Tag Archives: Cruachan

REMEMBERING HUGH THE GREAT O’NEILL IN SONG

Concluding our short series on celebrated figures from Irish history immortalised in song. Today is the turn of Aodh Mór Ó Neill (anglicised as Hugh The Great O’Neill), 3rd Baron of Dungannon and 2nd Earl Of Tyrone.

For our third and final part of the series we have opted for a song that is an instrumental but one whose air is as well known as any in Irish history. The song was rediscovered by the great Seán Ó Riada who was the single most influential figure in the revival of Irish traditional music during the 1960’s before his untimely death at 40 in 1971. Subsequent investigation shows it first appeared in Edward Bunting’s A General Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland in 1809 and an earlier version titled ‘O’Neill’s Riding’ was included in Stanford’s Complete Collection Of Irish Music in 1787.

(the legendary Cork born composer and arranger of Irish traditional music Seán Ó Riada performs ‘O’Neills Cavalry March’)

Born in 1550, Hugh O’Neill (Aodh Mór Ó Neill) was the second son of Mathew Ceallaigh the illegitimate son of Conn Bacach O’Neill who had submitted to Henry VIII in 1542 and was regranted his lands with the English title 1st Earl of Tyrone.

Mathew Ceallaigh had been murdered by his half-brother Shane the Proud O’Neill who also drove the elderly Conn out of Tyrone and into the Pale in 1559 where he died not long after. Mathew had two sons, Brian, recognised by the crown as the next earl, and his younger brother Hugh. Shane the Proud had by now, in the tradition of his Gaelic ancestors, resumed the Celtic title The Ó Neill and is suspected of having Brian O’Neill murdered close to Newry whilst he was en route to London to assume the title of Earl. The English, fearing also for the life of the young Hugh removed him to the safety of London. Hugh was reared from the age of nine as an English noble in London until 1567, when he was returned to Ireland and placed in the safekeeping of the Lord Deputy of Ireland Sir Henry Sidney.

(the most ambitious project relating to Hugh O’Neill is the 2018 concept album Nine Years Of Blood released by Dublin folk-metal band Cruachan, pronounced ‘kroo-a-khawn’)

In 1568 Hugh was declared Baron of Dungannon and then in 1585 he was also declared 2nd Earl of Tyrone by Elizabeth I. He was to all intents and purposes a loyal and trusted servant of the Crown. He aided the English during 1580 in the suppression of the second Desmond rebellion and supported Sir John Perrot in his campaign against the Antrim MacDonnells in 1584. For this he was rewarded by Elizabeth I when in 1587 he was granted a patent to his grandfather’s Tyrone properties which were now controlled by his cousin Turlough Luineach who styled himself The Ó Neill.

(Godfathers of Celtic-Punk Horslips took the tune and put it to their 197? hit ‘Dearg Doom’)

In 1593 Turlough stood down as the chief of the clan thereby allowing Hugh to be invested with the title The Ó Neill. The ceremony was performed in the traditional way and on the sacred stone at Tullaghogue in 1595 witnessed by all the major Ulster clans. For some years prior to his inauguration, Ó Neill had played a cat and mouse game with the English.

(One of the truly great exponents of the art of playing the Uilleann pipes Paddy Keenan on his 1983 album Poirt an Phíobaire)

In 1591 he had eloped with 20 year old Mabel Bagenal the sister of Sir Henry the Marshall of the queen’s army. He helped arrange the escape from prison of Red Hugh O’Donnell along with Art and Henry MacShane O’Neill. Unfortunately Art froze to death during the escape in the winter of 1591 and the others were led to safety by Feagh MacHugh O’Byrne. Ó Neill had at first aided the English in their 1593 campaign against the Maguires of Fermanagh. The English were led by Hugh’s resentful brother-in-law Bagenal. Hugh Maguire was Ó Neill’s son-in-law and when Ó Neill suddenly withdrew his support Bagel was left dangerously exposed.

By 1595 O’Neill was to commit his first act of resistance to the English when he overran the fort at Blackwater and destroyed the bridge. This is the first event in what is known as the nine year war. From this time O’Neill perfected a system of conscription that included the richest noble to the poorest peasant. This new force was known as bonnachts and he had them trained in modern warfare. Even his gallowglasses laid down their great axes in favour of the arquebus. Ó Neill then defeated English armies led by Bagenal at Clontibret in 1595 and at the Battle of The Yellow Ford in 1598 where Bagenal was killed. Queen Elizabeth sent over the biggest English army to enter Ireland. Though it numbered 17,000 men led by Robert Devereux the Earl of Essex, it was to prove ineffectual and in 1599 Essex made a treaty with O’ Neill which was not to Elizabeth’s liking and she replaced Devereux with Lord Mountjoy.

(Scottish legends Silly Wizard perform O’Neills Cavalry March from So Many Partings)

In 1601 Mountjoy was able to capture the Spanish army sent to help O’Neill at the town of Kinsale. After the Battle of Kinsale it was a turning point for O’Neill. English forces were spoiling the lands in Ulster and causing starvation there. Hugh O’Donnell had left for Spain to try for more help but died there suddenly. Recognising that his cause had failed O’Neill sought a pardon and in 1603 Elizabeth ordered Mountjoy to open negotiations with all the chiefs involved in the rebellion. She died in the interim but Mountjoy concealed this from O’Neill.

