of fans in Ireland now beginning to extend to over here and with that American tour set to launch them in the States things couldn’t look any better for them. In the scale of celtic-punk they may not be up their with the more punkier bands but it’s loud and it’s catchy with great intelligent lyrics and a punk spirit that carries them along and means that not only do The Logues love what they do but it’s obvious to anyone listening that they love what they do. Last year it was their friends from just across the border in Donegal O’Hanlons Horsebox that took the Irish music scene (and this web zine!) by storm with their infectious brand of trad-celtic-folk-rock so only fitting that it should be a band from just down the road in 2016!

the-logues-band

The Logues L-R: Logan MacCool- Vocals, Tin Whistle * Kiel Cathers- Vocals, Acoustic Guitar * Chris Speer- Banjo * Darrell Nelson- Drums * Jesse Darragh- Bass, Keyboards

Buy The Album

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Band Interview here

CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: JOHNNY CASH- ‘The Christmas Spirit’ (1963)

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Songwriter. Six-string strummer. Storyteller. Country boy. Rock star. Folk hero. Preacher. Poet. Drug addict. Rebel. Saint AND sinner. Victim. Survivor. Home wrecker. Husband. Father. Son. and more…

Though he would go on to later make umpteen Christmas themed albums this was Johnny Cash’s first attempt and by far his greatest. Released in 1963 The Christmas Spirit features twelve songs of which many were penned either by the great man himself or his family and a handful of Johnny’s unparalleled Christmas standards such as ‘The Little Drummer Boy’, ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Blue Christmas’.

johnny-cash-christmas

The Christmas Spirit was released on 1st November 1963 on Columbia Records and had a re-release in the the early 1990’s where the production was re-mastered. Now my Mammy use to own a whole load of Johnny Cash album’s and among them were several Christmas records that could, I’m afraid, be described as Cash-in’s (groan…). This record though has an authentic feel to it. Like Johnny was singing with all his heart and soul on this one, coming as it did not long into the start of his recording career.

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The Christmas Spirit has twelve songs and comes in at just under forty minutes. It has three songs composed solely by Johnny and one co-written with his father-in-law Ezra ‘Eck’ Carter. It also features two songs written by Johnny’s wife and long time collaborator June Carter. As for the songs it’s all about the wonderful and warm voice of Johnny Cash. ‘Christmas As I Knew It’ is an biographical song about Johnny’s childhood Christmasses in Dyess, Arkansas that was written by June and Jan Howard. Johnny speaks from the heart about his working class background and his family and their Christmas traditions.

The LP features Johnny’s amazing version of ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day’ plus ‘Here Was a Man’ and ‘Christmas As I Knew It’, plus more like ‘Blue Christmas’, at the time made famous by Johnny’s old label mate Elvis Presley, and a warm reading of ‘Silent Night’, making The Christmas Spirit a groundbreaking effort for this sorely missed legend. Johnny sings lead vocals on all the songs with backing from various Carter family members and the feel of the album is one of absolute calm. It may not be very fashionable for some Johnny Cash-come latelys to admit that religion was one of the driving forces in one way or another throughout Johnny’s career but it certainly was.

The Christmas Spirit by Johnny Cash

“On Christmas Eve I dreamed I traveled all around the earth
And in my dream I saw and heard the ways the different people hail the king
Whose star shone in the east and what a dream it was
In London Town I walked around Piccadilly Circus

A mass of people movin’ here and there I wandered where
On every face at every place was hurry up I’m late
But a kind old man at a chestnut stand said merry Christmas mate
And I felt the Christmas spirit

In a little town nestled down in Bavaria Germany
I walked along to see what the feeling there would be
And here again was the busy din the rushin’ the yellin’
But some kind boy said Frohliche Weihnachten
Not understanding the words but gettin’ the buyin’ and sellin’
I felt the Christmas spirit

In Bethlehem I heard a hymn some distant choir sang
And with other tourists I walked along to a church as its bells rang
Then I heard someone tell someone there’s where Christ was born
I wonder if he looked like our baby looked on that first morn

And then I really felt the Christmas spirit
From a businessman in the Holy Land as a sidewalk souvenir shop
I bought a little Bible since I’d hardly stopped
And it was in Paris France somehow by chance that I took the Bible out

And as I flipped the pages I saw these words and I knew what it was all about
For I read fear not for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy
Which shall be to all people
For unto you he was born this day in the City of David a Saviour
Which is Christ the Lord

Then I took the little Holy Book held it close and tight
I closed my eyes and visualized the glory of that night
So suddenly it came to me for when I awoke on Christmas Day
I felt the Christmas spirit down deep inside to stay

cash-and-june

Johnny and June

From the very beginning of his career Johnny Cash recorded gospel songs and if Johnny Cash sang it then you knew Johnny Cash believed in it with all his conviction. His rugged voice, growling, sometimes simply speaking of killers and Jesus in the same breath. He himself had at heart this combination of light and darkness. He was a devout Christian who read his bible daily even in the middle of the deep and dark drug addiction he suffered from. There’s not a single bad song here. Johnny’s voice saves it from any excessive garishness or sentimentality making it a must have for any Cash fans or anyone looking for some Christmas music that ranks up their with ‘Fairytale Of New York’. Johnny Cash was both saint and sinner personified and at what better time to remember him than now at Christmas..

FREE DOWNLOAD CLICK HERE

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THE LONDON CELTIC PUNKS ‘STEPPING STONES’ CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW SERIES

This album was brought to you as part of our regular series where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re maybe use to. Lost and hidden and sometimes forgotten gems from the legends that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern celtic-punk music. Usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘People Take Warning! Murder Ballads And Disaster Songs 1913-1938’ (2007)  here

EWAN MacCOLL -‘Bad Lads And Hard Cases: British Ballads Of Crime And Criminals’ (1959) here

EWAN MacCOLL AND PEGGY SEEGER – ‘The Jacobite Rebellions’ (1962)  here

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘Don’t Mourn. Organize!- Songs Of Labor Songwriter Joe Hill’ (1990)  here

LEADBELLY- ‘Easy Rider’ (1999)  here

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘The Little Red Box Of Protest Songs’ (2000)  here

GIL SCOTT-HERON- ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ (1974)  here

EWAN MacCOLL- ‘Scots Drinking Songs’ (1956)  here

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘Protest! American Protest Songs 1928-1953’  here

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘Women Folk- Iconic Women Of American Folk’  here

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘The Greatest Songs Of Woody Guthrie’ (1972)  here

THE DUBLINERS- ‘A Best Of The Dubliners’  here

2016 REVIEWS ROUND-UP PART ONE. PINT KILLERS, THE MUCKERS, NOWHEREBOUND, HOIST THE COLOURS, SKILTRON, BAY STREET BASTARDS

Every year we have been doing this has got better and better for celtic-punk releases. As happy as we are that this is so it also means that we just cannot keep up with everything out there. We haven’t had the chance to review everything we received or heard so here is Part 1 of our 2016 Round Up where we catch up with some of the releases that we missed first time round. Here at 30492- LONDON CELTIC PUNKS blog we much prefer to do really detailed reviews but it has been impossible to keep up so here’s a few quick ones just to catch up and get 2016 out of the way. Each and every one are worthy of your time so go ahead and check them out. This time round we head to the America’s. Well four from the USA, one from Canada and one from Argentina!

PINT KILLERS- ‘Boston Brewed’ EP (CDbaby)

pintkillersYeah I know we are hardwired to like ANYTHING that comes out of Boston but this is some killer street punk right enough. Only founded earlier this year Pint Killers feature ex-members of Nowhere USA, Dot Rats, Third Knuckle, The Struggle and the Pug Uglies. “Boston Brewed Punk Drinking Songs And Anthems” they call it and fair enough that’s exactly what you get. Their shared Irish ancestry looms large over everything they do in this four track EP about celebration, drinking, friendship, and brotherhood. The songs flash by in… well a flash of only eight minutes. Fists in the air and heads down working class punk rock, or blue collar as the Yanks prefer to put it. All the songs burst with energy but it’s the longest track ‘Around The Hood’, all of two and a half minutes!, that tick’s all the boxes for me. It may not have bagpipes but so what! And what a great name too…

 THE MUCKERS- ‘The Muckers’ LP (iTunes  GooglePlay)
the-muckers-2016The Muckers are coming at you from Atlanta city in Georgia in the deep south of America. The city rose from the ashes of the Civil War to become a major city and later on in the decades following the Civil Rights Movement, during which the city earned a reputation as too busy to hate for it’s progressive views compared to other cities in the deep south, attained international prominence. The band take their name from the word ‘mucker’, a colloquialism meaning good friend used in main by the Irish and people from Yorkshire in England. The Muckers are Atlanta’s only Irish rock band with a massive following in the city among the Irish and their friends. A five-piece folk-rock band that as well as a strong emphasis on Irish music also blends in influences of gypsy music, sea shanties, country, rockabilly and anything else they can get their hands on. Eleven songs( and a mental hidden track!!) lasting well over forty minutes and what you get is exactly what is outlined above. Kicking off with a short accordion intro it soon launches into the superb ‘There is A Time’ with very much a bluegrass feel. Other notable songs here include both ‘Molly’ and ‘Eddie Connors’ which were originally recorded by a couple of The Muckers old bands but given a real lease of life here. A few self penned numbers and some standard Irish covers make up the rest of the album. A great knees up of an album with a grand sense of humour and infectiously good fun and well played.

NOWHEREBOUND- ‘Hearts And Arrows’ LP  (Bandcamp)
nowhereboundWe have been long time fans of Texan band Nowherebound and while they may not be a celtic-punk band, or even a folk-punk band, but they are simply fantastic so deserve their spot here. If you can imagine a fast and heavy punk rock band that somehow manages to squeeze enough folk melodies into their songs then that’s them. A folk band in all but their music! Coming out of the same camp as punk bands like Social Distortion, Rancid, and Gaslight Anthem but with their cap tipped firmly in the direction of the Murphys or The Pogues. Much more straight up punk rock then their previous releases have been they toured Europe again in 2016, for the umpteenth time, but unfortunately have not made it to Blighty yet. From hard rock in-yer-face to pop punk melodies to raise-your-glass-and-sing-along-anthems Nowherebound that hit you in both the heart and the head.
HOIST THE COLORS- ‘Mourners’ LP  (FromTheBand  iTunes)
hoistthe-colorsOne of the better known of the North American celtic-punk bands Hoist The Colors come from the urban metropolis Los Angeles. They play a blend of punk rock, trad Irish, Americana and bluegrass that is as original as the city they call home. Now this is one album I would have loved to have gone into real detail about but it only landed in LCP Towers a few days ago so I am having to write this on just a handful of listens. And my first impression is the same as my tenth. It’s a fecking masterpiece! A wonderful LP that really shows the depth of the scene and the willingness to push the boundaries of what is celtic-punk. From first track ‘Little Rebel’ right through to ‘Something More Than This’ their is not a single bad track on Mourners. The title track was the first song released from the album and came with a superb video. Excellent use of the mandolin and the punchy punk rock keeps the toes a tapping.

The second release from Mourners was ‘Rainier’ and for me was the album standout. Fast paced, punk rock that is accessible without being at all lame and again some excellent mando to keep the celtic among us happy. The rest of the album flows as smoothly as a pint of Guinness with the music uptempo and catchy as hell. Twelve songs and a running length of almost fifty minutes of non-stop quality celtic-punk that would surely be loved by anyone from you’re studs’n’spikes nephew to your auld Nanna.
and from South of the border we have

SKILTRON- ‘Legacy Of Blood’ LP  (From The Band  iTunes)

skiltron

At the forefront of the Folk-Metal genre, though really it is in fact Celtic-Metal, Skiltron were formed in 2004 and come from Argentina. Now thats not so strange as it may appear as plenty of Celtic people emigrated there back in the day mostly Irish and Welsh. In 2016 they embarked on an epic European tour taking in an amazing nineteen countries in under two months. I missed their London date as it was my brothers wedding unfortunately but was absolutely stunning from other people told me. We have touched on metal a few times here and there seems to be a quite a scene growing out of what was once a handful of bands. We even have a London based celtic-metal band worth checking out Isamos (here). Legacy Of Blood is only eight songs long but as you can imagine it’s all quite epic and the songs take their time. The longest track is also my favourite, ‘Sawney Bean Clan’, about a clan of Scottish  murderers who reportedly killed and ate over 1,000 people anywhere between the 13th and 16th centuries.

It’s fast metal music with two bagpipes at times and the sound is quite incredible. The whole album is brilliant and if you like the sound of bagpipes then open your mind and get on board here. Fast as feck with rapid drumming and Scottish topics with clearly sung lyrics. No growling or grunting here!! I love it and seeing as how we have recently made friends with the people who put the gig on in London we hope to be bringing some more of this interesting scene to London soon.

