Tag Archives: Brendan Behan

HOW THE IRISH BECAME THE POGUES

by Jack Hamilton

The Pogues

Last March I enjoyed the pleasure (and attendant hangover) of partaking in the annual ritual of alcoholic commerce that is St. Patrick’s Day in Boston.  Although I had grown up in the area, and in a decidedly Irish-American household at that, I had spent the past seven such holidays as a resident of New York City, and while St. Patrick is certainly heartily toasted in New York things haven’t reached the pathological extremes of Boston, where they’ve even gone so far as to cook up a bogus holiday in its honour.  After managing to find a bar which, while crowded, was thankfully free of either a gratuitous cover or any sort of neon leprechauns, my small group of friends and I settled in for an evening of friendly imbibing and spirited conversation, surely two of the more distinguished aspects of the Irish national character.  All night we listened to the Celtic-infused rock ‘n’ roll of the Pogues.  This was not by choice—the bar had no jukebox, merely a bartender’s iPod—yet the selection seemed so obvious that I doubt any objections were raised.  In fact, I doubt many objections were raised in any of the numerous bars throughout the city that most likely played a considerable dose of the Pogues on St. Patrick’s Day, or for that matter in any of the countless establishments around the world who presumably engage their patrons in similar entertainment come March 17.  As the old cliché goes, everyone becomes Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and a good deal of those busying themselves with “becoming Irish” will find themselves at some point listening to the music of the Pogues.

The issue of how the Irish became the Pogues—or, for that matter, how the Pogues became Irish—is an interesting one that makes their emergence as progenitors of Irish authenticity all the more complex.  Outside of Dublin-born guitarist Phil Chevron, none of the members of the Pogues’ primary line up were Irish by birth: refugees of the dying British punk movement with an affinity for traditional Irish music, singer-songwriter Shane MacGowan¹, tin whistle player Spider Stacy and accordionist James Fearnley formed the Pogues in the early 1980s in North London.  Furthermore, while their music often proudly employs ‘trad’ instrumentation—whistles, pipes, banjo, accordion—the Pogues also prominently feature two crucial pieces you’d be loath to hear while trolling trad sessions in Galway or Cork: namely, an electric bass and drum kit.  Indeed, when one couples their rhythm section—clearly more schooled in American R&B and rockabilly than reels, jigs or hornpipes—with their ragged lead singer, the Pogues have always at their heart been a rock band, closer to the Clash than Turlough O’Carolan.  I bring up these points neither to challenge the Pogues’ claim to Irishness nor slander their authenticity, but rather to point out that the band represents a fascinating example of transnational mobility in which a British band aggressively appropriates Irish musical traditions, imbues them with a punk sensibility then exports the sound around the world, where the result is deemed ‘Irish’. Noel McLaughlin and Martin McLoone have argued that the Pogues’ musical hybridity speaks to diasporic qualities central to Irish cultural identity, noting that

“the Pogues address the Irish emigrant through song narratives that offer an ‘in-betweenness’”

While surely compelling, such an assessment fails to address the Pogues’ massive popularity in Ireland itself, where the band’s frequent touring and Republican political leanings have elevated MacGowan and company to folk-hero status.  It would seem that the Pogues’ greatest musical legacy lies not in their commitment to Celtic musical traditions but rather the affectionate and wilful dragging of these traditions into the foreboding present, and it is through this gesture that the Pogues most effectively lay their claim to a far more meaningful Irish tradition than the sort celebrated with green beer and shamrock tattoos.

Nowhere is this impulse so thoroughly manifested as in the complicated talents of Shane MacGowan.  A gifted melodist and the sort of writer that inspires websites devoted to interpretations of his lyrics, MacGowan holds a place among the finest rock songwriters of his generation.  As a singer MacGowan’s voice is tattered yet full of conviction, reminiscent of Seamus Heaney’s memorable writing that ‘the voice of sanity is growing hoarse’. Of course, it is also with MacGowan that the Pogues’ more problematic notions of Irishness are cultivated.  MacGowan’s infamous alcoholic tirades, run-ins with the law and glorification of the Irish Republican Army have surely re-inforced as many negative Irish stereotypes as his prodigious musical output and knack for verse have brought out positive ones.  While MacGowan has frequently drawn comparisons to the late Irish poet Brendan Behan (a comparison MacGowan himself invokes in the sublime ‘Streams of Whiskey’), there is another, albeit fictional, figure from Irish literature with whom MacGowan shares a resemblance: James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, the irascible protagonist of ‘Portrait of the Artist’ who must turn his back on Ireland in order escape the spiral of his homeland’s tormented past.  Whereas Stephen ultimately flees Ireland for Paris, MacGowan and the Pogues sought to flee London to a particular Ireland of their own imagining.  It is this Ireland, one that exists via North London and rock ‘n’ roll, that so many of us visit every St. Patrick’s Day, when the Pogues songs flow from jukeboxes like so many streams of whiskey and we all try a little too hard to become a little more Irish than we probably should.

¹ A common misconception is that Shane was born here but he was in fact born in the Premier County and moved to England as a child.

further reading: Noel McLaughlin and Martin McLoone, ‘Hybridity and National Musics: The Case of Irish Rock Music’ (Apr. 2000)

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 

‘The Pogues And Irish Cultural Continuity’  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

The Best Pogues Related Sites

In The Wake Of The Medusa  Paddy Rolling Stone  The Parting Glass  Pogues Facebook Page

Advertisements

ALBUM REVIEW: THE DISTILLERY RATS- ‘Tales From County Whiskey’ (2017)

You can hear drunks in the streets singing Irish folk songs? The peaty scent of whiskey is crawling up your nose? The maidens wear their best clothes? Be sure, the County Whiskey Folk Punk Crew is near.

Lock up your liquor and hold back your daughters the Distillery Rats are back in town

Formed in the German wine making area of Heilbronn the Distillery Rats have been celebrating their own successful brand of Irish folk punk since 2005. We have mentioned before our theories of why in Germany celtic-punk and Irish music are so widely celebrated but they love all things Irish over there and the Rats are another in a long line of bands who have managed to take punk rock and Irish folk and unify them together into what we all know to be the ultimate good time music.

(compilation of snippets from each song on the album)

Since forming as 4-piece originally called Commerzpank in  2005, The Distillery Rats have played all over Germany in pubs,clubs and festivals large and small. From that original 4 piece the band has grown to include two vocalists, guitars, drums and bass and the folk side of the band banjos, mandolin, accordion, piano, bouzouki, whistles and uilleann pipes. Before this release their only release has been a now sold out five-track EP Back On The Road in 2010. So a full lengther has been a long time coming and widely anticipated within the scene.

