Raucous cow punk and folk punk mixed with haunting murder ballads, timeless story telling and foot-stompin’, heart pounding rhythms from a bunch of beer swilling, shanty singing, flannle shirt wearing, mohawk-bearing musical peasants.
The Dead Maggies come from Tasmania, the island at the bottom of Australia. As is the way with these kind of places a different kind of culture and existence develops to the ‘mother’ country. Found 240 km (150 mi) to the south of the Australian mainland almost half of the country is still in the same natural state it was when the British invaded back in 1803 and christened the island Van Diemons Land. At the time the land was populated by the native Aboriginal people but within thirty years, a time known as the ‘Black Wars’, they were wiped out by a combination of infectious diseases brought by the invaders, to which they had no immunity, and acts of genocide carried out by the British army. Martial law, disease and resistance to British rule saw the Aboriginal population fall to just 300 at one point from around 5,000. Historians have described it thus
“The colonial government from 1832 to 1838 ethnically cleansed the western half of Van Diemen’s Land and then callously left the exiled people to their fate”
Tassie, as its known to its residents, was used primarily as a natural prison state to house convicts brought from Britain and Ireland convicted of crimes that ranged from murder and assault to stealing sheep or even bread. These penal colonies were run on extremely harsh lines and many many convicts died or went mad at the barbaric hands of their jailers. It was in Tasmania that the government implemented a shift from the physical (i.e. whipping) to more psychological punishment. A structure of punishment called the ‘Silent System’ was implemented where prisoners were hooded and ordered silent. This was supposed to allow time for the prisoner to reflect upon the actions which had brought them there but instead resulted in many of the prisoners developing mental illness from the lack of light and sound. Eventually this led to an asylum being built right next to the Prison. Many prisoners, though also escaped and roamed the land as bandits and highwaymen. Giving rise to ballads and songs in their honour and it is to this tradition that The Dead Maggies get their inspiration from.
The Dead Maggies already have one record behind them, the excellent , ‘The Dead Maggies Sing About Dead People’ in which they do indeed sing about dead people. Seven songs where they tell the history of the various sad endings of colourful characters from Tasmania’s history. Now this to me is what celtic-punk or folk-punk is all about. Now I love songs about getting pissed on Guinness as much as the next person but I need just a bit more sometimes and its bands like The Dead Maggies or, the sadly recently deceased, Chicago band Kevin Flynn And The Avondale Ramblers that are passing down and keeping our history alive and relevant. The history of the rich is there for all to see but the history of the poor and the downtrodden and the defeated in war or battle was passed down mainly in song and my oh my Tasmania is a well stocked pit for The Dead Maggies to mine from.
(you can have a listen to the whole of The Dead Maggies debut album here simply by pressing play on the Bandcamp player below)
Formed in 2013 shortly after the death of our beloved (!) despot Margaret Thatcher, The Dead Maggies have taken the scene by storm. The Australian celtic-punk scene is second to none and The Dead Maggies stand out proud amongst the many other brilliant bands in it. Mixing the fascinating folk story of Tasmania as well as the energy and the attitude of punk the band have come up with their own genre ‘Tasmanian Convict Punk’ and it suits them far better than calling it celtic or folk punk ever could!
‘Well Hanged’ kicks off with ‘Black Mary’ a rollicking great tune that from the first sounds of the ocean will have you bouncing on your feet.
Great vocals atop of equally great music and a story that tells of open revolution in the early days of Van Diemons Land.
“No bush ranger we But guerrilla army. In open rebellion Against the machine”
It’s the story of Mary Cockerill, ‘Black Mary’, who along with her partner Michael Howe and an army of over one hundred bushrangers in the early 19th Century nearly brought down the Tasmanian government in open warfare. The interesting thing about The Dead Maggies is their ability to meld celtic, country, bluegrass, folk into something that very clearly defines themselves. ‘Tommy Pieman’ is a perfect example of all these influences coming together in a story of cannibalism that I’m sure you can pick up from the songs title! ‘Matthew Brady’ was a notorious 19th century bushranger born in Manchester in 1799. He was transported in 1820 and constantly rebelled while in Tasmania against the treatment meted out to the prisoners. He received over 400 lashes over time and eventually escaped but was captured two years later trying to sail to mainland Australia. He was executed in 1826 and was known as ‘Gentleman Brady’ due to his impeccable manners whilst robbing from the rich.