WebSite  Facebook  Twitter  Soundcloud  YouTube

BAY STREET BASTARDS- ‘Small Batch’  (Bandcamp)
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The Bay Street Bastards from the wonderful sounding Thunder Bay in Ontario in east-central Canada. The band proclaim their influences on their Facebook page as
“Canada, hockey, metal, punk, beer”
and listening to this corker of an EP that figures! WE caught their debut album in last years Round-Up’s here and if they keep releasing things in December then we’ll never get the chance to do a proper one! Anyhow that was bloody brilliant and this EP continues where they left off. Small Batch begins with ‘Hooligan Crew’ and its fast paced accordion led celtic-punk rock with some great dual vocals, which I always think works well. This is followed by ‘Blood, Sweat & Teeth’ and things speed up with a song that is significantly different from the opener but carries all the same elements. ‘Ships of November’ slows it down a tad and just as you think you’ve a lovely ballad coming along ‘Bang’ and we’re back into celtic-punk territory. ‘Slappywag’s’ appeared on that debut album and has been re-recorded here. It was the standout track then and it’s the standout track here as well. A ton more energy and a ton more oompf where you thought it would be impossible to add but they done it.  Where the fiddle held court last time here it’s the mando and the accordion in charge in a brilliant song about the Bastards favourite boozer. The EP comes to an end with ‘Private Reserve’ and another beauty of a song. Less manic than the previous songs and perhaps the closest they come to sounding like the Dropkick’s. So what you get here are five songs that is over and done in a fast and frantic seventeen minutes. Every song here stands up on it’s own and the Bastards show they ape no one with their subtle changes of style. One of the many things that made their debut album stand out was their innovative style and they have lost none of that here. This isn’t just music for beer swillin’, foot stompin’, mosh pittin’ Canadians it’s music for beer swillin’, foot stompin’, mosh pittin’ wherever you come from!
So ends Part 1 and we are sorry we weren’t able to give each album the full on London Celtic Punks treatment. Apologies to all the bands as each and every release deserved the full treatment. We are always looking for people to join the reviews team so don’t be shy. Anyhow more to come in Part 2 so check back after Christmas Day and catch up with some more of our favourite 2016 releases from around the world this time. If you don’t want to miss any of our posts 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.

ALBUM REVIEW: STEELEYE SPAN- ‘Dodgy Bastards’ (2016)

With the release of Dodgy Bastards, the 23rd studio album of their career Steeleye Span remain one of the most influential names in music. Pioneers of folk-rock, they changed the face of folk music forever. Taking it out of small clubs and into the world of gold discs and international tours. Steeleye Span have remained at the forefront of the genre they helped to define and 38 years later have become an institution in British music.

steeleye span LP

Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention were two of the most successful and popular British band’s of their generation. Both bands made their mark on the music scene by taking traditional British folk material and adding rock arrangements, something that hadn’t really been done before and both featured female singers, Sandy Denny for Fairport and Maddy Prior for Steeleye. Both mixed self-penned and traditional songs but it can be argued that it was Steeleye Span who went on to have a much more lasting effect on the folk-rock scene and indeed on music in general too. At their peak Steeleye Span’s revolving door of members certainly kept their fans on their toes but the one constant in the band has always been the ethereal voice of Maddy Prior that gave the band their identity at all the different phases of their existence. The major difference between the bands was that Fairport came to traditional folk from a rock background, whereas Steeleye Span arrived from the opposite direction.

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Formed at the beginning of 1970 in in Winchester, Hampshire that original line-up included Ashley Hutchings, at the time bassist in Fairport Convention, who had wanted to pursue a more traditional folk direction and so left them and joined forces with future Pogue Terry Wood, who had been in a trad Irish group called Sweeney’s Men, Maddy Prior, who had been in a folk duo with guitarist Tim Hart and Gay Woods (Terry’s wife) to become the starting line up of Steeleye Span. Lasting only one album Terry and Gay soon left and were replaced by Martin Carthy, one of the most respected artists on the folk circuit. While Bob Dylan fought his own fans and the critics to introduce electric guitar into folk music in the mid-1960’s Martin Carthy was instrumental in taking Steeleye Span in the same direction. They may have played folk music but they played it damn loud! Hutchings and Carthy left by the end of 1971 and while the loss of their two most influential members would cripple most bands the ‘Span not only drove on but actually entered into their most successful stage. Tim Hart was quoted as saying that the group wanted to

“put traditional music back into current musical language — to make folk music less esoteric”

New bassist Rick Kemp became Maddy Prior’s husband and in 1973, they added drums for the first time to the band. With the revolving door of players, artists as famous as David Bowie and even Peter Sellers guested on their albums. Their first major hit came with the Christmas song ‘Gaudette’ reaching #14 in the British music charts and in 1975, they released their huge smash hit ‘All Around My Hat’ which charted all over the world and made them big players everywhere. With the coming of punk and new wave in 1977, they took on even more traditional elements with the return of Martin Carthy, and the addition of John Kirkpatrick on accordion. Sadly though they split the following year. However they periodically reunited while pursuing their own projects and the occasional studio album appeared while the group performed at festivals and toured with enough regularity making it confusing whether they were a band that was together or not. They had a strong and large enough fan base that remained extremely loyal to them ensuring that whatever they did they always had an audience to hear it. Of all the ‘Span members it was Terry Woods who went on to have the most success playing mandolin in The Pogues while Martin Carthy may not have had the commercial success of Terry Woods but certainly commanded great respect

“If the English folk revival of the 1960s had a single “father” and guiding spirit, then Martin Carthy was it”

Maddy Prior’s most notable work was her recordings with the respected folk singer June Tabor. Tim Hart released a handful of notable solo outings before retiring to the Canary Islands, where he sadly passed away after a long battle with cancer in 2009.

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So all this, and that intro could easily have run into several thousand’s of words (have a look at their Wikipedia page here to see how!), lands us in 2016 and Steeleye Span’s new album. Dodgy Bastards is their 23rd album release is a mixture of self penned songs, traditional songs and some original tunes put to traditional lyrics. The group today consists of Prior, Kemp, drummer Liam Genockey, guitarist Julian Littman, fiddler Jessie May Smart, and Andrew ‘Spud’ Sinclair, who was filling in for six-year member Pete Zorn before Zorn passed away from cancer in April 2016. The main inspiration for Dodgy Bastards is taken from the work of the 19th century American Francis James Child. Starting in 1860 Child began to anthologize over 300 traditional ballads from England and Scotland, and their American variants. Their lyrics and his studies of them were published as The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. The themes were often dark and thought not suitable for the times containing such subjects as diverse as romance and half-human creatures or enchantment and forbidden love. The abuse of authority and the depiction of very real historical events and the boldness of outlaws and folk heroes made these songs dangerous to the authorities.

Dodgy Bastards begins with ‘Cruel Brother’ and from the start we have a song about a man who kills his sister! It’s classic Steeleye and starts with just the voices of the band before it kicks off. It’s certainly gentle and even hard to believe that this was classed as folk-rock back in the day but it’s catchy and extremely well played and Maddy’s voice is still as striking as ever. Lasting almost eight minutes it never outlasts it’s welcome and if you think this was gentle then ‘All Things Quite Silent’ takes it down further. Maddy’s voice dominates over a simple backing of guitar and fiddle. ‘Johnnie Armstrong’ is the story of Scottish raider and folk-hero Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie, who was captured and hanged by King James V in 1530. Big and gutsy, again it lasts over seven minutes. This is powerful stuff and the words can be dated to before 1724. This leads us nicely into the only song here I knew before, ‘Boys of Bedlam’. Loud and bombastic and with great fiddle and guitar.

(not the version on Dodgy Bastards but still worth a spin)

Recorded by Steeleye before as a simple folk version above here they give it plenty of welly and show those folk-rock credentials loud and proud even including a rap from Alex Prior, son of Maddy and Rick. Unrecognisable next to the earlier version from 1971 album  Please To See The King. The sleeve notes say of the song

“Priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem at Bishopsgate founded in 1247 became the male lunatic asylum known as Bethlehem Hospital or Bedlam in 1547. In 1815 it was moved to Lambeth in the buildings now housing the Imperial War Museum and in 1931 was moved to Kent. The hospital of St. Mary Magdalen was its female counterpart. During the 16th and 17th centuries the man in the moon was depicted as a bent old man with a staff leading a dog, carrying a thorn bush and lantern”

It’s an album standout for me though that’s hardly surprising I’m sure. On ‘Brown Robyn’s Confession’ recent addition to the band Jessie May Smart takes on the lead vocal before the distinct tones of Maddy joins her during the superb chorus. Another unusual tale this time of a ship’s captain and his men who go to sea and encounter a terrible storm. They cast lots to learn who is to blame, and it is Brown Robyn himself who is thrown overboard with him admitting that he has fathered children with both his mother and sister. Before he drowns he sees the Virgin Mary, who offers to let him come to heaven or return to his men. He chooses heaven. Next is ‘Two Sisters’ a murder ballad recounting the tale of a girl drowned by her sister with a great production as it is throughout the album. Accordion is great here and a real foot stomper of a song with Maddy’s voice soaring. The next song is about the dodgiest bastard of them all! A new song penned by Rick ‘Cromwell’s Skull’ clocks in at nearly nine minutes and with a beautiful fiddle solo from Jessie May Smart in the middle.

So now to the title song ‘Dodgy Bastards’ and folk music is jam packed with them and this jig is a full on tribute to them all. Great guitar work and shows exactly what great musicians they all are. Energetic and full of life which is what music should be. No one dies in ‘Gulliver Gentle and Rosemary’ which reminds me of a few songs that became successful in the 70’s/80’s. Them at their most pop friendly they soon return to darker themes with ‘The Gardener’. Nearing the end we have another new song, this time written by Julian, ‘Bad Bones’ in which Steeleye show their humorous side in a story of a right bastard. A totally unrepentant right bastard! The song includes another spoken word/rap and again it doesn’t feel forced or seem out of place. Not many bands could get away with it I tells you. Dodgy Bastards comes to an end with the epic ‘The Lofty Tall Ship/Shallow Brown’, lasting a serious ten minutes. Beginning as a slow ballad before gaining momentum its a is a traditional Scottish folk song about Henry Martin who turned to piracy to support his family. This develops into a beautiful rendition by Maddy of Shallow Brown a West Indian slave song/sea shanty and this then becomes another instrumental that brings the curtain down on this exceptional album with the highlight saved for the end.

(great half hour sampler of the album below)

The album is appropriately titled with its tales of murder, religion, incest, honour killings and tormented spirits and with their 50th anniversary fast approaching it’s simply unbelievable the quality of their work. Their work rate is incredible with Dodgy Bastards their eighth album in twelve years. The stories here are at the very heart of the what we know as Steeleye Span. The album clocks in at a incredible seventy-one minutes and deservedly so as the themes here are not for the short of attention span. Their audience these days may well be the preserve of the middle aged but they show here that they deserve better than to be pigeonholed like that. Constantly innovative and inspiring and as inspirational as ever they need to be heard and any readers here interested in the development of celtic-punk must make Steeleye Span one of their first stops.

Contact The Band

TheOfficialSteeleyeSpanSite  UnofficialSteeleyeSpanHomePage  Facebook  Twitter

Buy The Album

FromTheBand  iTunes  Amazon

Band Members Sites

Peter Knight  Maddy Prior  Gay Woods  Troy Donockley

ALBUM REVIEW: THE NARROWBACKS- ‘Arrogance & Ignorance’ (2016)

If Joe Strummer, Shane MacGowan and Bruce Springsteen survived a drinking session through the 5 boroughs, the hangover would be called The Narrowbacks.
narrowbacks
nar·row·back /ˈnæroʊˌbæk/ [nar-oh-bak]
–noun Slang.
1. Disparaging. an Irish-American.
2. a person of slight build who is unfit for hard labour
The Narrowbacks are from New York City and don’t they let us know us with their new album released this month Arrogance & Ignorance. Around the world Irish bands represent their city like The Wakes and Glasgow or The Bible Code Sundays and London and even though their are several absolutely brilliant New York Irish bands none are quite so linked to the city as The Narrowbacks are. They live and breathe their community and a listen to them brings alive the past, present and future of that community. With a sometimes painful history of tragedy and hardship that became a history of pride and celebration the Irish community today is again flourishing with increased emigration from Ireland and the way the Irish pass on that pride in their roots. One instance is the massive explosion in the playing of Gaelic Games in America and not just because of the newly arrived but those of Irish descent as well. With many of the old areas changing and other communities moving in, those places once known as Irish ghettos are no longer but the Irish still exist in vast numbers and their pubs and sporting venues are still reeling them in.
narrowbacks-band

The Narrowbacks from left to right: Anthony Chen – Bass (No Irish Ties) * Chris Moran – Drums (Irish American a few generations) * Seamus- Vocals and Patrick Keane- Accordion * (Father from Connemara Co. Galway, Mother’s family from Cork, Clare and Limerick) * Barry Walsh – Banjo, Mandolin (Father and Mother from Dublin) * Fionn McElligott – Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar (Father from Kerry, Mother from Kilkenny)

This is The Narrowbacks second album after Fire It Up in 2013 and they also released an outstanding EP last year, After Hours (review here). These records have for the main taken the same route of some seasoned Irish trad covers, some unusual or rare Irish trad covers and a smattering of self-penned numbers so it was a lovely surprise to see that every song here is one of the band’s own. All twelve tracks are written and arranged by the band and none disappoint too. If you thought they could do a catchy as hell version of ‘Sean South Of Garryowen’ then you need to hear them playing ‘Shannon’!
narrowbacks-logo
Arrogance & Ignorance opens with ‘The Banner County’, which for those who don’t know is the nickname of County Clare in mid-west Ireland in the province of Munster. The song was written by Seamus and is about his and Pat’s Uncle Matt who is from Clare, who got drafted to go to Vietnam and ignored advice to dodge the draft so he could stay in the States. The accordion, played by Seamus brother Pat, leads the boys out and tits all at a fast and furious pace and it may be mostly acoustic but these are not your normal finger in the ear folk band by any stretch. The song moves along and is a superb catchy start to proceedings telling of Seamus Dad’s arrival in America and his dream of
“going back to the Banner county someday”
This is followed by Shannon which came out as a single for St Patrick’s Day earlier this year as an album taster and this song runs away as the album standout. That New York Irish feel is all over this song and only two songs in and I’m already using the word ‘catchy’ twice!