Accompanied by Rory O Donnell, brother of Red Hugh, O’Neill presented himself to the new King James I. The Irish were received graciously and O’Neill was confirmed in his title and estates. However, back in Ireland the government continued to challenge O’Neill’s authority, particularly over his feudal rights the principle dispute being over the O’Cathains. In 1607 he decided to take this to the King but was warned secretly that he was to be arrested. Instead of going to London, O’Neill and O’Donnell, along with their families and followers numbering around 99 people took ships from Rathmullan in Donegal and were driven by strong winds into the Seine. This event would become known as the Flight of the Earls. The Earls and their families made their way over land to Rome where they were welcomed in 1606 by the pope. King James saw this flight as treasonous and O’Neill was declared an outlaw in 1613 by the Irish parliament.

A tablet set in the floor of the church of San Pietro, Montorio, marks the burial-place of the bones of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone.

The parliament of Ireland outlawed O’Neill in 1613 and he later died in Rome on 20 July 1616 leaving behind a large number of legitimate and illegitimate children. Hugh O’Neill was buried in the church of San Pietro in Montorio, beside his son, also Hugh, Baron of Dungannon, and his brothers-in-law, Rory and Cathbarr O’Donnell. The inscription on his tomb is brief and was recorded by the historian, Father C.P. Meehan in 1832. During renovations to the church in 1848 the tombstones bearing the epitaphs of the Baron and O Donnells were carefully set in place again but the flagstone bearing the inscription on O Neill’s tomb was lost and a replica set in place at the behest of His Eminence, the late Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich, bearing the original inscription, can now be seen. The inscription reads

“D.O.M. HIC QUIESCENT UGONIS PRINCIPIS O NEILL OSSA”

Translated, it reads, “HERE LIES THE BONES OF HUGH O’NEILL, PRINCE or CHIEF

  • If you are even just the tiniest bit interested in Irish history and culture then it is essential that you subscribe to Stair na hÉireann/History of Ireland. An absolutely fantastic resource for all aspects of Irish history including the daily ‘What Happened On This Day’ and covering a wide range of Irish History, Irish language, Irish Diaspora, The Great Hunger, Arts & Music, Culture, Archaeology, Literature, Photography, Mythology & Folk Culture.
  • REMEMBERING FIACH MacHUGH O’BYRNE IN SONG  here
  • REMEMBERING RODDY McCORLEY IN SONG  here

REMEMBERING FIACH MacHUGH O’BYRNE IN SONG

The second in our series on celebrated figures from history immortalised in song and covered by both Folk and Celtic-Punk bands. Today we turn to the great Irish hero of Fiach MacHugh O’Bryne one of the greatest leaders in Irish history.

Memorial to Fiach McHugh O’Byrne, Glenmalure, County Wicklow

The song ‘Follow Me Up To Carlow’ recounts the struggle of Irish clan leaders against British rule in Ireland in the 16th century. The central figure in the song is Fiach MacHugh O’Bryne (1534 – 8 May, 1597) who fought the British army for thirty years during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The song celebrates his feats in battle and though thought to be from the time it was actually written 200 years later by famed Irish poet Patrick Joseph McCall, who also wrote the great patriotic ballads ‘Boolavogue’ and ‘Kelly The Boy From Killane’ among others. The song ‘Follow Me Up To Carlow’ is one of the most famous Irish folk songs and celebrates the defeat of the English army at the Battle of Glenmalure in 1580.

Lift MacCahir Óg your face brooding o’er the old disgrace
That black Fitzwilliam stormed your place, drove you to the Fern
Grey said victory was sure soon the firebrand he’d secure;
Until he met at Glenmalure with Fiach Mac Hugh O’Byrne.

Chorus:
Curse and swear Lord Kildare
Fiach will do what Fiach will dare
Now Fitzwilliam, have a care
Fallen is your star, low
Up with halbert out with sword
On we’ll go for by the Lord
Fiach MacHugh has given the word,
Follow me up to Carlow.

See the swords of Glen Imayle, flashing o’er the English Pale
See all the children of the Gael, beneath O’Byrne’s banners
Rooster of a fighting stock, would you let a Saxon cock
Crow out upon an Irish rock, fly up and teach him manners.

From Saggart to Clonmore, there flows a stream of Saxon gore
O, great is Rory Óg O’More, sending the loons to Hades.
White is sick and Lane is fled, now for black Fitzwilliam’s head
We’ll send it over dripping red, to Queen Liza and the ladies.

Fiach MacHugh O’Bryne (Fiach Mac Aodh ÓBroin) was the son of the chief of the O’Byrnes of the Gabhail Raghnaill. His sept, a minor one, claimed descent from the 11th century King of Leinster, Bran Mac Maolmordha, and was centred at Ballinacor in Glenmalure, a steep valley in the fastness of the Wicklow mountains. Their chiefs styled themselves as Lords of Ranalagh. The territory of the Gabhail Rabhnaill stretched from Glendalough south to the Forest of Shillelagh in Wexford and west to the borders of present day Co Carlow, an area of some 150,000 acres. Resenting the greed and cruelty of the Elizabethan adventurers and settlers, Fiach would raid their villages and kill or drive them out. He was appalled at the ruthless cruelty of the stewarts Thomas Masterson and Sir Henry Harrington and in 1580 went into open rebellion when Masterson summarily executed many Kavanagh clansmen.