The Distillery Rats left to right: left to right: Marcy Mahoney- Vocals, Acoustic Guitar * Mr. Firebeard- Accordion, Drums * Matt O’Killian- Banjo, Mandolin, Whistles, Pipes * Phil McMorning- Vocals, Bass, Accordion, Banjo, Guitars * Josey DiCilento- Accordion, Piano * Toby McWire- Electric Guitar * Mike McMorning- Drums, Percussion * George McGorgeous- Guitars, Backing Vocals

While here in England the celtic part of celtic-punk is often underplayed in countries like Germany and Hungary they completely go for the Irish/Celtic part and here on their debut album The Distillery Rats are no different. This is full on Irish folk played with pace when needed but not afraid to slow it down too either. Fifty minutes, fourteen songs, eleven of which are originals with a range of songs about whiskey, beer, porter and even cider. They also play some drinking songs as well! The whole thing kicks off, appropriately,  with ‘County Whiskey’ and as catchy a tune as you’ll find on here with a more rock’n’roll thing going on led by accordion before the pipes kick in. The first thing you notice here though is the sheer amount of instruments playing. With eight band members and pretty much all of them playing at least two instruments the whole thing is crystal clear and you can hear everything going on, even in the punkier numbers.As second song ‘Poor Old Paddy O’ kicks in you can’t help but notice that they seem to be inhabiting the middle ground between the DKM’s and Flogging Molly. The accordion lends more to FM but the punky guitar is dead on DKM. A song that bridges the gap between celtic-punk’s two biggest bands. Quite an achievement but can they keep it up? The album’s first traditional cover is a brilliant song in its own right, ‘Johnny Jump Up’. An Irish drinking song written by Tadhg Jordan and first popularized by Jimmy Crowley, before being brought to a wider audience by Christy Moore. Johnny Jump Up was a strong cider, apparently made stronger by being stored in old whiskey barrels brewed in county Cork. The bhoys play it with typical gusto and keep the pace up nicely. A cool mostly acoustic punk number that is still as loud as hell! Country’n’folk combine with Phil’s great and deep vocals for ‘The Angel’s Share’ a lovely dark ballad with just acoustic guitar and faint mandolin in the background that builds up without speeding up. Next is the lead single for the album, ‘Shannon River Lady. They released a class video and the song itself also borrows a little from rock’n’roll, in both sound and for the video, without abandoning The Distillery Rats formula too much.

Follows is another cover and again it’s one that has been regularly done over the years but if that is true then their is always a reason. ‘Come Out Ye Black And Tans’ is one of the best Irish folk songs ever written and ripe for speeding up and playing celtic-punk stylee. Fast and punky but with the guitar giving it a bit of a ska beat at times. An Irish rebel song written by Dominic Behan, brother of famed Irish writer Brendan Behan that will get your Irish blood pumping! The song tells the story of Irish resistance and ties Irish nationalism to the struggles of other peoples against the British Empire across the world. As much as I love this kind of ‘fire in the belly’ rabble rousing I also love the slower stuff, especially when it’s done well and ‘Anchor, Harbour, Home’ hits the spot nicely. Slow and if they were aiming for the classic sea shanty sound then well done to them. Nothing too serious lyric wise on Tales From County Whiskey and I can tell you after watching the news of the last few days then that’s a massive relief. I’m a bit bored of punk bands radical sound bites and have long come to the conclusion we’d be better off singing a song like ‘Singin 1, 2, 3’ then about nuclear war!

Fast and upbeat and more about real life than any punk song I have heard recently.

“1, 2, 3 pretty girl come dance with me”

I wasn’t expecting ‘Chicks For The Rooster’ next and have to say it blew me away. Totally accordion led and could easily pass for a Pogues instrumental or even a Brendan Shine show band tune. A real Irish knees up song and proving, if you needed it, that these bhoys know how to play Irish music… and play it well. When I saw ‘The Foggy Jew’ on the track listing I had a little nod to myself and thought oh no spelling mistake but instead it’s possibly my favourite song here. Slipping into klezmer slightly with great accordion and subdued backing from the rest of the band with a fancy pants brilliant celtic-punk chorus and even time for a banjo led ska/reggae section leading us out. We back in the pub again for ‘Henry Won’t Be Sober’ about going to see The Distillery Rats play and ending up somewhat on the merry side. We’re speeding to the end and ‘How To Spend It’ keeps up both the pace and the humour about a man with the awful problem of having too much money! The addition of uileann pipes here is always a great thing and any band who uses them is always guaranteed a great welcome by the London Celtic Punks. ‘Nothing Else Matters’ reiterates the Distillery Rats philosophy and, increasingly mine too, with talk of all the world’s problems and the only solution!

“I’m drunk, I’m drunk, I’m drunk but what should I rather be?

A bottle of whiskey and some pints of beer and nothing matters to me”

Tales From County Whiskey comes to an end with one of the most popular (and it has to be said overdone) songs in celtic-punk with ‘Drunken Sailor’. Now if you gonna record this song you need to make it every bit special as while it may be a great song to play live and a real crowd favourite it has been recorded by pretty much everyone and not too many version’s of it stand out. Luckily for this reviewer The Distillery Rats manage it. The longest song on the album they open it as part ballad before punking it up before then drifting into ska and back into celtic-punk again. Again it’s the amount of instruments an that lifts it out of the ordinary and makes it that bit special and with the chugging guitar and clear and crisp it’s a solid end to a grand album.

Sometimes its fast and sometimes its slow, sometimes its sentimental and sometimes its  in-yer-face. The Distillery Rats don’t let the ‘issues’ of the world get in the way of what they do, fantastically well, which is to play a great set of songs that would have even the grumpiest of folk music traditionalists (better known as snobs) on their sandalled feet and bouncing around the dance floor spilling their real ale. As we mentioned before they somehow manage to sound like both Flogging Molly and the Dropkick’s at the same time while never aping either. This is pure unadulterated good time excellently played Irish music with both a nod to the present and a loving referential tip of the hat to to the past. 

Buy Tales From County Whiskey

FromTheBand

Contact The Distillery Rats

Facebook  YouTube  Instagram

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

click above to be re-directed to the site

*originally published on the marvellous Pop Matters web site.

PopMatters is an international magazine of cultural criticism. Our scope is broadly cast on all things pop culture, and our content is updated daily. We provide intelligent reviews, engaging interviews, and in-depth essays on most cultural products and expressions in areas such as music, television, films, books, video games, sports, theatre, the visual arts, travel, and the Internet.