The accordion and banjo are amazing and Seamus vocals are raspy and hoarse but in a way that won’t put off your Mammy or your Nanna. Its heading towards St Shane but still manages to fit the music perfectly. ‘Loisaida’ slows it down a little and is the first taste of the band playing a real Irish traditional song. Even then there’s room for a bit more and song takes in a few styles and influences under it’s Irish wings.narrowbacks-pale‘Home’ brings out the tin whistle and its a rollicking good tune about you know what. It would seem that the NYC Irish and the Irish here in England never stopped dreaming of ‘home’. As the saying goes ‘Home is where the heart is’ and The Wolfe Tones hit the nail on the head with their song ‘My Heart Is In Ireland’. ‘Whiskey River’ slows it down again and its the usual tale of the love/hate relationship we Irish have with alcohol as well as some unrequited love thrown in its a bad mixture. ‘Fourth Of July’ is up next and is the biggest American holiday and also known as Independence Day when the war started that saw the British Empire given the boot. Nowadays its just an excuse for a big party and why not! Accordion and banjo again are flying here but I must add that none of this would be as effective if it wasn’t for the rock instruments of bass and drums. The whole band play as a unit and the album’s production is exemplary with the mix of everything absolutely perfect. Nothing is competing to be heard but rather it all accompanies including the voice,for as we know the Irish voice is also an instrument. Chugging guitar and a track that wouldn’t be out of place with that other son of Ireland The Boss singing with ‘Rosie’ and ‘Prodigal Son’ is a good auld fashioned Christmas song directed at a Irish mammy waiting for her off-the-rails son to come home. Starting off as a, here’s that bloody word again, catchy Irish tune it feels like it may go off at a tangent at some point and then it doesn’t disappoint and it all comes off with some beautiful words about making it home all wrapped it a nice touch of ska/reggae that doesn’t stick out at all.

As hard as it is to make a unsentimental Christmas tune The Narrowbacks have managed it. A real beauty. I’ve had this song stuck in my head for a week and we have made it the London Celtic Punks Christmas song of 2016. ‘Ole’ is up next and this has to be the bands signature tune. Not sure why Irish football supporters have embraced this song so much but embrace it they have. This is the kind of tune that their gig’s must get messy to!
“my Daddies a Paddy and I’m a Narrowback”
We are nearing the end and another album standout track is ‘Want you Back’ featuring the amazingly wonderful voice of Emily McShane. Acoustic guitar and piano start the song off and Emily and Seamus sing to each other about a terrible mistake. The flute gets an airing for ‘Out On The Avenue’ and excuse me but its a fecking glorious sound! An excellent song that leaves the final song as ‘Bastards Of The Borough’ where Seamus is unaccompanied on acoustic guitar and belts out the names of those old Irish areas of NYC with gusto and pride.

narrowback-jfkTwelve songs that, as we said, are all penned by the band that comes in just shy of three quarters of an hour. The Narrowbacks are the sons of Irish-immigrants who found each other at their local pub in the Bronx and for that we and the New York Irish can be grateful. We a expressive race and there is nothing we love better than a sing-song and with the Irish communities outside of Ireland changing and having to re-adapt bands like The Narrowbacks have never been so important . Our history needs to be remembered and passed down to the next generations. Those that sacrificed before us must never be forgotten.This six-piece group may propel itself with punk rock in its heart but it has the soul of an old Irish folk band and we are blessed that they do.
Buy The EP
Contact The Band

EP REVIEW: BLACKWATER BANSHEE- ‘Blackwater Banshee’ (2016)

 A cracking new Irish band from Bristol in South-West England and with bands like this the celtic-punk scene is in safe hands!

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I came across Blackwater Banshee on Soundcloud a few weeks back but didn’t listen to any of their recordings till last week and what an eejit I was to wait so long. The five piece band are based in Bristol in South-West England and formed earlier this year. The band is made up of Karin Gormley on banjo and tin-whistle who is originally from Derry in Ireland, Richard Chapman is the vocalist and also plays mandolin, Bryn Llewelyn is Welsh and is on guitar and backing vocals and then we have Nige Savage on bass and Richard Underhill on drums. Bryn and Nige played in a classic rock band together and were looking to form a celtic rock band so after seeing his profile on Bandmix showing his background in Irish music they approached Rich and gathered him in. They then found Karin playing in an Irish folk session in Bristol. They soon started rehearsing back in June and recorded the EP in October. With Karin and Rich’s background in Irish folk and Bryn and Nige’s in rock they got the right blend of Irish folkness and rock to fit right into the celtic-punk scene.

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The EP is only four songs and as such is just a taster really of what they are capable of. All the songs are pretty standard trad Irish covers and concentrate on showing their folkier side. It begins with ‘Nancy Whiskey’ an old trad song that is about the dangers of drink rather than the dangers of women!

“I bought her, I drank her, I had another
Ran out of money, so I did steal
She ran me ragged, Nancy Whiskey
For seven years, a rollin’ wheel”

it’s played straight up and if your looking for comparison try O’Hanlons Horsebox or even the Bible Code Sundays. Its folk-rock designed to be played in an Irish Centre or pub full of 1st, 2nd, 3rd generation Irish and their friends. Their are several different versions and this is the one favoured by Shane MacGowan. Up next is the classic ‘Dirty Old Town’. Written by Ewan MacColl who has featured many times on these pages (have a look here where you can still get some free Ewan album downloads) back in the 1950’s and recorded most famously by himself, The Dubliners and The Pogues. Ewan MacColl actually hated The Pogues version of his song. In an interview Ewan’s wife Peggy Seeger, a renowned folk artist in her own right, contends that when Ewan wrote the line

“We’ll chop you down like an old dead tree”

he was implying improvement of Salford rather than destroying it. While as writer Jeffrey T. Roesgen quite rightly saw it

“In the Pogues performance we have little trouble seeing Shane, with spite seething from his lips, wielding his axe like a banshee, hacking his dismal town to splinters”

Love the tin whistle here at the beginning and the Banshees certainly give it their all. ‘Spancil Hill’ follows and is famous as one of the saddest songs about Irish emigration, and as you can imagine there’s at lot of competition when it comes to that subject. Recorded by Christy Moore with Shane MacGowan, The Wolfe Tones, Johnny McEvoy I’d go so far as to say its been recorded by just about everyone. Written by Michael Considine who was born in Spancil Hill in County Clare and emigrated to America around 1870. He intended to bring his love out to join him but knowing it would not happen he wrote the poem and sent it back to Ireland to his nephew and in 1873 he was dead at only 23 years old. The tragic story of poor Michael’s life only adds to the sadness of the song.

“I dreamed I held and kissed her as in the days of yore
Ah Johnny, you’re only jokin’, as many’s the time before
Then the cock, he crew in the morning, he crew both loud and shrill
I awoke in California, many miles from Spancil Hill”

More than once with a drink in me I have found that last line a bit too much myself… Blackwater Banshee make this their most personal song of the four adding electric guitar and the wonderful mandolin while the drums keep up the beat giving it a real pint in the air feel with Richard belting it out with real conviction. The EP ends with ‘The Leaving Of Liverpool’ and it’s one of the livliest of Irish folk songs. Liverpool was once one of the major sea ports in the world. It was collected by Richard Maitland, a resident of Sailor’s Snug Harbor a home for retired seamen on Staten Island, who learnt it on board The General Knox around 1885. Designed to be shouted at the top of your lungs while banging your pint on the table during the chorus. Here the tempo is high, the energy is up and just listening to it now has got me headbanging away.

So their you have it. Four songs sixteen minutes. Admittedly their is nothing unusual here but what you get is some expertly played Irish trad that promises much much more for the future. When playing live they feature tunes from The Pogues and Dropkick Murphys so there is definitely a punk element to their sound. They are certainly a band to watch as if they can play these standards so well we gotta look forward to some of their own material and soon I hope. For a new band its always hard to get going so give them a like on Facebook and have a listen to the EP and lets awake the world to Bklackwater Banshee!

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ALBUM REVIEW: RED HOT CHILLI PIPERS- ‘Octane’ (2016)

A fusion of traditional tunes and rock classics taking ‘Bagrock’ to a whole new level!

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Just the other day we reviewed the new single from Scots folk-rockers The Red Hot Chilli Pipers and we were so impressed that we’ve decided we had to check out and review their new album Octane as well. Released last June, Octane continues The Pipers quest to introduce the world to their very own genre of music- Bagrock!

Red Hot Chilli Pipers

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers are an Scottish pipe and drum group formed in 2002 and since their formation have combined guitars, keyboards, drums and, of course, bagpipes to create a style of music they have labelled ‘bagrock’. The band have toured the world performing a fusion of traditional pipe tunes and contemporary songs ever since. They have released a host of successful and acclaimed albums including their debut, the self titled, The Red Hot Chilli Pipers followed by Bagrock To the Masses and in 2008, their third and first, live album, Blast Live. 2010 saw their most popular album to date’s release Music for the Kilted Generation, which reached Number Two on the US Amazon Chart. The title is a parody of the Music for the Jilted Generation album by The Prodigy which sets the tone for much of what The Pipers do. Breathe was released in July 2013 and their latest album Octane, which came out earlier this year, continues to mix up both traditional Scottish tunes and rock classics, taking bagrock to a whole new level! Famed for their exhilarating live show it has led to them playing festival after festival around the world and seen their star rise above heights they must have thought unimaginable back at home in 2002!

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Octane carries on in much the same way as those previous album’s with a selection of stone cold rock classics and some of the bands own compositions all done and re-arranged with some of the best bagpipe playing you will find put down on record in 2016. Kicking off with ‘La Grange: La Grange / The Green Room’ its starts with a bit of boogey-woogie and then some strong guitar and then the pipes stroll in and takeover. ‘Starlight: Starlight / Charlie Brown’ is up next and aye its the Muse song intertwined with a track by Coldplay. Now some of the keyboard arrangements are a bit cheesy I’m afraid, it has to be said, but who cares cos as soon as the piping starts your away and you don’t give a toss! Its time for some trad next with a song called, yes you guessed it, ‘Time for Trad: The Kesh / Old Wullie’s Dog / Merrily Kiss the Quaker’s Wife’ where the Pipers go to town with a truly brilliant bit of celtic-rock that for me is the standout track on Octane. ‘Fat Bottomed Girls: Fat Bottomed Girls / Fat Arsed Lassies’ is up next with Queen’s famous non-PC track.

One of the better, but little known, Queen tracks and here given a brilliantly catchy rendition and accompanied by a fantastic video as well that you must check out above. Another unusual, but again superb, cover next with The White Stripes ‘Seven Nation Army: Roadhouse Song / Seven Nation Army’ before their own composition ‘Pressed For Time’ which again stands out among the covers. Now is a good time to tell you that (almost) all the songs are instrumental with no vocals. I am torn between thinking this is a good or bad thing. The album is great as it is but would they benefit from a singer I’m just not sure so I will stick to the old adage

“if it aint broke don’t fix it”

‘The Fallen’ was written by Red Hot Chilli Piper Roddy S. MacDonald and was released just the other week as a charity single as a tribute to the 343 heroes from the Fire Department of New York who made the ultimate sacrifice on September 11, 2001.(you can find more on the single release and how to buy it/donate here). ‘Chasing Love’ is another Pipers composition and as you could probably tell from the title is a much slower song before transforming into ‘The Way It Is: The Way It Is / Chasing Love’ and like nearly all the covers here you’ll be instantly racking your memory as you know the song but can’t quite reach who the artist is! As the album nears the end there’s more famous rock and pop songs here like Van Halen’s ‘Jump: Jump / Dancing Feet’, John Mayer’s ‘Neon: Neon / Wee Derek’s Song’ and Tears For Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World: The Bung / Everybody Wants to Rule the World’. They wait till the second last track to give us a real old traditional favourite with ‘The Wild Mountain Thyme’ which is credited to Francis McPeake back in 1957 though thought to be at least two centuries older. For the only time on the album we get treated to vocals and nowhere here do the band sound so Scottish especially as the song so strongly resembles the famous Scots tune ‘Go Lassie Go’ so much. Octane comes to an explosive end with ‘Urban: Rip the Calico’ and goodbyes are said with another catchy Red Hot Chilli Pipers song that really hits the spot.

So their you go fourteen tracks, mostly covers but with a decent smattering of self penned numbers that comes in at just over fifty minutes. Great value and the energy doesn’t cease for a single second throughout. The piping is simply brilliant and the accompanying mix of guitar, drums, brass etc., is inspired. Production is superb but if you’re not a fan of bagpipes (if so then why are you here?) then this won’t interest you BUT if, like me, you fecking love them then this album is an absolute must. It definitely errs towards the easy listening section of your local (if you got one!) record shop but let that not distract you from what is a excellent album of traditional Scottish music for the present day.

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CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: THE DUBLINERS- ‘A Best Of The Dubliners’

FREE DOWNLOAD!

The Dubliners are without doubt the best known band in the Celtic music world. Formed in 1962 their first hit single ‘Seven Drunken Nights’ launched them into international stardom. Non stop touring and a stint with The Pogues ensured that the popularity of their music never ebbed. Without them it is highly debatable whether or not celtic-punk would have ever come about as Shane McGowan himself has said.  The Dubliners- The first and original celtic-punk band.