(Perhaps the greatest ever version of ‘Follow Me Up To Carlow’ by the legendary Planxty included here with lyrics to sing along to)

Other clans joined with Fiach and when James Eustace, 3rd Lord Baltinglass, angered by the treatment of the Catholic Old English also rebelled and joined with him. The English were appalled at this, already Munster was in turmoil as the Earl of Desmond was in rebellion and in the north the O’Neills were moving also against the English.

(The song as covered by new north London Irish folk group Crock Of Bones on their debut EP ‘Nasty, Brutal And Short’. Incidentally the singer was named after Hugh O’Bryne)

An army of 3,000 men were sent into the Wicklow Mountains but O’Byrne and Eustace were waiting for them in Glenmalure. Over 800 English lost their lives at the Battle of Glenmalure and the rest fled back to Dublin. The following year the English offered terms, Eustace refused and fled to Spain but Fiach and the other clan chiefs accepted and were pardoned.

(Irish-American band The Young Dubliners from California performed one of the earliest Celtic-Punk versions of the song)

In 1592 Hugh Roe O’Donnell, with brothers Art and Henry MacShane O’Neill escaped from Dublin Castle. The breakout had been planned with the help of Hugh Mór O’Neill and the escapees fled to the safety of Glenmalure. It was a severe winter and Art died from exposure and was buried in O’Byrne land but Fiach was able to transport Hugh Roe and Henry away to safety.

(The Tan And Sober Gentlemen from Snow Camp, North Carolina)

The English spent a long time collecting heads and plundering, they spared few. In April, Russell again went hunting for Fiach who once again escaped. His wife Rose however was captured and sentenced to be burned to death. The sentence was not carried out.

(Jim McCann’s version was the first time I ever heard ‘Follow Me Up To Carlow’ when he bought me this album on tape when i was on holiday)

Lord Deputy Russell was to spend the next year unsuccessfully scouring the country for Fiach. However O’ Byrne’s luck was to run out. A traitor in his camp gave information to Russell that Fiach would be in Ballinacorr on 8th May 1597. The Lord Deputy was able to surprise him and captured him in a cave. There he was hacked to death and decapitated with his own sword.

(folk-metal version titled The Marching Song Of Fiach MacHugh from Irish band Cruachan)

Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne’s corpse was cut up, and for months hung on pike staffs on the wall over Dublin Castle drawbridge. Several months later, the pickled head was presented to the council secretary at London by an English adventurer, who was disappointed to find that the head-silver due on O’Byrne had already been paid in Ireland. The queen was said to have been greatly angered that

“the head of such a base Robin Hood was brought solemnly into England”.

(There’s no better way to end this article than with my own personal favourite and the version by Dublin Celtic-Punk band Blood Or Whiskey)

  • If you are even just the tiniest bit interested in Irish history and culture then it is essential that you subscribe to Stair na hÉireann/History of Ireland. An absolutely fantastic resource for all aspects of Irish history including the daily ‘What Happened On This Day’ and covering a wide range of Irish History, Irish language, Irish Diaspora, The Great Hunger, Arts & Music, Culture, Archaeology, Literature, Photography, Mythology & Folk Culture.
  • REMEMBERING HUGH THE GREAT O’NEILL IN SONG  here
  • REMEMBERING RODDY McCORLEY IN SONG  here

THE HISTORY OF CELTIC-ROCK MUSIC

Today the 30492- London Celtic Punks web zine is four years old today so what better way to celebrate our birthday than to give you this small but perfectly formed potted history of Celtic-Rock. We have never just wanted to be a place that only reviews new records we want to celebrate everything that makes us celtic-punks. Our love of our roots and our history and our traditions and the love that those with no Celtic ancestry have as well. Celtic-Punk is for all that share our common values of friendship and solidarity and the love of a good time. Music cannot change the world but it can certainly make it a better place to live in and in these uncertain times that is something we all need. The roots of celtic-punk should be important to us as that is where we come from and we must never forget that.

The London Celtic Punks Admin Team

Celtic rock is a genre of folk rock, as well as a form of Celtic fusion which incorporates Celtic music, instrumentation and themes into a rock music context. It has been extremely prolific since the early 1970’s and can be seen as a key foundation of the development of highly successful mainstream Celtic bands and popular musical performers, as well as creating important derivatives through further fusions. It has played a major role in the maintenance and definition of regional and national identities and in fostering a pan-Celtic culture. It has also helped to communicate those cultures to external audiences.

Definition

The style of music is the hybrid of traditional Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and Breton musical forms with rock music. This has been achieved by the playing of traditional music, particularly ballads, jigs and reels with rock instrumentation; by the addition of traditional Celtic instruments, including the Celtic harp, tin whistle, uilleann pipes (or Irish Bagpipes), fiddle, bodhrán, accordion, concertina, melodeon, and bagpipes (highland) to conventional rock formats; by the use of lyrics in Celtic languages and by the use of traditional rhythms and cadences in otherwise conventional rock music. Just as the validity of the term Celtic in general and as a musical label is disputed, the term Celtic rock cannot be taken to mean there was a unified Celtic musical culture between the Celtic nations. However, the term has remained useful as a means of describing the spread, adaptation and further development of the musical form in different but related contexts.