* 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

ALBUM REVIEW: ANTO MORRA-’16’ (2016)

London Irish Folk Punk

Anto16

Somewhere between the Pogues and Ian Dury with perhaps a dash of Madness.
The ever prolific Anto Morra returns with this sixteen track album tribute to the 1916 Easter Rising. In the 100th Anniversary year of the Rising their have been many books and musical tributes paid to that heroic act and I have to say that ’16’ is up there with the best of them. For those that don’t know the Easter Rising took place in April 1916 in Dublin and is one of the most important events in Irish history. It was an attempt to win independence from the United Kingdom by force of arms. Lasting only a few days from April 24 to April 30 around 1500 members of the Irish Volunteers, led by school teacher Pádraig Pearse, joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly, seized key locations in Dublin and proclaimed an Irish Republic independent of Britain. They called on the Irish people to rise up and follow them but their call fell on death ears and they were quickly crushed by the huge police and government forces sent against them. For nearly a week Dublin was paralysed by street fighting before British artillery bombardments finally compelled Pearse and his colleagues to surrender. Sixty-four rebels were killed during the fighting, along with 134 troops and policeman and at least 200 civilians were injured in the crossfire. James Connolly whilst dying from shrapnel in his chest was carried on a stretcher to the courtyard in the prison and after confessing his sins to a priest and receiving communion he was shot while tied to a chair to stop him falling out of it. When asked by the priest would he forgive the men who were about to shoot him, James Connolly replied
“I will pray for all men who do their duty according to their lights [conscience]. Forgive them father, for they know not what they do”.
After only six days the Rising was over and fifteen leaders were court-martialed and executed at Kilmainham Jail in Dublin. A sixteenth, Eamon de Valera, was saved from a death sentence because he was an American citizen. The executions caused a wave of revulsion against the British and turned the dead republican leaders into martyred heroes. Despite its military failure, the Rising was a significant stepping-stone in the eventual creation of the Irish Republic. These men would soon prove to become an inspiration to the next wave of freedom fighters in the War Of Independence who would eventually force the British Empire to it’s knees.

ProclamationThe tradition of rebel music in Ireland dates back many centuries, dealing with events such as the various uprisings over the years, the hardships of living under oppressive British rule, but also strong sentiments of solidarity, loyalty, determination, as well as praise of valiant heroes. Though not confined to Ireland it can be said that the Irish have mastered the art of oral history in song and rebel songs are a massive part of that history.

Anto’s album contains sixteen tracks that include some surprising inclusions as well as as some of his own compositions. He is accompanied on several songs by his great friend Tim Chipping on mandola and banjo but for the most part this is pure Anto. Pure London Irish folk punk as Anto puts it himself. Raised in west London by Irish parents his formative years were as a punk rocker floating from band to band and dole cheque to dole cheque in Thatcher’s Britain. Moving from the rat-race of London to the quiet of the Norfolk countryside Anto began to further explore his Irish roots by joining Whirligig, a four-piece ceilidh dance band. In 2013 he left the band after ten years and decided to concentrate on his songwriting and solo performances.

16 begins with the first of Anto’s compositions the ballad ‘Blood On The Shamrock And The Rose’ and is the story of the feelings that the war in Ireland evoked on both sides. Hatred is never a good thing and for the those of us would like to see a united Ireland sooner rather than later hate is not the way to achieve it. A truly great anti-sectarian anthem. This is followed by Kelly From Killane. Made famous in the past by The Dubliners and more recently Damien Dempsey and written by the influential poet Patrick Joseph McCall (1861–1919) about John Kelly who fought in the 1798 Rebellion. He was one of the leaders of the victory over the English at the Battle of New Ross, but was later captured from his bed and hanged and decapitated by British soldiers on June 22, 1798. A up tempo version more akin to Damo’s version. Anto is unaccompanied on ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ a ballad written by Robert Dwyer Joyce (1836–1883). A beautiful tragic song telling of a young man doomed to fight and die in the 1798 rebellion spending his last moments with his loved one. ‘The Rising Of The Moon’ follows and is one of the most covered of all Irish songs and is again based on the 1798 rebellion. One of my personal favourites is up next. hearing this for the first time on one of my Grandad’s old records. ‘Down By The Glenside’ tells of a old woman of around the time of the 1916 Rising recalling her youth.

“Some died by the glenside, some died near a stranger
And wise men have told us their cause was a failure
But they fought for old Ireland and never feared danger
Glory O, Glory O, to the bold Fenian men”

A somewhat modern classic is up next with ‘Back Home In Derry’. A song written by Bobby Sands who was the leader of the Irish Republican Army prisoners in the Maze Prison and led the infamous hunger strikes of both 1980 and 1981 which would eventually lead to his death on the 5th of May 1981. Before he died Bobby was elected as an MP to the British parliament gaining 30,492 votes which dwarfed the votes his many enemies (including Thatcher) had received in that parliament who called him a criminal. He borrowed the tune from Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ for his tale of a young Irish rebel being transported to Australia. Covered by many artists including Christy Moore and Neck it’s a beautiful song and all the more tragic that Bobby’s light was extinguished so early. ‘Wasted Life’ follows and its a brilliant version of the Belfast band Stiff Little Fingers punk rock hit from the late 70’s. Taken from what I think is the best punk rock album of all-time Inflammable Material.

Fast and emotion filled and over in a flash and Anto sings next of an emigrant thinking of his home in ‘Charleville’ in north Cork. ‘Song For Ireland’ is another classic beautiful song. Made a hit in the 70’s it was  written by an English couple, Phil and June Colclough, and was inspired by a trip they took to the Dingle Peninsula. It has been recorded by Mary Black, Dick Gaughan, Barleycorn and Clannad to name but a few.

“Dreaming in the night
I saw a land where no one had to fight
But waking in your dawn
I saw you crying in the morning light
While lying where the falcons fly
They twist and turn all in your air-blue sky”

‘Only Our Rivers Run Free’ is another personal favourite of mine and the title is self explanatory. Mickey MacConnell wrote the song in 1973 and it became a huge hit for both Christy Moore and Irish living legends The Wolfe Tones. Never has Anto sounded better but then straight away he goes one better with ‘Paddy’s Lamentation’. A song written during the American Civil War era about an injured Irish soldier fighting for the Union who dreams of returning to Ireland. ‘The Merry Ploughboy’ is known wherever you’ll ever find an Irish person from the terraces of Celtic Park to bars and clubs though out the world. It’s the first of two consecutive songs written by the great Dominic Behan (1928-1989), brother of writer Brendan. Both were committed socialist’s and republican’s and were among the most influential Irish artists of the 20th century. Anto gives it plenty of ‘ooompf’ and sings with gusto for one of the few, especially on this album(!), joyous and uplifting songs on this album.

“And when the war is over, and dear old Ireland is free
I’ll take her to the church to wed and a rebel’s wife she’ll be
Well some men fight for silver and some men fight for gold
But the I.R.A. are fighting for the land that the Saxons stole”

Definitely one of those songs that gets the blood racing and would get even yer most avid ‘west-brit’ up on a bar stool baring his chest and belting out his lungs. We are back to more serious matters next with ‘The Patriot Game’. One of the most tragic songs ever written about the war in Ireland and also contains some of the most savage put downs you’ll ever hear of the

“quislings who sold out the patriot game”

Telling of Fergal O’Hanlon, from Monaghan who was killed at the young age of just 20 in an attack on a British Army barracks on New Years Day in 1957. Another volunteer, Seán South, was also killed during the raid. ‘Rocky Road To Dublin’ is an upbeat Irish classic, an incredibly fast-paced 19th century song about a Irish man’s experiences as he travels to Liverpool from his home in Tuam in Ireland. A live favourite of Anto’s he performs the song accompanied only on the bodhran. Written by D.K. Gavan, known as ‘The Galway Poet’, for the English music hall performer Harry Clifton who made the song famous.

