Pittsburgh celtic-rockers the Bastard Bearded Irishmen deliver an original, ferocious blend of traditional and contemporary Celtic music, mixed with punk, gypsy and high-energy rock n’ roll on their third album out this week.
Bastard Bearded Irishmen are one of the hardest working bands ON the Irish-American celtic-rock scene and their hard work has paid off with the band now known right across the States and even beyond. Formed back in 2008 the band celebrate ten years together with the release of their third studio album, Drinkin’ To The Dead. Originally planned as a one off tribute for a friend’s funeral, George H. Evans IV, a friend of the band and guitarist who died in a car accident in 2004. George was a big Irish-American guy who loved the Dropkick Murphys and during that one-off show Jimmy Bastard and Ben Jaber decided their passion for Irish music needed a further outlet so after recruiting a couple more local guys and gaining a rather nice sponsorship deal from Jameson’s Irish whiskey the Bastard Bearded Irishmen were born.
This is the band’s third album behind their self-titled debut of 2011 and ‘Rise Of The Bastard’ in 2014. That debut trod the well worn path of mostly auld Irish standards and though an excellent album it only left their fans wanting to hear more of their own stuff. They got their wish with Rise Of The… which was an album of solid self penned songs with just three covers chucked in. One of the most pleasing things about the Bastards was their ability to switch from Irish punk to folky trad and though on their new album the rougher edges have been smoothed down this ability still shines through.
Bastard Bearded Irishmen hail from Pennsylvania’s second largest city Pittsburgh located in the northeastern and Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The city is known as ‘The Steel City’ due to its history of steel production and way back in the 1830’s, many Welsh people from the Merthyr steelworks immigrated to the city following the aftermath of the Merthyr Rising. By the 1840’s, Pittsburgh was one of the largest cities west of the Allegheny Mountains. The Great Fire of Pittsburgh destroyed over a thousand buildings in 1845 and the city was rebuilt by Irish immigrants who had arrived in the area escaping The Great Hunger back home. By the end of the century Pittsburgh’s 1,000 factories were consuming 22 million coal bushels yearly with coal mining and iron manufacturing attracting waves of European immigrants to the area, increasingly from southern and eastern Europe, and including many Catholics and Jews fleeing injustice and poverty in their homelands. Today the Irish still number 16% of the cities population and the Saint Patrick’s Day parade is second only to New York in the whole of the USA.
(the Bastard Bearded Irishmen bhoys discuss their upcoming 2018 album, Drinkin’ to the Dead and the evolution of the group)
So coming from an area with a rich working class history and confident in it’s Irishness the Bastard Bearded Irishmen found much work around the city playing to their fellow Irish-Americans but as has been said hard work and solid graft has seen them voted ‘Best Rock Band in Pittsburgh’ for four years in a row, ‘Best Bar Band’ twice, opening for the Dropkick Murphy’s and Stiff Little Fingers and a whole host of major folk and rock bands while, of course, playing just about every decent Irish music festival including last years mega Shamrockfest. Their third album Drinkin’ To The Dead came out on that most special of days for sc-fi fans, May the 4th, kicks off with ‘Salutations, Memoirs, Denouements’ which was their first single from the album released last February. They seem to have lost none of their bite since 2014’s Rise Of The Bastard and despite promising to have moved away from the Irish punk of the first two album’s I can tell you there’s plenty here to keep fans old and new very happy indeed. As is the way the opener is always one of the strongest songs and no different here with Jimmy Bastard belting out the lyrics about remembering close lost friends and comrades.
” But through the tears (we arise) as we honour the lives of the ones we left behind”
Fast and furious and tuneful with great fiddle work its a brilliant way to start things and I can tell I’m in for a good time here! Drinkin’ To The Dead also sees mando player Danny Rectenwald step up to the plate vocals wise and him and take the lead on a handful of songs here that gives some nice balance to Jimmy.
So if the opener made me think we were in for more of the same ‘No Problems, No Drama’ took me by surprise with its combination of celtic, reggae, klezmer and eastern European tunes all bashing up against each other. At over six minutes long it’s a bit risky but the risk was worth it as the lads take time to build up the song layering each others instruments on top of each other and building the song up to a climax. Maybe not one for live shows but it certainly works here and shows that there is a lot more to the Bastards than drinking songs… though they are pretty fecking good at them too as in next track ‘Let’s Have A Party’. It’s straight up Irish folk-punk though perhaps with just a tinge of country and again Paul’s fiddle is on fire as the band bash through the song as quickly as they can.