History

Origins

Celtic rock developed out of the (originally English) electric folk scene at the beginning of the 1970’s. The first recorded use of the term may have been by the Scottish singer Donovan to describe the folk rock he created for his Open Road album in 1970, which itself featured a song named ‘Celtic Rock’. However, the lack of a clear Celtic elements to the self-penned tracks mean that even if the name was taken from here, this is not the first example of the genre that was to develop.

Ireland

It was in Ireland that Celtic rock was first clearly evident as musicians attempted to apply the use of traditional and electric music to their own cultural context. By the end of the 1960’s Ireland already had perhaps the most flourishing folk music tradition and a growing blues and pop scene, which provided a basis for Irish rock. Perhaps the most successful product of this scene was the band Thin Lizzy. Formed in 1969 their first two albums were recognisably influenced by traditional Irish music and their first hit single ‘Whisky in the Jar’ in 1972, was a rock version of a traditional Irish song. From this point they began to move towards the hard rock that allowed them to gain a series of hit singles and albums, but retained some occasional elements of Celtic rock on later albums such as Jailbreak (1976). Formed in 1970, Horslips were the first Irish group to have the terms ‘Celtic rock’ applied to them, produced work that included traditional Irish/Celtic music and instrumentation, Celtic themes and imagery, concept albums based on Irish mythology in a way that entered the territory of progressive rock all powered by a hard rock sound. Horslips are considered important in the history of Irish rock as they were the first major band to enjoy success without having to leave their native country and can be seen as providing a template for Celtic rock in Ireland and elsewhere. These developments ran in parallel with the burgeoning folk revival in Ireland that included groups such as Planxty and the Bothy Band. It was from this tradition that Clannad, whose first album was released in 1973, adopted electric instruments and a more ‘new age’ sound at the beginning of the 1980s. Moving Hearts, formed in 1981 by former Planxty members Christy Moore and Donal Lunny, followed the pattern set by Horslips in combining Irish traditional music with rock, and also added elements of jazz to their sound.

  • THE POGUES AND IRISH CULTURAL CONTINUITY (here)

Scotland

There were already strong links between Irish and Scottish music by the 1960s, with Irish bands like the Chieftains touring and outselling the native artists in Scotland. The adoption of electric folk produced groups including the JSD Band and Spencer’s Feat. Out of the wreckage of the latter in 1974, was formed probably the most successful band in this genre, combining Irish and Scottish personnel to form Five Hand Reel. Two of the most successful groups of the 1980s emerged from the dance band circuit in Scotland. From 1978, when they began to release original albums, Runrig produced highly polished Scottish electric folk, including the first commercially successful album with the all Gaelic Play Gaelic in 1978. From the 1980s Capercaillie combined Scottish folk music, electric instruments and haunting vocals to considerable success. While bagpipes had become an essential element in Scottish folk bands they were much rarer in electric folk outfits, but were successfully integrated into their sound by Wolfstone from 1989, who focused on a combination of highland music and rock.

  • HOW THE IRISH AND THE SCOTS INFLUENCED AMERICAN MUSIC (here)

Brittany

Brittany also made a major contribution to Celtic rock. The Breton cultural revival of the 1960s was exemplified by Alan Stivell who became the leading proponent of the Breton harp and other instruments from about 1960, he then adopted elements of Irish, Welsh and Scottish traditional music in an attempt to create a pan-Celtic folk music, which had considerable impact elsewhere, particularly in Wales and Cornwall. From 1972 he began to play electric folk with a band including guitarists Dan Ar Braz and Gabriel Yacoub. Yacoub went on to form Malicorne in 1974 one of the most successful electric folk band in France. After an extensive career that included a stint playing as part of Fairport Convention in 1976, Ar Braz formed the pan-Celtic band Heritage des Celtes, who managed to achieve mainstream success in France in the 1990’s. Probably the best known and most certainly the most enduring electric folk band in France were Tri Yann formed in 1971 and still recording and performing today. In 2017 celtic-punk band Les Ramoneurs De Menhirs fly the flag for Brittany singing in their native language and playing regularly and often accompanied on stage by Louise Ebrel, daughter of Eugénie Goadec, a famous traditional Breton musician.

  • ALBUM REVIEW: LES RAMONEURS DE MENHIRS- ‘Tan Ar Bobl’ (here)

Wales

By the end of the 1960’s Wales had produced some important individuals and bands that emerged as major British or international artists, this included power pop outfit Badfinger, psychedelic rockers Elastic Band and proto-heavy metal trio Budgie. But although folk groupings formed in the early 1970’s, including Y Tebot Piws, Ac Eraill, and Mynediad am Ddim, it was not until 1973 that the first significant Welsh language rock band Edward H Dafis, originally a belated rock n’ roll outfit, caused a sensation by electrifying and attempting to use rock instrumentation while retaining Welsh language lyrics. As a result, for one generation listening to Welsh language rock music could now become a statement of national identity. This opened the door for a new rock culture but inevitably most Welsh language acts were unable to breakthrough into the Anglophone dominated music industry. Anhrefn became the best known of these acts taking their pop-punk rock sound across Europe from the early-80’s to mid-90’s.