Another live favourite of Anto’s is up next with ‘The Foggy Dew’ perhaps the best and most widely known, and covered, of songs about the 1916 Rising. It was written by a Catholic priest, Canon Charles O’Neill (1887-1963), sometime after 1919. The song encourages Irishmen to fight for the cause of Ireland, rather than for Britain, as so many young men were doing in World War 1. The most famous version of which is by the The Chieftains and Sinead O’Connor to which The Dropkick Murphys have been taking to the stage for the last decade. With nearly an hour on the clock 16 finally comes to an end with Anto’s song, his own ‘Green, White And Gold’. Anto’s take on the 1916 Rising is well worthy of its place here amongst some of the best Irish songs ever written.

16 is released next week as a limited edition digipack gatefold CD on St Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2016. The cover art, as on all Anto’s releases is by the famous London Irish artist Brian Whelan. It is more than refreshing to hear these songs sung in a London Irish accent as I noticed that even in my head I was singing along in a Irish accent! Anto is a unique talent with an ability to tell a story in a way that grabs you and forces you to listen. Famed for his wordplay and the way he manages to inject the spirit of punk rock into his acoustic folk he has taken these famous songs and re-told them in a way accessible to everyone. One of the most moving things about this album is surprisingly not one of the songs but the small tribute on the record sleeve that I will end the review with.

“This album is dedicated to my Dad Edward Anthony Morrissey and my Grandfather Daniel Forde. Both brave Irish men who fought for the British and survived World War 1, World War 2 and the Korean War and always dreamt of an united Ireland”

Buy The Album

E-Bay (CD)  FromAnto (Download)

Contact Anto Morra

Facebook  Reverbnation  Twitter  Bandcamp

Pogues at WRYou can pick up a copy of 16 at the official record release show on St Patrick’s Day at The Water Rats in Kings Cross where Anto will be supporting the #1 Pogues tribute band The Pogue Traders well into the early hours. This is the same venue where The Pogues played their first ever gig so come along and be part of history! Tickets are only £7 and are available in advance from here and you can find all the details including set times nearer the date here on the Facebook event page.

  • we have much much more musings in the Anto Morra vaults here if you would like to catch up with them.

INTERVIEW WITH JOHNNY CAMPBELL

A fast, ruthless, uncompromising sound with influences from far and wide. Material that embraces traditional music and sometimes frantic Bluegrass style picking with self penned songs of protest and debauchery.

Johnny2We are extremely happy that Johnny took time out from megabussing it around the country from gig to gig to do a little interview for us.

The obvious one to get us started so can you tell us how long you’ve been playing music and what bands you have been in before?

Johnny- I’ve been performing live for a decade now, and for the last couple of years as a solo performer. Before those ten years I was playing a battered classical guitar to Bad Religion live albums pretending I was in Bad Religion.

You have played in a celtic-punk band before with Three Sheets T’Wind so how do you see the celtic-punk scene here and abroad?

Johnny- I haven’t performed in other bands to any full-on level of commitment, apart from numerous and humorous side projects and filling in space for musicians who couldn’t make shows…and once trialing for The Popes as a fiddle player but that was a long time ago… I personally feel the scene in the UK is much broader, encompassing Anti-Folk, Alt-Folk and other offshoots. Though across the underground in The Netherlands for example, there are a number of fantastic ‘Folk-Punk’ bands using Banjos, Mandolins, Accordions that you couldn’t label as ‘Celtic-Punk’. It is great to see people’s horizons to ‘Punk’ don’t just start and end with an Electric Guitar.

I would like to think so but does it follow that celtic-punk fans also listen to folk from the past or present?

Johnny- For me yes. Right back to Planxty, Hank Williams or even contemporary folk like Julie Fowlis. The ‘Celtic-Punk’ fans I’ve come across like their fair share of Tom Waits and other artists that are hard to define by genre. I think if you’re into niche music, as in ‘Celtic-Punk’, you’re probably going to be listening to some other interesting styles!

Which figures or bands do you think have been the important links between the past and the present and folk/celtic/traditional music and punk/rock music?

Johnny- Obviously The Pogues…but I think we all know that. The Tossers are in my opinion, the logical progression from The Pogues taking influence from Behan and Joyce and managing to create it in their own American sound. Silly Wizard (possibly Scotland’s Planxty) manage to create an equally ‘rocky’ feel to their sound which leads neatly onto artists like The Horslips, Thin Lizzy and Moving Hearts.

Bit of an odd question this but how would you describe what you do on stage?

Johnny- I describe myself in my write up as an ‘Alt-folk’ musician. This is about as broad as I could make it. It isn’t a musical ‘style’ it is simply a way of saying ‘It is folk music…but a bit different.’ Some have said that shows can differentiate from stand-up comedy to thoughtful political song. I’ll do traditional Irish Anti-war songs like Arthur McBride to A Cappella songs about getting blind drunk and catching STDs from ladies of the night.

It has been said (and I am in agreement) that being a solo artist is the hardest thing to do. Just yourself on the stage and nowhere to hide. What does it take to be a solo performer. I would say big nuts and a big ego but obviously that’s not right for everyone!

Johnny- There’s a certain amount of balls/ego in there to get up and ask people to listen to what you’ve got to say for an hour, definitely. If you manage to fuck up the set, then it really is your own fault. That’s something that is pretty daunting but a challenge to relish I suppose, as the credit (if there is any to give out) is all yours.

At the moment there is a big ‘folk-punk’ thing happening in the UK that seems to have a lot in common with celtic-punk like the politics and aspirations but without major celtic influences. Have you noticed this at all?

Johnny- Because the genres are getting broader and ‘Folk-Punk’ is the easiest umbrella to put yourself under if you perform anti-authoritarian/alternative Folk music… I think that is how it is coming about. Celtic/Irish music has transported well as there is a mythology built up around the Irish. But also the way we can consume music nowadays, we can search for Mongolian Political Folk Punk on Youtube and get an instant response. Which is broadening our intake very quickly. I speak for myself here when I say 10 years ago, when I was 18, the only Folk-Punk you could really find was Dropkick Murphys, The Pogues, and anything else on a major label as you had to go to the local (if you had one) independent record shop. Now we are blessed with so much choice, which is generally free which brings its own negative impacts like de-valuing a product and other factors.

It would seem sometimes, and there is certainly a history of it in England (the band that must never be mentioned!), that bands who play Irish/celtic tunes won’t label the tunes as Irish/celtic and would instead categorise it as English folk (so as to not be seen as Irish I suppose) but do you see this as cultural appropriation or not? it sometimes reminds me of Prince Charles roaming round his billion acre estate in Kernow/ Cornwall wearing a kilt!

Johnny- Hmm, it is an interesting one. I don’t think anyone would get offended if you said a tune was English when it was an Irish tune if you believed it was initially. I think it is important to try and research a song or a tune and find out its origins and to recognise it. I can also see some cultural appropriation in there as it is a small way of denying heritage by simply taking is as your ‘own’. I think we must be more concerned with things like the far-right using traditional folk music and making a patriotic gesture with the songs.