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The Dubliners, now one of the most legendary bands in the world, started off in O’Donoghue’s pub in Dublin in 1962 under the name of The Ronnie Drew Folk Group. Then they were four, Ronnie Drew (vocals and guitar), Luke Kelly (vocals and 5-string banjo), Barney McKenna (tenor banjo, mandolin, melodeon and vocals) and Ciaran Bourke (vocals, guitar, tin whistle and harmonica). In 1963, they played a gig in Edinburgh where they met the head of Transatlantic Records, Nathan Joseph, for whom they started recording. In 1964, Luke Kelly left, and Bobby Lynch (vocals and guitar) and John Sheahan (fiddle, tin whistle, mandolin, concertina, guitar and vocals) were added. When Luke Kelly returned and Bobby Lynch left in 1965, we have what is considered as the original Dubliners, five individualists, five men whose talents were mixed together in a superb blend and just wanted to play and have a good craic. If they only knew what was awaiting them!

In 1967 their major breakthrough came as a result of a coincidence. Their song, ‘Seven Drunken Nights’ which was recorded in one take, was snapped up by a pirate radio station which started playing it along with the Beatles, the Mamas and the Papas, the Who, Kinks and Jimi Hendrix. Suddenly, The Dubliners were a major band, playing all over the world, getting into the charts, and receiving gold discs. Not what you expected from a bunch of hairy people who as Colin Irwin in the reissue of Live at the Albert Hall says

“looked like they’d just been dragged out of a seedy bar via a hedge (backwards) and dropped on London from a very great height”

The seventies started like the sixties ended – wilder touring, drinking and playing. They started doing regular tours, and they were still recording, of course. Then, in 1974, Ciaran Bourke collapsed on stage with a brain hemorrhage, which eventually led to his death. He first, though, recovered remarkably and was back on stage with The Dubliners, but collapsed again. At the same time, Ronnie decided to take a break, and Jim McCann took his and Ciaran’s place in the group.

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In 1979, Ronnie decided to make a comeback as a member of the group, although he probably never really left it. In the five years, he had recorded two solo albums, and The Dubliners three albums. With Ronnie returning, Jim left, and The Dubs were almost back where they started. Then Luke Kelly became ill, he collapsed on stage with a brain tumor, for which he received surgery several times. He too, made remarkable recoveries, and went on touring with the Dubliners, at the same time continuing his wild and unhealthy lifestyle. Sean Cannon, a long time friend, stepped in for Luke, when he couldn’t be on stage. Sean’s appearance wasn’t that well received by the audiences at the beginning, but he has later turned out to be an important addition to The Dubliners, and their repertoire. In 1984, Luke Kelly died, but The Dubliners, now with Sean Cannon as a member, decided to keep on.

1987 turned out to be one of the best – and busiest – years for the Dubliners. Their long time friend, and guest musician, Eamonn Campbell, brought the group together with the Pogues on the hit single ‘The Irish Rover’. This single took the Dubliners back to the charts, and also gave them a completely new audience; people who weren’t even born when The Dubliners started off. And with Dublin celebrating its millennium in 1988, The Dubliners also received more attention than for years. Eamonn Campbell joined them on regular basis, a move that has turned out to be one of the most important in their history. In 1988 Ciaran Bourke died, after years of pain and difficulties. He always was, and still is very much remembered by The Dubliners, just like Luke Kelly is.

The eighties finished off with rumours that The Dubliners were to retire, probably something that’s always been following the group. However, they didn’t, and celebrated their 30th anniversary in 1992, with a double CD and extensive tour. The nineties brought a tour video from the German tour 1995, and the “shock” news that Ronnie Drew was leaving. He left in December 1995, after releasing a superb album, Dirty Rotten Shame a few months earlier.

dubliners2Now, even the most optimistic Dubliners fans thought it was the end, but the lads decided to convince Paddy Reilly to join them, and they continued their busy touring and recording schedule. This move has also turned out to be excellent. Paddy, not very well known in Europe, had never been touring there, so he too enjoyed the experience, as well as being part of a band. He still, though, does tours in the USA in the winter and summer months. In 2002, they temporarily reunited with Ronnie Drew and Jim McCann, for their 40th anniversary tour but sadly after the tour, Jim McCann was diagnosed with throat cancer and, though he fully recovered, his voice was severely damaged, and has not been able to peform since his illness. Despite this, he regularly acts as MC at folk gigs, notably at The Dubliners reunion shows, and at the 2006 ‘Legends of Irish Folk’ shows (where he also played guitar in the finale).

Leader and legend Ronnie Drew passed away in 2008 meaning the end of the original Dubliners. Before he passed though he recorded with The Dropkick Murphys in a memorable version of ‘Flannigan’s Ball’ therefore passing on the baton to the only group comparable to them in what they mean to the Irish diaspora.

It was The Dubliners (and The Clancy Brothers And Tommy Makem who will be next in our series) pioneered the way for untold number of bands from Ireland and for Celtic music, like the Chieftains, the Pogues, U2, the Fureys and so on. The artists that list The Dubliners as one of their major influences and idols is endless. They brought folk music to millions of people all over the world, people who never otherwise have been interested at all. That isn’t only because of the music, it’s because of The Dubliners, their astonishing voices, their indescribable instrumentals, the wild life style and drinking, late sessions, their enormous beards, their extensive touring, their charisma and their characters. It was, and still is to a certain extent, a blend the world will never see again. The Dubliners brought Ireland to the world in a way that emigration hadn’t, they have brought the world to Ireland, and they have brought people all over the world closer together. When it ended, the world was never going to be the same again.

The Dubliners 1962-2012
Over the 50 years there were 12 people in The Dubliners.  Ronnie Drew (’62-2008), Luke Kelly (’62-84) , Barney McKenna (’62-2012), Ciaran Bourke (’62-74), John Sheahan (’64-2012), Bobby Lynch (’62-65), Jim McCann (’74-79), Sean Cannon (’82-2012), Eamonn Campbell (’88-2012), Paddy Reilly (’96-2005), Patsy Watchorn (2005-12) and Gerry O’Connor (2012).

The surviving members of the group – Sean Cannon, Eamonn Campbell, Patsy Watchorn and Gerry O’Connor, except John Sheahan, are still touring in 2014 under the name The Dublin Legends.

The Dublin Legends 2012-

After the departure of John Sheahan and the official retirement of the name The Dubliners in late 2012, the remaining members of the group – Seán Cannon, Eamonn Campbell, Patsy Watchorn and guest musician Gerry O’Connor – formed a folk band called The Dublin Legends to keep The Dubliners’ legacy alive. The band released their first live album entitled An Evening With The Dublin Legends: Live In Vienna in January 2014. They continue to perform extensively and you can find their web site here.

Tracklist:

1. The Wild Rover (2:50)
2. Medley: Doherty’s Reel / Down The Broom / The Honeymoon Reel (3:36)
3. The Holy Ground (2:26)
4. A Parcel Of Rogues (4:21)
5. God Save Ireland (1:57)
6. A Nation Once Again (1:31)
7. Spancil Hill (4:03)
8. Molly McGuires (2:01)
9. The Old Triangle (2:55)
10. And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda (6:16)
11. Johnston’s Motorcar (1:50)
12. Seven Drunken Nights (3:23)
13. Black Velvet Band (3:18)
14. Free The People (3:08)
15. Van Diemen’s Land (2:15)
16. Dirty Old Town (2:59)
17. Medley: The Maid Behind The Bar / Toss The Feathers (2:18)
18. Lord Of The Dance (2:27)
19. All For Me Grog (2:24)
20. Whiskey In The Jar (2:47)

(listen to the album below and follow the instructions to download for free)

The Dubliners On The Internet

OfficialDublinersSite  TheDubliners  It’sTheDubliners

“They brought folk music to millions of people all over the world, people who were converted to their charm. That isn’t only because of the music, the instrumentals or the stories, it’s because of The Dubliners, their astonishing voices, their indescribable instrumentals, the wild life style, the drinking, late sessions, their enormous beards (I even tried to copy them in the 70’s), their extensive touring, their charisma and the enigmatic characters. It was a blend the world will never see again.  It was an entire package that invented the word unique. How do you top that?Every artist in the world is trying to achieve success by getting their ‘sound’ and being unique.  The Dubliners did it”  –Robert Tallent

THE LONDON CELTIC PUNKS ‘Stepping Stones’ CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW SERIES

This album was brought to you as part of our regular series where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re maybe use to. Lost and hidden and sometimes forgotten gems from the legends that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern celtic-punk music. Usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘People Take Warning! Murder Ballads And Disaster Songs 1913-1938’ (2007)  here

EWAN MacCOLL -‘Bad Lads And Hard Cases: British Ballads Of Crime And Criminals’ (1959) here

EWAN MacCOLL AND PEGGY SEEGER – ‘The Jacobite Rebellions’ (1962)  here

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘Don’t Mourn. Organize!- Songs Of Labor Songwriter Joe Hill’ (1990)  here

LEADBELLY- ‘Easy Rider’ (1999)  here

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘The Little Red Box Of Protest Songs’ (2000)  here

GIL SCOTT-HERON- ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ (1974)  here

EWAN MacCOLL- ‘Scots Drinking Songs’ (1956)  here

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘Protest! American Protest Songs 1928-1953’  here

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘Women Folk- Iconic Women Of American Folk’  here

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘The Greatest Songs Of Woody Guthrie’ (1972)  here

ALBUM REVIEW: RUSTY NAIL- ‘Bitter Ale, Bitter Heart’ (2016)

If Liam Clancy grew up listening to Nirvana, it would sound like Rusty Nail.

St.Louis based Celtic-infused celtic-rock originals and traditional Irish Pub songs.

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Rusty Nail will be a name new to the vast majority I am sure but with this their new album they deserve a much wider audience and this just may be the one to get them it. Born and bred in the second biggest city of Missouri, St. Louis and when you find out the biggest city in Missouri is Kansas City you begin to realise exactly whereabouts in America you are. Famed through cinema history as the epi-centre of just about any decent cowboy film St Louis was a city founded by the French that transformed into a booming nineteenth-century industrial mecca. Experiencing a massive influx of people beginning in the 1840’s especially from Ireland and also from Germany, in forty years the population grew from 20,000 to 160,00 in 1860. Today the US Census Bureau gives the population of St. Louis as 318,416. Militant societies were formed, and an Irish nationalist rally at the Old Courthouse over 110 years ago filled the place to the rafters. Sadly in recent years the economy of the city has declined and St Louis has the highest percentage loss of residents of any city in the USA losing 62.7% since the 1950 census. It also has one of the highest murder rates in the USA (happily on the decline since 1993) but don’t despair as gentrification has given the business area lots of shiny new buildings for everyone to look at from across the city. Though as usual statistics don’t take into account the heart of a city and St. Louis has plenty of that. The city has also acknowledged their roots with those famine Irish who arrived all that time ago by twinning with both Galway and Donegal and while many of the Catholic churches those Irish built are gone and new residents live where they once lived the Irish community is still vibrant and strong with gaelic games and culture and tradition flourishing. The story of the St. Louis Irish is fascinating and I spent many a late night reading about them for this review. A great place to start is Bob Corbett’s Dogtown Homepage here. Dogtown is the Irish part of St. Louis and the name stems from the time of the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 when poor Irish squatters, living in makeshift shanties in Forest Park, were forced by the fair to move southward to the neighboring hill. As Bob himself says

“When they had to give up their squatters’ rights in the park, many of them moved over here. Most of them had space, so they kept hunting dogs. Quite a few of the people living over here descend from them”

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So out of this imperfect (tell me where is?) city comes the latest in a long line of Irish infused celtic-punk bands. Rusty Nail are a seven piece group formed in the winter of 2005 that plays music inspired by the likes of the ususal suspects of The Pogues, The Tossers and Flogging Molly but also of the Clancy Brothers, The Wolfe Tones and even Tom Waits. Their debut album, Ounce And A Half Of Whiskey, released in 2006 showed a band a long way from today’s incarnation. Played as a straight up four piece acoustic band the album stands up extremely well with its mix of mostly self penned ballads and a few trad covers and all with some surprisingly good country’n’western touches. They followed that up in 2011 with the release of Boozers, Bastards, and Bards. It saw the band move away from the acoustic more folkier music they had been playing. As Rusty Nail co-founder Alvan Caby says

“We always wanted to be a full rock band. So about a year into the band’s run, we added drum, bass and guitar slots to make a bigger sound”

With this ‘full sound’, as they put it, the album brought some great reviews and gained them massive exposure and they very soon became firm favourites among the St Louis Irish community and its friends. The album is again a  collection of mostly self penned tunes about drunks, unsavory characters and Irish poets chucked into a blender and mixed up with traditional folk sounds, rock and punk. The band take their name from an old-timey alcoholic beverage made with Whiskey and Drambuie Liqueur that gives a nod to the past while keeping it modern and helping along the booze-fueled festivity!