  • TRIBUTE TO WELSH PUNK ROCK LEGENDS ANHREFN (here)

Cornwall and the Isle of Man

Whereas other Celtic nations already had existing folk music cultures before the end of the 1960s this was less true in Cornwall and the Isle of Man, which were also relatively small in population and more integrated into English culture and (in the case of Cornwall) the British State. As a result, there was relatively little impact from the initial wave of folk electrification in the 1970’s. However, the pan-Celtic movement, with its musical and cultural festivals helped foster some reflections in Cornwall where a few bands from the 1980s onwards utilised the traditions of Cornish music with rock, including Moondragon and its successor Lordryk. More recently the bands Sacred Turf, Skwardya and Krena, have been performing in the Cornish language.

  • ALBUM REVIEW: BARRULE- ‘Manannans Cloak’ (here)

Subgenres

Celtic Punk

Ireland proved particularly fertile ground for punk bands in the mid-1970s, including Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones, The Radiators From Space, The Boomtown Rats and The Virgin Prunes. As with electric folk in England, the advent of punk and other musical trends undermined the folk element of Celtic rock, but in the early 1980s London based Irish band The Pogues created the subgenre Celtic punk by combining structural elements of folk music with a punk attitude and delivery. The Pogues’ style of punked-up Irish music spawned and influenced a number of Celtic punk bands, including fellow London-Irish band Neck, Nyah Fearties from Scotland, Australia’s Roaring Jack and Norway’s Greenland Whalefishers.

  • FROM OPPRESSION TO CELEBRATION- THE POGUES TO THE DROPKICK MURPHYS AND CELTIC PUNK (here)

Diaspora Celtic Punk

One by-product of the Celtic diaspora has been the existence of large communities across the world that looked for their cultural roots and identity to their origins in the Celtic nations. While it seems young musicians from these communities usually chose between their folk culture and mainstream forms of music such as rock or pop, after the advent of Celtic punk large numbers of bands began to emerge styling themselves as Celtic rock. This is particularly noticeable in the USA and Canada, where there are large communities descended from Irish and Scottish immigrants. From the USA this includes the Irish bands Flogging Molly, The Tossers, Dropkick Murphys, The Young Dubliners, Black 47, The Killdares, The Drovers and Jackdaw, and for Scottish bands Prydein, Seven Nations and Flatfoot 56. From Canada are bands like The Mahones, Enter the Haggis, Great Big Sea, The Real McKenzies and Spirit of the West. These groups were naturally influenced by American forms of music, some containing members with no Celtic ancestry and commonly singing in English. In England we have The BibleCode Sundays, The Lagan and others.

  • THE EFFECTS OF NEW DIASPORA CELTIC PUNK: THE CREATION OF A PAN-CELTIC CULTURE (here)

Celtic Metal

Like Celtic rock in the 1970s, Celtic metal resulted from the application of a development in English music, when in the 1990s thrash metal band Skyclad added violins, and with them jigs and folk voicings, to their music on the album The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth (1990). This inspired the Dublin based band Cruachan to mix traditional Irish music with black metal and to create the subgenre of Celtic metal. They were soon followed by bands such as Primordial and Waylander. Like Celtic punk, Celtic metal fuses the Celtic folk tradition with contemporary forms of music.

  • CELTIC-METAL’S TOP FIVE BANDS (here)

Influence

Whereas in England electric folk, after initial mainstream recognition, subsided into the status of a sub-cultural soundtrack, in many Celtic communities and nations it has remained at the forefront of musical production. The initial wave of Celtic rock in Ireland, although ultimately feeding into Anglo-American dominated progressive rock and hard rock provided a basis for Irish bands that would enjoy international success, including the Pogues and U2: one making use of the tradition of Celtic music in a new context and the other eschewing it for a distinctive but mainstream sound. Similar circumstances can be seen in Scotland albeit with a delay in time while Celtic rock culture developed, before bands like Runrig could achieve international recognition. Widely acknowledged as one of the outstanding voices in Celtic/rock is the Glasgow born Brian McCombe of The Brian McCombe Band, a pan Celtic group based in Brittany.

In other Celtic communities, and particularly where Celtic speakers or descendants are a minority, the function of Celtic rock has been less to create mainstream success, than to bolster cultural identity. A consequence of this has been the reinforcement of pan-Celtic culture and of particular national or regional identities between those with a shared heritage, but who are widely dispersed. However, the most significant consequence of Celtic rock has simply been as a general spur to immense musical and cultural creativity.

ALBUM REVIEW: SAOR- ‘Guardians’ (2016)

A unique blend of Scottish folk and atmospheric black metal inspired by traditional Scots poetry and heritage.

saor-guardians

In reviewing this amazing album I really hope i can do it the justice it truly deserves.Sadly celtic-metal is not a music genre I am too familiar with although I can myself returning if theres more bands like Saor knocking around! Now Saor (which means ‘Free’ or ‘Unconstrained’ in Scottish gaelic) are not strictly a band they are the brainchild of talented multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Andy Marshall. Andy was originally a member of Glasgow band Falloch who received great critical acclaim for their debut album Where Distant Spirits Remain in 2011 although Andy left the band the following year. Striking out on his own Andy released his first solo album Roots in May 2013 again to an avalanche of critical applause. There were only four tracks, that came in at nearly fifty minutes long, which upon listening to managed to evoke the essense of Scotland from the first few bars of the self titled opening track. As one reviewer described it