Johnny CampbellYou have a new album due out soon I hear. What’s the latest on that? Is it purely yourself or will you be aided and abetted?

Johnny- It’s been a long process, I haven’t released something with new material for about three years. I’ve had writer’s block for a while and since I’ve been on the road the last couple of years I’ve picked up new influences which has come out on the record. I am aided by Kieran O’Malley, a violin player from Leeds who performs with Spirit of John and many other acts..he’s also performed on a Shane MacGowan’s release ‘Rockier Road To Poland’ and backing vocals from Exeter singer/songwriter Rosie Eade. http://www.rosieeade.co.uk/ It will be released early October.

You seem to be on a non-stop tour of anywhere and everywhere so where does the future take you and do you think you will be able to keep it up more importantly?

Johnny- I’m sure I’ll be able to carry on for a few more years as long as my legs still carry me. I only use public transport and we managed to get from Istanbul from Yorkshire in 28 days on public transport on the Summer European tour with James Bar Bowen and Cosmo. We hit squats and social centres through eight countries and the final show in Istanbul got cancelled as the promoter had left to go and fight against fascist ISIS and didn’t tell us! We had about five days to waste in Istanbul because of the cancellation. This was during Ramadan which is an amazing spectacle. We decided to imbibe the culture by visiting mosques, walking the streets and eating kebabs. As long as the gigs keep being interesting, I still have some life left!

Thanks Johnny for taking time out of your busy touring schedule (where are you as you write this?) so all that’s left is for you to plug plug plug and is there anything else you want to add or anyone you want to thank?

Johnny- I’m currently in the South West for a week between shows and getting ready for the release of my album ‘Hook, Line & Sinker’ which will be released on my website and Bandcamp in early October! I will be doing a UK and USA East Coast tour in March 2016 with Tim Holehouse www.timholehouse.com (UK tour) and James Bar Bowen https://jamesbarbowen2014.wordpress.com/ (USA tour) but in the meantime I have shows across the UK and The Netherlands with Rob Galloway http://www.theyallayallas.com/rob-galloway which can all be found on my website! Cheers and beers! x

(you can listen to Johnny Campbell’s debut solo EP below)

Contact Johnny

Facebook  WebSite  Twitter  Bandcamp  Blog

  • keep your eyes peeled for a review in the next couple of weeks of ‘Hook, Line & Sinker’. I’m lucky to have had a sneak preview and can guarantee its an excellent debut record!

‘JUSTICE FOR THE CRAIGAVON 2’ SINGLE TO BE RELEASED BY POL MacADAIM

“The case of the Craigavon 2 will not fade away as is hoped by the establishment but it will continue until justice is done and seen to be done. Those politicians who claim to represent and speak for nationalist, republicans and the working class should be outraged by this judgement, they now have an opportunity to voice their concern and outrage at this blatant injustice” -Gerry Conlon

Justice for the Craigavon Two 2

Pol MacAdaim a singer song writer living in County Louth in Ireland has written a protest song called ‘Justice for the Craigavon Two’, a truly remarkable and inspirational song which highlights the miscarriage of justice of John Paul Wootton and Brendan McConville.
The song also pays homage to Gerry Conlon who campaigned tirelessly for the Craigavon Two before his untimely death last year. With the Craigavon Two case due before the UK Supreme Court (date not yet set) the Craigavon Two committee has chosen Saint Patricks week to launch the song on digital formats, in an effort to have it chart in the UK top 40.
‘JFTC2’ were inspired by the success of the Celtic supporters end criminalisation of supporters campaign when ‘Roll Of Honour’ successfully entered the UK charts last year . You can read our articles about that here and here.
The Launch of the Craigavon Two single will take place on the 15th of March following the BBC Radio 1 official chart show and the group will campaign for the public to download the song over the following week.
We call on everyone to join the #DownloadJustice campaign. Justice must be done and be seen to be done #JFTC2
Justice for the Craigavon Two
We will post the links for iTunes, Google Play and Amazon here on Sunday 15th March so please come back then and buy the single and do your bit to aid the release of these two innocent men. The Irish here in England know everything there is to know about miscarraiges of justice so don’t stand by and watch more innocent men rot in jail for a crime they did not commit.

JUSTICE FOR THE CRAIGAVON 2

Craigavon 9th March the news man read,
constable Stephen Carroll was shot dead
A police investigation soon began
and they would stop at nothing to get their man

(Chorus)
Here’s what I’ve got to say to you,
Justice for the Craigavon Two
Next time it could be me or you,
Let’s have justice for the Craigavon two.

Mc Conville and Wooton got the blame
Since that day their lives have never been the same
The spooks have framed before and they’ll do it again
Unless we come together and break their chains

The trial of these two inoocents was a sham
Justice without a jury was the scam
They produced a single witness with bad eyesight
And claimed that he saw everything on that dark and rainy night

Witness ‘Z’ was the father of witness ‘M’
‘My son’s a Walter Mitty’ was his claim
An eye specialist cross examined said the same
That he could not have see clearly in the dark and through the rain

Gerry Conlon, thank you and farewell
You rotted 14 years in a prison cell
For something that you had never done
You drove this campaign hard so it wouldn’t happen to another one

While the British injustice system does prevail
Any one of us can be framed and sent to gaol
The Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4
Are among the many of whom the Brits have done this kind of thing before

Justice for the Craigavon Two. Words and Music Pol Mac Adaim. 2015

WE ARE INNOCENT

On the 30th of March 2012 we, Brendan Mc Conville and John Paul Wootton, were convicted, and sentenced to spend the rest of our lives in prison, for the fatal shooting of Constable Steven Carroll in Craigavon on the 9th of March 2010.

While We fully understanding and empathise with the grief of the Carroll family and with no desire to exacerbate that grief, we wish to take this opportunity to state publicly that we have been convicted of something that we had nothing to do with, we are innocent and we do not believe that we received a fair hearing at our trial under a diplock court.

Further to this we also believe that Justice Girvan erred in his judgement of the information presented and convicted us more on the emotional and political furore created by the case than on the evidence presented. For this reason we have instructed our legal teams to appeal our convictions.

This appeal will centre on the following pieces of evidential information that were never fully dealt with by Justice Girvan, they are;

  • The prosecutions’ key witness, witness M, despite having a prescribed impairment of his sight, claimed that he seen Brendan Mc Conville at a distance that would be medical impossible,
  • It took witness M almost a year to come forward with this information and since that date he has been given anonymity and provided for in protective custody.
  • Witness M’s eye-witness account described Brendan as wearing a coat of a different style and colour from that presented by the prosecution,
  • This coat, recovered within hours of the shooting, was dry yet the weather conditions at the time  were rainy,
  • The forensic examination of this coat and the fire-arm recovered after the shooting did not match,
  • Although multiple sources of DNA were found on the coat only Brendans’ were followed up on,
  • A tracking device that had allegedly been planted on John Paul’s car by MI5 and was used as evidence to place us at the scene of the shooting, went ‘missing’ for a period of time, only to be returned in an altered state and “with data missing”,
  • Although the assault rifle and several rounds of ammunition used in the shooting were recovered no forensic link was made with either of us.

