Rollicking, inspiring, group-singing, Pogues-inflected Punk with heavy multiple-world and Folk-genre borrowing thrown all around.
Plenty of bands have come and gone over the years. Ballydowse were one such band. An American Christian Celtic-Punk band (though the Chicago Reader calls it shit-kicking Celtic crunch Punk) active between 1998 and 2003 they recorded two albums that concentrated on social and economic issues.
Ballydowse were a Celtic-Punk rock band from Cook County, Chicago, Illinois with a rare mix (in Celtic-Punk anyway!) of both anarchist and religious ideas infused into their music. Formed from the ashes of Streetpunk / Oi! band Crashdog many of the group’s members were members of the Jesus People USA, a community seeking an alternative to the self-based standard of living. In addition to the group’s Mekons / Pogues-style Celtic-Punk influences, the group also drew influence from across the world music such as Klezmer and Tibetan throat singing. Ballydowse released two fantastic albums on Grrr Records both engineered by the legendary producer Steve Albini, famous for his work with such diverse acts as Low, The Pixies, Neurosis, Bush and Mogwai.
Their debut album was entitled ‘The Land, the Bread, and the People’ and found a home for many who found common cause with certain elements of Christianity while rejecting the supposed American right wing bias so prominent in the church at the time. Their second album ‘Out Of The Fertile Crescent’ continued this trajectory with a growing Eastern European flavor. The group’s political activism over the economic sanctions on Iraq in the 2000s, prison reform, the death penalty and the short-comings of capitalism was unique among Christian bands of the time. As they are quoted
“hardcore punk rock, early British oi sounds, violins, didgeridoos, bagpipes, mandolins, old Yiddish music, and the idea of overthrowing the $government$ to form a more merciful and compassionate society.”
They may sound kinda preachy but they were far from it. They are credited with being at the forefront of the hardcore Christian music scene at the time. Sadly Ballydowse disbanded in 2003 but don’t let those cocky corporate music execs keep you from hearing quality music. Let’s prove them dead wrong, join the revolution, and turn the world upside down. A double dose of Ballydowse is a great place to start to get your motor running, heart pounding, brain thinking and your spirit soaring.
“Holy Father we all want bread,
Both from heaven and your fields so green.
I know your grace is man’s first need,
But I can no longer hold the pain I’ve seen.
I am my brother’s keeper and that I’ll always be.
I’ll not turn my back be he stranger of blood
And embrace a life of greed.
I am my sister’s keeper and that I’ve always been.
Every day I’ve left her out in the streets”
from ‘The Land, The Bread And The People’
(You can stream or download the albums through the Bandcamp player)
THE LAND, THE BREAD AND THE PEOPLE
Released July 1, 1998. Recorded at: Tone Zone Recording in Chicago by Steve Albini. All music and lyrics by Ballydowse. Produced by: no one in particular.
OUT OF THE FERTILE CRESENT
Released July 1, 2000. Recorded at Wilson Warehouse, Tone Zone Recording, and Electrical Audio in Chicago by Steve Albini.
The band members who played on this album : Andrew Mandell – vocals, Robina Mandell – vocals, Nate Peters – vocals, guitar, mandolin, Darren Davick – guitar, vocals, bass, octave mandolin, Brian Grover – bass, singing bowls, didgeridoo, throat singing, Dan Kool – vocals, bodhrán, concertina, Levi Nerad – drums, Donnie Anderson – drums, Dave Baumgartner – violin with guest appearances from Tony Krogh – highland bagpipes and Hilde Bialach – cello
I recently discovered this live footage of Ballydowse that was uploaded in 2015 and hidden away on You Tube. The quality is fair but the sound is excellent. In the briefest of descriptions it just says ‘St. Petersburg, Florida’ but I worked out the gig was held at a homeless shelter in the town.
Read Ballydowse own words through Andrew and Brian from the band in an extensive interview with the Christian music site ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ from 2000 here. There’s another interview with Robin and Andrew and The Outcast here where they explain where the band name comes from. There’s not a lot of information out there on Christian Celtic-Punk but the now defunct and sadly missed web-zine Celtic Folk Punk And More has a big section on Christian Celtic-Punk here
*This article originally came with free download links to the albums but as of July 2019 they are no more!