“The sensation of standing among ancient Scottish mountains captured in sonic form, it speaks to my soul, utterly beautiful”

The following year in June, Andy released Aura. A five track album with the sound fleshed out somewhat by several guest musicians. Passionate and majestic the music soars and again won them an array of positive reviews. Around this time Saor played a handful of live shows but it has now been decided that Saor will remain a studio-only project and there will sadly not be any more live shows.

andy-marshall

So after a two year absence Saor have returned with an album laden with their trademark celtic melodies with their new release Guardians out on November 11, 2016Recorded over two years, in Cairndow and the Isle of Skye, Guardians begins with the self titled track and as is the way with a lot of celtic albums its the sound of a running stream and birdsong that opens the song. It doesn’t take long before crashing guitars and the glorious sound of pipes fills the air and we off on our journey. The drums rock in and the speed ramps up and ‘Guardians’ soars and ebbs and flows while Andy gives it that true death metal growl while he’s singing of tragedy and loss.

“On the mountains of heather they slumber together.
On the wastes of the moorland their bodies decay.
How sound is their sleeping, how safe is their keeping
Though far from their kindred they molder away.

Oh, never to perish, their names let us cherish,
The martyrs of Scotland that now are away”

The song lyrics are all inspired in some way from real events in Scottish history and various parts have been taken from ancient Scottish poetry and the absolutely amazing way that Andy has managed to incorporate that into the songs.

In ‘Guardians’ Horatius Bonar poem ‘The Martyrs of Scotland” is utilised while ‘The Declaration’ is inspired by the Declaration Of Arbroath and Robbie Burns. The declaration was in in the form of a letter submitted to the Pope dated 6 April 1320 declaring Scotland’s an independent, sovereign state.

“By oppression’s woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!

Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty’s in every blow!—
Let us do or die!”

The words come from a poem previously put to music by The Real McKenzies, the poem ‘Scots Wha Hae’. Written by Burns in 1793 it took the form of a speech given by Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The song which served for centuries as the unofficial national anthem of Scotland until the present day popularity of ‘Flower Of Scotland’ overtook it. It retains its anger and its passion and Saor pay tribute to it faithfully. The shortest of all the tracks here it still lasts over ten minutes giving it plenty of time to build up and release and build up again. Starting fast before the whole thing slows down for the fiddle while the drumming is simply superb emphasising the sound of the other instruments without ever taking over. The words for following track, ‘Autumn Rain’, come from ‘Culloden Moore’ by Alice MacDonnell and was inspired by her direct descent from a hero of the battlefield.

“Noble dead that sleep below,
We your valour ne’er forget;
Soft the heroes’ rest who know
Hearts like theirs are beating yet”

The battle of Culloden was the final confrontation between the Scots and the English in 1745 and the last major battle fought on this island. Lasting only forty minutes the devastating slaughter marked the end of the military phase of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745/6. Following the battle repression rained down on the native Scots and officers and chiefs who had escaped left for Europe while many of the Jacobite rank and file fled to the American colonies. The sorrow is palpable and Andys voice cries out in pain for them. Even today, they say that the birds don’t sing at the site of the Battle of Culloden. Alice Macdonell of Keppoch, writing at the end of the 19th Century writes of the bleakness of the place, after seeing it in the rain in autumn.

(spare an hour to watch this amazing docu-drama from Peter Watkins made in 1964. Cleverly reconstructing the battle of Culloden as if TV cameras were present.)

Fourth song ‘Hearth’ starts with acoustic guitar and the simple rhythm of the drums before it explodes into action with Andy’s vocals never more powerful than on this song. The words come from ‘My Native Land’ by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). Andy sings with a passion here, its the only time on the album you can hear some of the words, and while the words could apply to any country it is Scotland they were written for.

“This is my home
My heart
My soul
My hearth”

This is clearly the most celtic of the songs on Guardians and I love it. The swirling upbeats, the fiddle and tin whistle and the crashing guitars give this song in particular a feel of Scotland.

Guardians ends with ‘Tears Of A Nation’ and the words here come from ‘The Tears of Scotland’ written by Tobias Smollet (1721-1771). As is obvious from the title it’s another mournful tribute to those who laid down their lives over the centuries for a free Scotland.

“Mourn, hapless Caledonia, mourn”

So while Andy undoubtedly provides the backbone, at the very least, of Saor it would be unfair not to give the guest musicians who also appear a mention here. Bryan Hamilton from Falkirk metallers Cnoc An Tursa on drums, John Becker from Chicago prog-rockers Austaras on strings, Meri Tadić- Fiddle, Reni McDonald Hill on bodhrán and Kevin Murphy on highland bagpipes all provide excellent accompaniment for Andy. Vinyl and tapes will be available soon and the Digipak CD comes with a ten page booklet with lyrics. Guardians may have only five tracks but the word epic could have solely been invented to help me to review this album clocking in as it does at just over fifty five minutes, with each song lasting over ten minutes. As Andy explains

“I start off with a riff or melody on guitar and start recording demos. Once I’ve got the basics down, I begin adding other instruments and vocal ideas. I’ve no idea how the songs become complex and long, it’s just something that naturally happens when I write music”

From the admittedly little I know it would seem that the genre of folk-metal has long been the domain of Scandinavian bands whose traditions and songs seem to more revolve around trolls and Lord Of The Rings-esque characters while the small band of actual Celtic based celtic-metal bands seem to add something more substantial and real. Ireland’s Primordial, the first celtic-metal band, and Cruachan and Saor keep that flag flying and here on Guardians it is that fury and anger at the ills inflicted upon Scotland and the sadness and melancholy of the history of their land while at the same time the realisation that freedom has surely never been so close that gives Guardians such a dramatic feel to it. The music sweeps you away and if like me you are a stranger to celtic-metal then this is a perfect place to start and immerse yourself in the soundscape of Scotland.