In short a case that placed us at the scene and attributed any role to us was never made, let alone proven. Rather, because the PSNI/MI5 were under so much pressure to obtain a conviction, evidence was constructed and altered to ‘fit the case’ and not examined as pieces of information that could prove or disprove our innocence.

Hopefully this miscarriage of justice can be over turned at our appeal and this nightmare of suffering for us and our families ended. However, after the experience we have already had we do not have a great deal of confidence in the criminal justice system, hence, we are asking you, the public, to follow the course of our appeal and to see for yourself the manner in which information is dealt with and how ‘justice’ is being administered in your name. Let’s not wait 15 – 20 years to deal with a miscarriage of justice, let us do so now.

Yours

Brendan Mc Conville and John Paul Wootton.

Maghaberry Jail Co. Antrim

For More On The Campaign To Free Brendan and John-Paul

WebSite  Facebook  YouTube  Twitter

*Pol MacAdaim deserves a special mention here also. Pol has worked tirelessly over the years gigging relentlessly his music addresses various political issues and his lyrics carry a radical punch to the eardrum. He is blessed with a superb folk voice and sings with a real heartfelt passion that often belies the subjects he sings about. Comparison’s with Kelly, Drew, yer Behan’s and more recent Moore and MacGowan stand out a mile. A traditional story telling style of writing songs its the words that come first with Pol with what he has to say the important thing. Born in Belfast he first became involved in playing music at the age of 9. Through the years he has learnt to play in a wide range of styles including folk, Appalachian, Cajun, rock, soul and contemporary. He is also skilled in a variety of instruments ranging from tin whistles, traditional Irish flute, low whistles, uilleann pipes, harmonicas, guitar, mandolin, and the tenor banjo to bodhran. Pol is a real champion of the people having suffered under the occupation of Ireland he has grown up suffering oppression and worse, including personal tragedy, but his music speaks of not just a past to be mourned but of a bright future ahead of us too. Of a land where equality and fraternity rules and peace and justice is for all.

Folk music as it should be played by all folk singers…

Contact Pol MacAdaim

Facebook  Twitter  YouTube

THE TOSSERS MAKE MUSIC FOR US ALL

by Paul DeCamp

The Tossers

11 P.M. on the northwest side of Chicago, a corner at one of the city’s famous five way intersections. Or maybe its 6. Your sharpness with numbers has been dulling over the last few hours. The air is frigid and still, save for some laughs and chatter coming from the small group you’re standing with outside the bar where a trio that makes up the core of a local Irish punk band have just finished their first set of the night. The front man holds court as the unofficial discussion leader for the people taking cigarette breaks. He regales the crowd with stories about being sent champagne and Guinness to make Black Velvets by Bono in Dublin, or meeting Shane and the boys while opening for The Pogues. Perhaps a childhood memory of discovering an old Clancy Brothers record. You’re in Chicago, so a quip about Rahm or the governor makes it in too. This is perfect interlude to what you’ve been watching already this evening, you think, this sidebar on the sidewalk.

The place is the Abbey Pub in Chicago’s Avondale neighbourhood. The band is The Tossers.

For the last several years, front man Tony Duggins, Rebecca Manthe, and Tony’s brother Aaron, have played a free acoustic show at the Abbey the first Friday of each month. The trio offers up a mix of old Irish folk songs and their own punk-tinged material to a crowd of mixed age and background. Friends of the band who have made the journey from Tinley Park and other points south pepper the audience, which ranges from young punks to older Irish folk aficionados. All tend to sing along and yell requests freely, with Duggins and company usually happy to oblige.

With St. Patrick’s Day on the horizon, March always sees an increase in tour dates from bands marketing themselves as ‘Irish rock’, ‘celtic punk’, ‘rebel music’ and the like. It’s a necessity for the sort of bars that make significant profits from the holiday. Only a handful of groups have been able to distinguish themselves and make a go of it outside of the St Patrick’s Day season.

Dropkick Murphys has enjoyed huge success in recent years after being featured in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed and becoming associated with the Boston Red Sox. On the West Coast, Flogging Molly managed to entice the local skate punks with  their ‘oirish’ bravado and now have gone national. But the Dropkicks have since become better at selling t-shirts than spinning yarns, and Flogging Molly has taken a few sonic left turns and lost the swagger that distinguished their early records. In the middle of the country, in Chicago, one Irish punk organization has remained committed to not selling out.

In the Irish rock scene, which does not lack for hackneyed acts, The Tossers stand apart.

Duggins is the sole remaining poet in Irish punk and the inheritor of the tradition of Shane MacGowan, whose work with The Pogues set the precedent for all Celtic-infused rock to come. From politically-charged ballads to rousing barroom anthems, lamentations, and benedictions featuring the likes of Dee Dee Ramone and Brendan Behan, Duggins’ songwriting contains great depth and sincerity, as well as a deep understanding of history and the human condition.

While the affectations are there, such as the whistles and fiddle and Duggins’ accent, they do not distract from the strength of the music. The band is aware of the dangers of falling into kitsch, of playing too much at being drunken Paddies and singing about going out to Cal-i-forn-i-ay. The track ‘USA’ from their most recent album, last year’s The Emerald City, displays this awareness from the outset, with Duggins proclaiming

“We were born in the U.S.A.”

It goes on to document family life, teenage antics, and the loss and suffering of wartime experienced by the working class. The video features Duggins walking through Chicago’s Chinatown, interspersed with bar scenes and shots of the band playing, offering an example of how Duggins’ tunes highlight the aspects of Irish music and experience that transcend decades and borders.

A waitress assembles a line of Guinness pints, three or four of them, on the stage next to Duggins near the beginning of most Friday night gigs at the Abbey. However incapacitated he might become, Duggins will raise his pint and sing ‘The Parting Glass’ to end the evening. No matter the size of the room, the song will bring the crowd to a somber and reflective silence, the kind you might find during prayer at a wake, where it is typically sung.

It is moments like this that distinguish The Tossers from their contemporaries.

Moments where we find that there might be a mystical quality to growing up Irish and Catholic on the South Side of Chicago, living in a world where the dead never really leave us and loss and suffering remain as a reminder that we should savor the joy we find in our companions. Love, loyalty, and friendship, the Irish virtues extolled on the claddagh ring, abide in these moments and we find that they are not solely Irish, but wholly human. And perhaps that is the great gift the Irish have given us in their literature and music, a gift Duggins and The Tossers continue to give us, whether to a small barroom in Avondale or a festival stage in Germany.

Chicago is their home, Ireland is their heritage, but The Tossers make music that is for all of us and is not meant to be listened to just one month out of year.

I leave you with Duggins performing ‘The Parting Glass’

this article first appeared on ‘We Started A Band’ blog and thanks to the guys for letting us show it again… check out their great blog here

for our review of The Tossers album from last year ‘The Emerald City’ go here

another equally great Chicago celtic-punk band are Kevin Flynn And The Avondale Ramblers and our review of their last album is here

WHO DARES TO SPEAK OF EASTER WEEK?