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Rusty Nail left to right: Pete McAvity- Electric Guitar * Chris Otto- Tin Whistle, Native American Flute * Dennis Frentzel- Drums * Kelly LaRussa- Violin * Alvan Caby- Mandolin, Guitar, Vocals * Chad Ross- Guitar, Banjo, Dulcimer, Accordion, Bouzouki, EBow, Organ * Mark Hochberg- Bass

So in the 10th anniversary year of the band they have come up trumps again with Bitter Ale, Bitter Heart. The album begins with ‘The Magician’ and fiddle and from the outset sets the tone. You can hear influence from The Tossers here but Rusty Nail are their own band and within the first few bars you can tell this band is something special. Alvan’s lyrics sound like they are ripped straight out from his heart and laid bare for us. He said in a recent interview that

“There’s lots of silly lyrics in our older songs. But for now it’s about the idea of honesty and true-story kind of stuff. I’m a big fan of sad lyrics with happy-sounding music. There are a lot of artists who do a similar sort of thing. It’s about being honest. I don’t know if it will mean as much to the next person as it does to me, but maybe it will. It helps me deal with feelings of failure, feelings of loneliness and feelings of disappointment. But there’s also feelings of love and hope. As dark as the songs get, then there’s still hope”

That thing Alvan said about sad lyrics with happy-sounding music nails the Rusty Nail sound perfectly. ‘Return To The Start’ the next track up gives off an triumphant air with the jolly sound of fiddle and this time the mandolin to the fore but again there’s much more to it.

(not the album version but I like it even more)

Alvan’s voice is not yer perfect croon, that much is true but I very much doubt it could be done any other way and it fits in like no ‘crooner’ ever could. ‘Giving Up’ gives it over to the tin whistle to shine and more lyrics maybe best not to listen to in the dark on your lonesome but by Christ it’d be enough to get you out yer chair and leaping around. As has been said before here on this blog the level of musicianship of some of these celtic-punk bands is incredible.

‘Less Than Angels’ is the first slower song of the album and tells of the Irish that left in those so called ‘famine’ years. Again a real and honest heartfelt song that tells the story in a way I have never quite heard before.

“The hunger drives you to do incredible things

To travel across oceans and cut off all our wings

And be less than angels with sin in our heart

Abandoning our nature, destroying all our art

 

They say that the famine was the cause for all of this

It’s a hell of a gamble, a swing and a miss

A perishable future amongst gravel and soot

The dust of our harvest is trampled under foot

 

Will the poor be poor always?

Zero hope and dream is killed

Will the classes and divisions

Become narrower still

No belief in myself

Erasing all our goals

The grave-digging starts tomorrow

Better start digging your hole

 

The hunger drives you to do unspeakable acts

To lie to your brother, exaggerate the facts

And be less than angels with blood on our hands

The hourglass is emptied of the last grains of sand

 

I’ll do anything for a job, anything for a life

I’ll suffer for the scraps, for child and for wife

Bill collectors have all taken the dignity I have left

Politicians and the banks are all guilty of theft”

The band are back rocking out with ‘It’s A Shame I Did Nothing’ and gives them the chance to show off their rock credentials but also chucks in a flute to keep it celtic and an acoustic guitar that shines through the rocking loud and clear. ‘Another Story of Unreturned Love’ is by far and away the catchiest song on this album of catchy songs. Telling of a failed relationship and its aftermath.

“I couldn’t talk to you

Standing in front of you

Holding my feelings and biting my tongue

And our “Little Ireland” is what we decided on

Things that I wish that I said when I’m young”

All the band come together in celtic-punk perfection and a wee mention for the superb drumming here too. ‘Hardscrabble Road’ is the tale of a loser told in a slow ballad that speeds up towards the end and the accordion drives it along till Alvan’s voice takes the lead.

Coming to the end and celtic-punks favourite subject pops up in ‘Liquid Miracles’ again telling of a loser who, like many, knows exactly what he’s doing but can’t help himself.

“the disease of the mind that I have caught”

Another slower song ‘Central West End’ and more misery and the common theme seems to be that the loser in Rusty Nail songs is trapped by addiction despite knowing all too well what he’s doing. Another catchy as feck number that is a great example of the excellent production here. All the instruments, electric and folk, are clear as them bells (what does that mean??) and despite the tune speeding right up in parts doesn’t lose that clarity so hats off to Chad for the excellent recording and mixing. Chad plays guitar, banjo, dulcimer, accordion, bouzouki, EBow and organ on the album so surely knows what he is doing! Next is the album’s longest song at well over five minutes.

‘Mad As Birds’ another standout track and evokes sadness upon sadness here as the song builds up and up and swirls round and round before ending on, for them, a rather positive note before coming to an end with ‘The Nightmare Will Prevail’

“It’s only fair, that you buy another round for all your friends

They’ve stuck around and stuck up for you

When the rest of us could not pretend

This bitter divide that you’ve caused for us is one that’s hard to defend

But I have faith in you,

Even though it may be hard for anyone to comprehend”

This is pure infectious dance music (proper dance music that is!) with enough fist in the air moments going on here to give you a bad shoulder in the morning! Like the best in celtic-punk its a roller coaster of emotions and the joyous music belies the seriousness of the words and though Alvin’s (and Chris) lyrics often inhabit a dark place it’s the story of Irish-America. It’s not all shamrocks and shenanigans you know. So whether you are looking for a band to get you off your feet and move and shout and scream and spill your drink to or just kick back and sit and listen to with a glass of the pure to warm you and take in every road these bhoys and ghirl have travelled then Rusty Nail are the band for you and whichever you choose you are guaranteed to find a great time.

(you can listen to Bitter Ale, Bitter Heart for free before you buy it by clicking play on the Bandcamp player above)

nail3Buy The Album

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  • for another view of the album check out Celtic Folk Punk And More here

(great video with music and band interviews)

9/11 FIREFIGHTERS CHARITY SINGLE RELEASE BY THE RED HOT CHILLI PIPERS

Bagpipes with Attitude! Drums with a Scottish accent!

For all firefighters the world over.

September 11, 2001, will rank among the bloodiest days in the history of the Irish people. Nobody knows exactly how many were lost but we do know that thousands of members of the global Irish community left home that day never to return and see their loved ones again. Many of the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania perished in a valiant struggle to save the lives of others. The heroics of the members of the Fire Department of New York and the 343 souls they lost that day alongside other police officers and emergency workers will be remembered for their unfathomable courage. Leaders in their chosen professions. Success stories of an Irish diaspora built on the many sacrifices of their ancestors.

irish-fireman

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers are pleased to announce the release of a new charity single and a glowing tribute to the 343 Heroes from the Fire Department of New York who made the ultimate sacrifice and saved thousands of lives 15 years ago on September 11, 2001. Every penny of the proceeds raised from this track will be donated to two very important fire service charities – The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Family Support Trust and The FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums. This highly emotive piece of music show’s how much firefighters mean to us all, something that not only says thank you to them but is also a lasting and fitting tribute to all firefighters worldwide. The tune was written by RS MacDonald in memory of the members lost that horrible day and, former fireman and founding band member Willie Armstrong put together a great group of musicians in Scotland to make this happen. The stunning video, featured below, begins in Edinburgh before heading to New York before returning to the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond for the final tribute to The Fallen.

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers are an Scottish pipe and drum group formed in 2002 and since their formation have combined guitars, keyboards, drums and, of course, bagpipes to create ‘bagrock’ sound. The band have toured the world performing a fusion of traditional pipe tunes and contemporary songs. They have released a host of successful and acclaimed albums including their debut, the self titled, The Red Hot Chilli Pipers followed by Bagrock To the Masses and in 2008, their third and first, live album, Blast Live. 2010 saw their most popular album to date’s release Music for the Kilted Generation, which reached Number Two on the US Amazon Chart. The title is a parody of the Music for the Jilted Generation album by The Prodigy. Breathe was released in July 2013 and their latest album Octane, which came out earlier in the year, continues to mix up traditional tunes and rock classics, taking bagrock to a whole new level! Famed for their exhilarating live show it has led to them playing festival after festival around the world and seen their star rise above heights they must have thought unimaginable back at home in 2002!
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BUY THE TRACK FROM iTUNES FOR ONLY 99p

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Information on the charities benefitiing from the single can be found here

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Family Support Trust here

The Emerald Society Pipes and Drums here

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ALBUM REVIEW: SHAMBOLICS- ‘Riot On Race Day’ (2016)

“In South Australia I was born, heave away, haul away In South Australia, ’round Cape Horn, we’re bound for South Australia”

…Ten original songs from rollickin’ celtic punk to country and spaghetti western…and beyond!

Shambolics

One of the biggest dangers of doing a site like this is that there are only so many ways you can describe something and if that something is something that you love it is near impossible to hold back and not go overboard about it! Now regular readers will know that when it comes to Australian celtic-punk we turn into a blubbering mess. Well if that gets on your nerves then skip this review as it is yet another fantastic album release from down under that we are going to rave on and on and on about!

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Hot on the heels of the review of the new fellow Aussies Rumjacks album earlier in the week itss the new long player from Shambolics (there’s no The!) who hail from Adelaide which is the capital city of South Australia and they play good auld fashioned Poguesy style Irish celt’n’roll tunes. Formed out of the ashes of a previous celtic-punk band called The Gartloney Rats they featured on these pages once before back in June, 2014 when we reviewed their debut EP (here) titled ‘Pogue Mahone’ (in gaelic ‘póg mo thóin’)  which is, of course, the Irish for Kiss my Arse and also the name The Pogues began with till the Brit media realised what it meant and made them change it! The Pogues reference fits Shambolics well as almost uniquely, to me anyway, they adhere to a much more folkier sound then their Australian celtic-punk counterparts. Most Aussie bands you would generally call punk rather than folk so Shambolics stand pretty much alone doing what they do and they are doing it as well as anyone else across the globe. A trio consisting of an Irishman, an Englishman and a Russian you would hardly tell there’s no drummer either.

Shambolics

Jimmy on Banjo (Irish) * Alan on Guitar (English) * Paul on Accordion (Russian)

The album kicks off with the title song ‘Riot On Race Day’ and you get a feel for The Shambolics and what they are about from the first few seconds.

This is good time music for jigging about and going off on one after a few jars in the pub. Sure it’s folk but the kind of folk that would have the purists running away from and the punk rockers running to!

“There’s a riot on race day the Shambos beat them all
Played all day and never did stall
Music started they couldn’t stand still
There’s a riot on race day way down at Morphettville”

The second track is ‘Banshee’ and my favourite on the album. As catchy as feck and a real good tune with a whole host of instruments jumping out of you. Now gotta add that the production is here is absolutely spot on. All them instruments sound perfect and compliment each other so well done to Gavin O’Loghlen and the Bhoys for that.

‘Hell On Wheels’ slows it right down showing a different side to Shambolics and reminds me of Hell’s Ditch Pogues with a real cowboy banjo driving the song along. We are back with another slower song next with ‘Grace Of God’ and a word here for Alan’s vocals that portray both the funnier side of Shambolics as well as those songs more from the other side of the tracks. To be sure its not all piss taking and when they need to pull out a serious one his voice portrays perfectly with his deep raspy cigarette laden Irish accent doing a great job altogether.

“So with pockets full of holes, as are my worn out shoes
I feel the cobbled stones along the lanes
As I fall into a bar, and I hear a poor man singing
I drink my beer and share the poor man’s shame”

That Hell’s Ditch banjo is back with ‘Preacher’s Daughter’ and again the band nail it and chase that with ‘Stand Me Up’ that begin’s with one of my favourite instruments in celtic-punk the harmonica. A slight rock’n’roll flavour to this reminding me again of Shane with The Popes this time. Again a classic already and a song I’ll still playing in the months to come. ‘Go Wan Go Wan Go Wan!’ takes me back to summer holidays and slave labour on a farm in south Tipperary during the school holidays where your only reward would be a coke and crisps in the evening in a pub full of men talking about the price of milk.

“Ger Up the Yard, Ger Up the Yard, Smell of Hay about yer Person”

‘World Away’ slows again and you know I could see the appeal of Shambolics from 8-80 here. That sort of downtrodden thing that the Irish sometimes have in song fits in great here when placed up against some of the more upbeat and jolly songs. After all as much as we love those songs where we can leap around like maniacs and shout ourselves silly we also need songs where we can hold our loved ones and strangers and tell the word who we are while raising our glasses high.

“Travel the world, I was told, would make me a man
All the four corners, I’ve sailed and come back again
Always reminding myself wherever I roam
Someday my journey will soon, be calling me home”

‘Truck Of Lurve’ is classic Shambolics with some utterly hilarious bits within it and then finally Riot On Race Day comes to an end with the superbly fantastic ‘Shambo Blessing (Good Luck to you)’.

“May the road rise up to meet ya, may the wind be at your back
May the horse that has yer money be the first around the track
May the love you have inside ya never wither never die
May you live long and forever have a twinkle in your eye
So good luck to you
Good luck to you”

I think sometimes it would be easy to judge The Shambolics as a sort of jokey band thanks to the cartoon record sleeves (done by regular Shambolics collaborator Mark Mathieson)  and aye admittedly sometimes jokey lyrics but sometimes they can pull a song like this out of their ass and it all makes perfect sense.

“May your pint glass never empty, and yer pockets always full
May you never get a knock back, cos you know she never will
May you wander free and easy, and you never have to hide
And you wake up in the morning to a rasher and a ride
So good luck to you
Good luck to you”

So their you have it. Ten original tracks that will certainly get the blood racing that were all written by Alan and Jim of the band. I can have nothing but high praise for this album. From beginning to end it encapsulates everything I love about celtic-punk. A love and respect for folk music but which is never afraid to take it and shake it and give it a nudge up to the modern day. If the spirit of The Pogues still lives on in any band then by Christ then that band is Shambolics! Go Wan Go Wan Go Wan!

(have a sneaky free listen to Riot On Race Day by pressing play on the Bandcamp player below before you buy it!)

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ALBUM REVIEW: RUNA- ‘Live’ (2016)

Timeless, flawless, innovative and award-winning Irish-American Celtic roots music.