(you can listen to Guardians by pressing play on the Bandcamp player below)

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CATCH UP 2014 REVIEWS! BLACK 47, CELKILT, BIG ART PETERS, CRUACHAN, MY LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE, DUCKING PUNCHES, DEIEDRA, HARD UP, JOHNNY KOWALSKI AND THE SEXY WEIRDOS, LES FOSSOYEURS SEPTIK, NOWHEREBOUND, THE POKES

Here at 30492- LONDON CELTIC PUNKS blog we much prefer to do really detailed reviews but its been impossible for us to keep up with all the great releases we have come across so here’s a few quick ones just to catch up and get 2014 out of the way. Each and every one are worthy of your time so go ahead and check them out.

Black 47- 'Rise Up' (2014)BLACK 47- ‘Rise Up: Political Songs (2014)

A sad year for New Yorks premier celtic-punk band as they finally called it a day after an amazing 25 years together. Influenced by reggae, hip hop and jazz as well as folk and punk I gotta admit I’m a late convert to Black 47 but better late than never. This is a compilation of the best of their political songs. Irish republicanism looms large with the standout tracks the emotional renditions of ‘James Connolly’, ‘The Patriot Game’ and  ‘Bobby Sands MP’. The real standout though is the fantastic ‘San Patricio Brigade’, with the band accompanied by Eileen Ivers, which tells of the Irish deserters from the US Army who fled racism and mistreatment to join the Mexican Army and formed the St Patrick’s Battalion back in 1846. More on that here.

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CELKILT- ‘On The Table’ (2014)

Imagine a catchy as hell pop punk band with fiddle, whistles and bag pipes and a very real foot in celtic history and you have Celkilt from Lyon in east-central France. Their fourth album came out to quite a fanfare and it really deserved it. Influenced from across the celtic nations Celkilt have taken the scene by storm since they arrived and with a continuously evolving and updating sound they need to be heard far and wide. Songs on this album represent all the celtic nations but is the Breton sounding title track that steals the show for me. The vocals are in crystal clear English and the production is immaculate!

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BIG ART PETERS- ‘Quit Horsing Around’ (2014)BIG ART PETERS- ‘Quit Horsing Around’ (2014)

An album of laid back country classics from Arturo Bassick, the singer and last remaining original member of 1977 punk rock legends The Lurkers backed by members of German psychobilly band Mad Sin. All great fun and will definitly remind you of those records your mammy loved back when you were a kid. Clearly influenced by Johnny Cash I half expected  Arturo to produce a spoof/jokey album but no its serious and shows the upmost respect. I can see yet another door opening for this already busy and very talented geezer.

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Cruachan- 'Blood For The Blood God' (2014)CRUACHAN- ‘Blood For The Blood God’ (2014)

Formed in Dublin back in 1992 Cruachan are one of the world’s top celtic/folk-metal bands. I must admit to a very limited knowledge of that suprisingly busy and popular scene and anything I know comes from this previous article here on the blog entitled ‘Celtic Metals Top Five Bands’. You would think not for the faint hearted but it is in fact very listenable and the folk influence is massive. This is the second instalment of a planned ‘Blood…’ trilogy and is their seventh album. The songs deal with stories from Irish mythology and chugging riffs compete with traditional Irish jigs to make a gloriously epic album.

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MY LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE- ‘Columbia’ (2014)

Hailing from Portland, Oregon this is My Life In Black And White’s fourth album and their blend of Social Distortion style punk and folk has got them plenty of notice. Whiskey soaked singalongs and ballads sitting next to a rough punk sound with fast drum beats and distorted guitars where you can still hear the acoustic guitar strumming away in the fantastic mix. The best bands draw inspiration from past wars and cultural struggles and so do My Life In Black And White thus they bring a strong sense of folk tradition to the songs so that even on the punker songs a strong sense of the past shines through.

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DUCKING PUNCHES ‘Dance Before You Sleep’ (2014)

New band to me hailing from Norwich away there on the east coast of England and one of many where the band members are, or use to be, members of more conventional punk rock bands. Really nice folky punk with biting lyrics and a real threat in what they say that belies the ‘nice’ music. Great storytelling songs and catchy as feck music. Highly recommended and I look forward to seeing more of these this year. A brilliant scene developing in Norwich with bands taking in every angle of celtic/folk-punk. Watch out for the East Town Pirates too.

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Deiedra-DEIEDRA- ‘Usteak Ustal’ (2014)

There has always been great links between the celtic nations and the Basque people. Both share histories of oppression and the scars of colonialism. Some even say that the Irish and the Basques are the same linked through their DNA. Deiedra play immaculate Irish folk filtered through Basque ears and sung in their native language. Some of the tunes are familiar but all are stamped with Deiedra’s own style.