RADIO REBEL GAEL PRESENTS :
Who Dares To Speak of Easter Week?
Radio Rebel Gael’s Tribute
to the heroes of Easter week and all Irish freedom fighters throughout history…
In Dublin 98 years ago, a tiny band of Irish rebels and patriots took possession of the main post office. There, on Easter Monday, they proclaimed the birth of an Irish Republic and the end of England’s imperial rule. At the time the rising was unrealistic, had little support and was swiftly put down. Yet with vengeful ferocity, the British ordered the execution, one by one, of 15 rebel leaders, including a trade unionist, James Connolly, suffering from gangrened wounds, who had to be propped up in a chair to be shot.

When the grisly business was done, William Butler Yeats wrote, Ireland had

“changed, changed utterly: a terrible beauty is born.”

The victims themselves sensed that theirs was a blood sacrifice that foresaw rebirth and renewal, that their deaths might some day be seen as the secular incarnation of a sacred season. But the Easter Rising also proved to be a dress rehearsal as an empire fell and ordinary people entered and seized history.

His Name Was Connolly

featuring the best in Irish rebel folk and celtic-punk from Ireland and ‘across the broad Atlantic’

1.) The Foggy Dew- ATHENRYE (Dublin)

2.) Erin Go Bragh- THE WOLFE TONES (Dublin)

3.) Bright Star- Bobby Sands- as read by STEPHEN RAE

4.) Comrades In The Dark- THE PRODIGALS (New York)

5.) Freedom’s Sons- SHARKY DOYLES (Chicago)

6.) Connolly Was There- POL Mac ADAIM (Belfast)

7. Easter Time/Freedom’s Sons- BARLEYCORN (Belfast)

8.)Meet Me At The Pillar- DUBLIN CITY RAMBLERS

9.) Culture- THE REBEL HEARTS (Tipperary)

10.) The Dying Rebel- KATHLEEN LARGEY (Belfast)

11.) Citizen’s Army- RAY COLLINS (New York)

12.)Who Dares To Speak Of Easter Week?- BRENDAN BEHAN (Dublin)

13.) Met A Proud Man- GERRY T.MORAN (Norfolk/Dundalk)

14. Who Dares To Say- THE BATTERING RAM (Dublin)

15.) The Starry Plough- THE DRUIDS (Kildare)

16.When Will We See- THE DRUIDS (Kildare)

17.) The Rifles Of The I.R.A- ATHENRYE (Dublin)

18.) Provos Lullabye- THE WOLFHOUND (Belfast)

19.) Woods Of Drumboe- THE WOLFHOUND (Belfast)

20.) Guest Of The Queen- BRIAN UA BAOILL

21.) Bobby Sands- CLAYMORE (Glasgow)

22.) McVerry’s Men- BANJO BURKE (Kilkenny)

23.) Eamon Wright- ADELANTE (Coatbridge)

24.) 1916 Proclamation- CU CHULAINN

25.) Banna Strand- FLYING COLUMN (Belfast)

26.) The Rebel by Padraic Pearse- THE DUBLINERS

27.) Padraic Pearse- THE WOLFE TONES (Dublin)

28.) Follow Me Up To Carlow- BLOOD OR WHISKEY (Kildare)

29.) The Peeler And The Goat- NIAMH NI CHARRA (Killarney)

30.) Oro Se Do Bheath Abhaile- THE DUBLINERS

31.) Sean Larkin- THE IRISH BRIGADE (Tyrone)

32.) The Rhythm Of Time- BOBBY SANDS

33.) H Block Song- THE PLAYERS BRIGADE (Dublin)

34.) Ninety Miles from Dublin- POL Mac ADAIM

35.) Mise Eire- POL Mac ADAIM

36.) The Wind That Shakes The Barley- THE BATTERING RAM

37.) Boys Of The Old Brigade- EIRE OG (Glasgow)

38.) The Boys From Tamlaghtduff- CHRISTY MOORE (Kildare)

39.) The Rising- BRICK TOP BLAGGERS (California)

40.) Henry Joy (Faithful To The Last)- CIARAN MURPHY (Armagh)

41.) Who Fears To Speak Of Easter Week- DOMINIC BEHAN (Dublin)

http://radiorebelgael.podomatic.com/

“Had the Gaelic race never produced a scrap of literature, had our treasures of history and romance never had a being, had our Cormac’s, Keating’s and our O’Clery’s and Donnachadh Rua’s never written a line, these folk songs of ours would have been sufficient to prove for all time the glorious capabilities of our race.”

– Padraig Pearse

to find out more about the 1916 Easter Uprising you could try Wikipedia or the excellent site at Easter Rising 1916.

The 1916 Societies are committed to fostering and promoting Irish unity as set out in the 1916 Proclamation and their website is here.

Radio Rebel GaelContact Rory at Radio Rebel Gael at Facebook here

TRIBUTE TO BRENDAN BEHAN 1923-1964

Brendan Behan

‘Streams Of Whiskey’ – The Pogues

“Last night as I slept
I dreamt I met with Behan
 Shook him by the hand and we passed the time of day
When questioned on his views
On the crux of life’s philosophies
He had but these few clear and simple words to say

I am going, I am going
Any which way the wind may be blowing
I am going, I am going
Where streams of whiskey are flowing

I have cursed, bled and sworn
Jumped bail and landed up in jail
Life has often tried to stretch me
But the rope always was slack
And now that I’ve a pile
I’ll go down to the Chelsea
I’ll walk in on my feet
But I’ll leave there on my back

Oh the words that he spoke
Seemed the wisest of philosophies
There’s nothing ever gained
By a wet thing called a tear
When the world is too dark
And I need the light inside of me
I’ll go into a bar and drink
Fifteen pints of beer”

written by Shane MacGowan

If there was ever a writer who could symbolise celtic-punk it would be Brendan Francis Behan. The man who, along with Luke Kelly, our very own Shane MacGowan seems to taken most inspiration from. Today is the 91st anniversary of his birth so we thought we’d enlighten those of you who do not know him or his works.

Most famous for his earthy satire and political opinions. While he was not in jail, or the pub, Behan worked odd jobs and wrote plays and stories that depicted the life of the working classes. Several of his books were banned in Ireland and he spent most of the years from 1939 to 1946 in English and Irish penal institutions on political charges. However, his writings are lively, full of humour, and, somewhat surprisingly, do not show signs of anger or bitterness toward the world at large.

“… it was not really the length of sentence that worried mefor I had always believed that if a fellow went into the I.R.A. at all he should be prepared to throw the handle after the hatchet, die dog or shite the licencebut that I’d sooner be with Charlie and Ginger and Browny in Borstal than with my own comrades and countrymen any place else. It seemed a bit disloyal to me, that I should prefer to be with boys from English cities than with my own countrymen and comrades from Ireland’s hills and glens.”

