Tag Archives: Blackbeard’s Tea Party

ALBUM REVIEW: BLACKBEARDS TEA PARTY- ‘Reprobates’ (2015)

Traditional folk tunes with a heavy rock edge, playful arrangements and driving dance rhythm!

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I first came across Blackbeard’s Tea Party a good few years back. At the time I had just found out that The Lagan existed and was going to every gig they played, so off to Kilburn to see them supporting Blackbeard’s Tea Party. The Lagan were as amazing as ever, but I was also blown away by the headline band who happened to be Blackbeard’s Tea Party. Sadly for me I never actually followed this up or bought any records, but I have kept a sly eye out for them since then. Their name has flashed in and out of my life since as they have risen up the ranks and become more and more popular so when I seen they had a new album out I decided it was about time I checked them out.

Formed in 2009, in York, Blackbeard’s Tea Party have managed to become of the most popular bands in the English folk scene, having released two full length albums and one mini-album plus untold tours as well as festival appearances (indeed at Cropedy festival last year audience members voted them the best band) . They have remained thoroughly independent throughout this time, though why some decent sized label hasn’t picked them up is a complete mystery! Blackbeard’s Tea Party manage to do that thing that celtic/folk-punk bands manage to do so well, in that they could and I am sure do, appeal to all generations and I am sure somewhere there is a family where from the grandparents to the grandchildren they are all getting down to their new album ‘Reprobates’.

Blackbeards Tea Party

The album’s twelve songs begins with ‘The Steam Arm Man’ and from the first few bars you can tell they have nailed it. The vocals are the first thing to hit you and Stuart’s vocals are particularly distinctive. As Northern as anything and clear as the proverbial bell. Hard to describe as he doesn’t quite sound like anyone else in the folk/punk world, rather his sound in totally embedded in the folk music. Not only is Stuart the vocalist but he also plays melodeon and is the bands chief writer. The song is a  dark trip with every instrument that the band can muster along the way. ‘The Steam Arm Man’ tells of a soldier in the Napoleonic wars who loses his arm and builds himself an artificial one powered by steam.

Unfortunately the said arm takes him on a murderous rampage that eventually leads him to the highest court known to man. ‘Hangman’s Noose’ is the first of the albums traditional songs and is based around ‘The Hangman’s Reel’. Starting off with fiddle it is soon joined by electric guitar and before long it’s heading firmly into celtic-punk territory. Superb fiddle by Laura Barber leads the song which must surely be a favourite live.

Despite the multitude of celtic influences I would stop short of calling Blackbeards Tea Party a celtic band as their Englishness is definitely what defines them the most. To be filed together with The Men They Couldn’t Hang or (early) Billy Bragg they seek to challenge the patriotism of the right and return it to the left. A patriotism where English people don’t have to feel ashamed but can take pride in the true and heroic things that the working class have managed to achieve against the odds. Only two songs in and it’s taken over ten minutes, not that you’d think that as the songs rattle along at a fair old pace. They are a band that knows their history and the album’s first slower track ‘The Ballad of William Kidd’ comes next telling the tale of William Kidd, a Scottish sailor who was executed for piracy. He was hanged on 23 May 1701, in Wapping in London. During the execution, the hangman’s rope broke and Kidd was hanged on the second attempt. Next up is another instrumental ‘Punter’s Graveyard’ is a mashup of two traditional songs, ‘Tommy’s Tarbukas’ and ‘Punter’s Graveyard’ and again Blackbeard’s Tea Party’s folk roots are showing. The fiddle drives the tune along and superb as it is, a special mention for the bands percussionists Liam and Dave who certainly add something novel and highly original to the bands sound. ‘The Slave Chase’ is another trad song re-arranged by the band and they give it plenty of welly in this tune about the Royal Navy chasing down an illegal slave trader in the mid 1800’s.

“hoist up the flag and let it wave this ship shall never trade a slave”

‘The Devil’s Doorbell’ is led by the bass guitar and on further examination is written by the bands bass player, Tim – so he can be forgiven for that! Another distinctive instrumental that showcases exactly not just how good they are at playing their instruments, but how tight they are together and their ability to play alongside each other rather than competing with each other. The excellent production deserves a tip of the hat to Dave Boothroyd for the great job he has done. The song slowly morphs into, for me the the album’s standout track, ‘Jack Ketch’. The song is based on the infamous English executioner employed by King Charles II. Famous for his sloppy executions where the poor victims suffered immeasurable suffering before he managed to behead them, the name ‘Jack Ketch’ is used as a proverbial name for death or Satan. We are back in trad heaven again next with ‘Star of Munster’ which again takes the original folk tune and adds layers and layers of sound unto it. The album’s longest song at over six minutes but not that you’d notice. ‘Roll Down’ tells of the 165,00 criminals transported from England to Australia between 1788 and 1868.

‘Stand Up Now’ was the rallying cry of The Diggers who were the most radical of the groups that sprung up in the aftermath of the English civil war. Whereas other groups sought political reform or religious freedom, they called for restructuring of land ownership. The overthrow of the monarchy and the declaration of a free Commonwealth in 1649 was seen as a first step towards the abolition of private property rights in favour of the communal ownership of land. They are seen as forerunners to modern anarchism and the rapid spread provoked a fierce reaction by local gentry and the state who responded with legal action, economic boycott and violence. ‘Reprobates’ penultimate song ‘Loose Shoulder’ is another extremely fine instrumental penned by Laura and brings us up to the final song  ‘Close the Coalhouse Door’.  A beautiful and poignant song written by the late and much loved Alex Glasgow, a passionate socialist and a great singer in his own right.

“Close the coalhouse door, lad
There’s blood inside
Blood from broken hands and feet
Blood that’s dried of pitblack meat
Blood from hearts that know no beat
Close the coalhouse door, lad
There’s blood inside

Close the coalhouse door, lad
There’s bones inside
Mangled, splintered piles of bones
Buried ‘neath a mile of stones
Not a soul to hear the groans
Close the coalhouse door, lad
There’s bones inside

Close the coalhouse door, lad
There’s bairns inside
Bairns that had no time to hide

Bairns who saw the blackness slide
Bairns beneath the mountainside
Close the coalhouse door, lad
There’s bairns inside”

The songs tells us of the terrible events of Aberfan near Merthyr Tydfil on 21 October 1966 in Wales in 1966. The mining community suffered the loss of 116 children and 28 adults when the colliery’s slag heap slid down the mountain onto Pantglas Junior School. As tragic a loss as has ever happened in Britain. Anger at the inquest into the deaths of the children led to shouts of “murderers” as the children’s names were read out. When one child’s name was read out and the cause of death was given as asphyxia and multiple injuries, the father said

“No, sir, buried alive by the National Coal Board”.

The coroner replied

“I know your grief is much that you may not be realising what you are saying”.

but the father repeated

“I want it recorded – “Buried alive by the National Coal Board.” That is what I want to see on the record. That is the feeling of those present. Those are the words we want to go on the certificate”.

The song is a perfect way to end the record. Working class history and tragedy wrapped up in a song worthy of the memory of those poor children. We must be grateful for Blackbeard’s Tea Party for their love of the history of ‘This Sceptred Isle’.  Overall a superb album that lovers of celtic-punk will completely fall for as well as yer oft mentioned ‘folk purists’ as well. Definitely a band worth checking out live too and they are halfway through a UK tour as I write this, but have a look here to see if you are lucky to catch the end of it. An engaging and fun band with sometimes a serious message with amazing musicians and a frontman that most bands could only dream of having. We will be hearing a lot more from Blackbeard’s Tea Party I am certain and it is certain to be good!

Blackbeard's Tea Party

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