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HARD UP ‘Penury’ (2014)

Leftie folk-punk that reminds me of Mischief Brew or The Dead Maggies. From Montreal in Quebec they sing in English and even though it could have benefited from a better production but as ‘Penury’ was recorded in a loft Hard Up can be forgiven. A lovely bit of DIY folk-punk with great storytelling lyrics and banjo playing.

“folk is a music for the people by the people there’s no room for blind faith at all”

Only twenty minutes long but rattles along at a great old speed and keeps up the catchiness all the way through. Available for Pay What You Want so why not take a chance on them. You’ll not regret it.

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JOHNNY KOWALSKI AND THE SEXY WEIRDOS- ‘Kill The Beast’ (2014)

Second album from this Birmingham based band that combines elements of ska, celtic, balkan, punk, rock’n’roll, mariachi, carnival and a whole lot more that I havent yet realised into the tumbler and gives it a good shake before knocking it back. A rollicking good time to be had by these. Nothing too serious just a seriously great time…

“He gathers forth distrusting words
He reach a stream, he can’t cry out
After knowledge always doubt
When over the hill there comes a shout
The distant smoke, the smell of stout”

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LES FOSSOYEURS SEPTIK- ‘La Pelle du désordre’ (2014)

They come from France and even though I don’t speak French Les Fossoyeurs Septik sound very pissed off! All yer classic bits of folk-punk and folk and punk are complimented by some very good reggae touches that don’t sound out of place at all. Another band in Mischief brew territory but with none of the Americana of said band these are French and sound like it. Like I said have got no idea what their singing about except they support the Animal Liberation Front so unfortunatly they got a lot to be pissed off about so. Their are only the occasional celtic moments but don’t let that put you off definitley worth keeping an eye on.

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NOWHEREBOUND- ‘Mockingbirds’ (2014)

Formed in 2010 out of the ashes of local Austin, Texas punk bands Nowherebound’s third album is more punk than previous ones have been but the same touches that impressed me with My Life In Black And White’s album (see above) are also evident in heaps here. The acoustic guitars have been retired but the sound of Nowherebound hasn’t changed. Thank feck! From hard rock in-yer-face to pop punk melodies to raise-your-glass-and-sing-along-anthems Nowherebound hit you in the heart and head.

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THE POKES 'Mayday' (2014)THE POKES ‘Mayday’ (2014)

Last one and its The Pokes from Berlin and on first listen it was legendary North-Eastern England band The Whiskey Priests that it reminded me of. Celtic-punk without being particularly celtic it is nevertheless absolutely superb party music and looking at their videos they are something else live. Their fourth album and much the same great fiddle, banjo and accordion wrapped around clear vocals and often hilarious lyrics. Influences abound with everything from ska to polka sticking their nose in and combining to prove why The Pokes are one of the best and most popular bands in Germany.

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apologies to all the bands as each and every release deserved the full LONDON CELTIC PUNKS treatment but time has got the better of me. If anyone out there wants to help out on the reviews front drop us a line. Don’t be shy we are always looking for help.

CELTIC-METAL’S TOP FIVE BANDS

Having touched on celtic-hip hop last week I’ve since been looking into the genre of celtic metal which basically combines celtic folk music with heavy metal of course. With Scandinavian heavy metal bands delving back into the history of their respective countries for years now and adding elements to their music it was only a matter of time before bands from the celtic nations started to do the same.

Celtic Metal

These are my top five celtic metal bands as well as what are considered to be their best albums and where they come from with a wee bit of info added. It’s all my opinion of course and I’d be the first to admit that my knowledge of metal and celtic metal is pretty limited so if you know any others please feel free to leave a comment.

1. Primordial (Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand) Dublin, Ireland

Formed back in 1987 they originally started as a standard metal band but slowly their sound began to become more epic and the use of celtic instruments pushed them into a new sound.

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2. Waylander (Kindred Spirits) Armagh, Ireland

Formed in 1993 and dogged by the coming and going of band members over the years and various record label problems but still going strong…

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3. Cruachan (Pagan) Dublin, Ireland

Formed in 1992 and originally a band influenced by Vikings and Tolkien they soon evolved into one of the original celtic-metal bands. More information and discography and videos here.

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Folklore, Cruachan’s third album was  recorded by and features vocals by the legendary Shane McGowan of the Pogues and the single ‘Ride On’ reached number 40 in the Irish charts.

4. Alestorm (Black Sails at Midnight) Perth, Scotland

Formed in 2006 and describing their sound as ‘true Scottish pirate metal’. Two Scots and two Irishmen make up this band of buccaneers so that puts them firmly in the celtic-metal camp! Like all these bands absolutely huge on the continent and getting more and more popular here all the time as well.

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5. Mägo de Oz (Gaia) Madrid, Spain

Formed in  1989 they’re well known for the strong celtic feel to their music strengthened through their constant usage of a violinist and flute. The name means ‘Wizard of Oz’ in Spanish!

Web-Site   Facebook  where they have over 2million likes!

  • For our article on celtic hip-hop go here for ‘Celtic Hip-Hop’s Top Seven Bands And Artists.

UPDATE

cheers for D for extra information. rather than just cut and paste from it if you’re inclined then head over to Rate Your Music here and for some music here.

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