Sixth album from Serbia’s Orthodox Celts. The first and still one of the best Irish/Celtic bands from not just Eastern Europe but anywhere!
There are so many bands in the celtic-punk scene that for one reason or another can be regarded as legendary. One of these bands well deserving of that word are the Orthodox Celts. They may not be a name very familiar to you but as the first band in Eastern Europe to play Irish music we can safely say that all who came after them owe them a debt for popularising Irish music and culture. Orthodox Celts hail from Belgrade in Serbia and celebrate a quarter of a century together this year with the release of their new album Many Mouths Shut. Over the last 25 years they toured right across Europe with their energetic and mesmerizing performances playing to packed houses wherever they go. I have never seen them live but a friend of a friend had a live DVD of the band and i can certainly attest to the amazing show they put on with a great and positive atmosphere for an army of fans that follows wherever the Celts play.
Despite Irish/Celtic music being unheard of in their home country the Celts have risen to become one of the biggest bands in the Serbian rock scene and have gone onto influence many, if not all, of the newer Celtic punk bands in the region. While we were getting all excited at ‘An Irtish Pub’ by The Rumjacks easing into the millions of views on You Tube Orthodox Celts version of ‘Star of the County Down’ recently racked up an incredible 10,000,000 (aye ten million) views and continues to grow.
Many Mouths Shut begins with ‘One / Milk & Honey’ which was the first single from the album released last year and you can tell from this opening song pretty much what you going to hear for the next half hour. Put simply its energetic mostly acoustic Irish folk. The sort of stuff you use to only hear where the Irish gathered but bands like the Orthodox Saints have helped introduce it far and beyond almost anyone could ever have imagined.
“Many Are Drowned In This Sea That I Swim
Many Nailed To The Cross That I Bring
Many Are Burnt In The Flames That I Feel
But I’ll Never Be The Fallen One”
The first part of the song is followed by a beautiful Irish tune and shows right from the start that the standard of musicianship is outstanding and there’s more than a bit of a punk rock spirit in there too. These Bhoys play louder than Motorhead live! They follow this with the cracking ‘I Wish You The Very Worst’ with some great lyrics about someone who somebody doesn’t like.
“I’m So Sick Of Being The Lamb, In This Game I’ll Be The Wolf”
Wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of this! The first of the album’s rockier songs but again the song is interspersed with some brilliant Irish reels and has some great fist (or pint!) in the air chants to get the crowd going.
As I already said about the standard of musicianship here and with ‘Morrison’s Jig’ they take an old Irish traditional folk song named for the Sligo-born, Irish-American fiddler James Morrison from the 1930’s and breathe new life into the tune. They take it and make it almost unrecognisable while still keeping true to the song itself. We are back in more in more upbeat Celts territory next with one of the poppier songs on the album, ‘Save Me’, a song that would fit snugly into a set of The Saw Doctors or The Bible Code Sundays. They have come a long way since their debut album of all Irish standard covers.
Not one of my favourite songs here I have to say but great lyrics again and I never cease to be amazed how some celtic-punk songwriters who have English as a second and sometimes third or fourth language can write such great stuff. It is a talent I will be eternally jealous of.
“Save Me Girl
Give Me Shelter In Your Arms
Save Me Girl
And Blow Away My Harms
Save Me Girl
Arise Me From The Dead Tonight”
The second of the traditional Irish songs is next and again they come up trumps with ‘The Banshee’. A fast and furious reel that was thought to have been written by famed Monaghan tin-whistler James MacMahon (1893-1977). The sort of reel that at a session just gets louder and faster and faster till your head bursts! Named after the female spirit in Irish mythology that heralded the death of a family member by shrieking. ‘King Of The Hill’ is next and is a bit more upbeat with a great drum back beat keeping the lot of them in time. Another traditional instrumental ‘Flowers Of Red Hill’ keeps the momentum flowing and the tin whistle playing here is exemplary with the only problem is that again it’s over in just over a minute. Recorded by many great Celtic bands like De Dannan, Bothy Band, Silly Wizard we can now add Orthodox Celts to that esteemed list. You can compare The Bothy Band here to the Orthodox Celts here. Been waiting on a ballad for half the album and with ‘Lone Wolf’ its arrived. A simple song that starts with just voice and acoustic guitar before the rest of the Celts team join in and takes us through to ‘Revolution’ where as usual the same old story comes out of politicians betraying the very people who put them into power.
“Hey You Are The Same As Those Who We Dethroned For You, You’re Spitting On The Faces Of Those Who Cleared Your Way
We Bled For You, We Fought For You, And Gave You All Those Years, You Became A Kind Of Master For Whom We’ll Never Be Obeyed”
The break up of Yugoslavia and the subsequent war that followed saw many innocent people killed and homes destroyed across the region. That the Serbian people deserve something better cannot be in dispute and I hope they get the politicians in power that will deliver it. ‘Banish Misfortune’ is another traditional instrumental folk song arranged by the Celts followed by ‘Double Cross’ which delivers an album standout of epic proportions. With an album that is roughly half and half Celts compositions and trad folk covers I love that they choose to avoid the better known tunes and delve deep into Irish folk history to find some tunes worthy of them. For the penultimate track they do come out with ‘The Parting Glass’ and as is their way the Celts turn it on it’s head and while 99% of the time bands play it as a slow ballad the Celts speed it up and deliver something as close to original as a cover can be.
“Goodnight and joy with you all”
Another old Irish trad song brings down the curtain on Many Mouths Shut and a rollicking version of the ‘Kesh Jig’, again made famous by, and I would say right up there with, The Bothy Band.
Orthodox Celts are that thing that raises shackles back in Ireland. A band that plays Irish music as good and as great as any Irish band at home or abroad. Their love for the music and culture of our tiny island is evident in all they do. Band front man Alex said to me
“The Pogues were the only major influence when we talk about music as we didn’t want to sound like any other band so we sound very different from all the other bands in this genre. My definitive personal literary influences are Shane MacGowan and Alexandre Pushkin. Talking about the whole figure my major influence is Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners”
They have established themselves as unique ambassadors of the Emerald Island and have spread and continue to spread the very best of what we are to the entire world.
Orthodox Celts- 1994, The Celts Strike Again- 1997, Green Roses- 1999, A Moment Like The Longest Day- 2002, One, Two… Five- 2007
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(you can hear the whole album below by playing via You Tube)