RUNA Live

After four superb studio albums the brilliant Runa release a live album, imaginatively titled Live, that captures perfectly the sound of this amazing band. With a pedigree second to none, made up of vocalist and step-dancer, Shannon Lambert-Ryan of Philadelphia, Dublin-born guitarist, Fionán de Barra, Cheryl Prashker of Canada on percussion, Dave Curley of Galway on mandolin, vocals, bodhrán, and step-dancing, and Maggie Estes of Kentucky on the fiddle they are surely bound to hit the heights again with this album and they have deservedly earned their reputation as one of the most innovative and unique Irish bands of recent times.

Claude was a evangelical preacher, faith healer and singer-songwriter who helped popularise the music of the Appalachian mountains and was one of the fore-runners of the birth of rock’n’roll. Great percussion here keeping a fantastic beat while Shannon’s beautiful voice confers the greatest respect for Claude’s music. The opening song contains all those elements that make Runa such an interesting band. Based in the music of the celtic nations there is so much going on here that to simply call it celtic music does not give you anything like the full story. ‘

“Still I sing bonnie boys, bonnie mad boys,
Bedlam boys are bonnie
For they all go bare and they live by the air,
And they want no drink nor money”

In the 18th century it became a popular diversion to visit the hospital to watch the antics of the poor inmates. Admission was one penny and the hospital realized an income of four hundred pounds a year from visitors. The song Fionán de Barra takes over vocal duties and murderer. Excellent fiddle and a real thigh slapper that gets the audience here really involved and singing along.

“False Sir John’s a wooing gone
To a maid o’ beauty fair
May Colven was this lady’s name
Her faither’s only heir”

“Then myself and a hundred more to America sailed o’er
Our fortunes to be making we were thinking
When we landed in Yankeeland they shoved a gun intae our hand
Saying, Paddy you must go and fight for Lincoln

General Meagher to us said, If you get shot and lose your head
Every mother’s son of you will get a pension
In the war I lost my leg, all I’ve now is a wooden peg
By my soul it is the truth to you I mention

Now I think myself in luck to be fed on Indian buck
In old Ireland the country I delight in
And with the devil I do say, Oh Christ curse America
For I’m sure I’ve had enough of your hard fighting”

One of the saddest of the Irish emigration songs it is unusual in that songs of that time were written by the people escaping the ‘famine’ back home and extolling the virtues of the ‘land of liberty’. To put it glibly ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’. Truly not every man is a king in the US of A. Fionán takes over the lead vocals again and his whispered hushed tones fits perfecting the sadness in the song. ‘The stereotype of whale fishermen is a of a hairy chested, hard working, hard drinking, hard fighting men of the sea and while, no doubt the description fitted many of them, they often showed a strong liking for gentle ballads like these. The first parts tells the whalefishers story while part two tells of how closely we came to the extinction of this majestic animal.

“My soul has been torn from me and I am bleeding
My heart it has been rent and I am crying
For the beauty around me pales and I am screaming
I am the last of the Great Whales and I am dying”

1947 between a young boy and a false knight (the devil in disguise). The child gets the better of him and damns him back down to hell. Steeleye Span, Oysterband, The Blue Velvet Band have all recorded the song and here Runa give it as good as anyone with Shannon’s vocals shining out. So ends Set One and begins Set Two.

RUNA inside

All rested Runa return to rapturous applause and kick off their set with fiddler and composer born to a Irish musical family in Chicago, Illinois. next up is ‘

“Mhí mise lán den tsaoil is bhi cion amuigh is istigh orm
Nach mór a dáthraigh an saol nuair nach bhfuil eion ag duine ar
bith orm? / At one time in my life I was dearly loved by everyone
Haven’t times changed when no one cares a whit for me?”

(“Fine girl you are!”) version beloved by Irish pub dwellers worldwide but another less well known song written by Gerry O’Beirne about a man who leaves Ireland and ends up in the America southwest, eventually dying fighting and dying for the Mexican Army in the San Patricio Battalion (St Patrick Brigade).

“There the winds of change they blew so far
Of liberty and revolution
And it seemed that each man heard in his breast
the drumming of a nation”

Robert Dwyer Joyce

“Twas hard the mournful words to frame
To break the ties that bound us
Ah, but harder still to bear the shame
Of foreign chains around us
And so I said, ‘The mountain glen
I’ll seek at morning early
And join the brave united men’
While soft wind shook the barley”

and Aoibhneas Eilís Ní Cheallaigh/ Filleadh An Bhadora

Discography

Jealousy (2009) * Stretched On Your Grave (2011) * Somewhere Along The Road (2012) * Current Affairs (2014)

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  • For the review we published of the last Runa studio album Current Affairs check here

THE POGUES AND IRISH CULTURAL CONTINUITY

BY PÁDRAIC GRANT

Shane MacGowan’s awareness and adaptation of trends in the literary world, along with the narrative quality and structural experimentation of his work, should cement his status as both a musical and literary figure.

The Pogues Continuity Splash

The Pogues (formerly Pogue Mahone, Irish Gaelic for ‘kiss my arse’) were formed in 1982 by a group of London Irish musicians eager to drag Irish folk into a musical world that had been changed and redefined by the advent of punk. This mission was to be marked by success and failure, but by 1996 when they officially disbanded, they had permanently left their mark on both folk and mainstream music.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the band through those years was the extensive influence literature had on their lyrics. Rather than simply drawing on certain works for inspiration, almost every lyric in the Pogues extensive repertoire can be traced to a certain area of the written word.

Shane

Leading this literary charge was main songwriter and ideologue Shane MacGowan, who’d come through punk emboldened by its ideals, but distraught by its mainstream assimilation. The catalogue of songs penned by MacGowan regularly evokes previous writers and styles, often twisted and placed in new frameworks. Indeed, most of his lyrics are as intellectually stimulating when read as poems and stories as when performed as full songs.

From the moment he began penning songs, MacGowan was artistically indebted to his Irish homeland, a fact reflected in both music and lyrics. Literary touchstones spanned the Irish spectrum—Brendan Behan, James Joyce, Edna O’Brien, Flann O’Brien, Sean O’Casey, Frank O’Connor, and James Stephens were drawn from and their influence incorporated into his burgeoning songbook. While the idea of the songwriter-as-poet is often evoked in a clichéd (even insulting) manner to give certain artists ‘credibility’, MacGowan’s awareness and adaptation of trends in the literary world, along with the narrative quality and structural experimentation of his work, should cement his status as both a musical and literary figure.

As the band gained further success and the other members began to substantially contribute to the lyrics, concerted attempts were made to avoid stagnancy. Eventually, the collective focus fundamentally changed in ways that would have massive effects on the group. Extraneous reference points began to dominate, with the music switching to a menagerie of world music styles, and the lyrics drawing from non-Irish, less literary sources. This fragmentation would afterwards be cited by MacGowan as one of the biggest reasons for his estrangement from the other members of the band.

TRADITION REANIMATED

Going back to the band’s formative years, an important reason for the band’s very existence was a fervent desire to reiterate the aspects of Irish folk music that ran contrary to the sophisticate persona espoused by the dominant elements of ‘80s music. From the stale by-products of 70’s AOR who had somehow got through the post-punk safety net (Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel) to the New Romantics with their synthetic music and lifestyle, the Pogues sought to challenge the status quo by injecting a sense of danger into Irish folk, thereby returning Irish folk to the mainstream. This was to be achieved through a heady mix of punk and folk, filtered through a coarse, unrefined aesthetic. And with virtually no electric instruments (Cait O’Riordan’s bass guitar was a notable exception) and a minimalist bass/snare drum kit, the contrast with mainstream instrumentation was glaring.

Despite this, perhaps the freshest aspect of the re-named Pogues was the literary quality of their original songs. Amongst volatile renditions of traditional standards nestled originals composed in the same style, infused with a punk-derived radicalism that brought the band beyond mere rehashed folk. The London-Irish composition of the group meant that its Irish influences were viewed through the lens of cosmopolitan London, and the city would go on to be the focus of numerous songs by the band.

Red Roses For Me

Gaining a reputation through relentless touring, they signed to the independent Stiff Records in 1984. The first album, ‘Red Roses For Me’, was released in October of that year, and was an underground success despite its poor mainstream showing. Critical attention focused on the burgeoning lyrical talents of Shane MacGowan as much as on the music. Taking its title from a late-era Sean O’Casey play, the album offered a demonstration of MacGowan’s continuity with Irish writers past. The Irish identification was even carried onto the album art: A portrait of the band members seated around a painting of John F. Kennedy, a symbol of solidarity with the Irish diaspora across the world.

O’CASEY AND SOCIALISM

Aside from bestowing the album with a name, O’Casey was influential stylistically. The lyrics on ‘Red Roses for Me’ focused on the lives of the 1980s working class in the same way O’Casey portrayed the proletariat of the early 1900’s. A lifelong communist and Republican dissident, his portrayals were combined with his socialist beliefs to demonstrate the inherently political nature of working class life. Similarly, the debut Pogues LP illustrates the impact of wider political processes on mundane reality.

Sean O'Casey

Sean O’Casey

While avoiding overt left-wing sloganeering, the anti-authoritarian approach evident in certain tracks was intensified by the experience of Thatcherite Britain, where harsh monetarism had led to the working class feeling persecuted by the ruling Conservative Party. This sense of injustice was given credence by the Miner’s Strike occurring the same year the album was released, an event that embodied opposition to the implementation of profit-driven neo-liberalism. Under such circumstances, the sense of anger present in ‘Red Roses for Me’ is easily read as a reflection of the labour class’s embittered undercurrent, manifesting itself in several songs on the album.

The opening song, ‘Transmetropolitan’, is a conspicuous example of this attitude. Both tribute to and attack on the city of London, the composition is a contradiction. The music is frenetically gleeful, while the lyrics veer from a celebration of London life to a bitter attack on the pillars of the British establishment:

There’s leechers up in Whitehall
And queers in the GLC
And when we’ve done those bastards in
We’ll storm the BBC.

Whitehall (the home of the British government, the GLC (Greater London Council), and the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) represented the stale powers-that-be, a focus for bitter resentment. That the enemy was the suitably vague “establishment” was a by-product of the band’s punk roots, a recurring and pervasive influence that sat comfortably alongside the anti-authority stance of the writers inspiring the group.

BEHAN AND BLACK COMEDY

Brendan Behan

Brendan Behan

Despite the O’Casey reference in the title and the similarities shared in the portrayal of working class existence, it is clear that Brendan Behan is the dominant influence on ‘Red Roses for Me’. ‘The Auld Triangle’, an Irish standard adapted from the introduction to the Behan play ‘The Quare Fellow’, is the third track on the album and a marked contrast to the rest of what is an ultimately raucous record.  It’s stark, skeletal, and relies primarily on MacGowan’s vocals. The mood is despondent and the lyrics wistful, but lightened by occasionally humourous lines (a literary technique MacGowan adopted in his own writing, which often includes comedic moments in the midst of squalor). This aspect of his songcraft would later be explored and refined on ‘Rum, Sodomy & the Lash’.

‘The Boys from the County Hell’ is the most precise example of punk’s influence on the album. Upping the ante on ‘Transmetropolitan’, it’s a vicious exploration of the alcohol-fuelled violence of the urban London lifestyle (the city termed ‘County Hell’ in a translation bearing the mark of Irish geographical terminology), and a further fleshing out of MacGowan’s songwriting, recalling the unflinching portrayal of violence in Irish tradition. Coming from that lineage, it contains one of his most blackly humourous couplets:

My daddy was a Blueshirt and my mother a madam.
My brother earned his medals at My Lai in Vietnam.

‘Streams of Whiskey’ carries the Behan obsession to new heights, encapsulating MacGowan’s adoration of the man in one song. The lyrics depict a conversation held with Behan in a dream. When asked about his views on the “crux of life’s philosophies”, he answers: “I am going where streams of whiskey are flowing”. This ‘philosophy’ manages to make alcoholism sound almost idealistic—after all, it concerns a person who once quipped

“I’m a drinker with a writing problem”

Flann O'Brien

Flann O’Brien

‘Streams of Whiskey’ is also a buried reference to Flann O’Brien—a pseudonym for Brian O’Nolan, who MacGowan cited as one of his favourite authors in ‘A Drink with Shane MacGowan’.  O’Brien’s ‘The Poor Mouth’ (originally published in Gaelic as ‘An Beal Bocht’) includes a story regarding a mountain with two streams of whiskey flowing at its summit. A brilliant satire of Ireland’s victim mentality, the novel is built on, as with most of O’Brien’s works, an absurdly funny plot and writing style that Shane MacGowan emulated throughout his time in the Pogues.

NEW STRUCTURES

‘Red Roses for Me’ may have received praise for its literate lyrics, but the following year’s ‘Rum, Sodomy And the Lash’ was the moment where the Pogues songcraft truly blossomed. From post-modern character realignment to minutely-detailed narratives, the many facets of Irish literature are explored and amalgamated into a work that reads like an overview of the canon.

Depiction of Cúchulainn by John Duncan

Depiction of Cúchulainn by John Duncan

As the opening track for the album, ‘Sickbed of Cúchulainn’ is a significant song in more than one respect. Not only does it demonstrate the cleaner production and more thought-out arrangements of the record as a whole, but most importantly the progression of MacGowan’s songwriting. As a character, Cúchulainn (a legendary Celtic warrior and son of the god Lugh) was a towering figure in Irish storytelling, regularly recurring in stories up to and including the Celtic Revival of the late 19th century. While The Pogues stick to this tradition, the song that bears his name is a sober modernisation of the monolith; a demonstration of the continuity held with preceding Irish literature, but a strong statement of realist rather than mythic characterisation.