It may be overplayed as hell and appeared on every Celtic-Punk band’s play list but lets face it you can’t beat ‘Dirty Old Town’ can you. We have gone into this song so many times here but Ewan MacColl’s song is played so often for a reason and that is because it is such an amazing song. The Bastards play it Dubliners style. Nice and slow with Jimmy showing he’s got a decent set of lungs on him and the band with a nicely subdued backing but then half way through they kick it off and bring it in fast as yer like. Ewan was a bit touchy about this song especially about how Shane MacGowan sang it (apparently putting the emphasis in the wrong place) but sure wouldn’t he happy hearing it still blaring away sixty-nine years after he wrote it. Next up is a solid Irish folk instrumental ‘Harvest’ before the gypsy-punk of ‘Ya, Ya, Ya’ begins with the familiar sound of a can of beer opening! It’s not all as expected and they can still bring out a few surprises and ‘Moscato’ is a nicely understated gentle tune dedicated to the delights of drinking wine. Just Jimmy’s voice, acoustic guitar, bass and mandolin lead us into another nice drinking song but more in keeping with the Irish tradition. The bittersweet tale of ‘Another Bottle Of Booze’ of realising what the stuff does to you but not be able, or wanting, to stop. A slow song but played tough and a real foot stomper. This is the quieter section of the album and ‘Green Side Of The Hill’ may start off as a ballad before incorporating reggae and gypsy into it. Great words too reinforcing what I have always said about them that their story-telling is an integral part of what they do. Eventually the song bursts out at you and the quiet section is no more and the band whip through the ending. The song is another long one at five and half minutes and never drags and the extra length of some of the songs on Drinkin’ With The Dead is evidence of a maturity that the band have faith in themselves to deliver songs that keep the listeners interest. ‘Drunken’ Drinkin’ is about being drunk and still drinking and the song again doesn’t stick to the Celtic-Punk blueprint and neither does it stick to just keeping it fast either.
We have a lovely Irish folk tune next in ‘Slip (the) Jig’ and a song that’s been around a couple of years now, ‘Pirates Of Three Rivers’ that is classic Celtic-Punk territory. The three rivers, the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio, converge in the city and Pittsburgh owes its existence to them.
We coming up towards the end and ‘What A Life That Would Be’ is a song that maybe shouldn’t work but by hell it does. Shift changes all over the shop and packed with influences from all over the place it on the face of it is all over the place but yeah it still gets you there! Down to the last two songs and they are both called ‘Drinkin’ With The Dead’ and as Jimmy Bastard says
“It’s kind of funny because the name of the album has been around for two years, we just had to get it done. And on the same day Danny said he wrote a song called ‘Drinkin’ to the Dead’ (the second version), I told him I wrote one, too. We thought we couldn’t have two song called ‘Drinkin’ to the Dead’ on the album, but then thought, ‘Yes we can. We can do whatever we want.’”
‘Drinkin’ To The Dead (Prelude)’ is a sad but glorious, thought provoking piano driven ballad dedicated to the friends they have lost. Danny’s voice achingly recalls loved ones.
“Raise a glass to tomorrow and the pastto the ones that we lovedown here or abovefor this may or may not be the last time we can.”
They follow it up with the second version of ‘Drinkin’ To The Dead’. At near eight minutes long you can bet your arse it’s an epic and rousing way to bring the curtain down on things. Solidly based on Irish folk the words speak of respecting the dead and moving on with your life and making those you loved proud of you. We Irish are obsessed with death though I have always found in a good way. A damn fine way to end things.
As a band whose whole existence was to commemorate fallen friends and family Drinkin’ With The Dead is a more than just a couple of steps forward for the band. Proof if it was needed that Irish-American music is both inventive and innovative and willing to push the boundaries of what we think of as Irish music. Bastard Bearded Irishmen have stepped it up a notch and though still well grounded in celtic-punk the extra touches they have introduced will I am sure gain them recognition and friends far beyond our narrow little scene and Good Luck to them while they do it!
Contact Bastard Bearded Irishmen
(A mini-documentary on the Pittsburgh based band, Bastard Bearded Irishmen. Created as a senior class project by Rachael Hower. Recorded September 2014-February 2015)