Tag Archives: Blackbeard’s Tea Party

EP REVIEW: BLACKBEARD’S TEA PARTY- ‘Leviathan!’ (2018)

The first new release from Blackbeard’s Tea Party in three years takes traditional songs and folk tunes about the whaling industry and gives them a heavy edge but with a playful arrangement and driving dance rhythms.

Blackbeard’s Tea Party have been together since 2009 and in that time became firm favourites on the English folk scene. An independent band with four albums to their name, Blackbeard’s Tea Party have also completed a number of successful UK headline tours. So it’s been a bit of a mystery as to why they went quiet on the recording front and this is their first release since Reprobates in 2015. They continued to tour and are still as popular as ever but in this game you have to have regular output otherwise there is always another new band waiting in the wings to take your place.

Anyroad they are back now and with this great EP celebrating the history of the whaling industry. Although whaling had existed for thousands of years it was in the 17th century that industrial whaling emerged with organised fleets that by the late 1930’s were killing more than 50,000 whales a year. Communities along the coast around the world have long histories of subsistence whaling and harvesting beached whales. On Leviathan! Blackbeard’s Tea Party play out the history of an industry that once made the fortunes of ports such as Hull, Whitby and Peterhead. Thousands relied upon the practise but it would eventually drive the species to the verge of extinction so much so that in the 1980’s it was banned though many countries still hunt whales under so called scientific purposes.

Blackbeards Tea Party from left to right: Liam ‘Yom’ Hardy – Drums * Dave Boston – Drums * Stuart Giddens – Lead Vocals, Melodeon * Laura Boston-Barber – Fiddle * Martin Coumbe – Guitar * Tim Yates – Bass

Leviathan! is the bands fifth studio release and even though only five songs its a mighty fine way to remind any fans who have lost touch that they are still around! The EP begins with the traditional folk song The Diamond’. Popularised by Scottish legends The Corries (check out their version here) the song first appeared on Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd’s 1957 album Thar She Blows! Lloyd recorded it again in 1967 for his album Leviathan! Ballads And Songs Of The Whaling Trade. I would guess these two releases have been very much influence on Blackbeard’s Tea Party.

On the song A.L. Lloyd commented on the Leviathan! album sleeve notes:

Sad events lie behind this most spirited of whaling songs. By the 1820s the relativity milder northern waters were fished clean, and whalemen were having to search in more distant corners of the Arctic, notably round the mighty and bitter Melville Bay in Northwest Greenland. In 1830, a fleet of fifty British whaleships reached the grounds in early June, a month before they expected. But the same winds that had helped them also crowded the Bay with ice floes and locked most of the fleet in, including the Diamond, the Resolution, the Rattler (not Battler) of Leigh (not Montrose), and the Eliza Swan. Twenty fine ships were crushed to splinters and many bold whalermen froze or drowned. The Eliza Swan was among those that got free and brought the sad news home. Our song must have been made only a season or two before that tragedy for the Diamond‘s maiden voyage was only in 1825. One wonders if the man who made the song was up in Melville Bay, the year of the disaster, and whether he was lost with his ship.

Blackbeard’s Tea Party have always been an innovative band and their version skates through English and Celtic folk music while adding some surprisingly modern touches while Stuart Giddens sumptuous (their description not mine!) vocals ably fit the music. His voice may not be that of a crooner but it is strong and versatile and reminiscent of folk singers of old but without the trademark finger in the ear. They follow this up with the first of two instrumentals and ‘DLFN’, written by the bands Laura Barber and Dave Boston is certainly a bit of a shock. With Blackbeard’s dark bite it chugs along with a real foot slamming beat. The fiddle shines throughout and only adds to the somber mood of the song. Next up is title track ‘Leviathan’, written by Giddens it’s a song that verges (or even passes!) on folk-punk and steams along at a mighty pace with Stuart telling the story of the albino sperm whale known as Mocha Dick that lived in the Pacific Ocean in the early 19th century and went on to inspire the story of Moby Dick by American writer Herman Melville in 1851. This song shows Blackbeard’s Tea Party in all their glory as story-tellers as all the finest folk musicians truly are. The song plays out the excitement of the hunt while never shirking from the blood thirsty reality of a whalers life at sea where these mighty creatures may at any moment strike back and take the ship down. We now have another Boston/ Barber instrumental in The Lost Triangle’. Again the fiddle shines and the darkness of the song evokes the bloody reality of life out at sea. At nearly seven minutes long the song is loud and bombastic and ends with a real doffed cap to the early days of English folk before speeding up again and ending with a real flourish reminiscent of 70’s folk/prog rock.. Leviathan! comes to an end with another traditional folk song, ‘Weary Whaling Ground’. The song is about whaling in Greenland during 1840-50. Again A.L. Lloyd recorded it for Leviathan! Ballads And Songs Of The Whaling Trade and his album notes sum up the feeling of the poor souls aboard ship better than anyone.

“Three emotions dominated the old time whalerman: exultion in the chase, a longing for home, and disgust at the conditions of his trade. This latter mood descended heaviest upon him when the fishing was poor and he became “whalesick” (like homesick, only sick for whales). The man who made the complaint for The Weary Whaling Grounds must have been very whalesick.”

Having added a second drum kit to the band it has given the band a much rougher and tougher edge and with dark material like this it works a treat giving it a doom and maybe even Gothic touch they never had before. Their may be only one new song here with lyrics but the band have turned out two extremely good original instrumentals and have taken two songs from relatively ancient times and breathed new life into them. That new song ‘Leviathan!’ shows the new found power of the band and their flair for storytelling which places them in a direct line from the likes of Ewan MacColl to today. There was a time when the folk purists (or snobs as we call them!) would have approved of Blackbeard’s Tea Party but maybe they are trying to distance themselves from the ‘party approved’ AOR folk of the likes of the Mumford’s but the move into darker territory suits them well.

Discography

Leviathan (2018) * Reprobates (2015) * Whip Jamboree (2013) * Tomorrow We’ll Be Sober (2011) * Heavens to Betsy (2009)

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For more on the sea why not dip your toe into our Classic Album Series review of ‘Steady As She Goes. Songs And Chanties From The Days of Commercial Sail’. Released in 1976 the album is dedicated to the workers of the sea. Undoubtedly hard and very often tyrannical under many a vicious Captain’s rule. The workers said “a song is as good as ten men” and the songs were used in the manner of field work song’s. These shanties tell the tales of loneliness, the families these men left behind and the daily hardships of an unkind sea and nautical life.

Many of the albums featured in the series (here) come with free downloads.

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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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