“Don’t rape any women, Don’t steal from the poor, But as for the rich… you can fuck them all”
A fantastic tune with lyrics really worthy of your time. In 1830 ‘Mary McLaughlin’ was the first woman to be executed in Tasmania. A convict, she was assigned as a servant and within two months she had been impregnated by
“a person of better education and higher rank in society than herself”
After her baby was born and found dead she was charged with murder. Pronounced guilty, she was sentenced to both death and dissection. Even in death she found no peace. The song introduces the clarinet into proceedings for the first time and though not yer typical folk punk instrument it certainly works and fits in well with what The Dead Maggies are up to. ‘Billy Hunt’ sees the band in full cow-punk territory with a country’n’western song that would put the shits up any Dolly Parton fans! Again the story told is both gripping and engaging and this time shows that its not all doom and darkness in the Maggies world. Billy Hunt was a convict who hit upon the great idea to disguise himself as a kangaroo and attempt to hop to freedom. His plan was brought to an abrupt end when a soldier decided to shoot the large boomer. Billy was then forced to reveal his true identity.
“We said you’ll just get caught again you stupid Billy Hunt”
‘Jørgen Jørgenson’ is the tale of a Danish adventurer who became the ruler of Iceland for a short time. He was accused of piracy, jailed for theft and eventually was transported to Tasmania after a death sentence was commuted.
He married an Irish convict in 1831 and died in the Colonial Hospital on 20 January 1841. A pirate, a convict, a king and a drunkard. The song is a riot of folk-punk instruments and as fast as you like. The great video was filmed aboard The Yukon, a fully restored Danish tall ship that sails upon the Huon Valley in Tasmania. As says vocalist/guitarist GT Mongrel
“He was an adventurer who wrote his own legends while drinking, gambling, spying and pirating, he took on armies. He took on whole countries. He faced the executioners block and survived. He lived life as hard as life can be lived. He was a punk.”
‘Ghost On The Hellfire Bluff’ steams past you in a frantic 90 seconds while ‘Tin Miner’ brings in a spot of celtic-ness with the banjo leading the first half of the song until accordion takes over and the song swirls and builds up into a angry pissed off polemic against the treatment of the miners. The albums shortest song ‘Snakebite’ starts off slowly but soon builds up and with the clarinet out of the box again and before you know it it is gone in just 76 seconds. ‘Truckdrivers Last Waltz’ reminds me somewhat of the great Paddy McHugh And The Goldminers (well worth checking out this fellow Aussie band. Writer of the saddest song EVER written here). A jazzy, accordion led mess of a song where all the bands influences clash together with both gang vocals and GT’s vocals as powerful as ever. ‘Savage River’ has the band in Tom Waits-y country and the album comes to a suitable sad end with ‘Bound In Chains’. A hauntingly beautiful tale telling of those poor convicts ripped from home and transported across to the other side of the world to a foreign environment to be treated worse than slaves and be worked to death.
“I would rather die than wear those chains”
The uileann pipes come together with the band’s usual fare and again The Dead Maggies hit just the right spot in this emotional ballad tribute to the losers in their countries past.
Twelve tracks that explore the lives, battles, deaths and loves of ordinary people. The people whose history is being written out of the books. The history children don’t learn at school. History that is an embarrassment to the people who rule us and who are scared stiff of the inspiration it could once again provide to the ancestors of the original folk these stories are written about. Music to dance to, love to, cry to and rejoice. The Dead Maggies provide all this in spades and by telling of the dark and oppressive past of Tasmania that history will never leave us. Bands like this should be an inspiration to us all in the celtic-punk scene. Story telling is at the very core of our music. We have a glorious past and if indeed our music has any connection to the past we are forced to retell it in song. Thanks to The Dead Maggies for doing that and doing it so well.
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you can find a host of other amazing Australian bands on the ‘Folk ’Til Ya Punk Records’ web site here.
Here’s the bands official video tour diary of their journey through Europe last year. Look closely and you’ll see quite a few London Celtic Punks cheering them on!