This approach to the protagonist is similar to the proto-postmodernism of Flann O’Brien in novels such as ‘The Third Policeman’ and ‘At Swim-Two-Birds’, which dragged characters such as the mythic Fionn MacCumhaill into a contemporary setting. Thus ‘Sickbed of Cúchulainn’ styles the character not as a demi-god, but in the flawed guise of the socialist IRA leader Frank Ryan. Appearing alongside the singers John McCormack and Richard Tauber, Cuchulainn is an unacknowledged hero, a participant on the losing side of the Spanish Civil War (as was Frank Ryan in reality.) Cuchulainn’s illustrious status in Celtic folklore is contrasted with the more human heroism of the unacknowledged Ryan, an anti-fascist who later faced the ignominy of death in a Nazi submarine. “You decked some fucking blackshirt who was cursing all the Yids” and “We’ll sing a song of liberty for blacks and paks and jocks” serve as MacGowan’s tribute to a man whose heroism was to stand against the fascist tide in an Irish nation still in thrall to the Catholic Church.

That this depiction is in complete contrast to the Cúchulainn of William Butler Yeats may not be coincidental. MacGowan’s opinion of Yeats is derisory at best: “[Yeats wrote] a few classics…but there’s a mammoth amount of work…there’s like books and books and books of his stuff, and there’s about three or four good poems.” (A Drink with Shane MacGowan) The negative sentiments might also be inspired by Yeats’s championing of aristocratic ideas and (later retracted, as the Second World War approached) support for Irish and European fascism, something that was later also criticised by George Orwell.

FIRST PERSON NARRATIVE

Eerily slow-burning after the preceding frenzy, ‘The Old Main Drag’ is a torrid narrative recounting the struggles of a male prostitute in seedy London. MacGowan’s evolution as a lyricist may have been obvious on ‘The Sickbed of Cúchulainn’, but only a truly adept wordsmith could forge the themes of drugs, prostitution, and police brutality into such an easily engrossing story. Accompanied by almost hypnotic musical repetitions, ‘The Old Main Drag’ is replete with characteristic attention to detail:

One evening as I was lying down by Leicester Square
I was picked up by the coppers and kicked in the balls
Between the metal doors at Vine Street I was beaten and mauled
And they ruined my good looks for the old main drag.

In later years, this song would be offered as ‘evidence’ that MacGowan had worked as a hustler. Although it may be a common assumption that realist first person narratives must be based on something experienced by the author, in MacGowan’s case the supposition could have been caused by the debt his style owed to writers like Frank O’Connor. A short story author of great magnitude, O’Connor wrote essentially autobiographical stories in the guise of characters like Larry Delaney, recounting childhood events rich in detail and evocative of the conservative Ireland of the early 20th century.

Frank O'Connor

Frank O’Connor

MacGowan similarly recounted stories heavy on minutia, but as far removed from bucolic rural Ireland as could be possible. When people read the lyrics of songs like “The Old Main Drag”, the easy interpretation was that due to the attention to detail inherited from writers like O’Connor, MacGowan was channelling his real life experiences through the characters in his writing. As with many issues surrounding the Pogues, though, there is no firm answer regarding the truth of these rumours. The sheer number of contradictions is similar to the fog around MacGowan’s eventual dismissal by the group.

BUILDING AN IDENTITY

Another highlight from the album is the quixotic ballad ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’, one of the more sentimental songs performed by the band. However, like everything MacGowan wrote in this period, it is laced with the typical dark elements that prevent it from becoming merely saccharine. Therefore, while the song laments the “streams, the rolling hills, where his brown eyes were waiting” or “The birds whistling in the trees / Where the wind was gently laughing”, the protagonist is also “drunk to hell”, the setting filled with men who “prayed, cursed, and bled some more”.

In this moment, Shane MacGowan established an identity—one adapted from past writers (the contrast between sweet sentimentality and darker elements, humour intercepting both, a hallmark of Irish writing from Behan to Beckett), but an identity nonetheless. This proved a blessing and a curse, for while the positive comparisons were no doubt welcome, others were beginning to wonder if the Pogues, and Shane MacGowan in particular, had inherited the predisposition for alcohol held by the writers they admired. Press attention would lead to the stereotyping of the band as alcoholic Irishmen (particularly in an infamous Sounds’ article written around the release of ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’ as a single), a perception made even more believable by other songs, including ‘Sally MacLennane’.  Similar to older folk songs about the return of a person to their hometown (a theme also touched upon in ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’, written by the Irish literature-influenced Phil Lynott), the song is an ode to the joys of alcohol with nearly every verse containing a reference to drinking.

Much of the band’s catalogue is the same, and with their love for writers who also enjoyed a drink (not forgetting their Irish background), it was inevitable that they would be included in the ‘drunken Irish artist’ stratum. In the ‘Sounds’ article mentioned above, Spider Stacy remarked, “I drink to blot out drunkenness”. A quick retort to an over-bearing journalist it may have been, but in the years to come such excesses would prove to be the undoing of the band. But before that point, there was much glory and still more ignominy to come.

‘Rum, Sodomy And The Lash’ was a crucial step forward for the group. Moving on from the lyrically-constrained ‘Red Roses for Me’, which had been somewhat straightforward in its subject matter, the incorporation of differing stylistic approaches made this album a milestone for the incorporation of literary methods into modern Irish folk music. Over the coming years, the subjects would become more expansive, the music more extravagant. Here, the Pogues would achieve the perfect balance of tradition and innovation in their songwriting, the democratic ideal prominent since the beginning would finally flourish, and commercial success would be assured.

NEW DEPARTURES

This phase began with the release of the ‘Poguetry in Motion’ EP in 1986. Comprised of four wildly varying tracks, the EP worked as a bridge between the boisterous folk of before and a new, heavily-orchestrated style embodied by ‘A Rainy Night in Soho’ (significantly, in all respects a masterpiece). Both styles would be followed up on proceeding albums, but the EP is interesting as a microcosm of the band’s musical past and future, and their sense of humour, with the instrumental ‘Planxty Noel Hill’ a swipe at the eponymous musician and member of the folk aristocracy in Ireland.

Taking part in a radio debate with the Pogues, Hill had referred to their music as a “terrible abortion” and as disrespectful to traditional norms. The ‘planxty’ in the title is a traditionally honourific prefix dating back to the 1600s, and serves as a rejoinder to Hill, a tongue-in-cheek espousal of the ultimate traditionalist form. ‘London Girl’ and ‘Body Of An American’ rounded off the release and are notable because of their respective connotations of ‘Red Roses For Me’ and ‘Rum, Sodomy And The Lash’-era material. Clamorous, intelligent, romantic, iconoclastic, the EP was a bookend for what had come before, and a torch-bearer for what was to come next.

Two years later, 1988 saw the release of ‘If I Should Fall from Grace with God’, a new departure in several areas. The lyrics are more far-reaching than ‘Rum, Sodomy And The Lash’, yet remain within the realms of Irish tradition. From the pleasures of a win at the dog tracks to the laments of the Irish diaspora in America, and even the first overtly political songs of the band’s discography, the subjects expand far beyond the character studies and narratives of the first two releases. It even sounds more sprawling, the appearance of a full drum kit and session accompaniment seeming like sheer opulence compared to the thriftiness of before. Two new members make their debuts: multi-instrumentalist Terry Woods (formerly of the legendary folk-rock bands Sweeney’s Men and Steeleye Span) and Daryl Hunt (replacing the outgoing Cait O’Riordan). The inclusion of jazz and indigenous Spanish and Middle-Eastern folk would sound more shocking had they not been woven so brilliantly into Irish music forms, the mock-sitars of ‘Turkish Song of the Damned’ countered by ‘The Lark in the Morning’, a traditional jig that ended the song, and the faux-jazz ‘Metropolis’ and its prominent horns disarmed by mid-tempo folk verses.

J.P. Donleavy

J.P. Donleavy

Commercial success was confirmed with the release of ‘Fairytale of New York’. Written by MacGowan and Jem Finer, it shares both a title and subject with J.P. Donleavy’s novel ‘A Fairytale of New York’, both works regarding the pursuit of the American dream and, tentatively, the experiences of the Irish diaspora. The merits of the song lie in its exploration of relationships and their intricacies, how they span place and era and how external bickering can mask deep affection. MacGowan is accompanied on the track by Kirsty MacColl, in the guise of a woman whose hopes for a life of prosperity lie dead, shattered by the very person who embodied them. The duet examines the dreams, the shattering, and finally the redemption, like a short story where a monumental topic is condensed, and benefits as a result. A technicolour version of ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’, a romantic song that remains solidly realist (as the input of MacGowan ensured), the song was only kept off the top spot by the poor ‘Always on My Mind’ cover by the Pet Shop Boys. It has since become a Christmas standard, and the most well-known demonstration of the Pogues’ songwriting skill.

POLITICAL MILITANCY

The subject of Irish Republicanism and the conflict in Ireland was a popular focus for folk groups during the ‘80s, a contemporary issue of great importance socially and culturally. The Pogues explicitly explored this for the first time on ‘If I Should Fall’. Grounded in personal conviction and a long literary tradition, the Pogues were unashamedly Republican, and indeed at an early stage held the moniker the New Republicans. These beliefs manifest themselves in the medley ‘Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six’. Musically, little links the two songs, but the subject matter is related through its exploration of the ongoing war between the IRA and British forces in Ireland.

‘Streets of Sorrow’, a stark, emotional lament for the war-torn streets of cities like Belfast and Derry, urban areas scarred by the trauma of ongoing war, is immediately followed by the passionate anger of ‘Birmingham Six’, despondency exploding into rage against a Government viewed as oppressive and racist:

There were six men in Birmingham
In Guildford there’s four,
They were picked up and tortured
And framed by the law.
And the filth got promotion,
But they’re still doing time
For being Irish in the wrong place
And at the wrong time.

The Loughgall Martyrs

The Loughgall Martyrs

Naturally enough, the song was banned by the BBC, continuing a torrid relationship between the band and the corporation. As a medley, the song works perfectly: A distillation of the anguish caused by the Irish conflict and the unbridled anger at a British Government the Republicans viewed as the cause of their problems. That the Pogues held controversial opinions was not in doubt. At the time, the only mainstream voices were those of outright condemnation of the IRA on the one hand, or outright silence on the other. In that spirit, there is more than mere protest in ‘Birmingham Six’, with the final verse containing a reference to the Loughgall Martyrs, eight IRA volunteers killed while attacking a Royal Ulster Constabulary police barracks:

May the whores of the empire lie awake in their beds
And sweat as they count out the sins on their heads,
While over in Ireland eight more men lie dead
Kicked down and shot in the back of the head.

Again, there was a literary precedent for the group’s political views, with Brendan Behan, Frank O’Connor, and Ernie O’Malley among the writers who had actively participated in the IRA and expounded upon their views in writing. The theme would be taken up again in later songs like ‘Young Ned of the Hill’ and ‘Rainbow Man’.

POSTMODERN MYTHOLOGY

Another new topic for the band was the role of mythology in Irish life. ‘Sit Down by the Fire’ is a comic take on this tradition:

Sit down by the fire, and I’ll tell you a story
To send you away to your bed.
Of the things you hear creeping
When everyone’s sleeping
And you wish you were out here instead.

The Riders of the Sidhe, by John Duncan

‘The Riders of the Sidhe’ by John Duncan

Lyrically, the focus is on the fairies, or ‘sidhe’, that haunted Irish imagination for centuries, and still persist in popular superstition. MacGowan has long found the idea of parents telling these terrifying stories to children at bedtime as comical, an absurdity built into Irish life for centuries.

The song’s subject matter is interesting because it shows the group exploring the area of folklore (despite its monolithic status pre-20th century, folklore had never been a big concern for the band) while also stepping back from it. This separates such an exploration from the misty-eyed renderings of other more literal folk-rock acts like The Horslips, who had created concept albums based around Celtic mythology. It also continues the motif of postmodernism from MacGowan, the song being a meta-narrative about the telling of a folk tale rather than a simple rendition.

BEYOND IRELAND

While it may have been expected that the band would bask in the critical acclaim of ‘If I Should Fall from Grace with God’, this wasn’t to be the case. MacGowan’s alcoholism had progressed beyond being a mere nuisance, and the other members were becoming disgruntled. Worried that MacGowan was hitting the gutter, just as Behan had before, and more willing to take advantage of the democratic songwriting ideals the band had been founded upon, the songwriting representation from the rest of the band would increase on future albums.

This process was immediately visible on 1989’s ‘Peace And Love’. MacGowan’s declining influence was indicated by the (comparatively) paltry six songs he contributed to the 14-track record. The new songwriting arrangements made for instant change, the first surprise coming with the introductory instrumental ‘Gridlock’. An exploration of hard bop jazz and an uncompromising repudiation of folk, the song differs thematically from anything performed by the band before. However, the song that defines the negative side of this experimentation best is the bizarre Celtic-Caribbean fusion of ‘Blue Heaven’, a reprehensible song with the Calypso pretensions suffocating any melodic inventiveness; a situation that occurs with saddening periodicity in the band’s later catalogue. Even the Irish folk songs sound bland and enervated, an alarming regression from the band’s original desire to invigorate the style.

Despite portraying himself as the arch traditionalist during this era, Shane MacGowan was not, in fact, conducting a one man crusade against the pretentious designs of his fellow band members. He had likewise introduced extraneous influences into the pure folk of before. As noted by Simon Reynolds in ‘Generation Ecstasy’, rumours abound that, having become immersed in the acid house scene, he wished to include a 20-minute appropriation of the genre (titled ‘You’ve Got to Contact Yourself’) onto ‘Peace And Love’. Whether there is any truth to this is again unknown, but what is audible fact is the bizarre Motown stomp of ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah’, released as an EP following ‘Peace And Love. While two collaborations with the legendary Dubliners are included, this appears to be an almost apologetic move. Unfortunately, the cover of ‘Honky Tonk Women’ would require much greater atonement than that.

ENGROSSED IN EUROPE

‘Hell’s Ditch’ seemed like the final break with the Pogues of before. Although containing some fine songs grounded in the same folk stylings (‘Sunnyside of the Street’, ‘Hell’s Ditch’), it sounds uninspiring and even conventional in parts—as pedestrian as the ‘celtic fusion’ peddled by acts like the Saw Doctors or The Waterboys, and not helped by the sterile production courtesy of Joe Strummer. Most substantially, the Irish element was downplayed massively; it was simply another amongst the other myriad styles of ‘world music’.

Jean Genet

Jean Genet

Jean Genet

This extended to the lyrical elements, too, but in a vastly more positive way. MacGowan’s contributions were fresh and informed by a different aesthetic from the Irish folk of before, transporting the narrative style to exotic characters and locales from further afield on the European continent. The title track’s debt to Jean Genet manifested itself in a snapshot narrative, stark prison imagery wrapped in an overtly-sexual veneer:

The killer’s hands are bound with chains
At six o’clock it starts to rain
He’ll never see the dawn again
Our lady of the flowers

Verses describing death and squalor (like those above) are juxtaposed with others like:

Genet’s feeling Ramon’s dick
The guy in the bunk above gets sick

This is a structural trick that jars the listener and underlines the debt to the novel ‘Our Lady Of The Flowers’. In common with the Irish influences of before, Genet celebrated the lowlife, the disenfranchised, and those who refused to conform to societal norms, but in a more explicit manner that questioned the values society encouraged and celebrated.

Federico Garcia Lorca

Federico Garcia Lorca

Aside from Jean Genet, the spectre of Federico Garcia Lorca also informed the album. Like ‘Sickbed of Cuchulainn’, ‘Lorca’s Novena’ deals with modern heroism against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. Backed by an eerie, dread-inducing combination of heavy bass and martial drums, the song tells of how the homosexual poet met his death at the hands of Franco’s nationalists. It’s not only the horrific circumstances of the poet’s death that justify the sinister vibes, but the wider context of a fascist victory that would ensure the legitimisation of such reprehensible deeds.

The final song of ‘Hell’s Ditch’, ‘Six to Go’, is an aural tombstone to the MacGowan Pogues, a condensed form of all the musical and conceptual contradictions that would contribute to its demise. Concerned with the six counties of Ireland which remain under the political control of Britain, it includes what sounds alarmingly like clichéd tribal chanting, an Africa found by way of ‘The Lion King’ rather than anti-colonial solidarity. In common with other songs of this era (‘Blue Heaven’, ‘Summer in Siam’, ‘Five Green Queens And Jean’), the solid core ends up ruined rather than enhanced by its exotic trappings.

The positive impact of the international influences on ‘Hell’s Ditch’ is confined solely to the lyrics, which flourish and give the Hibernian focus of the first three albums a sense of context, placing Ireland amongst the other great literary nations of the world, rather than resorting to the Irish chauvinism jokingly played up (particularly by MacGowan) in interviews. If the music had gone the same way, perhaps the culmination of stylistic disparity and substance abuse wouldn’t have led to the decision to kick MacGowan from the band as a whole.

After the disintegration of the original line up, the remaining members regrouped to make two further albums: 1993’s ‘Waiting for Herb’ and 1996’s ‘Pogue Mahone’). Yet without MacGowan at the lyrical helm, the collective lacked the cutting edge they had once possessed. Hence, while the two discs have their moments, they lack charisma and the sense of energy that defines the earlier albums, not to mention that they continue the terrible world music flirtations that marred the last two MacGowan albums. However, by the time of the band’s official demise in 1996, their influence was beginning to be felt in a big way.

LANGUAGE AND CLASS

When evaluating their overall influence, the Pogues use of language cannot be ignored, and it betrayed more than a small debt to Irish literature. In his essay regarding Yeats, George Orwell points out the difficulty of equating ideology with a writer’s style. He notes that Yeats’s attempts at simplistic writing appear convoluted, giving the example of the following verse from ‘An Acre of Grass’

Grant me an old man’s frenzy,
Myself must I remake
Till I am Timon and Lear
Or that William Blake
Who beat upon the wall
Till Truth obeyed his call.

William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats

Orwell calls attention to the word ‘that’ before William Blake’s name as an attempt at conveying familiarity by utilising forced prosody, a co-option of the language of the lower classes negated by the poet’s aristocratic tendencies. When the Pogues lyrics are analysed in a similar way, the opposite conclusion is clear: the lyrics are unforced and authentic, intelligent but unpretentious. ‘Dark Streets of London’ is an effortlessly figurative example of this

“I like to walk in the summer breeze
Down Dalling Road by the dead old trees
And drink with my friends
In the Hammersmith Broadway
Dear dirty delightful old drunken old days”

The quality of such writing is that it makes the quotidian seem otherworldly through common poetic methods like alliteration. The tongue-twisting last line reads like something written by Gerard Manley Hopkins rather than an extract from a popular music song. Coming at the dawn of their career, such examples would become commonplace for the band, a musical fulfilment of Orwell’s proletarian artistic vision.

IRISH POST-COLONIALISM

Interpreted through the lens of post-colonialism, the band offer an intriguing range of interpretations, and indeed contradictions. Firstly, the very fact that they were composed primarily of London-born musicians would seem to render their status as Irish music icons quite hollow, an easy target as ‘musical imperialists’ plundering the vaults of a rich tradition. This allegation is easily refuted, however, the band’s members were all of Irish heritage, some even born there and with strong connections to the island.

In a more elaborate sense, the very foundations of the group immunise them from such attacks. By attempting to modernise folk, adhering to its roots but emphasising areas neglected by other artists, such as attitude and literary merit, the Pogues (in their early stages at least) helped save Irish folk from becoming a marginal strand of the ‘world music’ scene. This was in marked contrast to other groups, such as Moving Hearts, who from the beginning merged folk with jazz and rock styles. If this interpretation is accepted, then consequently Shane MacGowan’s criticism of the post-‘If I Should Fall’ immersion in world music becomes easier to accept as well. After all, when the theoretical grounding they had started with began to dissolve, the songs became less distinguished and more conventional, consumed within the quagmire of the cultural buffet of world music and generic folk-rock.

The Pogues And The Dubliners

The Pogues And The Dubliners

Another barrier against such attacks is to take the opposite conclusion: the Pogues as the products of an Ireland that has throughout its history assimilated invaders and immigrants into the native society. While historically there had been fierce resistance to such absorption, at certain points the cultures of the native and colonial Irish inevitably coalesced. The greatest manifestation of this was in the Celtic dawn of the late 19th century, when a vast re-discovery of Gaelic Ireland was expressed through modern literary and performance techniques. Writers like Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory (despite the mockery afforded them from MacGowan) worked to create a distinctly Irish literature, not dependant on wider developments within Britain for inspiration.

Important as an explicitly nationalist rejection of cultural imperialism, the Irish literary revival’s reverberations continued throughout the 20th century. As the 21st century approached, there were intimations that the cultural dependency had been reversed to a certain extent. The post-colonial literary theorist Declan Kiberd writes:

“When Daniel Day-Lewis pronounced his win at the Oscars [for his portrayal of Christy Brown in ‘My Left Foot’] a triumph for Ireland, he effectively dismantled the English-when-they-win, Irish-when-they-lose equation. But he chose Irishness just as much as the Anglo-Normans did before him: in neither case was it forced upon a hapless victim”

This was but one example of the increasing prevalence of Irish (or faux-Irish) content in popular culture in the late ‘80s and into the ‘90s, alongside films like ‘The Commitments’ and productions including ‘Riverdance’. The Pogues’ role in this reversal is interesting, because while in terms of location they were primarily English, they were possibly the most fervent purveyors of ‘Irishness’ amongst their Celtic cultural contemporaries, musically and in content. That it took a band located in England to re-assert Irish music’s place in popular music (rather than confined to the folk sidelines) says a lot about Ireland’s unusual place along the path of post-colonialism, the mass emigration that occurred mainly as a consequence of colonial exploitation has rendered its culture stronger in areas other than its origin. Following their artistic forebears, the Pogues contribution to post-colonialism has been to re-establish Irish identity (in the form of music and text) as having something to offer beyond novelty or the margins, as a vibrant player on the international stage.

CELTIC PUNK AND A WIDER INFLUENCE

Flogging Molly

Flogging Molly

The mid-90’s saw the emergence of a host of (primarily American) bands largely influenced by The Pogues musical, lyrical and conceptual qualities. The fact that this scene has grown so vast as to require an article (or a book) of its own is testament to the inspiration legions of acts have taken from the band, but the two most popular acts, critically and commercially, are undoubtedly Flogging Molly and The Dropkick Murphys.

The former takes their cue from all eras of the Pogues, while including conventional instrumentation like the electric guitar (‘Another Bag of Bricks’ even usurps the Middle-Eastern influences of ‘Turkish Song of the Damned’ in a garishly conspicuous way.) Albums including ‘Swagger’ and ‘Drunken Lullabies’ share thematic subjects with the Pogues, abundant in references to Irish history and politics, including the important role of the Catholic Church. Dropkick Murphys differ from Flogging Molly by mixing their folk with prominent ‘Oi!’ influences. This has led to a blatant espousal of working class socialism more explicit than that ever referred to in Pogues songs. Making visible their debt to the Pogues, the band even had MacGowan appear as a guest vocalist on ‘Good Rats’ from 2001’s ‘Sing Loud, Sing Proud’.

Dropkick Murphys

Dropkick Murphys

While Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys may be the most important bands deriving stylistic influences from the Pogues, they’re only the tip of the iceberg. The celtic punk scene has spread from its main base in America all around the world, a common motif of the hybrid being Pogues covers, homages, and references, a musical movement equivalent to the Irish diaspora’s diffusion on a global scale. Beyond this scene, the group’s influence has extended to areas more mainstream than the largely underground punk circuit.

On a global level, Irish folk became a visible presence in popular culture by the early 90’s, albeit in watered-down forms like ‘Riverdance’ and ‘The Corrs’, which bore scant relation to the music or ethos of the Pogues. It’s hard to say whether such acts can even be considered as musically influenced by the Pogues, but it is certain that the Pogues chart success the laid the foundations for mainstream assimilation of Celtic music by popularising it in the first place. So while songs like ‘Fairytale of New York’ and ‘The Irish Rover’ can’t be counted as direct influences upon mainstream exports, they can be considered torch bearers for their cultural phenomena.

MacGOWAN’S CURRENT STANDING

So where do the Pogues stand today? While other members of the band made vast contributions to the group and Irish folk, it is MacGowan who remains famous in the mainstream. Portrayed in the press as a stereotypical drunken Irish poet, a boozed-up bohemian associated with other artists known for their excesses (especially Pete Doherty of the Libertines and Babyshambles), he is also increasingly lauded as a genius songwriter by sources as mainstream as the NME and The Guardian.

Since the full reformation of the band in 2001, these laudatory sentiments have only increased, a result of the now-legendary status afforded to the band’s performances. Inevitably, the media has commented on the continuity between his ‘literary drunk’ status and artists of the same vintage who preceded him. MacGowan even doggedly champions Coleridge over Wordsworth, believing the latter’s work to be inferior on an artistic level, but his fondness for Coleridge also lies in the Romantic’s famous use of opium.

It’s a pattern that remains a constant through all the Pogues albums, the championing of the underdog cast aside by society, and that is the role MacGowan has taken for himself. Whether writing in the guise of a person experiencing the euphoria of winning a bet, the solitary child terrified by ghouls of their parent’s making, or the railway workers toiling and dying without recognition, he imparts a personal touch that is ultimately the real affinity he shares with the writers he admires. Frank O’Connor, Brendan Behan, Flann O’Brien, Edna O’Brien, Mannix Flynn, authors MacGowan maintains have lived; the same underclass he immortalises in his own writing. Ultimately, he has emulated them in his own life and gained similar recognition, hailed not only as a musician, but as a legitimate and important contributor to the continuing evolution of Irish writing.

PopMatters

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*originally published on the marvellous Pop Matters web site.

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* if you’re interested in The Pogues we have a stack of great articles on them-

‘From Oppression To Celebration- The Pogues And The Dropkick Murphys And Celtic Punk’ here 

‘A Wee Biography Of Shane MacGowan’  here 

‘30492-London Celtic Punks Top Twenty Celtic-Punk Albums Of All Time’ here

‘Film Review: If I Should Fall From Grace With God- The Shane MacGowan Story’  here

‘Book Review: Irish Blood, English Heart- Second Generation Irish Musicians In England’  here

‘Red Roses For Me And Me’  here

‘Film Review: I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Every Day’  here

‘Book Review: Rum, Sodomy And The Lash’ by Jeffrey T. Roesgen’  here

‘The Pogues On Mastermind- The Questions’  here

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