Born into inner-city Dublin he lived his childhood in the slums of the city. In spite of the surroundings, he did not end up becoming an unlettered slum lad. Much of his education was owed to his family, well-read, and of strong Republican sympathies. Behan’s family on both sides was traditionally anti-British. His uncle Peader Kearney was the author of the Irish national anthem, ‘The Soldier’s Song’. Another uncle, P.J. Bourke, managed the Queens Theatre in Dublin, and one of Bourke’s sons was the dramatist Seamus de Burca. Brendan’s brother Dominic became a dramatist, too, and gained also success and a balladeer and singer.

At Behan’s birth his father, a housepainter and Republican activist, was in a British compound because of involvement in the Irish uprising of 1916-1922. Behan’s mother had been married before to another Republican, who had died during the influenza epidemic of 1918. Brendan attended Catholic schools until the age of 14, when he abandoned studies and then worked as a house painter. From the age of nine he had served in the Fianna, a youth organization connected with the IRA, and in the late 1930s he was a IRA messenger boy. In 1939 Behan was arrested on a sabotage mission in Liverpool, following a deadly explosion at Coventry. He was sentenced to three years in Borstal in a reform school for attempting to blow up a battleship in Liverpool harbour. After release, he returned to Ireland, but in 1942 he was sentenced to 14 years for the attempted murder of two detectives. He served at Mountjoy Prison and at the Curragh Military Camp. In 1946 he was released under a general amnesty and resumed work at his father’s trade of housepainting. During this period he also joined the Dublin literary underground, which included figures such as Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, J.P. Donleavy, and Sean O’Sullivan. Brendan was imprisoned again in Manchester in 1947, serving a short term for allegedly helping an IRA prisoner to escape. Ironically Behan once observed, that the man with a big bomb is a statesman, while the man with a small bomb is a terrorist.

Brendan Behan

During his years in prison, Behan started to write, mainly short stories in an inventive stylization of Dublin dialect. The Landlady was written at the Curragh. Gretna Green, about the execution of two Irishmen, was produced at the Queen’s Theatre as a part of a Republican commemorative concert. In 1955 Behan married Beatrice ffrench-Salkeld, a painter and the daughter of noted Dublin artist, Cecil Salkeld. The marriage did not stop him from continuing his self-destructive life-style, even after he was diagnosed as diabetic.

Behan’s best-known novel, Borstal Boy (1958), drew its material from his experiences in a Liverpool jail and Borstal. The young narrator progresses from a rebellious adolescent to greater understanding of himself and the world:

“There were few Catholics in this part of the world and the priest had a forlorn sort of a job but Walton had cured me of any idea that religion of any description had anything to do with mercy or pity or love.”

Behan also sailed intermittently on ships, he had become a certified seaman in 1949. At the beginning of his career, Behan had difficulties in getting his plays performed in his own country. The Quare Fellow, based on his prison experiences, was turned down by both the Abbey Theatre and the Gate but eventually was produced at the Pike Theatre Club in 1954, gaining critical success. Reviewers began to talk of a new Sean O’Casey and the tragi-comedy was subsequently transferred to London’s West End for a six months’ run. The events were set during the twenty-four hours preceding an execution. This work is thought to have hastened the abolition of capital punishment in Britain. Brendan also attacked false piety behind public attitudes toward such matters as sex, politics, and religion.

Behan found fame difficult. He had long been a heavy drinker describing himself on one occasion as

“a drinker with a writing problem”

and claiming

“I only drink on two occasions—when I’m thirsty and when I’m not”

and developed diabetes in the early 1960s. As his fame grew, so too did his alcohol consumption. This combination resulted in a series of famously drunken public appearances, on both stage and television.

Brendan Behan

Among Behan’s other dramas are The Big House (1957), a radio play written for the BBC, and The Hostage  (1958), written in Gaelic under the title An Giall and set in a disreputable Dublin lodging house, brothel!, owned by a former IRA commander. This play, perhaps Behan’s most enduring work, was first produced in Irish at the Damer Hall in Dublin and then in London, Paris, and New York. It depicts events that surround the execution of an eighteen-year-old IRA member in a Belfast jail. The audience never sees him. He has been accused of killing an Ulster policeman and sentenced to be hanged. A young British soldier, Leslie Williams, is held hostage in the brothel. After the IRA prisoner has been executed, Leslie is eventually killed in a gunfight, when the police attack the place. Before it a love story develops between Leslie and Teresa, a young girl, who promises never to forget him. In the finale Leslie’s corpse rises and sings:

The bells of hell
Go ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you but not for me.
Oh death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling
Or grave thy victory?

In his dramas Behan used song, dance, and direct addresses to the audience. Occasionally the author himself would appear in the audience and criticize the actors and shout instructions to the director. Several of Behan’s works were staged at Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop, which left deep impact on modern theatrical style. Littlewood viewed the theatre as a collective and revised much of his script for The Hostagethe author himself approved all changes.

Notoriety and critical attention came to Behan in the mid-1950s and contributed to his downfall, fuelled by his prolonged drinking bouts and belligerent behaviour.

“An Anglo-Irishman only works at riding horses, drinking whisky and reading double-meaning books in Irish at Trinity College”

Behan once wrote. The Hostage was Behan’s last major dramahis last books were compilations of anecdotes transcribed from tape recordings. Like Dylan Thomas, he was lionized to death in the United States. A lifelong battle with alcoholism ended Behan’s career in a Dublin hospital on March 20, in 1964, at the age of the young age of 41. He was given an IRA guard of honour which escorted his coffin and it was described by several newspapers as the biggest funeral since those of Michael Collins and Charles Stewart Parnell. According to the United States Library of Congress, Behan is one of the most important Irish literary figures of the 20th century. He left behind him a solid legacy but but you’d have to wonder what else he could have achieved if he’d just laid off the bottle a bit!

‘BRENDAN BEHAN’S DUBLIN’: RTE documentary from 1966.

http://youtu.be/bCKLbHgKFBE

Brendan Behan

SELECTED WORKS:

  •  The Quare Fellow,1954 – Film adaptation in 1962, dir. Arthur Dreifuss, starring  Patrick McGoohan.
  • Borstal Boy, 1958
  • Brendan Behan’s Island – An Irish Sketchbook, 1962
  • Hold Your Hour and Have Another, 1963
  • The Scarperer, 1964
  • Brendan Behan’s New York, 1964
  • Confessions of an Irish Rebel, 1965
  • After The Wake, 1981
  • The Letters of Brendan Behan, 1991
  • The King of Ireland’s Son, 1997
The Auld Triangle…
A hungry feeling, came o’er me stealing
And the mice they were squealing in my prison cell
And that auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal.
Oh to start the morning, the warden bawling
Get up out of bed you, and clean out your cell
And that auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal.
Oh the screw was peeping and the lag was sleeping
As he lay weeping for his girl Sal
And that auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal.
On a fine spring evening, the lag lay dreaming
And the seagulls were wheeling high above the wall
And that auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal.
Oh the wind was sighing, and the day was dying
As the lag lay crying in his prision cell
And that auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal.
 In the female prison there are seventy women
And I wish it was with them that I did dwell
And that auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal.

if looking on a mobile click on the blog logo at the top of the page to find out more from us…

%d bloggers like this: